Posts Tagged ‘ transracial adoption ’

Book Review: GROWING UP BLACK IN WHITE by Kevin D Hofmann

As a South African who grew up in the Apartheid era, from the first page of Kevin’s book I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between his description of America’s racial discrimination during the 1960s, and that which existed in my own country prior to April 1994.

Kevin was born in 1967 in Detroit, at a time when racial segregation was the norm in the US. The Ku Klux Klan, for example, was demonstrative in the extreme in expressing its hatred of the black minority. Meanwhile, here in South Africa, our non-white population living under the then government’s Apartheid legislation was dealing with pass book laws, the Group Areas Act and disenfranchisement, among numerous other so-called legal discriminatory practices.

Born to a white mother and a black father, Kevin is adopted by a white Lutheran couple at a time when, as he puts it, “different pigments can’t get along”. Indeed, while most babies are lavished with beautiful gifts to welcome them into a community, Kevin’s reception takes the form of a burning cross planted on his parents’ front lawn.

How Kevin and his family choose to deal with this incident and others which follow makes for insightful reading and gives all parents, especially those who choose to adopt across the colour and culture line, much to think about. As a white parent, while reading Kevin’s story I found myself constantly asking: if he was my child, what would I have done?

Kevin’s book is not about adoption. It’s about racial discrimination. He simply relates the experiences of his transracial upbringing, and the subtle and blatant discrimination he often had to endure, even from members of his own extended adoptive family. He tells his story candidly and objectively, allowing the reader to form his/her own opinions. Towards the end of the book he does touch lightly on the personal emotional issues he deals with as an adoptee, but the primary theme of his story is contained in the book’s title.

For readers who are, or on their way to becoming the adoptive parents of a child of a different race, Kevin’s journey will provide valuable insight on what being part of a transracial family entails – from the most important perspective of all – the child’s. Because when all is said and done, Kevin is no different from any other child – all he wants is to fit in.

Telling your child they are adopted – when and how

Guest Post
By Michelle Aspeling
Coordinator: Pretoria Adoption Support Group, South Africa

Families are formed in many ways and adoption is a beautiful way to make a family.  From the moment I received the referral of my son to the moment I laid eyes on him and looked into those little brown eyes, I knew he was my son.

After all the excitement and the joy that came with this blessed moment in my life, I had a great fear of how do I tell him I did not give birth to him?  Although for everyone else it might be obvious, as I am vanilla and he is chocolate, my biggest fear was, how would he respond and would he still love me as mommy?

During our home study preparation we were informed and educated on all aspects that lay ahead of us, so I knew from the beginning that he had the right to know that although he did not come from my body, this was just a technicality, as he was my choice and my gift from God.

There is often hesitancy on the part of adoptive parents, especially in cases of same-race adoptions for a variety of reasons, not to tell their children they are adopted.  During our home study preparation we were told that a child should never remember the moment they found out they were adopted; they should simply grow up knowing it.  I thought this made a lot of sense, and wanted to share some of the choices we made about telling our son that he is adopted.

Tell your child at an early age
It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, as it is often best to introduce the idea slowly and over time.  This can avoid the risk of the child finding out by accident from a family member or friend.  Some parents choose to wait until the child is in their teens before telling them child they are adopted, but adolescence is in itself a difficult time, so this may not be the best time.

In some ways, this can make the question of how to go about telling your child they are adopted somewhat easier, as small children tend to ask simpler questions than older children.  My son was four when he came home from nursery school and proudly told me: “I came from your tummy!” and pointed to my tummy.  (The teacher had explained to all the kids in the class where they came from and that they were born from their mommy’s tummies.)  At that moment, my heart skipped a beat and I said, “Skattebol, families are made in all kinds of ways, and sometimes children don’t come from their mommy’s tummy, but I’m still your mommy.”

This satisfied him for the moment. I did not deceive my child, nor did I make a big deal about it either, as telling them they are adopted is an ongoing process.  As your child is able to better understand things as they get older, you can explain more and more.  Obviously, a one or two-year-old is not going to comprehend the complicated facts of adoption, but they can start becoming partially aware of their special identity.

Be patient
It is important to explain a little at a time.  Only answer the questions asked.  This will allow your child to comprehend what you are telling them.  Answer each question as they come up, so that they are not overwhelmed and confused.  Children may only understand a small fraction of what has been explained, but, as they get older and are able to understand more detail, you will be able to build on an existing foundation.

Never place birth parents in a negative light
I used the following explanation: “You didn’t grow in mommy’s tummy.  You have a birth mother (or tummy mummy) and you grew inside her.  She loved you very much.  She couldn’t take care of you.  Now, you are my child and I am so lucky to be your mommy.”

It makes the child feel less rejected to know that they were loved deeply, but the biological parents just weren’t able to give them the kind of home they wanted the child to have.  You just have to find that middle ground between “over glamorising” birth parents and talking negatively about them.

Be honest
Adoption is not a shameful thing, it is simply the child’s “truth”.  We decided to be open about adoption, to talk about it freely, but not obsessively, and have our son always know how he came into our family.

Tell their story
We do this by telling our son bedtime stories of how we prayed for him, how we travelled to pick him up from the orphanage, how he came to live with us, and the joy, anticipation and love we felt. As he gets older, we adapt the story according to his level of understanding.  He is now starting to add his own bits and sometimes it is just wonderful how he is able to comprehend certain facts and explain to me what he understands.

Recently, he said: “I sat on the chair at the orphanage and was waiting for Mommy and Daddy to come and get me!” He asks questions which create a great dialogue between us. Other methods, such as reading a book about adoption, scrap booking and pictures, are ways parents can use to tell their children their story. Always stay positive!

Celebrate your differences
Our family is not defined by who received whose DNA, we are defined by relationship, as not one of us in our family shares the same genetics.  It doesn’t matter how you are formed; what matters is the love you share and the memories you create.  We celebrate his culture, heritage, food, art, and more.  Our son is from Cambodia, so it is not always easy living in South Africa to participate in the various festivities, but we take him to the temple, cook Cambodian cuisine and try to incorporate Cambodian traditions in our home.

Adoptive parents should not fear saying the “wrong thing”; there is no correct language or method to use when telling a child they are adopted.  You know your child best, so approach the discussion in the way you feel is most appropriate.

Visit the Pretoria Adoption Support Group on Facebook


Transracial adoption: Thoughts of a South African Adoptive Mom

Laura, a white South African, is the mother of two boys (her biological sons) and Megan, her black adopted daughter. I asked her about the challenges of raising a black child in a white family. Her response was so moving I had to share her words…

A few times I have had people ask me whose daughter my two-year-old Megan (name changed) is. When I respond that she is mine, and explain that she is adopted (as they look at me strangely), a few tell me very firmly, (sometimes aggressively) that there is no way that she could possibly be mine. Although this kind of ignorance is hurtful, I can handle it for myself, but my heart aches for Megan when she is old enough to hear and understand them. I think the deepest issue for me has been simply the aching that every mother has in her heart when her child is wounded and she cannot mend the wound herself.

I see this pre-language stage of Megan as our honeymoon time during which she will not be aware of the comments of others or their uninhibited staring. I truly believe that she is, and will be a happy and well-adjusted person, and I don’t in any way see adoption as a negative word or concept, but I do know that she will have to face the reality of it and the rejection of it when she is ready.

My prayer is that God will enable her to have a strong sense of who she is, as well as where she originally came from, even though it may always hurt her. I believe that she will become a child, and eventually a woman who is not afraid to stand up and be different when it is the right thing to do, or the loving thing to do. I trust that the challenges and issues will shape and strengthen her as they already are doing in our other two children and our marriage and our extended family. We pray that although adoption may be ‘a narrow path that few will take’, it will have a ripple effect on those who are touched by it, challenging stereotypes, prejudices and racism, and calling individuals and families to positive action in whatever area is right for them.

Once in particular I experienced quite overt racism towards Megan through a derogative comment that a man made about her in my presence (she was less than a year old – can you believe it!). My initial response was to immediately withdraw from the group I was standing in (they all heard the comment), and walk away before anything else could be said.

Usually, I can be quite verbal in these kinds of situations and would have given him a mouthful, but somehow when it is your own child they are talking about it is like being punched in the stomach and knocked down. It winds you mentally and emotionally, and the response in a mother to fight for your child is, I think,one of the strongest emotions there is.

I had some time to mull over this during the church meeting we had all just gone into. (church meeting, can this happen in church?) I was so angry on Megan’s behalf I could hardly breathe. How could anyone say something so rude as a joke, and to what purpose? I realised that this was probably a common way of speaking in his circles, and that those usually in his company either agreed with him and laughed, didn’t really notice what he had said, or quietly ignored his word. I also realised that he had probably hardly ever had someone of another colour skin in his social company, and therefore didn’t actually consider what he had said as offensive, until he saw me withdraw from the group.

I thought of all the things I could say to him after the meeting, but it all melted into nothing. I realised that nothing I would say to him would change him, and I surrendered my rage, asking God to deal with him and convict him in a way that only God can do. I realised that my anger would only elicit more hurt and resentment, possibly hatred in me, and I felt that my immediate withdrawal from the group as he spoke was perhaps statement enough of my feelings.

I began to feel pity instead of hate. After the meeting he came straight up to me, and although he did not apologise, his whole demeanor had changed, and he began asking me about Megan and the adoption process, saying how wonderful it is that we have adopted her and that she is a beautiful baby. I was speechless, and decided to try to extend grace to him. I hope that the experience challenged him, and continues to challenge and change him for the positive.

So I guess there are many issues that arise out of stories such as these. Firstly, the pain and sense of helplessness tied up in the awareness of my child’s future hurt, and secondly, the daily choices to either bow to the hurt, resentment and hatred  of others who are ignorant, nosy, or simply nasty, or to surrender to grace and be set free to love again. I think I’ve learnt that when you love truly deeply, there is ironically a wide open gap for hate to creep in – when those you love are attacked in whatever way. Pity is also a great replacement for anger, because you can begin to love someone if you pity them, but not if you remain angry with them.

On a lighter note (and there are infinitely more wonderful moments than these few dark ones that unfortunately stick in the memory), I will mention some of my thoughts and our experiences as a family.

Because we have chosen to adopt transracially, our adoption is ‘public’. Strangers cannot help but notice, and often stare or, better than staring, ask questions. Although I appreciate peoples’ honesty and would prefer questions to whispering behind our backs and possibly coming to incorrect assumptions about us and adoption, sometimes it can be tiring and draining to feel ‘watched’.

For example, when my daughter is misbehaving in public, throwing a tantrum, or crying, I feel that I am being watched and ‘assessed’ much more than with my two biological children. I feel (and this is just my perception), that if I am having to tell her off or she looks unhappy, people make the assumption that she is not happy, or that she is a difficult child or that I am not as good a mother as I would be if we were from the same people group. Perhaps that I am not really able to care for her needs well enough, or bond with her sufficiently. I feel that whatever some people observe in that small time frame will be used to judge the overall success of adoption, and although I acknowledge this as only my perception, I do feel it as quite a pressure some days.

I could not be more pro- adoption than I am. This is something I can give my life to, especially being an African (I am South African), with all the need for parents and homes here. My heart aches for our South African past and I grieve for all the injustices and cruelties. It’s difficult to ignore the aftermath of all of this, which still remains extremely visible here, especially in the recurring poverty cycles around us.

Partly my heart for adoption comes out of this sense of trying to make a difference and to right wrongs. It’s overwhelming to think of how massive the task is of changing a nation, but more manageable sometimes to think of making a huge difference to one life instead of a small difference to many lives.

And this is the path that we have been led into and chosen. When we attended the preparation course prior to our adoption of Megan, one of the things that really struck me was someone’s comments about ‘being a hero’. The social worker stressed that we cannot adopt only to ‘do something good’ or to be a ‘hero’. Although this seems very simplistic, I have grown to see it as extremely key in all adoptions, but especially transcultural adoptions. If I, even on a sub-conscious level, see myself as some kind of ‘rescuer’ of my child, I have to be very careful not to cross the very fine line of self-importance and white supremacy. Also, my child should never feel that she owes me anything for what I have done. I must operate out of love, which seeks no reward or congratulations.

This I have found to be difficult because often people’s first response when asking about the adoption is: ‘You are such wonderful people to have done this selfless thing’. But how does this portray my daughter? That she is lucky to have received our charity? No! I always try, no matter how short the interaction is, to put across the blessing that we have received through Megan, and that adoption perhaps begins as a selfless idea, but plays out as mutual love and blessing upon blessing within a family that just looks a little different.

Many people I have spoken to perceive that many adoptive parents have concerns that their child will one day leave them and go to live with their biological family when they find them. This has not at all been a concern for me. Megan is an integral part of our family and takes on the culture of our family as she grows and learns, just like the boys have. We met her birth mother on the day she was given to us, and that was truly an emotional and amazingly intimate time. We felt that we were really able to connect with her and we hope that when Megan is old enough (legally from the age of 18), she will seek her birth mother out.

I believe this will be part of her healing, although I know it will bring pain as well. I don’t feel threatened by my daughter’s birth mother because I know that in every way I am her real mother and I will always be that to her, even if her birthmother becomes part of her life one day. We portray Megan’s birth mother as a brave, very young girl who chose to release Megan as the most loving and selfless act of her life, because this is what we believe to be true.

One of my close friends was passionate about adoption, but had some concerns prior to our adoption. She asked me: “How do you know that you won’t favour your biological children over you adopted child?” My response surprised but moved her deeply. I explained that I was, on the contrary, concerned that I would favour my adopted child over the others because she has already been wounded by life.

We have been amazed to see our boys interact with Megan from day one in their absolute protective adoration for her. I was initially worried last year when my son, aged six, made a comment out of the blue about Megan being ‘more special’. Obviously, babies by nature are more demanding than slightly older children. I thought that he was perhaps feeling left out or jealous, yet we hadn’t observed any jealousy at all from either of the boys.

As I began to discuss this with him, he stopped me short. ‘It’s totally fine, Mom. Megan is more special because she is adopted.” This was clearly not said in a negative way, but he was expressing that he sees that Megan was chosen to be part of our family when she wasn’t before. I was so proud of him that he had grasped not only that she was more needy because she was a baby, but beyond that, we have to take special care with her because of her adoption. That’s not to say we treat her differently to the other children, but her beautiful rich skin is a constant reminder of the gift that has been entrusted to us, the gift of our little Megan.

Some of the really stupid questions people have asked me about Megan are: what does she eat? She must eat different food because she has dark skin.

Is she clever? Implying that she may not be – this is their concern about adoption. It makes my blood boil!
Does she speak English? We brought her home at when she was two months old!
Will we raise her in English? We don’t yet know an African language, although we will probably embark on learning one as a family in the future.

Although I call these ‘stupid questions’, as I said before I would in some ways far rather people come out with their questions to my face than come to their own conclusions behind my back. However, the difficulty comes in when these conversations happen in front of the children and can be extremely hurtful. I have sometimes, in severe cases, felt I am justified in going into attack mode verbally on behalf of my child. She must always know that I will be willing to stand against anyone or anything to defend her. Yet there is a fine line between righteous anger and going overboard emotionally in a way that is destructive, so I am constantly seeking wisdom for each particular situation.

Interview with a transracial adoptee

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…


Kevin Hofmann

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.

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