An Adoptive Parent Writes:
My wife and I have adopted a 15 and a half year old son. His biological mother is white, his biological father is Hispanic. During his formative years, he was in African American neighborhoods and has adopted both African American culture and street life culture as his own. We are white and have strived to bring people of other than white culture into his life. He is very comfortable with and seeks out people with African American heritage. He loves hip-hop and dresses in that style.
How do we help our son work through being tri-racial? He has all three cultures in his life and wants something from each. People in the African American community are starting to reject him because he is not African American, which is confusing to him as he was primarily raised African American. He does not know much about his Hispanic culture and has had a hard time with his white culture. Likewise, when I have exposed him to places where he can enjoy the African American world, he seeks out those who have self destructive behaviors, rejecting the beauty of the culture and believing that street life, gangs, and drugs are the normal African American life. Yet the culture is so much deeper and more beautiful, and I struggle to show that to him. How can I help him see the beauty in his unique heritage while rejecting those things that might destroy him?
John Raible answers:
I applaud your son for breaking out of the boxes that racialization tends to put us in. It sounds as if your son is ready to be introduced to a greater variety of African American peers (and others), especially peers who are middle class– as .well as working class– who embrace hip-hop culture AND other more traditional aspects of African American culture. By exposing him to the diversity within urban families and communities, he will learn that there is much more to hip-hop than glorifying thug life.
I’m not sure where you live or what kinds of community resources are available within your area. But for someone with as complex an identity and experiential background as your son, I hope you are already living in a multiracial, multiethnic cosmopolitan area. Maybe this seems obvious. I mean, I would hope that a responsible social worker would have discussed this with you prior to placing this young man with your family.
By living in a multicultural area, this will help you as parents as much as your son. As you get to know other parents who are raising adolescent sons, you will find that many parents are struggling with the same issues you raise, namely, how to keep our young men culturally connected and feeling proud of their rich heritage while at the same time avoiding some of the more perilous traps of urban life. I urge you to reach out to other parents (of many racial and cultural backgrounds), since they can share stories of both misery and hope and indirectly model how to parent from different cultural perspectives.
On top of all the concerns you raise, there are the adoption-related concerns your son will face, as well. It might be wise to get him connected to a youth group or support group for teens who have been in foster care and/or adoptive situations. I don’t think he needs to”work through” being triracial, as you said. But he deserves all the help you and he can muster to support his complex situation as a foster care survivor and multiethnic, transracially adopted teen.