Difficult Questions–Part 1: Race & Ethnicity

We have just four more days to our March 22nd contract-signing Intensive Weekend deadline, and in the past week and a half we’ve been through a whirlwind of paperwork, with more to come. We spent a large chunk of Sunday talking about some particularly difficult questions that are part of the profile information that will be used to pull our profile to send to a prospective birthmother….

Wait. Let me back up. I STILL need to do the post with a fuller explanation of how this open adoption process works, but for this particular moment, let me tell you what I’m talking about without getting sidetracked to the bigger picture. When a prospective birthmother, (a pregnant woman, sometimes with the prospective birth father, seeking to make an adoption plan for their child) contacts our agency, they will fill out a short form with some basic information about who they are and what they are looking for in adoptive parents. All prospective adoptive parents through our agency fill out a form explaining who they are and what birthparents they are willing to work with. For birthmothers looking for people who fit how we described ourselves and who we are willing to work with, our agency sends our profile packet, along with others. The to-be birthmother narrows the prospective adoptive parents down to a few and then contacts them. If she decides to proceed with one, as does the family she selects, they will “match” (kind of akin, I’m told, to exclusive “dating” in the online dating world.) More on this process later. But you can see how important it is that we treat this little 2-page form with the utmost importance, as how we answer this information determines to whom our profiles are sent. For those two pages–we’ve had to make some heavy-duty decisions. They are not unanticipated (are you kidding me?! I’m a worrier–I’ve tried to imagine every possible scenario!!) but that doesn’t make them much easier.

The first few questions (page 1) are about race and ethnicity, and whether we are willing to raise a child of an racial / ethnic background different from our own. It’s not that simple, though, as the form continues. Next are questions about what specific races and/or ethnicities we are open to, singularly (i.e. Asian only or African American only) and then in combinations of two (African American and Caucasian, etc) (and each different combination was listed separately) and then in three or more (you get the idea) different from our own.


Now, for those of you who know *A* and me, you know our answer to any of these. We were a little flummoxed by the idea that someone might welcome a child who is, say, African American and East Indian, but not one who is, say Asian and Pacific Islander, just a few of the combination of racial/ethnic backgrounds listed. Of course, there are all sorts of scenarios where this may make sense, and we set about imagining them–maybe an adoptive couple or person feels strongly that the child should look like them, or like their to-be sibling, or maybe they feel strongly about being able to maintain ethnic or racial similarities. But for us–two white kids with no real and appreciable celebratory feelings towards our various European roots (other than an affinity for many things Scots-Irish), we thought about just putting a big smiley face over the whole lot of choices to indicate that we’re open to any. In the end we just ended up checking the “yes” box to indicate that we are open to adopting a child of any race and/or ethnicity different from our own, and in any combination.

To make sure we really understand our response to the affirmative, the IAC asked we complete an online training course that presented various scenarios for us to think about and talk about, and followed that up with an online questionnaire that really did make us analyze (more than even I already had) why we think we can handle this. These questions included but were not limited to:
*What is the difference between ethnicity and race?
*How do you define your race and ethnicity?
*What was/were the demographics of the neighborhood(s) in which you grew up?
*Did you have friends of a different race/ethnicity when you were growing up? List the races/ethnicities of your friends.
*Do you have friends of different races / ethnicities now? List the races/ethnicities of your current friends.
*What are the demographics of your current neighborhood?
*What are the demographics of the local schools?
*What steps will you take to provide positive role models of your child’s race and ethnicity, if not present in your community?
*Has anyone in your family married into a race different from your own?
*Have you told your family that you are considering transracial adoption? (This is imperative, said the bolded, all-caps, italicized font.) How will they support you?
*How will you talk to your child about race? About racial prejudice?
*What experiences, if any, have you had that might have prepared you for the challenges you may face as a parent of a child of a different race and/or ethnicity?

One of the questions asked (not verbatim) how we would handle being a poster family of sorts–it might be obvious that our child is adopted, or the child might be questioned as to why he or she “belongs” in our family, or any number of asinine questions/comments, which might even come from people near and dear to us. How will we handle these situations–how will we answer our child’s questions about race and prejudice?

All of these questions provoked discussion, and several of them are tough, but necessarily so. This isn’t something to be treated lightly. We freely admit that we have no idea what it is like to parent a child (period) (and muchless one) of a different race, and we both, with our white skin color, operate from a position of white privilege–though I think I can say that at every opportunity we can we do try to be allies to people of color, and not completely oblivious to the privilege granted to us because of what we look like. Surely that’s a start, though we know it’s not nearly enough to help a child fully question, understand, embrace, and celebrate their racial difference.

With our openness to the possibility of parenting a child or children of a different race or races than our own, we’ve done some reading, starting with blogs of transracial adoptive parents, and then with some books the IAC has recommended–so far with these two:

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising HealthyBlack and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World,  by Marguerite Wright


Inside Transracial Adoption: Strength-Based, Culture-Sensitizing Parenting Strategies for Inter-Country or Domestic Adoptive Families that Don’t Match  by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall.

Aside from reading everything we can, online or hard copy, to educate ourselves, one of the things we’re doing with this blog is trying to network with other folks who have been where we are, and have successfully navigated their transracial adoption(s). I imagine, if we match with a birthmother-to-be who is of a different race, we will lean on this online community of support–and on others of you out there that lend us an empathetic listening ear (or eye, as the case may be, if you’re reading this as opposed to talking to us)–pretty heavily.

Thoughts, anyone? Books, articles, blogs, advice to recommend? (I know you all are generally pretty quiet, but I thought I’d offer)…



We talked a lot with our social worker during the homestudy regarding our feelings about transracial adoption, and how that conversation went.  Check out my interview with fellow blogger Meghann, who interviewed me in November 2013 about our adoption process and our decision about our wide-openness to adopt transracially.


5 thoughts on “Difficult Questions–Part 1: Race & Ethnicity

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