Processing the “Racial” in Transracial Adoption

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.

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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.
This entry was posted in Adoption, Biography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Processing the “Racial” in Transracial Adoption

  1. I too became very angry with my adoptive parents, because of the way i was treated as a child. I am a white woman, adopted by a white family.
    I found out my mother was black early in reunion. Her father was light skinned, and “passed” as white, but people in the community knew he was black, and called my grandmother N- lover.
    My parents lied to the adoption agency and said I was Italian, so i would go to to white family.

    I think my white father’s family wanted me gone because i was black.
    I am white in appearance, and never knew i was black at all. I don’t consider myself a transracial adoptee , but i do think I was given up for adoption because of my ‘blackness”. It’s a strange story.

    As a child, I actually envied transracial adoptees, because their adoption showed. I wanted the world to know I wasn’t my parents real child. My perception has changed as an adult, and I now know that transracial adoption is very complicated.

    thanks for writing. Even though our stories are different, there are many feelings that are the same.

    • sjwoods318 says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your truth as well. I find that all us adoptees have similar feelings about many things and you give me the strength to continue to speak our truth!

  2. Brion says:

    Thank you for this.

  3. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. I’m an LDA (never heard these acronyms before :)) and I wouldn’t say that I’m angry, but I have a lot of…feelings. I haven’t had much support regarding my adoption and don’t think I’ve ever even talked to another LDA. ‘Never thought of looking on Facebook for adoption support groups. Can you recommend one or two good ones? Thanks!

    • sjwoods318 says:

      Yes! There are a couple of good groups- I have a good friend who is also a LDA and could help you find some people who are also processing it all. Please friend me on FB and I can add you to the adoptee groups (they are secret groups so this is the best method) and I can connect you with Jeff. Just send me a quick message when you send the request. Peace to you on your journey!

  4. anenomekym says:

    Thank you Sara for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I’ve also enjoyed your contribution on that FB page. It makes it so much less frightening speaking knowing that we have support. When people I’ve trusted, admired, and loved have made me question my own sanity, I used to wonder if I had gone insane. I know that there’s value and realness in what I think and feel, and fortunately, deep down, I’ve always believed in myself. Anyways…

    I also wanted to say, although I’m not Black, but Asian, the chronology and patterns of your experiences, self-reflection and periods of protective isolation mirror mine – college, adoptee vs racial identity. Thank you for explaining yours so well. I, too, have, in the last 2 yrs, gotten more irritable with those who’ve known me for much of my life. It’s invaluable to see ourselves in others, even if not a physical reflection in yours and my case, but in a developmental, cognitive way, despite being complete and physical strangers. Although I grew up with 2 other TRAs, each of us different ethnicities, we were never reflections of each other, not philosophically, physically, culturally, politically, or temperamentally. I used to work with that and accommodate all of the differences in our family and my social circles. Now, I too have less patience or interest in others explaining to me their outside impressions of what’s happening inside me.

    Anyways, thanks to you and so many others for being a virtual-like philosophical mirror in the reflection-less sea called adoption, transracial adoption, intercountry adoption, forced displacement, etc.

  5. Scott says:

    I hope there is not a next generation of adoptive parents. I hope there is a generation of people who will see how messed up adoption truly is…..and will work the selfish love of adoption out of the process……….mentoring & supporting mothers to keep their children, and when they cannot guardianship is love that does not rob a child or their family of their heritage, their identity, and never have to wonder who they are. I am a lost father, my children are precious to me, both the one I raised & the one that I was never allowed to hold, or get to know. My entire childhood through manhood was about me becoming self reliant to be there for my own children, so that they could know their father’s love & joy and be proud of who they are. Adoption as it is practised is a maligned, cruel, the disruption of the mother/child bond is severely traumatic for mother & child, disrespectful to natural family, holding children hostage from their own families so they can have no pride in whom they are, disgusts me. Let us know where our kids are so we can claim them, strangers should not have that kind of power to never care about my child’s family or even her own curiosity, self interest in herself. To encourage a child to commit their own family genocide so that they can feel secure in another has some serious flaws. Lucifer is a deceiver, he loves to take desire and twist it to his evil delight. Next time you think your blessed, who’s ear do you think you have? The impersonal nature of adoption, the entitlement in adoption, the desire to sever another’s roots for personal gain, is evil & dysfunctional. I hope DNA tracking will become mandatory in all children who are taking from their natural parents for what ever reason, world wide. A single world wide registry should be supported so children do not have to grow up not knowing who they are and have a chance to be with their natural families as children, no excuses for adoptive parents to wrangle around, twist or continue their self deception. For an adoptive parent to tell a child we will help you search when you are ready, is highly manipulative of that child. To let a child grow up with the fear of search, the fear of the unknown, is deplorable, unconscionable. To hold that the law makes it legal & therefore morale speaks volumes of that person or persons with that view, what is right and what is legal are two very different animals. My child should not feel the need to tell me she is sorry for not finding me sooner. 27 years missing is wrong, it should not be her responsibility to search, if that is what adoption is, & it is, it is not right. Her inclusion, her belonging in her blood family, was never in question in my mind. For the people who say you should be grateful, go suck the life out of yourself, not others.

    • sjwoods318 says:

      Scott – Thank you so much for sharing your story! My heart aches for you and the way too many other fathers who have gone through the same thing.

      I am in total agreement that a single registry is key to this horrific system.

      So much needs to be done better.

      Thank you so much for being on this journey with me. We will fight together to make this better!

  6. Scott’s comment really resonates with me. I always had trouble understanding how my adoptive mother could claim to love me, but be content with having me live life without knowing who i was. How is that love?

    My adoption was not spoken of. I knew i was adopted, I was told from before i could understand, but questions were not welcomed.

    It was psychological torture, and there was no one to even begin to understand the world of pain that i lived in. I don’t know how any sane, rational, compassionate person can condone infant adoption, open or closed. It’s just plain wrong, sick and twisted.

  7. Neka says:

    I’m not adopted, grew up black and lived in white communities, went to black-owned religion based private school, married German-Irish guy while in college and have further-mixed children, and at age 36 I’m still learning what it is to be me.

    While I was raised by my birth parents, I feel like I get where TRAs are coming from.

    Background: Growing up, I always felt different, emotionally (internally) thus had outward struggles. As I grew older, the biggest struggle was surprisingly an ethnic-related one because I decided to embrace ALL of the parts that make me, medium brown-skinned me (African–no clue what country, Lumbee, Cherokee, Mulatto, and god-only-knows what else…I have Irish, Jewish, and Celtic family names and both sides of my family are all mixed up). Needless to say, my immediate family didn’t get my desire to understand what, genetically, was making me feel so different (not talking preferences). Additionally, other folk (white friends of my husband and his white family members) continue to behave towards me in ways based off the small parameters of what they believe “blackness” is, as well as expect me to not challenge them when they say and do things that are “racially” offensive.

    I’ve concluded: Basically, people in general want to be able to do what they do and for the rest of us to just *take it* without complaint. Sadly, it happens a lot by whites towards people-of-color more often than not.

    Worse yet, my family want me to stop bringing up “race” but I can’t…I Have Mixed Children! I must be sensitive to THEIR experience as well as my own. I have to combat the ignorant folk who attempt to influence my children’s sense of self (for them to chose one parents ethnicity over the other). And while the outward circumstances are different, obviously, I imagine similar struggles are present for TRAs as well.

    It seems we all have different versions of a similar issue: our personal identities and the voice of our struggles being oppressed and silenced bt other peoples’ ignorance.

    It’s good that we all continue to come together, encourage one another, and talk about these things because that’s part of the healing process. I didnt even know about TRA untill i read another post. So I’m happy this blog exist. Now, I’m aware of another branch within the community of people-of-color and I’m aware of you guys should have more support from you’re sista’s and brothas regarding this issue.

    Have any of you looked at other resources like NAACP and such? There may need to be legal support in you guys’ favor.

    And for those out there that keep saying talk is cheap or that it solves nothing…talking, is too in fact, “doing something” and it brings like minds together. Others are always trying to make us people-of-color be quiet about what happens to us. But we must continue to speak out and share our experiences so that we can effect good change.

    • sjwoods318 says:

      Thank you!!!! Your words means so much to me1 I will take your advice and see if there is way that we can get the NAACP involve in TRA issues – I haadn’t thought of it, but it makes compelte and total sense. They must ensure that child of color are being raised with their racial idenities strong. Thank you for sharing your story here. Please keep in contact with me through your journey as well.

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