New Release Excerpt: What White White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption—Introduction by Melissa Guida-Richards

Posted by – November 29, 2021
Categories: General Excerpt New Release Psychology & Personal Growth Society & Politics

What White Parents Should Know about Transracial Adoption“I want to adopt a child someday to give them a better life.”

This is a sentiment that is often said by prospective parents to their peers, friends, and anyone who will listen.

This narrative is influenced by viral videos we see online, advertisements of impoverished neighborhoods in third- world countries on TV, and discussions in some churches that urge attendees to give the gift of adoption. 

But what exactly is adoption? When you look up the definition on the web, it says adoption typically takes place when a nonbiological parent becomes the legal parent to a child. But somehow this somewhat neutral definition has been erased in favor of an overarching positive theme that warms the hearts of others. Often adoption is recast to represent a family, often a white couple, who is “saving” a child in need.

In fact, over 70 percent of adoptive parents in the United States are white and 84 percent of transracially adoptive parents in the United States are white, making transracial adoptions more and more visible in today’s world.1,2 At a glance, this may seem like a promising statistic because it means adoptive families are becoming more inclusive racially. After all, from the outside looking in, cute Instagram photos of white families with their happy Brown or Black babies holding felt letterboards can seem like the perfect solution to providing babies with homes and increasing multiculturalism in the US. 

There’s just a little problem.

The ideas that love is enough and color doesn’t matter are also prevalent. These ideas can cause adoptees to grow up in homes in which their parents ignore their race and society tells them to be happy with what they’ve got. These views perpetuate the idea that adoptees need to be grateful no matter their circumstances; if they aren’t, they are instantly viewed as the ungrateful adoptee. 

An ungrateful adoptee criticizes the adoption system and their adoptive parents and often portrays a more complex view of adoption than the public often accepts. When we speak out against adoption issues, we are almost automatically given the title of ungrateful because many people see our speech as a threat to finding homes for other children in need. However, our intention is not that—instead, we are focused on improving a flawed system that has harmed adoptees, birth moms, and even adoptive parents.

You may be wondering what this means. If there are problems within the system, does that mean that adoption is bad? Does it mean that adoption shouldn’t happen?

Adult adoptees, specifically those who have been adopted transracially, have started to advocate for the rights of adopted children and to bring to light the challenges in the system, even though the nuances are often difficult to discuss in quick exchanges on Twitter threads or by answering Facebook group questions. Despite the challenges, adult adoptees continuously try to relay their experiences publicly online with essays, threads, memoirs, and videos about their trauma. To help shape a more honest narrative, they openly discuss racial identity, finding birth families, and even racism in their own homes. However, adoptive parents and other members of society do not frequently meet these real-life stories with compassion or show interest in further discussion. These adoptees are often shut down with gaslighting, aggression, and, sometimes, threats. These are some examples of common responses adoptees receive:

Would you rather have been aborted?

You don’t know what you’re talking about; my friend was adopted, and she’s happy.

Would you rather have been left in an orphanage?

You should be grateful for the life you have!

Go back to where you were born if you’re so unhappy. Think about your parents! How would they feel hearing you speak like that?!

I could go on and on. The insults and accusations that I have heard since talking about my adoption story so publicly have hit home more than once. It is hard to hear people become so angry with me, but I’m now used to it. From the moment I found out I was adopted and tried to discuss the complicated range of emotions caused by my adoption experience, my feelings have often been dismissed by parents, friends, and even some other adoptees.

Would you rather we left you there? What do you think your life would have been like?

As adoption stories go, mine is a tad bit more complicated than most because I am not just a transracial (adopted by parents of a different race) and international adoptee (adopted from a different country), but I am also a late-discovery adoptee. This means that I wasn’t told that I was adopted as a child; instead, I discovered that I was adopted when I was an adult. I was nineteen years old, and it completely changed my life. I faced identity problems and felt completely isolated. 

Due to my adoptive family’s multicultural roots, they were able to claim that my darker skin came from distant relatives. Even though I had many questions about my identity during my adolescence, I was met with simple answers and no-nonsense attitudes that left me feeling that I had little room to argue. Once my adoption came to light, I had even more questions as I struggled to figure out the new pieces of my identity, especially since I grew up in a family that had deep prejudices against people who were of a different race/ethnicity.

After a few conversations with my (adoptive) parents about the issues that I was experiencing as an adoptee, and after even more conversations with new adoptee friends I met on Facebook groups online, I realized that my experience was not that different from my adoptee peers. A lot of us have struggled with our identities and with our mental health, and many of us have even experienced racism within our adoptive families. After seeing this correlation time and time again within the adoptee community, I realized that the adoption narrative the world has focused on was not the same as what I and other transracial adoptees have experienced.

I tried discussing these issues with my parents and was met with argumentative comments and questions about why I was so angry and ungrateful. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my parents or have a decent childhood; it was the fact that their frequent response of “it could have been worse” seemed like their excuse for not dealing with the issues I did face, which leads me to the reason why I am writing this book—to help educate adoptive parents about a more nuanced approach to transracial adoption that elevates the voices of adoptees who, in my opinion, are the experts because we have the lived experience.

You may be thinking that stories like mine are few and far between—that this doesn’t really happen all that much. But that is not the case. I’ve found that many adoptees have similar stories to mine and have also struggled with their identities and how they fit in.

The attacks I have seen hurled at fellow adoptees who are simply telling the most heart- wrenching stories about their childhood and experiences just keep coming. This experience is all too common, and not just with late-discovery adoptees like myself; it is also especially prevalent within transracial adoptions in general. Because of this backlash, all comments by adoptees and adoptive parents that I’ve included in this book were taken from confidential interviews. The names of interviewees have been withheld by mutual agreement.

If you’ve done any research into adoption, you have probably found that most books, guides, movies, and even news stories are told from the adoptive parent’s perspective. The voices of adoptees, who have experienced beauties as well as struggles from adoption, are often underappreciated. But adoptees have a lot of insight and help to offer adoptive parents that will not only help the adopted child but will also help the whole community grow and prosper. 

My mission is to create an open dialogue in which adoptee voices can be prioritized so that the adoption community can come together to create beneficial change for us all. Adoptive parents are too often portrayed as the heroes in the story who set out to give a child a better life (or, at least, what most people think of as a better life according to modern society’s standards). The idea that the system is imperfect is one that goes against the very core belief that many adoptive parents hold dear.

One of the greatest fears of an adoptive parent is their child being hurt by something that they were told was beautiful and amazing by everyone they know. How can there be flaws in the very thing that brought them what they desired most—a child? How can loving a baby be bad? How can saving a baby be bad?

When I first started to talk to my (adoptive) mother about my thoughts on adoption, she grew very angry and defensive. Yes, as an adult, I could have probably broached topics more sensitively, but initially, I was carrying a lot of pain and resentment associated with our relationship. After all, she hid my adoption for so many years. When I talked to her about certain issues that show up in transracial and international adoption practices, she often shut down or hurt me with her reaction. 

One time she said to me, “I get it. You hate adoption. I should never have done what I did. I get it. I’m evil.” 

Her words dripped with sarcasm, anger, resentment, and pain. And this is what made me realize that we needed a way to discuss the topics that are important to transracial adoptees. Comments like these can threaten the idea that adoptive parents can be “real parents” and “good parents” if their children’s lives aren’t perfect. The reality is that no parent is perfect, we all make mistakes. With this book, I hope to find a way to cross that bridge that is often rife with many emotions from all sides of the triad to help us all come together and to do what is best for transracially adopted children and adults. If we all can push aside pride, anger, and resentment, and respect one another’s truths, if we can learn and grow from actual research and lived experiences of adoptees, we can help improve lives. We can make a difference. But the only way we can do this is by coming together. By sitting with topics that can make us uncomfortable, that make us defensive, sad, and sometimes angry. To do this, we need to acknowledge why this mentality is a problem and why it happens, and then we need to explore different, realistic solutions to do away with it that are helpful for all involved in the triad. 

This book is a tool for those who are willing to learn more and become allies to make changes to the complicated system of adoption. We will explore adoption and white privilege, the history of adoption, and how, as an industry, it can harm adoptees, trigger adoptive parents, and cause identity issues. The book also includes interviews with adoptive parents and adult adoptees to provide a complete picture of the experience. As a whole, this material focuses on the challenges transracial adoptees face, but it branches out a bit to explore the effects of toxic positivity in the adoption community as a whole.

Although the title of this book implies that the audience is only white adoptive parents, this text should speak to all parts of the triad. At times, adoptive parents reading this material may become defensive. But as I explained earlier, this is all a natural process of coming out of the fog. I urge you to take your time, begin discussions with adult adoptees or a therapist, or even write in a journal for a time before you react to the information this text provides. If you are an adoptee, this book can help you understand the experiences you may have gone through. If you are a birth parent, it might influence your decision when placing your child. 

Adoption is a multifaceted experience for everyone involved, but we can learn from one another to help prevent trauma if we just open our hearts to the fact that all of our experiences and feelings are valid. 

I include interviews with adoptees as well as parents who have adopted transracially to help open a conversation from which others can learn. I cover raw and honest takes on the nuances of adoption in this book, so please take a second to reflect before you dive in. To make change and progress, we need to listen, learn, and work together.

About the Author

Bevin is the associate comms director at North Atlantic Books.