In Their Siblings' Voices
By Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda (Columbia University Press; $24.50)
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There is little published in adoption literature about the experience of non-adopted white siblings in multiracial families. In Their Siblings' Voices (Columbia University Press; $24.50), by Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda, is a welcome addition, indicating that researchers are beginning to pay attention to this population.
The core of the book--the third in a series on transracial adoption--is its in-depth interviews with 20 adult siblings of black or biracial adoptees, drawn from 11 families previously featured in In Their Own Voices. While the question-and-answer format is at times monotonous, it is powerful to hear these often forgotten voices. It is clear that these siblings' identities have been shaped by their families' decisions to adopt transracially.
The interviewees articulate a range of attitudes regarding racial identity, some more sophisticated than others. Many describe themselves as "color blind" to their siblings. Some feel guilty for being oblivious to the struggle their siblings went through. Although the majority report that having a sibling of color made them more understanding of differences, including racism, one has to wonder whether their discoveries were gained at the cost of their siblings' suffering. While interviewee Kathy says that having an African-American sibling made her a better person, her adopted sister, Rachel, expresses "difficulty in accepting her dark skin, kinky hair, and African features in the context of being part of a white family."
In a compelling afterword, the authors suggest that the philosophy of colorblindness "impedes the growth of everyone in the family, not just the adoptees but also the siblings born to the family and the adoptive parents."
For the sake of our blended families, built through adoption and birth, we can only hope that the support we need to build a healthy identity for every child will continue to grow and become more accessible to all. In Their Siblings' Voices can guide any parent's education on transracial adoption.
Reviewed by MARIE-CLAUDE PROVENCHER, the white mother of a daughter by birth and two African-American boys by adoption. She writes for Point of View, the quarterly publication of Pact, An Adoption Alliance, a non-profit that serves adopted children of color and their families (pactadopt.org).
Author Q&A: Rhonda Roorda
Q: Why turn to siblings?
The conversation about transracial adoption is a hot topic in this country. The white, non-adopted siblings continue to be influenced by transracial adoption, both personally and professionally, and can add valuable insight about race, adoption, and their own self-identities. Yet, their voices were missing from this dialogue. Until now.
Q: As a transracial adoptee, were you surprised by anything you learned when you were writing the book?
The siblings showed incredible compassion and commitment toward their siblings of color. While they did not ask to have a black, biracial, Korean, Hispanic, or Native-American brother or sister, they were impacted regardless, and rose to the occasion, even though they did not get a book of instructions on how to do it right.
Q: What was it like growing up with siblings of another race?
It was eye-opening! While I love my white brother and sister very much, I knew that, to navigate in America as a vibrant black woman raised in a white family, I needed to learn how to embrace my dark skin and kinky hair, as well as my African-American heritage.
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