In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories, by Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda is a wonderful time capsule of transracial adoptee stories. First published in 2000, the book interviews twenty-four adoptees about their experiences. Since most of the adoptees were born and adopted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they are in their twenties and thirties when Simon & Roorda interview them. The book highlights the importance of connecting adoptees to their ethnic culture and, showcases different views about the issues that black adoptees face after being adopted into a white family.
The book is split into three parts, the first part titled, Argument, Rhetoric, and Data for and Against Transracial Adoption, the second part, Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories, and the third, In Their Own Voices. The first section takes a close look at the history of transracial adoption in the United States through laws, adoption statistics, and empirical and longitudinal studies. Though other ethnic communities are referenced in the first part of the book, the book’s primary focus is black children. Many of the studies and scientific evidence mentioned in the first part try to explore if transracial adoption is beneficial or harmful to adoptees of color who are raised by white parents.
One view explored in Part One is through the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) and their stance against transracial adoption. Since the early 1970s the group has looked at the practice of transracial adoption in a negative light. They believe that transracial adoption “[is] an insidious scheme for depriving the black community of its most valuable future resource: its children.” Though adoptees in the latter half of the book touch on their individual feelings towards the NABSW, the book notes that many times black parents or guardians in the black community who wished to adopt black children were barred from doing so due to institutional racism. The black community and the NABSW have been deeply unhappy about this for decades, and though they have tried to remedy the issue and encourage more people of color to adopt children of color, they are often met with resistance by white adoption agencies and lawmakers. Though people of color cite the lack of “skills, insight, and experience,” that white parents may have in raising children of color in a racist and biased world, many times during the early years of transracial adoption (the late 1960s – early 1980s) they were not listened too and ignored. No cultural guidelines or ethnic classes for white parents of black adoptees were pushed towards families. Transracial families were largely left to their own devices on how to raise ethnic children.
Many issues around a transracial adoptee’s ethnic, cultural, and self-identity center around the support or, lack of, the support they have experienced from their adoptive parents. Part Two is split between twelve women and twelve men sharing their stories about their transracial adoption. Since the book is quite long, I’ll mostly touch on the women’s stories in my review. I identify as a black female and therefore believe I can understand the stories that feature black, female adoptees have in a unique way. The two stories that struck a chord for me were the stories of Jessica Pelton and Kimberly Stapert. Each of the women struggled around their identity as a black adoptee living in a white household. In these two stories, the women voiced concern and regret on learning very little about their ethnic and cultural identity from their families. They didn’t feel supported. It was only through their own research and exploration into their cultural heritage that the women found communities that embraced them, and helped them understand their blackness.
In Jessica’s story, she grew up in a rural part of the midwest. Though she had other siblings who were also adopted, she didn’t feel comfortable turning to them for any questions she had around her ethnicity. She also didn’t feel comfortable talking with her family, and her family never initiated any conversations around race. It was only when she went to an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) and saw other students of color she felt comfortable enough to embrace her black history. Jessica remembers, “for a lot of black women, [college] is a place to discover more about our heritage and history.” As Simon and Rooda finish her interview she remarks that the term “transracial adoption” reminds her of “difference, self-identity, frustration, anger, loneliness.” Though Jessica has thrived during her time in college and post-graduation, she still has many mixed feelings around her adoption and adoptee identity.
Similarly, in Kimberly, another black adoptee has complicated feelings around her adoption. She remembers growing up in the midwest where “all [her] teachers were white,” and feeling “isolated,” because of it. Like Jessica, Kimberly also had adopted siblings but didn’t feel like initiating specific conversations around their status as adoptees. However, when she went to college, she didn’t enjoy her time as much as Jessica did. Kimberly often found herself as the only student of color in classrooms and felt very “uncomfortable.” It wasn’t until she married later, and had children of her own that she felt more in tune with her ethnicity and identity as an adoptee. Since Kimberly’s husband and children are also people of color, she now feels as though she has a support network in which to help her redefine her identity.
One of the reasons that both Jessica and Kimberly’s stories stood out to me was due to their mixed feelings around their transracial adoptions. Other female adoptees in Part Two were very enthusiastic about their adoptions and some of the women were also very negative about being an adoptee. Personally, I gravitate back and forth around my feelings about adoption. There are days where I’m grateful for the love and support that I’ve been given. As an adoptee, I’m happy that I was able to go to college with financial help from my adoptive parents and I’m happy that I grew up close to my siblings in a small town. However, there are also days where I’m angry, or even sad about being an adoptee. I never saw black people growing up and, the only people of color in my town were my siblings and I. I’m angry that we never moved, even though I voiced concern and asked my parents several times to move for me. I’m sad, I feel that as an adult I’m now aware of cultural milestones that I missed by not being in a community of color. Like Jessica and Kimberly, I feel a little lost when asked to provide a narrative about my time as a transracial adoptee.
As Part One of this book review finishes, I’d encourage transracial adoptees to read this. Adoptive parents can as well, but I believe that this book holds a special place for black adoptees to reflect on their experience as transracial adoptees. It allows adoptees of color to understand a little more about the history and statistics around black adoptions, and it allows adoptees to learn about stories that are like their own.
Next week, I’ll be discussing the second half of Part Two, the men’s stories and how black masculinity is shaped around one’s status as a transracial adoptee. I’ll also finish up the book by discussing Part Three.
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[…] Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories. You can find the first part of my book review here. The book is split into three parts. Part One talks about statistical data and studies around […]