I have always identified as an adoptee. When people ask me about my identity, I always say that I am an adoptee first and a Black woman second. It may seem weird to the non-adopted, but I have always known and processed the fact that I was given away at birth and raised by a family that was not biologically related to me. And although I will not say that processing being adopted is easy, it has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. So it is just part of me.
That’s not to say that I never knew that I was a Black woman either. Because being raised in racial isolation, one cannot help but to always know and be reminded that he or she is and always will be non-white. So, I always knew that I was Black, but it took years and years to figure out just exactly what being Black meant to me. So, that is why I identify first as an adoptee and second as a Black woman.
But, as in all things relating to the life of a transracial adoptee, it never occurred to me that there was an added layer to being adopted as a Black child into a white family. Call me crazy, but I never started processing the racial aspect of my adoption until very recently- as in within the last two years of my life -recently.
I know that may seem very odd to most people. I have known and been processing being an adoptee my whole life. I have been processing and identifying as a Black woman for about half my life now. But I never processed what being a Black adoptee transracially adopted meant until just two years ago?
Short answer, yes. It’s true. I never even thought that the life of a SRA (Same Race Adoptee) was different from a TRA (Transracial Adoptee). And while there are similarities, there are some glaring differences.
For one, the obvious – I am a different race than everyone around me. There was no way I could have been a LDA (Late Discovery Adoptee). And that is a good thing. Because LDAs tend to be very, very angry people. And I would be angry too, if I had been lied to all my life.
But I digress. As a TRA, I was noticeably not a biological member of my family. It was woven into the fabric of my life story so intricately that it could never be mistaken for anything else. So there were added layers to this TRA thing that many SRAs just do not have to deal with.
As far as processing just what exactly all of that means, that didn’t start until I joined a Facebook group about Transracial Adoption. It popped up as a suggestion by Facebook because I had joined a bunch of adoptee groups. I had loved finding groups about adoption where I was meeting other adoptees where we could share our thoughts on all things adopted without the outside clamor and viewpoints of those who have no idea what it’s like to be adopted.
My initial thought was “Awesome! I will be able to meet other transracial adoptees” – and I did. Which has been the absolute greatest part of this journey thus far. But this group is also filled with a high number of Adoptive Parents and a very small number of Birth Parents. And it made me start processing my adoption in a way that I had never processed it before – the racial aspect of it. While there are some really enlightened APs there, sometimes the adoptive parents would say things that reminded me so much of my upbringing that I wanted to cry or scream or throw things are my computer.
For me, developing my racial identity was a painful process. One that I didn’t start until I was about 22 years old and one that is still on going, but most of the hard work is in the past. Processing what it means to be a transracial adoptee has also been extremely painful. I learned about things like being “othered” and “racial identity formation” and “racial isolation.”
These were all things that I knew intimately, because I had lived them, but I never knew there were terms for them or that I could identify them as something tangible. Finally, I found other people who had experienced them as well! But at the same time, we were also surrounded by people claiming to not understand or telling us to “be grateful” or that we should just stop talking about it all together. Some of the Adoptive Parents who are processing their adoption think that we adoptees have processed all of this and can just take the slings and arrows they throw our way. It was such an eye opening experience that I wanted to share it with others. So, I started to write about how I felt.
I remember the first time I posted on my FB page about feeling “othered” growing up. The people from my hometown completely lost their minds. They literally told me that my feelings were wrong and that I had never experienced what I I said I experienced, or that I had a “good life” and I should be “grateful” or worse yet, that they were “jealous” of my life, so “how dare ” I complain? And the best yet was one person saying “I don’t feel sorry for Sara.” What was crazy, I wasn’t complaining, or looking for sympathy, just observing and processing about some things that have challenged me in life. But people who I grew up with – the very people who “othered” me – were telling me that I was wrong.
But how can I be wrong about how I felt about being the only Black person in an all white world? How can white people tell me how that felt?
And I started to get angry. Like really, really angry. And I had to cut all these people out of my life. Because I didn’t need their voices in my head while I was trying to process all of this. It’s hard enough without their opinions. Because they have no clue what it’s like to be me.
The people I really started getting angry with were my parents. Why did they raise me around people like this? Where are they while I am processing decisions that THEY made?
The more I processed, the angrier I became and the more distant my family and friends from my past became. I had to shed them away because if they were not going to help with with this process, then they were going to inhibit it. So, now halfway through my life, I now have no hometown, and basically no family outside of my husband and children.
Did I mention that processing adoption -especially transracial adoption – is painful?
And once you start down this road, there is no going back.
I am still processing it all. Things like the fact that my biological mother (white) gave me away because I am Black, and not because she was poor or on drugs or any number of other mores attached wrongfully to birth mothers. Things like she did not “love me so much” that she wanted me to have a better life. When in actuality, I lived a very similar life (surrounded by racist people) as I would have if I had not been adopted.
I have to process things like the fact that my adoptive mother never learned how to do Black hair, but cut mine off instead. Or the fact that my parents still to this day have no Black friends and that they feel uncomfortable around me and my family because we are Black.
I have had to process that I was told that I am “brown” (or worse “mulatto”) and not Black, in an effort to minimize my Blackness and to make it seem like being Black was a shameful thing. I have had to process that I was socialized white – and therefore have been a “white person in a Black body.”
I have had to process that people think that Black kids adopted by white families are somehow “being raised better” – which is exceptionally hard as a Black parent to hear people spout that nonsense.
I have to process that there are white people who think they are doing the Black community a favor by taking the “unwanted” children or who erroneously think that Black people do not adopt.
I have had to process that Black and White people are different and that it is unfair to measure the Black community (or any non-white community) by a White measuring stick.
Everyday I have to process these transracial adoption issues. Because I was thrust into a world where I was not the same as those who raised me. I did not look the same and eventually, I would not think the same.
I am still grappling with my anger and frustration. I have to take this road alone and it is not easy. But for being two years into it and I haven’t stuck my head in the sand yet (although it is tempting), I am doing pretty good.
I hope the next generation of Adoptive Parents can hear what I am saying and work harder to help their children process these things at an earlier age.
I will continue down this path and I may get bumped and bruised along the way, but there really is no turning back. And I become a better person everyday because of this journey.