Today I’ll be talking about the second half of Rita J Simon and Rhonda M Roorda’s book, In Their 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 transracially adopted black children and their well-being. The verdict is that though there is a wide variety of factors that can help or harm a transracial adoptee’s upbringing, most transracially adopted black children grow up socially adjusted after being adopted by parent(s) of another race. Part Two discusses female transracial adoptees and their stories. I highlighted two stories that stood out to me, as a black female adoptee in the first part of my review. Today, I’ll still be discussing transracial narratives that are written about in Part Two, however, I’ll be talking about transracial male adoptees and their stories.
One of the most interesting things that I noticed while reading the men’s stories in Part Two was a large number of similarities that many of the men shared. One’s identity around their perceived “blackness,” was present in almost all of the men’s stories and ideas around how one’s adoptive parents celebrated or, left out references to the adoptee’s black culture. While themes about race and ethnicity were present in the women’s stories, the male adoptees spoke more openly about it in theirs. A few of the adoptees mention that they had experiences where they had been stopped by the police or, had been faced with major incidents of racism because of their skin-color in conjunction with their status as a black male. Events like these were not as prominent or present in the female adoptee’s stories. Due to racist stereotypes about black men, racial profiling, and microaggressions, many male adoptees felt confused about growing up in a white household but being viewed as black by society.
A common theme surrounding one’s ethnic identity was the question, “do I sound black?” One adoptee, Daniel Mennega mentions that being raised by two white parents, but, physically looking like a person of color caused confusion from classmates, teachers, and strangers. Though the world perceived him as a black male, and, at many times pushed racist stereotypes on to him because of his skin color, Daniel feels unsure of his identity. Though Daniel believes that he is “part of the black community,” he fears that because of his transracial upbringing the black community does not see him as one of their own. He is too “white” for them. Similarly, though he was raised in a white community and has white parents, Daniel knows that his skin color makes him look out of place. Though he may have white parents and sounds “white,” Daniel is still a person of color. He feels as though he’s caught in the middle and he doesn’t belong to either group.
Another adoptee, Ned, has a similar story. Since Ned grew up with white parents, extended family that was white, and attended a white church he believes that “my way of speaking, my behavior, my ideas, and values… all…were white.” Though Ned is grateful for his parents, he also makes a point to note that he feels confused about his culture and ethnicity because he is a transracial adoptee. He goes on to mention that when others would ask him about the way he sounded, he was irritated. He had no control over his upbringing and each time someone asked him about the way he spoke, he felt frustrated. His words and his voice constantly reminded him that he was not viewed as primarily black nor white and instead existed as something else.
One of the reasons that I was captivated by the men’s stories was the raw honesty that many of the men displayed. Most of the men mention painful memories of racism, ethnic confusion, and sadness that being a black man and a black adoptee afforded them. For men, being accepted by their peers, and parents seemed to be more of a struggle than that of the black female adoptees. It’s important to note that during the time of the interviews (Late 1980’s, the early 1990s) many of the images that the media showcased of black men were very negative. This was partially due to racism, but also due to the war on drugs that was taking place during the Regan administration in the United States. Adoptees who were not in any way part of the confusion and chaos surrounding people of color and the crack cocaine epidemic during this decade were still viewed as such, especially black males. Though one’s adoptive parents and immediate friends and family might know that the individual was a good person, many white Americans were fearful of black males and choose to act with hatred towards those who looked different from them, transracial adoptee or not.
The book concludes with Part Three, In Their Own Voices: Summary and Concluding Remarks. A short description of the adoptee’s story as well as numerical data about each interview is published at the back of the book so that readers and researchers who want quick information can access it. Details like marital and family status, age, profession and other notable information from all of the interviews are is taken down.
As I end my review, I’m astonished at what an amazing anthology this book was. It’s hard to believe that some of the interviews took place in the early ‘90s since many of the adoptee’s viewpoints and stories are still very relevant today. I’d encourage black transracial adoptees to add this to their reading list. This would be a collection that would be very affirming to read and learn about similar adoptee stories. Also, adoptive parents who’ve adopted black children, or who are thinking about it should read this one. Many of the adoptees discuss notable parts of their upbringing that would help adoptive parents have health discussions with their children and support them. I really enjoyed reading this one, and though it’s a bit longer than a casual weekend read I felt I learned a lot from Parts One and Two.
Until next time,