What White Adoptive Parents of Black Children Should Know

What does it mean to racially socialize a child? Among black parents, racial socialization is informal education whereby they transmit to and instill in their children knowledge of the values, aesthetics, spiritual beliefs and all other things that give cultural orientation to existing while black in America.

While most analysts note that race is socially constructed, the institutional marginalization of people of color remains a fact of life in U.S. society, with many minority parents reporting that they train their children to help insulate themselves from and cope with the absurdity of racial discrimination.Angelina Jolie and kidsThe persistence and pervasiveness of institutional racism in the United States continues to make it necessary for black parents to prepare their children for the hostilities that they will encounter in education, health care, the workplace and other significant social institutions that directly and often negatively structure the daily lives and experiences of African Americans.

When black parents socialize their children in issues of race, they provide cogent messages, whether implicit or explicit, in the form of values, norms and beliefs about what it means to be black in American society, and what it means to live in a world where racial bullying continues to shape life chances for black Americans and many other Americans of color.

So what does racial socialization mean in the context of transracial adoption? In other words, what will become of the transracial adoptees raised in white spaces if they are not prepared to encounter our highly racialized society? Just as blacks socialize their children in issues of racial discrimination and “otherness,” whites socialize their children (albeit unknowingly) in the unearned privileges of whiteness.

Thus, when black childcare advocates see whites raising black children, they call these children’s race lessons into question. Do white parents have the cultural foresight to teach their children to be aware of the racism of society, particularly when few whites have any interest in discussing race and their role in the maintenance of white privilege? How can white parents raise black children when they express difficulty in having honest and open conversations about race with people of color?Mariska Agitay and childrenPresently, there are increasing numbers of African-American and biracial children and other children of color who are being raised in white homes by adoptive parents. As beneficiaries of systemic racism (i.e., white privilege), white adoptive parents and other whites rearing black children occupy a pivotal and paradoxical role in buffering those children from acts of mistreatment.

Given the historical tenacity of injustice, it is therefore vital that white adoptive parents help their children develop a positive racial identity and a strong set of coping skills. This might be difficult for many whites, having had very limited experience with and superficial knowledge of race-based oppression.

However, unlike other groups of whites, white adoptive parents of black children have a vested interest in understanding racial mistreatment, and not just from an individual perspective but from a larger societal framework. Communicating this kind of knowledge to adopted black children (i.e., racial socialization) provides them with ample protection and allows them to more effectively confront the negative consequences of human prejudice and bigotry.

The process of becoming critically conscious enough to properly socialize one’s children in issues of race remains a challenge for most whites, many of whom feel that African Americans are too angry or too fixated on blackness for real, transformative work on race relations to take place. Katherine Heigl and family 1The romantic story that whites are told about our nation is that it is based on ideals of progress, merit-based achievement and equal opportunity, but this story fails to address the question of why many Americans do not progress in our purportedly “fair” society and ignores the importance of our injurious racist past.

White racial consciousness is a 500-year-old historical process inscribing racial knowledge around black bodies into law, education, medicine and every other major institutions in society through a collective experience of human suffering, violence, psychological mayhem, land theft and the exploitation of labor.

If many whites are blinded to issues of race, as claims of being “colorblind” reveal, then how are they in a position to productively socialize their adopted black children to develop a strong sense of who they are as they prepare for psychological warfare against the xenophobic encounters they will experience?

Originally featured in Huffinton Post’ Black Voices


11 thoughts on “What White Adoptive Parents of Black Children Should Know

  1. This is such a wonderful article and poses the question are adoptive children anymore different than biracial/multiracial children. I would assume they fair the same.

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  8. I just came across your website and found much of the information very interesting and educational. I do have a question. The object of this particular article,”What White Adoptive Parents of Black Children Should Know,” is that white parents would not do a good service to adopt a black baby or that white parent(s) should help their black baby to identify with it’s culture. Well, I see it much differently. I am mostly Italian. I am white with mixed ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I am born from first born generation American/Italian parents. I have really no deep desire to know all about Italians. I don’t cheer Italian teams because I am Italian. I cook Italian food, however, I also cook German, Chinese, French, Indian and other foods. The way I see it is that we are American. We all come from somewhere. We are taught to consider each other as equal with no difference because of race. That was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream 50 years ago. If we keep the “differences” going in our country, many people will have the mentality that because they are different they can not have the same equal opportunity in our country; because they are a minority or a race of color when in fact it is the opposite. I work along side many people from other countries and ethnic backgrounds. They come here with the mindset that if they work hard in school and at their job, they will succeed. I know less people born in the US that work as hard as these people. It’s the “mindset” that keeps and holds people back. If a baby is adopted into a white family that tells their children they can be anything they want to when they grow up no matter what…including their race…chances are they will grow up and do well and have a positive attitude in life. Should white parents introduce an adopted child to their heritage, ethnic background, traditions, etc. of course. My children are part Irish so I signed my daughter up for Irish dance and kept introducing her to Irish traditions. Has she continued in those things…no. She is American and that’s how she lives her life. If anyone can adopt a child from any culture and give them a life better then they would have had if they weren’t adopted, such as grow up in foster care, isn’t that a better thing for that child? I don’t feel that adopted black children will be at a loss if they are not told about the difficulties of race because, they will not have a defense of that in their mind and psychologically they will do better. I personally know black women who were never taught that by their black mother or father and they became successful. Why? Because I believe they knew that if they put that in their mind, it would be a way of escape..an excuse. We all could say that. Women can of course say that men are hired over them, etc. But, let’s not get too carried away. I do appreciate your journalism. You say, in your own words, KolorBlind Mag is for “The equality & acceptance of all races/ethnicities; the promotion of the Interracial/multiracial life through culture, fashion, language and food…” Let’s all work together to do that. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be so happy to see that his dream, for the most part came true. Not to say that it is perfected but, it has come close and getting better all the time. I have a dream that all of us will really want equality and by doing so, we won’t keep separation going through races and any other form active. Amen!

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