Open Letter to White Adoptive Parents : Comfortably Numb – Eighteen Years of Racial Isolation

Before I move onto college, I want to review my first eighteen years from the standpoint that may be able to help White Adoptive Parents make better decisions about their transracially adopted children. I have said a million times and I will say a millions times more, I love my parents, I don’t want anyone to dispute that.  However, it serves no purpose for me to not look back on my life with a critical eye as to help others not make the same mistakes.

This is why I am writing, this is the audience and the purpose of my reliving all of this.  (Which trust me, is no walk in the park). So, I am not saying that they are ogres or even evil people.  They are just wrapped up in their privilege that they didn’t understand the ramifications that their decisions would have on a child of color.  I know two other Black transracially adopted people from my home town who came after me and both of them echo my experiences.  Things have not improved in Rushford for people of color.  My being there did not make it a more friendly place for kids of color to be raised in total racial isolation.  So hopefully by my openly talking about it, other parents will not make the same mistakes and move their kids to places like this.

Let me first speak on the positives.  As I mentioned before – wide open spaces and lots of fresh air.  As a kid, there is nothing better.  If this is coupled with people who look like you and that mirror you and can build a healthy self image, I think country living is the best living.  I absolutely hate living in the city.  I find it loud and cramped and smelly and dirty.  I loved growing up surrounded by nature.  As a child, this is a wonderland.

I also learned a deep respect for our nation’s farms and farmers.  I fight for their rights all the time.  I have never in my life seen harder working people than farmers.  They may be dirt poor, but they are hard working.  (Which blows the whole the poor are lazy theory out of the water).  Which brings me to why I rail about income inequality and the unfairness of people working their fingers to the bone, yet still living in poverty.  My neighbor was a woman who made everything from scratch – food, clothes, everything.  She was an amazing woman and I am forever grateful for having had her be part of my life.  But she lived in abject po and she didn’t deserve to have to lose her farm in her latter years.  This is what I saw growing up.  People working from sun up to sun down, yet still living in poverty.  My deep respect for these workers will never die and I will continue to fight income inequality because of my witnessing their struggles.

My mother also has amazing gardens and sews and cans.  She taught me about the simple things in life.  And I am forever grateful for that education.  My kids love their grandmother’s strawberry jam and apple sauce.  I always loved the hand made stockings she would make a Christmas time.

My dad is the epitome of manhood to me.  He was a union carpenter who worked until his fingers would be bleeding.  Then he would come home and either go to a Boy Scout meeting or a meeting of the volunteer fire squad.  He’s also a trustee at the library and the church.  He used to take me to Stamp Club when I was little and taught me all about computers even before computers were popular.  He not only worked an supported his family, he had time for the extras as well.

I have two great parents.

I DID have fun.  There were so many times and place and people and events that were a joy to my life.  I am writing about my struggles for a very specific reason, but I cannot deny that playing soccer and going to Germany and going to Florida or even just hanging out with my true friends was not fun.  Because it was and I had a lot of fun.

My parents, once again, it seems like I am criticizing them – and I am – but I also hold them up as being a strong role model to me.  They are industrious and organized.  They are involved in their community and church.  They always told me that honesty was something to be treasured and that hard work would get me far in the world.  I don’t ever think that my parents intentionally set out to create a life for me that would be difficult or burdensome.  They were just uninformed.

However, with that being said, I want to speak to parents who are right now considering to do what my parents did…..and think that raising your child in total racial isolation is ok.

It’s not.

I do feel as though my parents should have been more cognizant of the mindset of the people in the town that we were in and not have me be subject to this my entire life.  My parents still live in this town.  So if I want to visit them, I have to go back there and deal with it all over again.

Kids needs mirroring.  This is extremely important.  I cannot stress how important it is for a healthy racial identity.  Why is a strong racial identity important?  Because it’s the first thing that people see when they see you.  They know what color you are before they even know the color of your eyes or how tall you are.  So if a child is raised with no mirroring and surrounded by people who have a negative view of people who look like them, they will internalize this.  I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating.  No child of color will have a healthy self image if they are constantly surrounded by people who do not look like them.  They will never feel secure when they are being told that people who are their color are bad or criminal.  It is very insipid and soul draining.  No loving parent would honestly want to do this to a child they profess to love.

Kids of color need to be in schools with teachers who are culturally sensitive.  I wrote about implicit bias earlier and how it affected me and my actions.  It is very real and unless a child is around teachers who have no bias or have learned to deal with their bias, they will suffer.  There was no reason for me to be accused of stealing a 25 cent soda that I did not steal and be denied entrance in to National Honor Society.  It was bias.  These things stick with kids for life.  Why else am I writing about it?  Parents need to think back on how much their teachers affected them and think “what would I have done if this teacher targeted me because of my color?” Now consider the child is essentially trapped.  Where can the child go for comfort and understanding?  If a parent is raising a child in racial isolation, they really haven’t come to grips with the importance of mirroring and bias.  So who can this child talk to?

Which brings me to my last point.  Communication.  I have been writing this blog for almost a month now (one down 11 to go!!)  and I haven’t heard from anyone in my family during this time.  Not a single word.  Not a word of support.  Not a word of concern.  Not a word of “we never knew you felt this way.”  So if as an adult, I get no communication from them, how could a child have effectively been able to communicate all that I have been trying to say?  They simply would not have listened or would have dismissed my concerns.

I can honestly say that I feel that my voice has been dismissed by them already because I know that if my child was writing a blog, I’d be very, very supportive of their endeavor.  No matter what they had to say.  So, I feel a bit put off.  But I am not surprised.  Parents, just listen to your kids and sometimes you might not like what they have to say, but you should listen anyway.

Because you are not a person of color trying to navigate in an all white world.

Because you are not an adopted child confused about their place in the world.

And because YOU adopted the child, the child didn’t adopt you.  SO it is your duty to be there  for your child – for life.

I wish I had a better relationship with my parents today.  I wish I could say it was great, but it’s complicated.  However, I am confident that other transracially adopted children can have wonderful relationships with their parents if Adoptive Parents learn from my story.

Because the next part gets ugly and I almost didn’t make it through it.  I don’t want to see your child go through my next ten years of what is called our “identity crisis.”  Some adoptees don’t make it through.

On the other hand, some transracial adoptees don’t have an identity crisis and behind their story is usually a very in tune and understanding adoptive parents, lots of mirroring and deep about racial issues.

These are the stories that I hope dominate the future of Transracial adoption.


About sjwoods318

Mother of six children - five girls and one boy; wife; community organizer, family chauffeur, philosopher, trans-racial adoptee, Deadhead, person of mixed racial heritage, artist, poet, writer who loves to swim, read, and run around with my family.
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4 Responses to Open Letter to White Adoptive Parents : Comfortably Numb – Eighteen Years of Racial Isolation

  1. FrankLligtvoet says:

    As always thanks for your work. We adoptive parents now can learn a lot from
    It and can try to be better parent than the last generation.

  2. maamej says:

    Thanks for this – really useful insights. I hope your family realise their mistake and start reading your blog and talking with you about it, it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to understand you better.

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