Updated: The Stunning Ignorance of White Adoptive Parents in Ethiopia

Note: This is an updated version of my post from March 31, 2017.

My original post under this title included an adoptive mother’s recent experience in taking her son back to visit his Ethiopian family, and encountering other US adoptive families in Ethiopia. This mom, not citing anyone by name, described an evening at a cultural restaurant (a place where there is Ethiopian food and often a show of traditional Ethiopian dancing) where another American family’s Ethiopian child was sobbing, where an Ethiopian adoptee did not recognize injera, and where an Ethiopian child’s unkempt hair was chatted about.

Here’s one excerpt:

Don’t drag your kid to an Ethiopian restaurant on your first night in Addis, allow him to sob on your lap, sit there and continue to eat and then give him a video game to play while you dance for the amusement of the crowd. Your child has to process what is happening. He’s back in his country for the first time in many years. The sights, sounds, and smells are likely triggering deep emotions. Also, his deep embarrassment at you dancing is legit. You are not Ethiopian. Imagine how exposed he feels being an adoptee in that crowd.

 Here’s another:

It’s not OK to be ignorant to the issues of raising Black boys in the US. It is not OK!
First of all, do your child’s hair!!!!!!!!!!!! For the love that is all things holy, no your child’s unkempt 6 inch curls are not ‘the best hair in our town.’ ” They are a disaster. If you are going to allow your child to have long hair, you need to be prepared to pick it out. Messy is not acceptable. Both boys had hair that might be cool in the white adoptive community, but is cool nowhere else.

In other words, my original post was about a few things: how adoptive families should handle the homeland visit, as well as about the sensitivity (or lack thereof) of white parents around issues of raising black children, especially in predominately white communities and states, where racism flourishes and racial mirrors are rare.

My blog post touched a nerve for many readers. A few days after the post was published, one of the previously unnamed subjects of the post commented, identifying herself, and disputing the details of the incident in Ethiopia. Many of her friends commented as well, defending her as a mother and criticizing both me and the original poster for what we wrote.

Because the mom identified herself, she and her son are no longer anonymous. This means that her son (and friends, neighbors, teachers, strangers) could be identified as well. Thus, I decided, for the sake of the son’s privacy, to take down the original post.

The issue of bringing adopted Ethiopian children back to visit Ethiopia (sometimes specifically to visit their Ethiopian family) is more complex than many people realize. Here are just a few admittedly controversial, argument-inducing points:

  • Adoptive parents should not adopt from Ethiopia if they do not have the financial means to take the children back at least once, maybe more. When they do take the trip, it should be organized thoughtfully and flexibly, allowing a lot of space for children’s emotional, physical, developmental, and psychological needs.
  • Adoptive parents should do all they can to search for their children’s Ethiopian families, since many (perhaps most?) of the back stories provided by adoption agencies have proven false.
  • Many (if not most) Ethiopian families placed their children with the belief that they would see their children again. Many did not fully understand (or were not told) that adoption meant a permanent severing of legal ties with their children.
  • The visits with Ethiopian families are far more complex than many people realize. The visits often attract dozens of neighbors and onlookers, even in remote areas. Translators are often the people who drive the families around, good people but not experts in adoption reunion issues. A lot of nuance and actual statements are lost in the emotions of the moment and the limitations (linguistic and cultural) of the translators.
  • While Ethiopia is a polite culture, slow to criticize others, Ethiopians and others watch the way that adopted children are treated in Ethiopia. In the US, black people sometimes keep an eye on how black children are cared for by their white adoptive parents, including the children’s hair. To say that hair care is an important issue in the black community is to provide a remarkable example of understatement.
  • Some adopted children, when visiting Ethiopia, find it healing and helpful. Lots of adoptive parents post on social media about the success of their visits. Other children are affected differently, sometimes traumatically. Their parents tend not to post.
  • The impact of the trips is felt immediately and long after the actual visits, as children grow up and process the realities of loss and gains in adoption.

Many of the commenters on the original post scolded me for being negative, even citing the chestnut, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That approach would have us all saying nothing about racism. It would have us never sharing information and resources about what experience we have gained through making mistakes, or through witnessing naiveté, insensitivity, abuse, or even cruelty.

The incident related in the original post was, unfortunately, not one-of-a-kind. Many of us, whether adoptive parents, adopted persons, or Ethiopian parents, could cite many examples of the stunning ignorance of white adoptive parents in Ethiopia. We are increasingly hearing the perspective of adult Ethiopian adoptees, and far too rarely, that of Ethiopian birth parents, who are the most marginalized of all in this triad.

My decision to leave the subjects of the initial post unnamed was purposeful, and, I would argue, valuable. Once one of them was no longer unknown, the scale tipped. I appreciate all those who weighed in on this post. I hope that everyone continues to give thought to the complexity of international adoption, especially transracial adoption, not only in childhood but well into adulthood.

Kaepernick: Patriotism, Racism, and Adoption

Ever been to a public sports event, say, an NFL game? When the national anthem is played or sung, does everyone stand quietly and respectfully?

No. Drunk people shriek and yell during the national anthem. Sober people talk and stare at their iPhones and bobble in the hot dog line, all during the national anthem.

Colin Kaepernick sat rather than stood through the national anthem, with intention, in the tradition of civil protest, and calmly explained why.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

We all need to sit with his statement, before conflating it with disdain for all police or hatred for America. This may especially be true for white adoptive parents of black children.

Kaepernick is a transracial adoptee, raised by white parents.

White adoptive parents: Can you see Colin Kaepernick as your black child, protesting the oppression of people of color, and then being vilified from many quarters?

Have you consulted with black friends as to their perspective?

Have you read through theroot.com and blavity.com or hiphopwired.com for their take? Have you read through the many social media sites that reflect the views of black people?

The world is going to see our children as black men and women. Whether we want to believe it or not, we live in a racist society. Our white privilege will not protect our children. It’s not protecting Colin Kaepernick.

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How would you handle your black child repeatedly and publicly being called “nigger” and told to leave the country, because he protested the oppression of people of color?

How will you explain to your black kids that there are people burning Kaepernick’s jersey, in a manner reminiscent of hanging effigies? Those folks are not writing commentary or thoughtfully tweeting: they are setting fires and posting videos. It’s not a peaceful dialogue. When you reflect on lynching and strange fruit, what will you say to your kids?

How will you explain “patriotism” to your children: as speaking up for people of color in a legal, non-violent way in a country founded on freedom of speech? Or as standing for a national anthem that, as it turns out, is rooted in racism?

I stand when the national anthem plays. I take pride in many aspects of being American, and I recognize the many privileges and advantages we have.

As a white parent and grandmother of black children, I also stand with Colin Kaepernick, as he has shown intentional advocacy in raising awareness of the racism in our beloved country. Colin will be fine, and will weather the attacks and the ugly vilification that are the tradition of responses to civil rights protests in America. It will take time, it’s a hard road, and we all have to travel it.

 

 

 

 

White Adoptive Parents of Black Children: How Uncomfortable Are You?

Given recent events, I hope you are extremely uncomfortable, and ready to take action.

Being uncomfortable is good. We white folks should be uncomfortable, and especially so if we are raising black children. We should not be dismissive or defensive. We should recognize that the slurs, racism, and worse that have happened to so many black children, men, and women can and will also happen to our beloved children.

As an American, as a white person, as the parent of transracially adopted children, I am uncomfortable, sad, grieving, confused, and at a loss about the multiple acts of violence in Louisiana, Texas, and Minnesota. Add hate-based political rhetoric, plus the onslaught of videos, tweets, hashtags and blog posts, and the whole thing is overwhelming.

We must learn to become comfortable in the difficult, challenging conversations about these recent violent events. We must have these conversations for the sake of our children. I get that it’s hard, and we have to support each other as we move through these hard times. (And if we white people find things exhausting, what must it be like to live the racism and conflict on a daily basis as a person of color?)

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So what do we do?

For one thing, we must understand the difference between #AllLIvesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter. Saying ‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬ is an anesthetized, self-soothing way of negating the raw realities of life in America.

Of course #AllLivesMatter. Saying that, however, dismisses the reality of black people’s history and lives. Black women have had the right to vote in all 50 states only since 1964. Black men are disproportionately represented in prison. Black children are disproportionately suspended from school, even in kindergarten. My black granddaughter was told by her white third grade classmate that the classmate’s grandpa would shoot a black person who tried to enter his home. That was the explanation as to why my granddaughter would not be going over to play at her classmate’s house. I’ve witnessed too much, on an academic and personal level, to be able to blithely say #AllLivesMatter. It’s a phrase that slams the door, loudly and firmly, on the genuine, hard, uncomfortable conversations that must take place, if our country is ever going to change.

‪#‎BlackLivesMatter: Understand and be able to speak out about this.

Resources:

“The Next time Someone Says ‘All Lives Matter,’ Show Them These Five Paragraphs”

“The Problem With Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

Uncomfortable conversations are a good first step. Reading essays and books that challenge, disturb, and rile us is good. Attending meetings, in the name of racial and social justice, where we are outsiders and uncomfortable is also good. Here are a few thoughts.

First, be intentional in seeking out writing and information on racism from black people and other people of color. White people can have a voice, but we are not the experts on racism; the value of our advice is mitigated by our privilege. Starting points might be Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson. There are lots more.

Recognize that it is not the responsibility or obligation of black people to educate us white people about race.

Resources:

“Black People Are Not Here To Teach You About Race”

“What Writers of Color Say We Should Read Now”

Verna Myers Ted Talk: “How To Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Towards Them”

“How To Talk About Race With Your Kids”

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Second, if in this last week you did not talk with your black friends about how they are doing and feeling, you may need to accept that you don’t have close black friends. And you should, if you are raising black children.

Third, step out of your comfort zone further and attend meetings of black community organizers, meetings where you as a white person may be asked to defer to the voices and experiences of black people. To be silent. To move to the side, and listen.

It could be a great opportunity to see what it feels like to be treated differently because of your race.

If there are not any black community organizers where you live, pause and think about the role models and racial mirrors available to your child. Is he or she genuinely well-prepared for being black in America?

 

The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place.

— Marian Wright Edelman

 

 

 

 

 

Racism, Trauma, and Adoption: Wake Up

Racism, trauma, and adoption are far more entwined than many people want to admit.

As a white person, I will start by saying this: Racism is real, pervasive, mostly implicit, better than it once was, and currently is damaging our culture, children, and future, in a genuine and tragic way.

As an adoptive parent of children of color, let me say that if you adopt transracially, you must make every effort possible to raise your child in a home where he sees you have friends who look like him, where she sees other children and adult role models who look like her, where you understand racial microaggressions and are comfortable talking about them, and where your approach to the child’s culture of origin isn’t an ethnic restaurant on special occasions or just artwork, dolls, and music.

Enough.

Here are two Wake Up Calls, for adoptive parents of children of color, though truly for anyone who wonders about racism and its impact.

The First Wake Up Alarm:

A 69-year-old black man, walking in Seattle in July 2014, using a golf club as a cane, was arrested, because the police officer says he threatened her with the golf club. Problem: The police department’s own video shows no such thing.

While the incident took place last summer, the video only came to light yesterday. It was obtained through a public records request by the Seattle-based paper The Stranger. Read the article with the videotape here.

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I’ve long known about DWB (Driving While Black),  but OMWWB (Old Man Walking While Black) is a new one.

Racism in the Seattle Police Department has been well-known for years, and the department is under federal investigation. Read more here.

This could be your grampa. William Wingate is a US Air Force veteran. He drove a King County Metro bus for 20 years. He was walking in daylight using a golf club as a cane. He is not mentally unstable, nor was he threatening anyone. He never swung at the police officer. He needed help getting into the police wagon, since he was handcuffed, and almost 70 years old.

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William Wingate on the way to jail. Image taken from police videotape.

He was arrested and spent a night in jail, something that had never happened to him before in his life.

If the videotape were not requested by The Stranger, we never would have known what happened to this man.

The Seattle Police have apologized, as of yesterday.

For me, this is a tipping point. As if Ferguson and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin weren’t enough. For me, it’s seeing, on videotape, an old man, who’s clearly hard of hearing, being accosted and jailed for nothing. It’s all on the videotape. The officer said in her report she was fearful of being assaulted by him. The officer, Cynthia Whitlach, has been reported as posting racist comments on Facebook along the way as well, per this The Stranger article.

I have written recently about “Being Black in Seattle: Rewards and Challenges” and “Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere.” It’s a sad coincidence that this case of William Wingate–the man with the golf club–should reach headlines today.

The Second Wake Up Alarm:

Racism, both violent incidents and the accumulation of micro aggressions, is a form of trauma. Don’t believe me? How about the medical profession’s bible, the DSM?

Medical Daily reported in 2013 that proposed changes in the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) could increase the potential for better recognition of race-based trauma in racial and ethnic minorities. In Psychology Today, Dr. Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and the associate director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities, said that in “earlier versions of the DSM, racism was recognized as a trauma that could potentially cause PTSD, but only in relation to a specific event. There had to be an incident of intense fear, helplessness, or horror for such consideration. For instance, if someone was assaulted in a racially-motivated event, then racism qualified as a sufficient trauma to be categorized as a cause of PTSD.

But now, under the new DSM-5 definition, the requirements for fear, helplessness, and horror have been removed, making room for the more lasting effects of subtle racism to be considered in the discussion of race-based traumas.”

That is an important and groundbreaking bit of news. Subtle racism can include microaggressions, which over time can erode people of esteem, energy, and hope. Microaggressions have been written about in many places, including American Psychologist and the Journal of Counseling and Development. The abstract for that latter article says that “This study examined the relationship between racial microaggressions (subtle and unintentional forms of racial discrimination) and mental health. Results from a large sample (N = 506) indicated that higher frequencies of racial microaggressions negatively predicted participants’ mental health and that racial microaggressions were significantly correlated with depressive symptoms and negative affect. Differences in the types of microaggressions experienced by various racial groups (Asian, Latina/o, Black, White, and multiracial) and counseling implications are discussed.”

Another perspective on racial microaggressions can be found in Buzzfeed. It’s received close to 3,000,000 views.

Add to that a discussion of whether adoption is a form of trauma. I wrote a post Does Adoption Really Equal Trauma? which has been shared on Facebook close to 950 times.

What happens to transracially adopted children, who may well have experienced trauma, and who are subject to racial microaggressions (if not explicit racism) as well?

The issue of trauma is a spectrum, and is influenced by individual experience and resilience. Not all adopted people, not all Asian (or other race) adoptees, and not all black people experience trauma or PTSD.

Some do, though.

For adopted children, especially but not only those of color, we need to have big, courageous conversations around racism. We need to be aware of trauma.

And we need progress in mental health and in adoption-related services.

We need more therapists of color, who have life experience with racism and with racial microaggressions, who can help their patients of color feel comfortable and safe in seeking help, and who can help educate their white colleagues as well. Can white therapists treat people of color successfully? Yes. But let’s get more therapists of color so that our children of color see themselves reflected in mental health professionals.

For adopted children, we need to value the life experience and perspectives of adult adoptees who are clinical therapists. There are increasing numbers of white, Korean, Colombian, and African-American adult adoptees who are doing excellent, important work in adoption.

We need more counselors and therapists across the board who are well-trained in adoption competency. One such approach is Training in Adoption Competency, affiliated with the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

A quote from TAC:

“What are the core knowledge areas for an adoption competent mental health professional?

An adoption competent mental health professional understands the nature of adoption as a form of family formation and the different types of adoption; the clinical issues that are associated with separation and loss and attachment; the common developmental challenges in the experience of adoption; and the characteristics and skills that make adoptive families successful. An adoption competent mental health professional is culturally competent with respect to the racial and cultural heritage of children and families and the culture of birth families.”

Another strong training resource for professionals is Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao’s Certificate Program in Adoption Competency. My point: If you are an adoptive parent interested in therapy for yourself or your child, insist on adoption-competent therapists.

I don’t know if William Wingate, the elderly black man I wrote about at the beginning, experienced trauma. I’ve no doubt he has experienced racism. I wish him well, and I think he deserves much more than an apology.

For transracially adopted babies, children, and teens, who grow up to be adults, let’s talk openly and honestly about racism in the United States, and the intense damage it is doing to all of us. Let’s do that for all of us.

 

 

 

 

Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere

I’ve lived in Seattle about four years, and it’s still a culture shock for me to go to places like restaurants or malls, or Seattle Town Hall, Elliott Bay Bookstore, the Seattle Public Library, or wherever, and not be surrounded by black people. That was the norm in Prince George’s County, where I had lived for almost 30 years. My four children, all adopted transracially, all of whom identify as black, were raised in Prince George’s. They attended schools with black, white, Latino, Asian, and mixed race kids. There was no shortage of role models, or of people who looked like them.

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Birthday Party 2006. © Maureen Evans

Of course, at the end of the day, my children were raised by white adoptive parents. My children travel in at least two worlds: the one at home with people who love them unconditionally as amazing sons and daughters, and the one outside our home, with people who saw and see them as black people first, not as beloved children.

Had they been raised in Seattle, they would have seen far fewer people who look like them. Even in Prince George’s County, a highly diverse area filled with black people, their sense of identity was challenged, by white and black people. Being adopted, and then having white parents, brought extra layers of complexity.

My daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was six, is considering moving to Seattle with her 8-year-old daughter. Aselefech and I have given a lot of thought and discussion as to what this move could mean for her and for her daughter.

I recently attended a program called “The Rewards and Challenges of Being Black in Seattle.” It was held at the Bush School, and was part of their Intercultural Speakers Series. The talented Tonya Mosley led the program, which included a wonderful panel: C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser of Rainier Scholars, William Witt of the Seattle Police Department, Jonathan Cunningham of the Experience Music Project Museum, and Daudi Abe of Seattle Community Colleges. You can read more about it here.

Serious subjects were discussed. Some hard truths. These conversations are valuable for everyone, including white adoptive parents of black children–especially when the family lives in a non-diverse area and the children rarely see others who look like them.

Prospect or Suspect?

The audience of about 100 people for the program was predominately white, like Seattle itself. By the end of the 2 hours, a lot of territory had been covered. A lot of voices had spoken up. One black man in the audience offered the powerful idea of “prospect versus suspect.” Are black people (including children and teens) seen by others as prospects, as people with potential and talents, or more often as suspects, people who probably committed some crime or misdeed?

The cloud of “prospect or suspect” can start hanging over children when they start school. Seattle has a troubled history with African-American school suspensions and graduation rates, starting in the late 70’s.

Th notion of being a suspect, of course, links easily with discussions about police and radical profiling. The U.S. Justice Department said about a year ago that their “investigation in 2011 found that Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers often exhibited confusion between a casual, social contact (where a person is free to leave) and an investigative detention short of an arrest, also known as a Terry stop (where a person is not free to leave). Some data and community input suggested that this confusion – as well as other problems with training and oversight – led to inappropriate pedestrian encounters that may have resulted in a disproportionate number of people of color – in particular youths – being stopped where no offense or other police incident occurred. Incidents of overt discrimination and the fact that excessive force disproportionately occurred against minorities also gave the department concern and lead to the inclusion of these issues in the settlement agreement.” Read the press release here.

The dispassionate government language is a window to the realities of being a parent of black children, and especially of being a black person subject to “overt discrimination” and disproportionate “excessive force.” It resonates for me as an adoptive parent knowing and loving my sons and daughters, worrying for them when they are seen, unfairly, as a threat or a suspect.

I hope that other white adoptive parents who are hugging their sweet little black boys and girls will recognize what can happen later in life, and surround their children with people who can teach them what it means, the good and the bad, to be a black person in America.

Hair Care, Smiles, and the Freeze

If they move to Seattle, my granddaughter will come home from school to her black mother, a role model who has experienced bigotry, and who can help her daughter navigate through racism and difference in a way that I could not do with my children. One surprisingly complex issue is hair. I did a pretty good job with my children’s hair, but there was definitely a steep learning curve. Hair is a big issue in the black community. It was only briefly mentioned at the Rewards and Challenges program, but I’d love to see a forum where the rewards and challenges of black hair are addressed. I think it would open a lot of white people’s eyes, and it’s especially important for white adoptive parents of black children.

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Updo Style © Aselefech Evans

 

One of the heartfelt suggestions provided by a woman at the program was that we all look at each other when we are walking by and say hello. She was a high school teacher. She said she was black and Filipina, and she exuded love for her students. Let’s look at each other’s faces and smile, she said. Let’s say hello to our neighbors.

Can that help race relations? It could surely help human relations. The “Seattle freeze” does not refer to weather, and it does not care about race. It’s the phenomena here of people being polite, but not especially friendly. I would guess that, for black people, their small numbers and the potential for isolation are exacerbated by the Freeze.

The Freeze makes me think of snow, which brings me to some of the reasons people love Seattle: the lack of snow and of humidity, the mild temperatures, the beautiful mountains and lakes, the hiking, the biking, the boating, the skiing. My next post will talk about some of that beauty, and its attraction for all of us. What might it mean for my black daughter to be a skier and a hiker out here?

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San Juan Island © Maureen Evans

 

 

 

NPR Talks With Transracial Adoptee Chad Goller-Sojourner

Today, Chad Goller-Sojourner talked with NPR host Rachel Martin about the experience of being transracially adopted. Born in 1971, he was raised in Tacoma, Washington. It wasn’t until college, Chad says, that he underwent a “descent into blackness and out of whiteness. He describes it as a journey, giving up the privileges he claimed as the child of white parents and learning to accept his identity independent of them,” according to NPR’s website.

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The NPR show, called “Growing Up ‘White,’ Transracial Adoptee Learned to Be Black,” is available here. You can listen to the show, read NPR’s description, and submit a comment.

Two weeks ago, NPR’s Sunday Conversation on Weekend Edition featured the white adoptive mom of 3 black preschoolers. NPR says that conversation “drew a lot of responses.” Indeed–well over 200 comments on their website, most of them criticizing, not complimenting, the show. Many people in the adoption community (including me) took to Twitter and blog posting, frustrated and disappointed by the show, especially because it did not include the real-life experience of someone most affected by transracial adoption: the adopted person.

I’m glad NPR listened to the concerns, and took seriously the call to broaden the perspective on transracial adoption by not further marginalizing adult adoptees. Chad Goller-Sojourner’s experience will no doubt resonate with many transracially adapted persons. Little children grow up. Adoption is a lifetime of revisiting love and loss. As Chad reflects on the show, figuring out one’s identity is complex, and sometimes painful. We adoptive parents, and anyone involved with adoption, need to listen carefully to Chad’s insights.

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Chad is an award-winning solo performer, based in Seattle. According to Artist Trust, Chad’s show Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Dangerous Acts: Memoirs of a Post Honorary White Childhood “seeks to explore the dangers, complexities and occasional hilarities associated with navigating black adult maleness in America, when your only compass is eighteen years of honorary white citizenship and suburban privilege.” Read further here.

Learn more about Chad’s work: Riding in Cars With Black People, and his earlier show, Sitting in Circles With Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy.

Sibling Connections in Adoption

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That’s my 26 year old son Sean with Genet Tsegay, Miss Ethiopia 2012/13, in a photo taken recently in SIlver Spring, Maryland. Sean has found his way into many photos with beautiful women. The icebreaker between these two, though, might have been different from his usual (not that I truly have any idea what “the usual” might be lol). For this meeting, it might have been something like “Hey, my sisters are from Ethiopia,” and maybe a conversation would have started around the not immediately obvious connection between these two young people from very different places.

One of the areas I find most fascinating in adoption is one that needs more research: siblings. I have no siblings. I have four adopted children; my twin daughters are biologically related. Our family has had many conversations along the way about the fact that all the kids are adopted. They’ve wondered what it would be like to be in a blended family, where some children were the biological children of the parents. They could all share their experiences of “He’s not your real brother?” and “She’s your sister?”

My Ethiopian daughters have reconnected with their 5 older Ethiopian siblings. So my daughters have four brothers, but the way they connect is very different at this point. For one thing, they don’t really share a common language with their Ethiopian siblings, and that’s a big deal. My sons have not explored any biological siblings, but sInce they were adopted in the US, we know they share a common language.  How they would differ from their biological siblings (if any) in terms of childhood, economics, education, religion–it’s hard to say right now.

As an African-American young man, Sean has known racism and discrimination–as well as solid community, love from family and friends of different races, and the ability to travel in many cultures, because of his own (adoptive) family. He shares race with his sisters and brother. Believe me, there have been many conversations around skin tones, stereotyping, the travails of being asked “What are you?” especially while growing up, when my children of different shades didn’t fit neatly into a category, particularly when one or both of their white adoptive parents was on the scene. Adoption can be complicated, and transracial adoption adds another layer of complexity.

I’ve known families with bio kids who adopt, and then see how the newly adopted child changes their home life in unimaginable ways, not all positive, and wonder if they did the right thing for their bio child.

I’ve known adoptive families with one adopted child of color, who stands out vividly in family photos. That difference can promote feelings of incredible isolation and difficulties with identity, though I’ve known parents who work to empower children around their uniqueness.

I’ve known adopted children who wonder about their bio siblings, older or younger, who were not adopted, who stayed with the first mother. That has a poignancy all its own.

I’ve known siblings with no biological connection who are deeply connected, the lack of common blood making no difference.

My son Sean would probably have found a way to chat with Mss Ethiopia, but the fact that he has two Ethiopian sisters created an easy connection. Miss Ethiopia is from the Tigray region of Ethiopia,  a college student, studying architecture–in her own way, perhaps also challenging stereotypes. I don’t know how much she and Sean chatted about his sisters–prolly not a whole lot. I love the fact that we can make wonderful connections sometimes, when we don’t expect to.  And I hope that we continue to have conversations about siblings, race, and adoption.

Save the Date: Angela and Aselefech Talk Together!

On Saturday, June 1, at 10am pdt (1pm edt), I will be hosting an on-line live discussion with Angela Tucker and Aselefech Evans.

Angela’s story is featured in the new, highly-acclaimed documentary Closure, about her adoption as an African-American baby from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to white parents in Bellingham, Washington, and her search and reunion as a young adult with her birth family.

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Aselefech is an Ethiopian adoptee, who arrived in the US in 1994 at age 6 with her twin sister. She has also searched and reunited with her birth family in Ethiopia, as well as in Seattle. She has presented workshops and webinars about her story, about transracial adoption, about hair care, and more. Full disclosure: Aselefech is also my daughter. She was recently invited to be a columnist for the soon-to-be-launched magazine of Land of Gazillion Adoptees.

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

As transracial adoptees, they have much in common. As a US infant adoptee and as an older child international adoptee, they have different experiences. Both are wonderful, thoughtful, amazing young women, and their stories are compelling.

I’ll post more details later about how to watch and participate. Meanwhile, please save the date!

Ethiopian Children and 2 Medical Issues

A quick PSA about 2 Ethiopian-related medical issues. One is physiological, and one is cultural. For adoptive parents of Ethiopian children, this information ought to come from agencies prior to placement of the children. Parents and others may want to share this information with their pediatricians, dentists, and other medical caregivers.

The first is about codeine.

When children have tonsils or adenoids removed, they are often given codeine after surgery for pain relief. Ethiopians are more likely to be “ultra-rapid metabolizers” of codeine than other ethnic groups. This means that if the codeine is given to them in the wrong dosage, there can be serious harm done.

A quote from the FDA:

“These ultra-rapid metabolizers are more likely to have higher than normal amounts of morphine in their blood after taking codeine. High levels of morphine can result in breathing difficulty, which may be fatal.

From one to seven in every 100 people are ultra-rapid metabolizers, but they are more common among some ethnic groups. Twenty-nine percent of North African and Ethiopian populations are ultra-rapid metabolizers, and about 6 percent of African American, Caucasian and Greek populations are also affected.”

Here is more information, which you may want to print out and give to your doctor and dentist.

The second is about the uvula, that bit of flesh that hangs down in the back of the throat.

I’ve known a number of Ethiopian adoptees, particularly those adopted after infancy and toddlerhood, who have no uvula. Their uvulas may have been removed: here’s further information. There may or may not be any subsequent complications; those adoptees that I know have had none, but the pediatrician was surprised. This information may be worth sharing with your pediatrician.

Swimming Along With African-American Beauty

All four of my kids are excellent swimmers, which makes them unusual among African-Americans. Some reports indicate that 70% of African-Americans and 60% of Latinos cannot swim. According to the Center for Disease Control, between 2005 and 2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-14 years old.

The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range.

There are lots of complicated historical, socioeconomic, and other reasons for the lack of swimming among African-Americans.  It’s quite different from tennis or golf (which also have low proportions of African-Americans participating), because there’s not so much danger of dying in those activities.

I would of course like to see all these sports and activities embraced by all sorts of people, having fun and being safe.

My daughter Adanech and son Chris, when they were in elementary school, were on the swim team for our town’s swim club.  Let’s just say it was fairly easy to locate them in the well-populated team picture.

Adanech, now 24,  has continued to use swimming as exercise, and even more intentionally as a stress reliever. I admire that. My granddaughter Zariyah loves the water, especially if her uncle Sean is there.

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Z is wearing a swim cap here, as she usually does, as many swimmers do.

My experience with my daughters and with their black girlfriends when they were growing up–and still today–was that hair was a factor in swimming. Unlike many white, Asian, or Latina girls, these girls did not always freely jump in the water, especially not if they’d spent some serious time and money on their hair (via chemicals, flat irons, hairdryers, curlers, braids, weave, beads, more). The impact of chlorinated water on chemically treated hair can be especially damaging, no doubt.

Seeing hair as a gift and not a burden is one of the responsibilities, I believe, of white parents of black children. Yes, we need to learn how to care for it, comb it, celebrate it.  We need to associate their hair not with inconvenience or tears or time-consuming chores, but with positive energy and beauty.

And we need to encourage our children to swim, with swim caps if needed (that don’t pull out hair at the hairline), with styles that work well in water, with hair protected before and after swimming from the chlorine (conditioner matters), and with confidence that they can do it.  As the poet Rumi wrote, “Today, let us swim wildly, joyously in gratitude.”