In my inter-country adoption experience, the discussion of race and racism is often lost to the belief that a color-blind society is possible. Looking back on my early adoptive parenting years, I can honestly say that the subject of race was rarely broached, and if so, only superficially. You’ll have to figure it out, we were told. Love will conquer all.
But race and racism are something that white transracial adoptive parents need to look squarely in the eye. And on this topic, our opinions mean nothing, our idealism is meaningless. Away from the cocoons of our families, our children will face a world that we have never experienced and never will.
I think the very first thing an adoptive family like mine needs to do is acknowledge reality: Two white people can’t give their non-white children the experience they’ll need to navigate our race-conscious and often overtly racist society. And since no one in my family is culturally Korean American, reaching out to the Korean American community has been the only way to bring our children into contact with those who can teach them. This has meant creating as many opportunities as possible for our kids to develop meaningful relationships with other Korean Americans, through the schools they attend and through their and our family’s activities.
But there’s a rub. For some, trans-racial adoption amounts to no more than white ownership of people of color, ill-guided altruism, white privilege at its worst. Adoptive parent attempts to join the race dialog may be rebuffed. And our efforts to embrace our children’s ethnic heritage may be seen as cultural appropriation—deserving of criticism rather than affirmation; laughable, artificial, lame.
When this happens, it should also be no surprise that some white parents throw in the towel. After all, if every effort you make to support your child’s heritage is criticized for one reason or another, why even try? But how sad for the children, who then grow to adulthood unaware of what they may face as adults in our color-conscious society, and locked into false identities that fail to acknowledge who they are.
It takes humility for white parents to recognize and accept the challenges of raising children of another race and culture. Humility to accept that racism exists; to recognize the inherent privilege we enjoy as white people; to get out of our comfort zones and into our children’s communities; to defer to people of color on the line between embracing and appropriating our children’s culture; and to recognize that no matter how hard we try, on one level or another we’ll experience failure.
But if we can find this humility, our children will gain immeasurably. They’ll gain knowledge of the culture and community they lost when they were adopted, and the confidence to claim these as their own—things that all the love in the world, including ours, can’t give them.