The decision to adopt was a major step. My husband and I willingly subjected ourselves to mountains of paperwork and questions about everything from our childhood to our finances. They fingerprinted us twice, interviewed three times— both as a couple and individually—, and inspected our home. We attended required educational classes to prove our worthiness as future parents.
After all the major steps were completed, our social worker handed us a five-page document called an “openness questionnaire.” My excitement gave way to guilt. As we went through the document line by line, we came upon a section entitled, “Race.”
I am white. My husband is white. Our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, they are white, too. Our friends and neighbors are white.
We both grew up in the same small town, and like many small towns, ours had racial tensions that went beyond the occasional inappropriate joke. When my husband was in middle school, a long-going racial argument between two boys resulted in a shooting on school property. Large pickup trucks, some proudly displaying the Confederate flag, filled our high school parking lot. There were clear divisions of race in the cafeteria — the blacks with the blacks, the whites with the whites.
We did not analyze “why” we swiftly marked “Caucasian” and moved on. A year later, we were still waiting for our child. Our social worker suggested that we consider opening up to other races.
We had spent the months prior to that scouring online articles and books on transracial adoption. Every single night, we discussed our concerns, fears, and hopes regarding openness to race in adoption. We argued our points passionately. We analyzed our hometown, our biases, our families, and our jobs. We plotted how we might handle someone staring at our transracial family or worse, making a rude remark.
The challenges we might face are daunting. We fear that we will not understand our child’s culture enough. We wonder if those of our child’s same race will ridicule our efforts to style the child’s hair or the way our child speaks. Will our child feel isolated in his or her own home? Will we be able to balance our own racial identity with that of our child’s without any one of us denying who we are?
What we do know is that love is not enough. We will have to adapt and be flexible. We will have to be increasingly aware of racism, of our own small-town living experiences, willingly admit that white privilege is real, and establish positive, close relationships with other people of our child’s race.
After the meeting with our social worker, we opened up to all races. We told our parents that weekend, and the next day I sent out an e-mail to everyone in my contacts-box that said we were anxious to meet the child God had chosen for us to adopt. The decision to open up to race and to share that choice with others had us both nervous and excited.
We are not going to be perfect parents, no matter the race of our child. What we will do is try, keep learning, and pray that that is enough.