Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Transracial Adoption: Crossing Color Lines By Choice

Gung Hay Fat Choy, Hip Hapa Homeez! Here’s to a Happy New Year of the Water Dragon for you, your family, your folks and friends.

Thanks so much for your continuing support. Your Hip Hapa really appreciates your Hapa*Teez t-shirt purchases as a way to finance our Watermelon Sushi film and earn you a rear crawl credit. If you’re on Facebook, please ‘like’ our Watermelon Sushi film fan page, our Hapa*Teez t-shirt fan page and request membership in our Hip Hapa Homeez group where we post and discuss issues of interest to multiethnic, multiracial, interracially involved and transracially adopted people. We’re also still running our myCuz @Oprah campaign on Twitter. Here's the  HUB page and the twitition for you to sign.

Our guest this week is Michelle M. Hughes, an attorney specializing in transracial adoptions.

The Hughes Family
Q: Michelle, tell us about your own family.

A: My parents met in Chicago and married in 1965, pre-Loving decision. They have been married for 47 years as of this January. My mother is a Caucasian farm girl from Minnesota and my father is a black man raised during Jim Crow in Houston Texas. My parents raised me and my siblings in the Chicago suburbs. I usually racially identify as biracial or biracial-black and white. I ethnically identify as African-American, Norwegian and German. Here’s a link to an article my mother’s featured in.

Q: You're an attorney, author, mentor, speaker and more on behalf of transracial adoptees. What makes you so passionate about this kind of adoption?

A: Years ago, I started organizing social events for biracial adults because I was acutely aware that many multiracial adults had never been in a setting with all multiracials. The group has morphed into “Biracials and Friends” from an exclusively biracial group. We continue to have parties, BBQs and festival outings in Chicago. At every event, I noticed about 40% of the biracial participants were transracial adoptees. Many of these biracial transracial adoptees became my friends, although some were friends prior to the group. In addition, my law career was at the same time increasingly focusing on adoption law. Thus, the multiracial movement and adoption came together for me, and the need for education became increasingly apparent.

Attorney Michelle M. Hughes
I started Bridge Communications, Inc. with Pamela Cook-Hergott and, later, Antoinette Dubois. We all had multiracial family experiences and adoption knowledge from varying viewpoints, and we felt we could help the next generation of parents and social workers with transracial adoption. I’ve always been very pro-multiracial family, but I realized talking to many transracial adoptees that their parents were not always prepared with the tools to raise children with positive self, racial and family identities. Bridge Communications set out to help rectify that failure and make sure people had the tools to do a better job with the next generation of transracial adoptees.

Q: Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Madonna, Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Michele Pfeiffer, Kathryn Heigl. Do you think celebrities adopting transracially are helping or hurting the cause?

A: Celebrities are probably both helping and hurting. It’s always hard to know exactly because we don’t truly know what’s going on in celebrities’ lives or their children’s, but only what’s published. Furthermore, their lives differ from ours because of money and fame. Celebrities adopting across racial lines makes it seem more “normal” to many people to adopt across racial lines. Many people do take their cues from celebrities, rightly or wrongly. But to my knowledge, no celebrity has become vocal on being a multiracial family and the uniqueness, the challenges, the responsibilities and the joys that come with being a multiracial family via adoption. Many celebrities are not open about their fertility challenges either.

I remember reading an article years ago when Michele Pfeiffer spoke of her biracial daughter, who was just shy of five-years old at the time. Michelle was asked about race and her daughter, and she responded that her daughter would have to deal with it when she got older. I thought, ‘This child is dealing with it now and you, as her parent, have a responsibility to help guide her through being a biracial transracial adoptee in this race- conscious world starting when you adopted her.’ It’s not for her daughter to “figure out” later by herself when she gets older. What actually happened in her family I have no idea, but it seems a lot of celebrities in public ignore the race issue when they adopt across racial lines. However, while money and fame doesn’t alleviate racism, it probably softens the amount of racism an individual faces and reduces the impact of institutional racism.

a transracially adoptive family
Q: What’s the most important thing a potential adoptive parent needs to know about raising a child of another culture, ethnicity or race?

A: The most important thing for transracial adoptive parents to know is we still live in a race-conscious society, and it is your responsibility as a parent to help your child navigate race and racism and help them build a positive self, racial and family identity. And if a parent is unwilling to do this, they should not be adopting across racial lines. And, yes, it’s okay to reach out for help, build support networks and get educated.

Also important to know is that most kids (and people) do not always want to be the “unique” one. Sometimes it’s nice to be around others like yourself. Thus, it’s important for transracial adoptive parents to find other families of color (adults of the race of their child), other adoptive families and other transracial adoptive families to be friends with their family. It’s important to have all three types of friendships. For some families, it may be hard to reach outside their comfort zones and find families like their own--adoptive and families with adults the race of their child, but it’s usually invaluable to the child and the parents. And it’s important that the whole family makes these friendships, not just the adopted child. Otherwise, the message to the child is, “Mommy and daddy do not play with people who look like you. But we love you--just not anyone else that looks like you.” There are plenty of resources to make those connections including support and social groups, adoptive family camps, multiracial organizations, online groups and even cruises.

Q: You mentioned that only biracial children are placed in adoption for racial reasons. Please elaborate.

A: Race may play a role in adoption for biracial adoptees in a way it does not for monoracial adopted children. Biracial children are the only children placed for racial reasons. Of course, not every biracial child is placed for racial reasons. Most are placed for the same reasons any birth mother (or father) who voluntarily places a child for adoption--reasons specific for that birth mother. Of course, that reason or reasons varies from parent to parent. However, some biological parents of biracial children place simply because they do not feel they can raise a mixed-race child or they are afraid to come home to their parents with a mixed-race child. In some international adoptions, biracial children traditionally were seen as “tainted” in many of the extremely traditional homogenous societies.

I know many adult biracial adoptees, upon a reunion with their birth family, discovered their white birth mom was told not to bring that “mixed breed” home. However, it’s not only in the past. It still happens that some birth moms place biracial children based on the child’s race. A white mom never places her child because the child is white. Nor does a black woman place her child because the child is black. But women do place their children because they are biracial. I also know biracial adoptees, separated from their white birth siblings, who were adopted separately because of race.

Michelle M. Hughes with Bridge Communications, Inc.
Q: What motivated you to co-found Bridge Communications, Inc.?

A: I was motivated because I knew some people needed help in navigating a multiracial family in a race-conscious society. I met transracial adoptees whose parents did an excellent job in the navigation, but I also met too many whose parents had screwed it up so royally that their children were really struggling in their identity and not loving themselves. I was fortunate to always have a degree of multiracial experience in my life, and I thought I could help with parents adopting transracially. 

Q: Do you envision a time when interracial families, whether through adoption or not, will be the norm?

A: I envision a time, in certain parts of the country, that multiracial families, while not the “norm”, will be seen as “normal”. However, I don’t expect everybody to be accepting and see multiracial families, through adoption or not, as the normal in my lifetime.

Thanks, Michelle! Here are some additional facts and figures provided by Michelle:

1. Estimates now are 40 % of adoptions or more are transracial. That is a lot of multiracial families. For international adoptions by Americans, I would estimate the number is closer to 75% or more for transracial adoptions.

2. Interracial couples, as well as black couples, generally have a shorter wait time and are more in demand in private and/or private agency adoption. While discriminated in other areas of life, couples of color are desired by agencies as there are not enough for the babies being born and placed. Most adoption statistics of wait time and fees for services in the media applies to “healthy white children”, not children of color, especially African-American children. While race should maybe not be a discussion in adoption, it is as it is in all aspects of American life.

3. The majority of adoptions in the United States are domestic, not international.

4. Increasingly, more domestic adoptions (some estimate 60% or more) are “open” to some degree. Thus, in transracial adoption, families must be able to communicate across racial lines for their child to have positive relationships with both their adoptive and biological family. Additionally, international adoptions are also starting to “open”.

5. As international adoption continues to decrease, more families are considering transracial domestic adoption, and biracial children are becoming increasingly in demand by Caucasian families.

6. Race and fees for adoption services are intertwined in adoption (outside of the child welfare system). Thus, the lighter, brighter and whiter, the more expensive the adoption services in many agencies, even in 2012.

7. In the child welfare system, race is one factor that determines the length of time a child spends in foster care with African-American children staying the longest:

8. While a transracial adoptee with only Caucasian parents has a different experience than biracial children (from an interracial union), they do have an overlap experience of growing up in a multiracial family. (For example, the stares from strangers.)

9.  Race, ethnicity, color, nationality and culture are all different things!

10. We lack a good language to discuss the complexities of “family” in adoption. For example, it’s becoming quite controversial in how to refer to a birth mother. Birth mother, expectant mother, biological mother, first mother, tummy mommy, by first name, mommy (first name), etc.

11. Transracial adoption, because it is so obvious an “adoption” due to its visual nature, has led the way in rethinking the secrecy of adoption of years past. Generally, it’s impossible to keep a transracial adoption secret. And, if it’s not secret, then a host of questions come up that hopefully leads to better adoption practice in all adoptions.

12. Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) including egg, sperm and embryo donation needs to learn from years of adoption education.

Okay, what a Valentine treat we have for you next month, Hip Hapa Homeez! Have you seen TheTropicosmician? He’s Ejiro, a 1.5 generation rapper (born and raised overseas, but living in America). He’s also our latest Associate Producer for Watermelon Sushi. Here are some links to get you started in acquainting yourself with him. But remember to come back next month for more about this special musical artist who wants to give you his heart.

Until then,

I am and will always be...

Your Hip Hapa,