Race and Humility

In my intercountry adoption experience, the discussion of race and racism is often lost to the belief that a color-blind society is possible. Looking back on my early adoptive parenting years, I can honestly say that the subject of race was rarely broached, and if so, only superficially. You'll have to figure it out, we were told. Love will conquer all.

But race and racism are something that white transracial adoptive parents need to look squarely in the eye. And on this topic, our opinions mean nothing, our idealism is meaningless. Away from the coccoons of our families, our children will face a world that we have never experienced and never will.

I think the very first thing an adoptive family like mine needs to do is acknowledge reality: Two white people can't give their non-white children the experience they'll need to navigate our race-conscious and often overtly racist society. And since no one in my family is culturally Korean American, reaching out to the Korean American community has been the only way to bring our children into contact with those who can teach them. This has meant creating as many opportunities as possible for our kids to develop meaningful relationships with other Korean Americans, through the schools they attend and through their and our family's activities.

But there's a rub. For some, transracial adoption amounts to no more than white ownership of people of color, ill-guided altruism, white privilege at its worst. Adoptive parent attempts to join the race dialog may be rebuffed. And our efforts to embrace our children's ethnic heritage may be seen as cultural appropriation - deserving of criticism rather than affirmation; laughable, artificial, lame.

When this happens, it should also be no surprise that some white a-parents throw in the towel. After all, if every effort you make to support your child's heritage is criticized for one reason or another, why even try? But how sad for the children, who then grow to adulthood unaware of what they may face as adults in our color-conscious society, and locked into false identities that fail to acknowledge who they are.

It takes humility for white parents to recognize and accept the challenges of raising children of another race and culture. Humility to accept that racism exists; to recognize the inherent privilege we enjoy as white people; to get out of our comfort zones and into our children's communities; to defer to people of color on the line between embracing and appropriating our children's culture; and to recognize that no matter how hard we try, on one level or another we'll experience failure.

But if we can find this humility, our children will gain immeasurably. They'll gain knowledge of the culture and community they lost when they were adopted, and the confidence to claim these as their own - things that all the love in the world, including ours, can't give them.


Carrie said…
I think the very first thing an adoptive family like mine needs to do is acknowledge reality: Two white people cannot POSSIBLY give their non-white children the experience they'll need to navigate our race-conscious and often overtly racist society. (bolding mine)

I totally agree.
Paula O. said…

Since I have "known" you (via the Internet), I have been so grateful for your unwavering support of KADs. I feel as if you truly get "it". It both saddens and frightens me a bit to hear some APs say that they'll think about race later - when their children get older - or that they "forget" that their children are Korean, or that they need to take a break from the tough topics. As a KAD, I can tell you that being Asian is as much of my identity as being a female. And how many of us would "forget" what our child's gender is? Or want to push off gender related issues until they were older? Why is it any different for one's race? There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of all of the issues you have raised - it's my duty as an AP. As you know, I have been blessed with amazing parents, who also got it and I still struggled to reconcile both identities of two cultures. To paraphrase a quote I read, "Love may be blind, but society is not." I thank God each day my parents acknowledged this. Anyway, I just want to say a very heartfelt thank you for being such a supportive voice. I appreciate it more than you know!

Etude said…
Reading this reminded me of my parents so much. They worked very hard to help me connect with my Korean heritage, yet be American. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not. Even now, they support me when I want to teach my daughter about Korean culture, yet my in-laws very much look down upon it. They tell me over and over that I am an American and I should teach my kids to be American, after all, they are half Caucasion.
MomEtc. said…
Great post! I couldn't agree with you more that we owe this to our children. If we are to help them become adults prepared to face this world we've got to help them develop a secure identity and strong sense of pride in who they are. I think you've really highlighted the best way to do that as aparents.
Anonymous said…
I agree with what you are saying. As an AP further down the road, are you willing to share any personal experiences?

The Goos Family said…
Though my parents tried to be the best parents they knew how (my parents were immigrants), I wished they had the humility and knowledge you have to lead your children into adulthood with a strong sense of identity of who they are not only as Koreans but also as Americans. Your children are blessed to have a mother who is mindful and thoughtful and intentional about issues of race and identity.
Beloved said…
I get frustrated when I hear people criticizing adoptive parents for trying to "embrace their children's ethnic heritage" because, what really is the alternative? Well, in fact I know a Korean child raised by white parents who has been raised devoid of his culture and treated as if he weren't different at all. I think his whole small community has really treated him this way and now he's off to college; I can't help but wonder about the racial difficulties he may face.

I am white and married to a Korean and although I don't have any children yet, I expect that no one will give me a hard time about raising them to embrace their heritage. Why should it be any different for two white parents? Afterall, they are your children and you are their parents, so I agree with you--you have to prepare them for what they will face in society.

Love your blog, btw. I'm glad to have discovered it through your comment on mine!
Mollie said…
As an initial step, I recommend that adoptive parents answer the question, "What am I willing to do?" The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) has an exercise that I found valuable. It is available at http://www.nacac.org/transracial_willing.html

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