Sunday, March 8, 2015

Book Reflections - In Our Own Voices

I want to write up some reflections on books for adults that have influenced my foster parenting, and books for kids that address some needs of foster kids in our home.  First up:

In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories

Now, we are not adopting at this point.  But two things inspired me to pick up this book: conversations with B back when we were first considering adoption or fostering about how parenting a child from a different race needs to be tread carefully, and being prompted to listen to stories of people of color when learning about race issues.

B was surprised when I brought up some hesitations about parenting kids who weren't white like us.  I was a high school teacher for a time, and taught some students who were black and had been adopted by white parents.  I saw these students struggle seriously with their identity in a way that wasn't just usual adolescence.  One mom told me how her daughter called her from school and was talking to her the same way she did at home, then suddenly she switched into a totally different voice, attitude, and slang.  Their communication started to shut down, and finally, the mom asked, "Who is there with you?  Who are you trying to impress?"  I saw students feeling torn between their parents and families and black culture they were learning more slowly than they would have with a black family.  These and other experiences made me want to tell B that it's complicated; becoming a multiracial family isn't a positive end in itself, all holding hands in our family pictures, overcoming racial divisions just by being a multiracial family.

The book lays out some of the history of transracial adoption in the first chapter, especially the National Association of Black Social Workers' position that black children should be placed with black families, and the research that finds that transracially adopted children have mostly positive racial identity and outcomes.  Then many transracial adoptees' interviews are presented in the book.

My main three take-aways:
1) The perspectives of transracial adoptees are diverse.  I really enjoyed reading the wide range of experiences of transracial adoptees, from those who did not find their black identity to be very important in their lives, to others that it was very important and shaped their social circles, community involvement, etc.  However, almost all adoptees were supportive of transracial adoption, some hoping that more black families would adopt but accepting transracial adoption as a good alternative, and some without qualification.  It helped me form a picture of the perspectives my foster or potential adoptive kids could grow up to have.  Some kids may stick close to our family culture, and some may not.

2) Audio/visuals at a young age can be memorable.  Some of the adoptees had clear memories about whether they had dolls with dark skin, if African-American art or music was a part of their home.  While this was not a big focus of the book, I noticed it because our foster kids are so young that most cultural events, mentoring relationships, etc. are over their heads.  But it just helped confirm that the dolls and books I have around are very important, and that I could do more with music and art.  I love black gospel music and live a gospel choir, but don't really play the music around the kids (mainly because it annoys me when kid noise drowns out music).  For Cricket, maybe her stay is probably too short-term for it to make a big difference, but for a placement that stayed a year or more, I think that cultural connection could be a really formative one.

3) Boys have particular challenges.  I was aware of this, but reading more stories made it clear to me what I could face as a parent.  Kids who are viewed as cute suddenly become people to be feared.  And while a child may be raised to be just like their parents and not be anything like the stereotypes that others are fearing, the people who are afraid will see their skin, not their years of upbringing.  Race matters.  One parent was an advocate against a racist teacher.  I pray I would be wise enough to do the same.
The book left me encouraged that transracial parenting is a challenge that I, with God's help, could be up for.  We have some things in place, like a diverse church and diverse school.  I have a lot of experience in cross-cultural understanding and have studied racism quite a bit.  My shortcomings?  Our circles of family and friends continue to be very white.  One adoptee had godparents who were black and they were a huge support for the child.  I have many acquaintances who are not white, but no one close.  And having studied racism and multiculturalism a lot, it leaves me with a lot of head knowledge but not a lot of really grappling with tough issues personally.  That's some white privilege right there.
I highly recommend this book for thinking over what children who may be adopted at a young age might deal with when they reach teenage years and adulthood.  I think it is easy to pat ourselves on the back for creating a multiracial family with young kids, and not really visualize what family life will be like in 10 or 20 years.  Though we are fostering now and I feel our impact is more short-term on these issues, I do think there are things we can do actively to prevent a "black hole" of culture for kids.  I do think the book is very limited to kids who are black or biracial with some African-American heritage with parents who are white.  I would like to learn more about Hispanic and Asian adoptees.  I would love to hear what you've read on the topic!

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