Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Raising Children in a Transracial Family

Becoming a transracial family, I have always wondered and worried about my daughters’ self-esteem. My daughter Anna often brings up how she wishes she had blond, curly hair. I usually tell her how much I wish I had long, beautiful silky hair like she has and her beautiful tawny brown skin (versus my pale freckly version). She is truly a beautiful girl and I just want her to know that. Often her comments shock me, because I just see her as my daughter and don’t notice the differences.

This week, I read a wonderful article on racism that really hit home. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-blueeyes26-2009mar26,0,3179239,full.story . The article was written by a journalist, who was adopted from Korea and raised in Iowa. What was most interesting was this journalist's meeting with a blue-eyed teacher also from Iowa, who in the 1960s did a racism experiment with her class that captured the nation's attention – Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes. More than anything, it gave another view of how my girls must see the world and how the world sees them. I don’t fully understand, but I want to…I love these two children more than anything, but there will be a piece that being Caucasian, that I won’t.

There have been times that I do worry about how our girls view themselves in our middle class neighborhood in suburban MN. Have they experienced racism? How should I best prepare them for when they do? They have had kids make the occasional nasty remarks, but are these typical playground remarks? When do you need to worry about them being more than that? What are you doing to be proactive in preparing your children for the fact that our world may still judge them by the color of their skin? And finally, do you think it is “easier” for a child to live in a large city as a transracial adoptee than a child in a small town?

Karen Maunu

Associate Executive Director


  1. We try to stay very connected with our adoption community, so our children have many friends with similar families. We are in a more rural area with a lower Asian population, but it is growing. We have four children born in China and we encourage learning about their culture, and hope to teach them Chinese. We haven't encountered any prejudice or name calling, yet. This year we did begin homeschooling, due to 3 of our children needing more one on one instruction (two are cleft affected). Our family and friends are all supportive and we have not had major reactions to our "blended" family! We are blessed and believe our children are very content with us as parents.

  2. What a great article! Two of my four children are Chinese-American, so I worry about racism all the time. Especially because we live in an area of Massachusetts that is socio-economically diverse, but not racially diverse. My 8 year old goes to school with only 1 other child of Asian descent. I worry - how does this affect her and how does it affect how her peers see her and relate with her? I really appreciated the statement in the article that read "love transcends race." I truly believe that and it gives me hope for my daughters and our family.

  3. I had a great neighbor who happened to be Indian who had three sons. One day I watched a hockey game being played out in our street. All the boys were white except her son. At one point one of the boys dropped his hockey stick, and her son bent down to pick it up and hand it back. The white boy would not take it from him and said he would not touch anything that his 'dark skin' had touched. I watched her son keep his head held high while he simply handed over the stick to another boy. Later I told my neighbor about the incident and how amazed I was that her son handled it with such grace. She told me that she had been preparing him since the day he was born for the fact that some people in America would judge him by his outward skin and appearance.

    When I adopted a child of another race, I remembered her words and thought that we as white people cannot ever fully understand what it is like for someone of another race here. And I remembered that we should be completely proactive in preparing our children how to keep their heads held high whenever someone tries to put them down just because of their skin color.

  4. Patricia from Milwaukee, but in BeijingApril 1, 2009 at 7:16 PM

    We chose to adopt transracially partially due to the fact that we were in a racially integrated church where interracial marriage and adoption are common, and we can send our daughter to a racially integrated school. I have done a lot of research on the subject, and I believe that it is important for kids to be able to feel as normal as possible - not in terms of the latest fashion and toys, but in terms of who they are and where they fit in their families, communities and the world. I believe that it is much harder (perhaps not possible) to accomplish this while living in an area of the US that is not racially diverse.

    Anonymous about the hockey playing boy - what an inspiring story! And I agree - no matter how hard I work at setting up the ideal circumstances for my child's growth, I can never fully understand what it is like for someone of another race in the US - and I am living in China for a year - where I am an even more obvious minority than anyone in the US.... but unfortunately - even here I look more like the dolls I can buy my daughter than my daughter does. "White is right" even here - very sad.

  5. We live in a small suburb of a large city where our suburb is 91% Caucasian. However, due to the hospital systems in the city, there are pockets of Asian populations connected to the medical community. This gives us a Chinatown downtown, two large Chinese schools, one mostly native families and the other 70% native, 30% adoptive and mixed families. Plus we have an active Families With Children too.

    All of this has helped my 2 daughters from China. Taking my 6 year old back to China to get her sister was HUGE in her self esteem about being Chinese. She was a hero in her first grade class as she shared her trip with them. They followed our blog and welcomed new little sister on the playground.

    When my first daughter asked if she had been in my tummy, she accepted the explanation that she was in the tummy of a lady in China, then 2 weeks later, checked with her best friend's mom in our FCC and got the same story, so life was good ... she was just like her best friend.

    So despite being in a primarily Caucasian community, my daughters have lots of interaction with either primarily Asian or blended family groups. This takes a lot of time and effort to become involved, but has really minimized the impact of any teasing or stereotyping.

  6. I love all of your comments regarding how you are raising your children. I am struck by the comment made from the hockey stick incident "She told me that she had been preparing him since the day he was born for the fact that some people in America would judge him by his outward skin and appearance." I don't feel that I am doing this enough and need to find a way to give my girls the words they will need. How sad.....

    I am so happy to be discussing this, because it helps me so much to be thinking about ways to be a better parent and for a bit more incite into how to think about this.

    I hope someday that we will live in a world that people are judged solely on the inside and not the outside.

  7. I think the media really will shape kids in this area whether we want it to or not, so I'm so glad that there are things out there like Kai-Lan and Mulan. My siblings adore them and they relate to their culture.

    But Hollywood is really terrible when it comes to Asian Americans... Just recently they cast white actors in the roles of Asian & Inuit characters in "The Last Airbender" (which is set in an Asian fantasy word, like how Lord of the Rings is a European fantasy world).

    You should read this if your'e interested... http://derekkirkkim.blogspot.com/2009/01/new-day-in-politics-same-old-racist.html
    The main site is at http://racebending.com/ if you want to get involved :)

    Of course families should hold more influence over their kids than the media does, but I think it's important to fight!!

  8. Thank you so much for your comment. This is so insightful.

    I have one daughter that loves drama and I have wondered how an Asian young woman would do trying to find roles. I have even wondered if our local community theater would not give her a certain part based on her race. The blog you posted was so interesting and confirms my fears, at least in Hollywood. This could be a topic of another blog.

    The good news, is that my daughter was cast as Mary in our Nativity pageant this past Christmas. I was very proud of my church for choosing an Asian Mary.

    So much to think about as we try our best to raise our children. Thank you for your post!