Q: We have adopted/are in the process of adopting a child of a different race. Our neighborhood is not very racially diverse, and we don't have very many friends who look like our child. We've read lots of articles on racial identity that talk about how important it is for our child to have other children and adults in his life that look like him. Other than moving to a new neighborhood, can you give practical and realistic suggestions for how to cultivate diverse friendships?
A: Great question! I appreciate your foresight in planning for identity issues that may, and most likely will, come about as a result of adopting transracially. Some adoptive parents may bristle at the thought of someone suggesting that their child may have identity issues, but the truth is—if you listen to transracial adult adoptees who were adopted as children—this is a common occurrence, despite adoptive parents’ attempts to do all of the right things.
Whether you adopt through an international program or domestically, if your child is racially different from you, that adoption becomes visually obvious to the community at large. Assumptions will be made about your child based upon his adoptive status. For example, people may assume that your child speaks English as a second language, when it is, in fact, his language of origin. Your child may face incidents of prejudice, both personal and institutional. Your job as the parent is to help your child navigate the complex world of racial relations, which can vary according to the geographic region in which you live.
One of the primary ways to help your child navigate as a minority in your community is, as you suggest, forming friendships with people of like race to your child or, at the very minimum, who are of a different race than you as parents. This models your appreciation for diversity and exposes your child (and you!) to different cultural experiences.
How one goes about forming such friendships—when they have not naturally occurred in the past—can be challenging. Having walked in the same shoes as the writer of this question, I offer the following suggestions for cultivating diverse friendships in your community.
- First, be intentional. If you haven’t naturally formed diverse friendships, you will need to resolve to do so and to seek creative ways in which to do so in your unique community. One of my dearest friends is someone I met at a garage sale 15 years ago, while my transracially adopted son was in my front pack. I just began chatting with her, and it turned out that we had all sorts of things in common.
- Seek diverse experiences in your community. This can be anything from joining Asian New Year celebrations in late January or February or attending community events during Black History Month to visiting the nearest large city to attend cultural festivals.
- Consider joining a diversity alliance…or starting one in your community. Typically these are grass roots organizations that either have an activist bent—addressing issues of discrimination or racial justice head on—or a more educational bent—holding educational events about different cultures or issues people face in the community. Some alliances incorporate aspects of both. In such groups, you will likely meet people who are representative of the racial or cultural diversity in your area.
- Contact your local college or university. Most colleges or universities have some sort of multicultural office. Ask to meet with one of the staff and explain your situation. See if there are opportunities for you to become involved in a student organization or even to serve as a local “host” family for an international student.
- Consider joining a multicultural church or a church whose congregation is predominantly the same race as that of your child. This can be a very difficult decision. At the very minimum, on a semi-regular basis, make it a point to visit a church in which your child will not be in the racial minority. You can make wonderful friendships and get involved socially with other families who could become great mentors or role models for your children.
- If you have the option to send your child to a racially diverse school, consider it strongly.
- Be mindful of afterschool opportunities. Can you drive your child to a more diverse community to play rec league sports, or can your child join a dance class that more closely reflects her racial heritage? These are just a couple of ways in which to meet families who may become friends over time.
As you probably know, there can be a lot of skepticism about transracial adoption because it is not common to many people’s experiences. Quality relationships and friendships take time to form. They may feel very awkward at the outset, and you may feel vulnerable and anxious, which is normal. You may even put yourself out there and receive a frosty response. Try not to take it personally.
More often than not, you will find people who are receptive and helpful. Don’t be afraid to be bold and to ask for help. Explain to new friends that you have struggled to find same-race or cultural role models for your children. Humbly ask if they would consider filling that role, in whatever way they would feel comfortable.
Last, don’t forget to pray that God will bring these opportunities to your family and to your child. He won’t disappoint!