Tuesday, January 20, 2009

ADOPTING ACROSS RACIAL LINES - Guest blogger, Barbara Bearsinger! Part 1

This is a piece on trans racial adoption and older adoption from a friend of mine who adopted a Native American girl in the 70's. That was wayyyy before we were openly dialoguing about trans racial adoption. I have read essays by adult adoptees, crying out about being damaged by their white colorblind parents in that era. Not so for Barbara's daughter.

I met Barbara ONLINE in an animal rescue forum, after Hurricane Katrina. We have remained in touch since then. I think she is a wonderful writer, and have enjoyed her forum posts for years. Therefore, I asked her to pen a piece on her experience adopting her daughter, and raising her daughter, along with the issues of race and culture. She is a sage woman, and has wisdom to share with me. So I hope you will also enjoy her writing and thoughts on the topic. Since it is a longer essay, I will post it in two separate pieces.


In the late 1970’s, my first husband and I (who are Caucasian/white) adopted a little girl who was half white/half Native American. We already had a little boy of our own, and our daughter at age 9 was an older child adoption.

On the Native American side of her heritage, there was also almost certainly some African American ancestry. This is not uncommon in the southeastern region of the country (where we were living at the time). Historically, escaped and freed African American slaves often found a welcome among the Native American tribes in the area.

In the United States and Canada, first preference is to place adoptive children with families of their own race in order to help them in developing a sense of self within their own racial heritage. Although as a couple we were not Native American, due to the work my father did I had been raised on Indian reservations in the northwest and southwest from birth until my teens and had been an avid student of Native American cultures and histories since that time. So in a sense, our family was the “next best thing”!

There have never been any problems at all between our daughter and ourselves over the racial differences. Like all children everywhere, her first and biggest need was to be loved, and that she had in abundance with us. However, she had identity conflict over the fact of some African American ancestry – prior to coming to live with us, she’d already experienced some episodes of racial prejudice in her short life and therefore thought it was a “bad thing” to be part African American. This came to light within a few months after she joined our family.

With an extensive personal library of books on various Native American cultures in our home, we had no difficulty expanding her knowledge of that part of her background. In addition, we encouraged both children in activities that had to do with Native American cultures: taught them how to make musical instruments such as the “mouth bow” (similar to a jew’s harp) and water drums, taught them respect for fellow creatures on the planet (the four-leggeds, the wingeds, and plants), and how to make use of natural objects in inventive ways.

Our daughter did identify herself as Native American, and her physical features and characteristics were Native American, but we also felt it was important to do what we could to counter the negative views she had about being part African American. Fortunately, we had one great resource at hand.

Three years earlier, the movie “Roots” based on Alex Hailey’s book of the same title, had burst on the American consciousness, and with great good fortune, was being shown again on TV in its entirety approximately a year after our daughter came to live with us. We all sat down and watched it together, and what we emphasized most to our daughter was the beauty and splendor of the African cultures from which African American slaves were torn away. She achieved a whole new level of understanding about who African American people are and saw that – at the core – African Americans were/are tribal people very similar in many ways to Native Americans and, as such, deserve as much appreciation and respect for their traditions and histories.

As do all people, since we all have tribal roots in our ancestries, out of which we have brought beliefs and customs, traits and achievements that we contribute to the world.

It was a good thing that our daughter learned to accept all of herself and value all of her background in our home. The outer world was not so kind. As a child of color in a predominantly white town – and the only child of color in her school – our daughter was subjected to some truly sad experiences. Other children didn’t want to be friends with her. Teenage boys who rode her school bus got our phone number and called her up to say filthy things – to a 9-year-old little girl!! -- until “Mama” found out what was going on and put a swift stop to THAT.

Stay tuned for Part 2, tomorrow! And if you would like me to continue the guest blogging invitations, please post comments for Barbara so I can tell whether this is something my readers are interested in reading more about. I have a lot of fascinating friends I could invite!


Calmil2 said...

Please keep it coming!!!! As a parent of 2 biological boys and hopefully a soon to be parent of an adopted child that will probably be of a different race, I want to learn from others' experiences so that I can help raise compassionate, loving children that learn to celebrate differences. Love your blog! Harmony

Michelle J said...

Love the post and wish part two was already up. And this poster seems awfully familiar, but I can't place the name Barbara.

Adopting1Soon said...

It's Advocate, Michelle;-)

Michelle J said...

I suspect it was you!! Nice to "see" you! :)

anjolcake said...

I am the single foster mom of 3 white daughters and I am in the process of adopting the oldest girl. I would love to see someone speak to this side of transracial adoption. I think people don't belive it exists.