Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thoughts on Becoming a Transracial Family

I've been thinking a lot about race, racism, prejudices, "white privilege", and simply reflecting on becoming a multi-racial family once Elyza arrives. For instance, I wonder how many times a day I'll be asked, "Is she your real child?" (to which I'll sarcastically respond: no she's fake); "How much did she cost?"; "Are you her real mother?" (to which I'll sarcastically reply: no I'm her imaginary one);"Where did she come from?" and other such ignorant questions. Whether these are well-intended questions or racist ones, there will be many of them. So what can we do to prepare?

As parents, my husband and I must be sensitive and very aware of how we choose to respond to (or ignore) these questions. We must be conscience of what our daughter hears through not only our verbal responses, but also our body language. We must always be proud of our adoption decision, of our multi-cultural family, and of our child, communicating this through our words and actions. If we act embarrassed or ashamed, our child will interpret the response that way, leaving her with feelings of shame. If we allow others to make racist comments toward our family, we fail at protecting our child.

One of the most important tools for us is to always have open communication with our child. For example, after a scenario described above, we plan to ask our child how the question, posed by a stranger or friend, made her feel. We hope to discuss it fully so that she has an understanding of why we chose our response and what prompted the question. And in the instance that we didn't respond to the question the way that we had wished (we may be taken by surprise, angered, etc.), we'll explain to our child how we had aimed to answer the question.

Secondly, I believe it will be important to educate those who are in contact with our child. For instance, our child's teacher may need support or guidance as to how to approach the "family tree" lesson plan. We should feel comfortable to discuss with family members issues to which our child may be sensitive and also equip our family members with tools helpful in dealing with these issues.

And then there are those questions that will be asked of us by our child. "Why did you adopt me?" "Why did you choose to adopt from China and not somewhere else?" These questions will be asked of us parents at every stage in our child's life. We will need to have honest, yet age appropriate answers to these questions.

Giving our child a sense of belonging is critical. Our children, though fully American, are also fully Chinese...yet, they are not. huh, come again? Well, if my child, as a teenager, were to be teleported to a street somewhere in China, she would identify with the faces on the street, but she would most likely not speak the language fluently, nor would she know all the Chinese customs that Chinese teens know, and so on. Likewise, in America, our Chinese-American children will be most familiar with our culture. However, they will be the minority. Dolls, models, cartoons and a host of other things are usually depicting Caucasian persons. Likewise, when they look into a crowd, the faces will generally not have the same features as their own, and in our case, neither will her parents and extended family. Therefore, our children are caught between two cultures, identifying with both and with neither at the same time.

It's unfortunate that there is not more minority representation in books, magazines, etc. given that "being American" means more than being white-skinned. More and more products have become available that represent racial diversity, but we are still somewhat limited. All of these social cues communicate something to our children. This being the reality, we aim to be very deliberate in what we choose for our daughter, such as books that depict ethnic diversity.

So, here I am, pondering these things as we embark on new territory, being first-time parents and becoming a transracial family. I'm glad for it. Learning as we go, just like all the rest, and hoping, by the grace of God, to make our best effort for our child.


Jen Talley said...

I've been thinking on these things also. I just have to trust that if the Lord told us to adopt from China, then he will give us the grace and wisdom when these tough subjects come up.

Andrea said...

wow. You are going to be an awesome've thought out all this so well. :)

I have to say, I've also gotten comments like that, and my adopted daughter "looks" somewhat like me!! People will say *whatever*. My friend with one child always gets:" is that all you had?" and I frequently get:"are these all yours?" So, people and strangers *will* make comments on whatever they feel they can.:)

However, I do see the need to be sensitve to family members or close friends who may not understand. This is good.

Court, you are just going to love and love little Elyza so so much, that most of these things will come and work out so naturally out of your love and care for her.
I can't wait for you!

Courtney said...

I should have mentioned in this post that I TOO have been guilty of asking questions like the ones I mentioned. Well intended, but not well thought out ;)