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We Are Trayvon Martin

If you have been listening to the news at all lately, you have probably heard the tragic story of Trayvon Martin‘s death.  Since adoption is the place my mind is most of the time, I just keep thinking, “How many transracial adoptive parents know that this story is relevant to their own families?” In his Washington Post blog article, opinion writer, Johnathan Capehart, recalls “the list of the “don’ts”” he received from his mother about how to behave in public when a young Capehart was about to transfer to a predominantly white school. As a black woman in America, Capehart’s mother knew through lived experience the challenges her son would face as a black man in a white world.  So when I hear the accounts of adoption professionals like Melanie Chung-Sherman about the lack of attention to race in adoption placement, I worry that our kids of color are not in line to receive valuable skills and information they need to survive as a non-white person in a predominantly white society from their white parents. What if some white parents of kids of color adhere to a our-world-is-colorblind philosophy? What kind of lived experience will they share with their children? What will happen to their children when they leave the protective umbrella of their parents’ white privilege?

In my personal experience, my answer to that question is that we (transracial adoptees) are not ready to recognize, confront or incorporate racism into our lives. Since no one has taught us about stereotypes or racism, we tend to take the race-based teasing to heart and can begin to believe that people hate us because of who we are at our core and not because of ignorance or hate. My parents, bless them, probably have never heard of an Asiaphile or “yellow fever”, but looking back, it would have been really helpful if they had known and warned me that there might be people in the world who value me for only what they perceive my Asian exterior to be (submissive, sexually knowledgeable, etc.) and not for the person I really am. I didn’t know how to separate a generally disparaging comment from a racist remark until college where I took classes specific to race and began educating myself about race and race-related issues. Parents, college is too late for your children to begin learning about race when they themselves are a person of color.  

Transracial adoptees are Trayvon Martin because we, too, despite our white upbringings can just as easily be turned invisible by fear, ignorance and hate. Racism hurts and it can kill. Jonathan Capehart’s mother knew to warn him of these dangers – Do our transracial adoptive parents know to do the same?

To transracial adoptive parents, if race is a scary space for you, please be responsible and find the support, resources, and education you need to make it a space where you and your kids can learn and grow. Your children’s race is not a card they can play when it seems convenient and then hide in their sleeve when it isn’t. Your children’s race is in their very DNA and is showcased for all to see 24-7. If you can’t hear me, a transracial adoptee, then please listen to these transracial adoptive parents here and here.

7 Comments on We Are Trayvon Martin

  1. Brent Snavely // March 26, 2012 at 7:04 am // Reply

    Keum,

    I took decades for me to realize my colorblind adoptive parents had set me on a dangerous path. Being told I was “equal” to all others in the USA regardless of my physical appearances set me up for a great many experiences that used to baffle me.

    Brent

    • Brent, it’s a tough education when adoptees have to figure out the race piece all by themselves. White parents don’t have the life experience to teach their kids to live as “other”, but they certainly have the power to find role models and resources for their children. And, to educate themselves to learn to be an ally to their kids of color.

  2. This is all very accurate. And I was thinking of adoptive families during this too and hoping they are paying attention. It can be extremely challenging to explain/educate parents on racism, particularly, when surrounded by diversity. This gives them a false sense of “it’s diverse and multicultural” translation “what could go wrong?” Keep fighting the good fight adoptees!

    • Susan, I feel you. Educating parents is very challenging. My boss, Astrid Dabbeni, at Adoption Mosaic knows how to guide parents into race so well. She is definitely my role model for how to create a safe space for parents to explore and learn about race. And, all this “post-racial” America talk in the popular media does not help. I agree that there a false sense of security among some colorblind TRA parents.

  3. aarondcunningham // March 26, 2012 at 8:52 am // Reply

    I can’t help but wonder: If race is a scary space for them, why are they transracial adoptive parents?

    • Aaron, you’d be amazed (disgusted?) at the number of transracial adoptive parents who struggle to exist in a racialized world. I think your question is a question to ask adoption and other placement agencies. It seems like placement agencies cannot find the balance between preparing white parents to raise children of color and making transracial adoption still seem plausible to their white clients.

  4. Mary A. Coyle // March 27, 2012 at 12:22 pm // Reply

    Thank you, Keum Mee. This was a great blog with educational links to other aparents with transracial kids. As an adoptive parent in the beginning of raising my children, it was hard to find this type of information to aid me in my education about race. When I worked with our parent support group, I ran several adult adoptee panels in our area for parents in our group to hear about race and how it can affect our kids.

    One young man who was adopted from Korea and is a police officer told us that he always–and I mean always–carries his police ID with him whenever he is off-duty. He had experienced so many incidents of racial profiling that he felt safer when he carried his ID.

    In another more recent incident in my kids’ high school, a teacher was teaching ancient India history and religion. This teacher kept calling on my son’s friend who happened to be of the Indian race, but was raised here in Virginia, many times for his input on India’s history and religion. My son had to step up and defend his friend by reminding the teacher that his friend was born here in Virginia, and didn’t have much knowledge of the religions of ancient India.

    These types of incidents are the ones where I wish the agencies had thought through how much help we “white” parents would need when we parent children of color. I appreciate your links to these blogs. They will be a new resource for me. Thank you! Mary Coyle

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