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"Transracial adoption is trauma"

It may come as a surprise that some of the best sushi in my hometown is sold at one of our local, Northern Michigan grocery stores. One evening, I stood at the store’s sushi station, giving into one of my recurring cravings. I waited patiently for a woman in front of me to make her selection. I was in no rush. I was, however, anxious to see if they had any spicy tuna rolls ready-made (and ready to reel one in, right into my belly!).

After a minute or so, the woman realized I was waiting for her. She glanced at me and then courteously moved her cart over, to allow me to view the available selections as well. I’d just placed my spicy tuna roll (yes!) into my grocery basket, when the woman looked at me again.

“I’m sorry if this is awkward, but…,” she began. Uh oh, I thought, already feeling my hands start to sweat, “...I just think it’s so nice that we have more minorities in this city.”

The white woman was right: her comment made me feel awkward. Then again, awkward could be my middle name.

“Yep, there are a few of us,” I said, reaching for the free chopsticks.

I hope that didn’t sound rude, I (over)thought.

Chopsticks in hand, I smiled at the woman through my medical-grade mask (you know, ‘cause COVID) and went on my way.

At the time of our sushi line chit-chat, nearly 16,000 people lived in our little-city-big-town, and less than 1.5% of them checked the “Black or African American” census box (today, that percentage is slightly smaller: less than 1.2%). Denver, Colorado, where I spent many childhood years, is home to over 738,000 people, and less than 9.2% are “Black or African American.” I’ve also lived in other places (Indiana, Ohio, and other cities in Michigan), but I’ve always been part of the minority.

In my family, however, I’m both the majority and minority. On my birth mother’s side, I’m part of the 75% of black people (as I have two, black half siblings). On my birth father’s side (in Africa), I’m part of the 100%. In my adoptive family, I’m part of the 25%.

My white parents received a lot of societal flak over that last stat and for wanting to adopt a biracial child.

“How are you going to raise that black child?” they were asked, “Did you talk to any black people about taking a baby away from their culture?” and “How are you going to do her hair and provide her with her heritage?”

Even 35 years later, transracial and transcultural adoptions (i.e., “placing a child who is of one race or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another race or ethnic group”) is still a topic of controversy. Some people simply don’t like people of one skin color grouped with people of another.

And this is actually a trait of being human.

For better or worse, our minds use grouping as “a survival skill that allows our brains to make sense of an endless flow of data.” In our formative years (or even after), these “skills” may be reinforced and encouraged. Our kindergarten curriculum, for example, may have taught us to sort blues with blues and reds and reds, circles with circles and squares with squares, etc., and when we grouped those correctly, we were rewarded (yay stickers!).

This grouping nature, however, has unfortunately contributed to world wars and devastating tragedy, especially when compounded by fear and hate-fueled “nurturing.” And it continues to play into unconscious biases in both social and professional settings.

With regards to transracial adoption, there are many who oppose the family arrangement. Reasons for the opposition fall on a broad spectrum of criticisms, from concern that an adoptee will always struggle with feeling “different” to accusations that transracial adoption is “a legalized form of human trafficking.”

Opponents have also diagnosed white parents of transracial adoptees with a “white savior complex,” all the while, others applaud them for their “self-lessness.”

Surprisingly to me, some of the stronger opinions come from transracial adoptees themselves, including the concept that “adoption is trauma.”

As soon as I heard that phrase, I put my research “hat” on. There’s an abundance of articles, TEDx talks, books, etc. on the topic. From these resources, I found that these views emphasize the chemical and environmental bond between the mother and unborn infant and the trauma that occurs when that connection is severed entirely. Some views also attribute the trauma to a child’s confusion around his/her/their racial identity.

In my opinion? Everyone handles life events differently, and the realities of an individual’s environment (e.g., in utero, family, friends, community) can have a significant impact on mental health, self identity, and overall well-being.

My mental health isn’t perfect, but I’ve always had the support system I needed to tackle life challenges. For example, I knew at a young age that my skin was different from my parents’. Once, my mom even found me in the bathtub, scrubbing away at my skin.

“When will my skin look like yours?” I asked her (years later, she told me she was flying by the seat of her pants to answer my question).

“You’re never going to have skin just like mine,” she explained, “you’re your own color!”

She smiled, comfortingly.

Her fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants response was perfect. In fact, my inquisitive nature as a child (that and other perplexing parenting moments I provided) may have been more traumatic for my parents than my skin color was for me (sorry, again, mom and dad).

Today, I’m thankful to be learning more about and reflecting on these stories, topics of conversation, and personal experiences (and of course, access to some spicy tuna to get my fixes).

I’m also thankful to you.

Thank you for listening.


Are you a transracial adoptee or current/potential adoptive/biological parent? Feel free to send me any questions or feedback on this topic! I’d love to hear from you!

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