“Transracial adoption can be an incredible way to build families. When we work through the pain and difficulty, when we understand our story as adoptees and as transracial adoptive families, we have the impact of not just making small changes, but making world wide, impactful changes. Generational changes. How we care for our children. How we see our children. How we build bridges between white communities and communities of color. It all matters.”
—Rhonda M. Roorda, Author & International Speaker on Transracial Adoption
Adopting transracially is not the same as adopting a child of the same race.
Adopting transracially is bold and we must be ready and equipped for the journey to come, if we want to be good parents. For me, it is entirely important to hear from adoptees, particularly adoptees of color raised by white parents.
Why? Because my son is a child of color being raised by us—white parents. And I refuse to ignorantly believe living the black experience is the same as living my experience as a white woman.
I am not the expert when it comes to living the black experience in America—I have no grounds to act like it. I am the student and I will continue to learn for the sake of my son and friends of color.
I had the utmost honor of talking with Rhonda M Roorda who was adopted at the age of two into a white American family with Dutch heritage. She was raised with her two non-adopted siblings and is an author and international speaker on transracial adoption.
Rhonda is a woman of faith, a believer in big things, and is one of the kindest people I’ve had the privilege of speaking with.
I asked Rhonda, “Do you think it’s possible for white parents to raise a child of color?”
Her response: “I do think it’s possible to successfully raise children of color as white parents. It is absolutely doable. Let me say this: I am supportive of adoptees, adoptive parents, and non-adopted siblings. And I believe in our families. I am committed to our families. Through my work, and other good work on this issue, I know that transracial adoptions can be beneficial to the adoptees of color, white and non-adopted siblings, and to the white adoptive parents. But it is a bold and complex journey that requires added knowledge, added experience, added expertise, and a whole lot of humility.” [Adoption.com]
I asked Rhonda to explain what “success” is when raising a child of color.
“As a black adoptee, I need to learn how to look in the mirror and say, believe, and absorb the fact that my hair is beautiful, my skin is beautiful, I am beautiful. All of my experiences—being relinquished as an infant and then placed into foster care for two years, all the bad things, being molested in my teenage years by a white teacher—all the things that happened to me are circumstances that do not define me but have pushed me to fight for my own truth and to gain my own voice."
"It is in the most difficult moments that I have had to pull from my deepest core. Being able to embrace all of my story and also really know that ‘I am worthy. I am worthy. As a black woman, as a black adolescent, as a black child. I am worthy as someone who was placed in adoption from foster care and adopted into a white family. I am worthy to have a voice in my own family. I am worthy to live my life to the fullest.'”
“We know by books and stories that black transracial adoptees and other transracial adoptees of color are immersed in predominantly white environments. We attend places of worship that seldom have people who look like us. We walk down neighborhood streets where we very seldom see anyone who shares our same skin tone."
"And when we eat at our dining room tables our story, our face, our heritage is often not heard, seen, or incorporated into our family’s identity. "
"We as transracial adoptees have traditionally adapted and crossed our comfort zones every single day, often at our cost."
As white parents adopting children of color, we must choose our children over our comfort. This means finding a black church or a church with black leadership, it means seeking out close friendships with people of color, it means having a Black Lives Matter sign, it means moving to a diverse neighborhood, it means kneeling for the anthem and protesting systemic racism, it means uncomfortable conversations with our white family.
"In order to love, to assimilate, and to comfort our parents and our siblings as well as appear nonthreatening in the communities in which we are raised. Too many of us digest this 'colorblind' mindset. Clearly, now I see that this way of living—not seeing each other—minimizes our self-worth, essence, and our purpose in this world.”
“When I ask transracial adoptees from a wide-range of ages, ‘Do you have mentors or godparents that look like you? Do you have a close friends in your inner circles who look like you and who you are comfortable to bring home?’ The answer is often ‘No.’ We know adoptees adapt into the families in which they are placed. So much so that we self sacrifice, bend over backwards, and put ourselves into pretzels because we desperately want a home and a forever family. We know what abandonment feels like; it’s a core pain that kicks us in the gut. We self sacrifice to the point where too many transracial adoptees walk around wounded, empty, and even consider suicide.”
“The stakes are high when one chooses to transracially adopt. While love is critical, sadly, when issues around race, identity, loss, and 'differentness' come up to the surface, too often it is met by parents and their community with indifference, lack of knowledge or flexibility, or fear of finding answers in black or brown communities."
"Parents must prepare their black and brown children with the tools necessary to feel comfortable in their skin... in a world that will first perceive them not by who their family is, or the content of their character, but by the color of their skin."
"Therefore, we as adoptees need to have the inner centeredness to know that we are and will be more than O.K. That is why complacency and colorblindness in raising our children of color is not effective. In fact these are exactly the ingredients that will lead to transracial adoptions failing and failing miserably.”
I asked Rhonda to speak into the importance of hair care when raising children of color.
“White adoptive parents raising kids of color continue to struggle with understanding the importance of investing in the hair and skin care needs of their children of color, which is in many cases different than how one cares for the hair and skin of their (white) biological children."
"There is a disconnect for many of these parents between understanding the connection of maintaining healthy and well-cared for hair of particularly our black and biracial children and its relevance to black people in America and around the world. Hair is like a crown."
"The care and health you bring to your hair is a way to illuminate one’s worth, confidence; it shows you’re beautiful and of value."
"For me to have my hair dresser who happens to be from Cameroon put her fingers through my hair is a spiritual connection. The conversation that we have at the salon is soulful and connects me to a community that reflects my ethnic heritage and an aspect of my story.”
“When people in communities of color see white parents with kids of color with messy hair or ashy skin, it can be concerning to them. It can appear as though this child is being neglected. Which obviously isn’t true in all the families: it’s simply not knowing or understanding the importance of making the hair and skin care needs of the child a priority in time, money, and in connecting with others who have experience and expertise in this area.”
“My hair takes five hours to wash, condition, and style. I can especially appreciate today the significant commitment it takes to have one’s child learn how to sit as calmly as possible while their hair is being done at home or at a hair salon."
"I love that parents are learning how to braid and do their children’s hair. BUT, when I go into the black salon, it is a spiritual experience to have my stylist's hands run through my hair. To have conversations with her that are pertinent to me as a black professional woman. We share an open dialogue. We talk about culture, politics, God, adoption, so many things. This is a key part missing in transracial adoptions: taking our kids to black spaces, especially salons and barbers.”
Read more from my interview with Rhonda on Adoption.com: Can White Parents Successfully Raise Kids of Color?
More pieces on transracial adoption:
10 Things You Should Know Before Adopting Transracially, with Angela Tucker of The Adopted Life
Connect with Rhonda: