My young adult daughter shares her thoughts on trauma and racial identity as well as transracial adoption – after spending the past 19 years as the oldest child in my family.
Being adopted into a racially blended family has been a wonderful journey. Complex but beautiful. Good with a few bad experiences.
In 2000, my biological brothers and I were reunited. All three had been adopted by our Caucasian father two years earlier. As a 10-year-old African-American girl, I wasn’t new to being around people who looked different than me. It was practically all I had known since entering the child welfare system at three.
I came to my new home from a broken place. I was filled with confusion and anger – stemming from years of sexual abuse and hate at the hands of my foster parents. I was scared before arriving.
Scared of my father’s complexion.
Scared of a white man abusing me again.
But he welcomed me with his open arms, a beautifully flowered bedroom and a heartfelt, hand-lettered welcome banner. He wanted me to feel at home. He wanted me to feel safe.
Because I was.
Neither of us really knowing the long journey ahead.
The initial months were hard. Building trust as father and daughter didn’t come easy – with me not understanding my inner emotions nor remembering everything from my past abuse.
For a while my father allowed my white foster mother to maintain contact, until the calls became too emotional. Leaving me in tears. She was verbally abusive and passive aggressive. She was bitter – blaming me for both her sad life and her husband’s incarceration. Once she was heard saying, “Who would want me if I have this black girl?”
This being the reason she asked my father to adopt me.
Her childish behavior deeply hurt me. It left another wound of abandonment for my father to heal. As our family moved forward, he suggested starting back a grade because of my trauma. But I begged to stay in fifth grade with others my age. Unlike adults in the past, he listened and agreed.
At the time I was still unaware of the devastating effects of my abuse. Turns out he was right. I wasn’t ready, especially upon entering middle school eight months later when the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome became more pronounced.
My new living arrangement was an overall adjustment in every aspect. But one thing didn’t change. The way people looked and treated my family.
When I started fifth grade in a racially mixed class, the same grueling questions arose from both black and white peers.
Who is that man with you? Why is he white? Why is he talking to the teacher? Why did he adopt you? Where are your real Mom and Dad?
At first these questions were hard for me. Questions came primarily from students yet surprisingly some adults too. I remember feeling anxiety while students waited on an answer. It enhanced my feelings of being different.
After realizing that most people were harmless and honestly curious, I answered questions without being offended. I answered by saying.
I don’t know where my mom and dad are. I don’t know why he’s white and I’m black. We just are. He adopted me because I needed a family.
I learned to answer this way, because it was simple and true. I had nowhere else to go. Same for my brothers. My father was the only person willing to keep them together.
In my new family, we learned to appreciate and love each other. With acceptance. Without judgment.
We constantly learned about black history and experienced culture first-hand. My father was often the only white person in the room.
He taught us not to over-emphasize race but focus more on the character of a person. This view helped me no longer fear him. It taught me to accept and love him for his character and actions.
We truly became a blended family.
My father liked to keep my siblings and me busy. Due to the fact there were eventually six children, keeping busy meant staying out of trouble. Activities, Activities, Activities! During the week we all attended school and participated in therapy. On Saturdays we went to dance and violin lessons. On Sundays we went to church and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
Church was interesting. There was a like and a dislike. A connection and a disconnection amid a diverse membership.
Although subtle, some people couldn’t hide their obvious discontent. Others welcomed my family – while a few individuals, both black and white, took a special interest in my brothers and me. They would take us on outings and spend quality time outside of church. Several relationships have remained through adulthood.
Their example taught us the real meaning of love and acceptance.
Those individuals who showed disdain made it so clear that even my younger brothers were aware of their bias. Intrusive comments were made to my father.
Why would you adopt special needs black children? Why do they act that way? Why are you so protective?
From my firsthand experience, my two white brothers didn’t receive the same treatment.
Because my brothers and I knew that my father gave generously to the church, we didn’t understand members pointing the finger at him for our behaviors. Some of which were trauma-related. Some of which were typical for tweens and teens. But none were outrageous.
The words were hurtful. In return, they made my brothers and me dislike the church. Without knowing whether members liked or appreciated us, we didn’t always respond appropriately in my opinion. Although my brothers and I routinely played our violins and sang for the congregation, we didn’t always experience love from the overall membership or the new pastor.
Instead, we often received the opposite.
That’s when we decided as a family that church attendance wasn’t necessary. We continued praying before every meal and living by what God’s taught the world.
On the other hand, lessons at Stage Door Dance Academy became our release. We were there to tumble, tap and move. A place to expend energy and gain self-esteem. The studio, too, was a safe place with no judgment. The owner, Ms. Jenny, treated us like family.
Black and white.
Regardless of smooth or bumpy mornings, Ms. Jenny always reacted the same – with absolute grace. Over an eight year period, her predictable environment brought my entire family closer.
No wonder we all loved Ms. Jenny.
I will conclude with a quote from one of my brothers. He and I conversed before putting my thoughts on paper.
Frankly, I feel much more complete as a person raised in a racially diverse family. My eyes are open to listening to other people’s views because I had to do just that growing up. And I learned a lot.
Furthermore, I had siblings – not black siblings, although that’s a fact several people try to downgrade. Ironically, people make racist jokes and look to me for support. I say, ‘You realize that I have black family. Right?’ I never find their humor funny.
Neither do I. We can all do better understanding race and blended families, regardless of our color.
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete & Advocate