There is a strange isolation that can come from being adopted, and transracially adopted at that. There is a way that some of us keep things to ourselves. We don’t think to share. It makes it hard for those around us, no doubt. We are often described as being hard to get close to. But that hesitation comes from somewhere.
I remember being at a friend’s house, hanging out after school one day; I was in junior high. A member of this friend’s family popped in to chat with him, and, in the course of her conversation, she included a number of references to n#%%&$s and had a few things to say about “them.” There was that moment afterwards when she looked at me and said something like: “Oh, but not you dear.” I knew she didn’t mean me. But that hurt the most. I knew that my friend was mortified by the incident. I said not to worry about it. I didn’t want my friend to have the carry the weight of what had been said.
Walking home after that incident. I recall mulling it over in my head. No one had called me that word today. But I knew how it felt. This was far from my first experience of dealing with racism. I was deeply bothered, but I didn’t really know what I was bothered by. What stayed with me, though, was she had excluded me from something I felt I wanted to claim membership in. It was confusing.
When I walked into my house, the whole experience seemed to run off my back into a jar that I put a lid on and just shelved it somewhere. It became something else; something that didn’t live there. I never mentioned it to my parents until much later. Like other similar incidents, it didn’t occur to me to talk to them about it. It wasn’t a part of the world in which they lived. I later figured out that I thought I could protect them from it. I wanted to protect them from it. I didn’t want them to know things like that happened in my world. I didn’t want them to know about this other group that I desperately wanted to be a part of, but that so many people thought so little of. How could I? I knew their world didn’t include this kind of shame. I wanted to protect them from the volatility of the hatred that was directed to that part of me. How could I explain that some important part of me longed to claim that same shame? It stirred something deep and wonderful in me that I was so very proud of. It was all so very confusing at the time. And most confusing for me was its dissonance with the relationship that I had with my parents. I used to joke that I could come home pregnant at 13 or call them in the middle of the night from Vegas for a ride home (I grew up in Ontario, Canada) and I would never doubt that they’d be there for me and love me through it. So why not share these moments?
At some point things started to shift for me. I experienced moments that all built upon each other to tell me it might be ok, that I might be ok. I remember my Dad objecting to my wanting to straighten my hair (yes, Jerry Curl, people: it was the 80s). He had bought a book for me about the African diaspora and its impact on the Black family. I remember my Mom taking me to the Black hair salon to get my hair done. I recall her being the only White person in the salon and being there, just for me, and not leaving. She used to tell me frequently how I would refer to myself, and to another Biracial child I grew up with, as “brown.” We called the other kids “pink.” She always said it with respect, and it seemed like the memory was infused with a reminder to her that I had self-identified from very early on. These moments meant the world to me. I banked them, and others, in my memory under “maybe it’s okay to be me.”
In my second year of university this internal dialogue was bust wide open by an anthropology theory course focusing on culture, identity and race. The course broke apart everything I thought I knew and offered me the tools to put myself back together again. It changed everything. I acquired a language that helped me sort out my thoughts, and I had academia that was safe and familiar to me as both my parents are, among other things, academics. I could use the structure of cerebral exercises in school, familiar and couched in my family’s everyday culture, to explore this sensitive and untouched area. I felt as if I had come alive. It was like Dorothy stepping out of the house into a colour world in Oz. I delighted in each moment and it gave me a bridge to bring this discussion to my parents. When I went on to graduate studies I did a thesis researching transracial adoption and the development of ethnoracial identity. I shared it all with them and saw my experience reflected in the stories of the other adoptees and wondered about their experiences when I talked to parents. I recognized how these moments I had banked away had given me the signal that if I wanted to, I could claim membership in that world and I would be shameless. They would see me.
In this blog I hope to share some of the things I have learned about transracial adoption, multiracial families, multi-faith families and biracial identities. I’ll share my thoughts on things I’ve seen in social media and popular culture. However, I shall also offer some reflections on my experiences, my research and the experiences of those people I have worked with.
 McKenna, M.J. (2002). Transracial Adoption (TRA) and the Development of Ethnoracial Identity. Unpublished masters thesis. Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo.