Ask AF: Parenting a Biracial Adoptee

How can parents prepare a biracial adoptee to understand race and appreciate differences in the family? The AF expert explains.

Q: We are adopting a daughter who is biracial (1/4 African-American, 3/4 Caucasian). I am having a hard time finding resources about transracial adoption in which the child is of mixed race. I’m concerned about overemphasizing her biracial heritage, given the fact that she would have been raised by a Caucasian parent had her birth mother raised her. Can you recommend resources specifically for biracial or multiracial children?

A: Our society tends to downplay, rather than appreciate, complexities and confusing dualities. When we look at race–and all of us of every race and culture classify strangers by skin color and other racial characteristics–individuals are generally perceived to be of the racial group they resemble most, no matter what the truth of their origins. Individuals who are partially white but look to be of color are not perceived by our society as truly white. Adoptive parents who make a distinction between biracial and African-American don’t prepare their child for the realities they will likely face.

Children of ambiguous race may have the hardest time because they are constantly asked to identify themselves racially. Even when they’re not asked, they may feel called on to take a stand in order to be true to themselves. If you are brown-skinned or have African-American features, you are likely not to have the privileged experience enjoyed by those whose appearance fits Northern European stereotypes. This is likely to be true for your daughter, who may be questioned regarding her precise racial makeup but will probably never be mistaken for white. Encourage your daughter’s identification with people of color because they are the people she is most likely to have shared experiences with. Build her expectation that she will find support from them. To help you encourage your daughter’s healthy racial identity, you will want to explore the MAVIN Foundation (devoted to mixed race issues) and also read Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness, by Jane Lazarre. Lazarre’s book is a moving memoir of a white woman married to an African-American man who tries to understand her children’s racial identities.

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