Tips on Cross Cultural/Trans Racial Adoption

Seek out and attend courses or seminars that actively help to unlearn prejudice based race or culture: Many adults do not believe they have racial or cultural prejudices simply because they have not been challenged, or confronted, by them. The fact that one believes in racial and cultural equality for all does not necessarily mean that one is free from subtle prejudices that can harm the child. Contact whatever local group deals with prejudice to find out where courses or seminars are being held. If one is not available in the adoptive parents community, the prospective parents should organize it.

Stare back: Trans racial families are often stared at by strangers when in public places. A return stare can speak volumes.

Consider the community: Is it a racially and culturally mixed neighborhood in which the child will be accepted as a teen as well as a toddler or child? Is it a community in which there are a variety of different families so that the trans racial family does not appear unusual? Is it a community in which there is access to other trans racial and trans culture families? Communities which have these attributes will be easier for the child to grow in than those in which she will always be the only different child in the area.

Adopt more than one child from the same racial or cultural origins: There are many reasons to adopt, and one of the poorest is to give a child a sibling. However, when making long term trans racial/cultural adoption plans, consider whether it is possible for the family to adopt two or more children from the same race or culture. This will reduce her isolation and give her an ally at school. However, this should only be done if the family wanted more than one child.

Never tolerate racial or cultural slurs or jokes: The child needs to know that any type of prejudice is wrong and that the parents will never tolerate any of this form of humor or slur.

Seek groups, mentors, and organizations, activities from the child’s race or culture: Find and develop relationships with people who are from the same background as the child. The fact that the child is Chinese or black does not mean that any Chinese person or black organization will suffice. Find those who are from the same part of China, or from the same linguistic group. A child from Ethiopia needs to be with others from Ethiopia, not just others from Africa. A child who has spent years in an inner city foster home would do well to be linked with a successful adult who grew up in inner city foster homes. The parents need to participate in the cultural activities to the extent that the child is comfortable. A young child may want her parents to be present and active in everything she does and it is important for the child to witness the parents investing in her culture. However, as she reaches her teens, the youth may need the parents to back off and let her be alone with her heritage as there may come a point in her development when she is embarrassed by her trans racial family. She will grow out of this stage, but it needs to respected while she is in it.

Do not assume that the parents’ experience of the trans racial or trans cultural adoption is the same as the child’s: The parents may feel that the adoption was a success because they loved the child, the child has appeared to do well in life, and the family has never faced significant issues related to the racial or cultural challenge. However, the child from this family may have always experienced a sense of loss and alienation from his own culture but did not feel he did not feel he had the right to express such. He may also have been subjected to taunts or more subtle forms of racism that he has never told the parents of. This is generally done to protect the parents or, because child feels shame and humiliation.

Remember that it is harder for adolescents than for younger children: Parents can easily assume that all is well because no racial or cultural issues came to the fore during childhood. However, the teen years are often a mine field of racially and culturally motivated prejudice. Friends that the child related to when younger may now be uncomfortable with the youth’s request for a date. Or, the white best friend may no longer be willing to go out at night with the black adoptee because he is afraid the police will hassle them. This is rarely articulated by the teen adoptee, but racism can be a significant factor in the life of the trans racial teen.

Seek out other mixed race/culture adoptive families: This type of family has more in common with the sub-culture of adoption than with either of the races or cultures involved. The child and the parents need the re-enforcement that comes from spending time with other families who were created in the same way and who face the same challenges. If such a group does not exist in the community, start one.

Seek out culture camps: There are several culture camps advertised in national adoption magazines. These provide the children, and the families, the chance to experience being the majority culture for an intense period of time. It also gives the child or youth an opportunity to spend quality time with other children of the same heritage who can share the joys and the pains of growing up in an adoptive trans racial family.

Develop ongoing relationships with members of the child’s heritage: It is not enough to attend special ceremonies or holiday events – that is the equivalent of cultural tourism. The child must have ongoing relationships with other members of his heritage and the parents also require the ongoing help these people can teach about what the child is experiencing as she grows. These same mentors and friends can teach the child how to deal with the racism and can teach the parents how to spot the more subtle forms and what to ask the child about school and friends.

Source: Handout for NYSCCC 2003 conference workshop presented by Brenda McCreight, PhD, May 9, 2003, Albany, NY. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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