I met Kevin Hoffman through the social community network Adoption Voices. He is currently writing a book entitled Growing Up White in Black, an account of what it’s like as a black child to grow up in a white family. Given that transracial adoption is becoming increasingly popular in South Africa, owing to the considerable number of babies orphaned, abandoned and given up each day due to Aids and poverty, I thought it fitting to interview Kevin on his experiences…
When and how did you first become aware that you were “different” to the rest of your family?
I often joke that the luxury of being a transracial adoptee means you never have to wonder if you were adopted or not. I remember a segment from the popular TV show Sesame Street, called “which one of these is not like the other?” In our family it was obvious I was not like anyone else. I can never remember a time when I didn’t feel different. But I always felt a part of the family even though my “tan” was a little darker.
How did this make you feel?
I actually liked being the different one with an unusual story. In the family I just felt like one of the kids. I was never aware of anyone in the family seeing me as different. Outside of our house I felt different more because I was black than adopted. The first neighborhood we lived in was a black neighborhood and my brothers and sister and I were sent to a school that was 98 per cent black so initially I didn’t feel different outside the home. When I was eight we moved to a white neighbourhood and there I really noticed on a daily basis I was different for the first year or so.
Did you and/or your parents ever have racial slurs thrown at you while you were growing up?
My brothers called me a nigger all the time when we would fight. I am not sure they knew the gravity of the word and did it really just to disarm me during the fight. During adolescence there is no such thing as a fair fight.
I can remember clearly the first time someone outside the family called me a nigger and I was devastated. In my book, there is a whole chapter dedicated to that called, “My First”.
I am sure my parents heard more insults than I did but they protected me from most of that.
If so, how did you (personally, and as a family) deal with this?
I was very disarming and there was no way to combat against that word. That word is such a powerful word that it just hurt me so deep. I would usually just go off by myself. The first time this white kid called me a nigger, I kept it to myself. I knew it would hurt my mom and dad to know that so I kept it to myself.
As a family, we never talked about it. My brothers would get in trouble for it but they would still use it when my parents weren’t around.
A portion of society believes that children adopted by parents who are not of the same race are racially and culturally deprived. Do you agree with this statement?
Yes and no. Because you are not raised in that culture and don’t come home to that culture you will never be like those that have been. This was the one things that I mourned and grieved about the most. I wasn’t as in touch with the culture like my black friends were.
But I was so blessed to have been exposed to my culture through my close friends at school that I was able to develop my racial identity and pride in my race. My parents did some extreme things, like moving us to a black neighbourhood, to assure that I would be in touch with my race and culture. That has made a HUGE difference in my upbringing. It allowed me to feel normal around people like me and feel a sense of belonging. So in that aspect I don’t feel deprived at all.
Adoptees generally have a lot of emotional issues to deal with. Did the fact that you are a transracial adoptee add to your “baggage”?
A lot of my emotional issues originate in me being adopted. I have the typical rejection issues a lot of adoptees have. So the need to be accepted is huge for me. You talked about this in your book and you made it very clear for me. There are two ways that adoptees respond to this rejection issue. One is to rebel and the other is to do what you have to do to be accepted. I was the one doing what I could do to feel accepted. Again, being black in a country that has some very big issues with race added to my rejection issues. The fact that I didn’t feel accepted in many situations because I was black added to my baggage more than being a transracial adoptee. When I was away from the family, no one knew I was a transracial adoptee, I was treated differently because of the colour of my skin.
Are you in favour of transracial adoption? Please state why you say yes or no.
I am a big supporter of transracial adoption if done correctly. If a family adopts a child of colour thinking they can raise that child as if that child is white I have issues with that. I would never go so far to say they shouldn’t adopt, but they really need to change their way of thinking and make sure that child has some consistent connection to their culture.
There are more children of colour in need of adoption than there are people of colour adopting so I don’t understand those who are against transracial adoption. It is absolutely necessary. If whites don’t adopt children of colour this means that manym many children will live a life in horrible conditions or in foster care. But it has to be done right and by the right people. I have always said it takes a special person to adopt transracially.
Do you see transracial adoption becoming more acceptable in future?
Yes. Out of necessity it has to be. The alternatives are horrible and not acceptable. It is my understanding that in the States there was a large group of black professionals who strongly opposed transracial adoption and were very vocal about it. Recently, they have relaxed their stance against it because the numbers say it is necessary.
Is growing up “white in black” just as common as your story – growing up “black in white”? If not, why do you think it isn’t?
Very rarely do you hear of a black family adopting a white child and that is because white children are in demand and blacks and people of colour don’t adopt was much as whites. I think that has to do with culture too.
What happy memories do you have as a transracial adoptee, humorous experiences and encounters that you would like to share?
The funniest story I can remember is when we moved to the white neighborhood, I was the only black kid on the block. Soon after we moved in a father of one of the kids in the neighborhood came to our door and asked for my dad. The father accused me of vandalising his car. He had no proof but since I was the newest and darkest kid on the block it had to have been me. My dad started yelling and I can remember being in my room on the second floor of the house and hearing my dad yell, “If you don’t get off my porch, I am going to put my fist through your face.” The other father turned around and walked away. It was funny to hear my dad the minister threaten to punch someone and it was great to hear he was sticking up for me.
What advice would you give to adoptive parents who have adopted or are considering transracial adoption?
If you’re going to adopt transracially or if you already have make a commitment to surround your child with people who look like them. In doing so you will help your child build a strong sense of who they are and give them a connection to their culture. When you do this there will be times when you may be the only white person a certain events. his is a valuable and necessary experience because if helps you to see what it is like to be the minority. It will help you understand how your child feels most of the time.
Any final comments you would like to add?
Transracial adoption is tough, but possible. Stay encouraged. You can do this; you just have to stay plugged into the right people and groups. If anyone has any questions for me you can contact me through my websites and I will definitely help in any way I can. I am here to support anyone interested in adoption.