A Worthy Voice: Trans-racial adoptee; Susan Harris O’Connor

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As a trans-racial adoptee, adopted in 1964, I think one of trickiest things I’ve had to navigate over my lifetime is holding on to my respect and love of self, family and others, while being bombarded by messages that overtime are really attempting to psychologically erase me and my family from being. It’s been done in so many ways;

‘would you have preferred to have a Black mother?’; ‘do you think you wouldn’t have struggled if you had a Black mother?’; ‘you’re just a White girl, you don’t have a Black girls body’; ‘do your parents really love you?’; ‘why are you hanging out with her?’; ‘how do you know her?’; ‘why is she here?’ etc. etc.

Negative comments and gestures about me and my connection to my White parents have played themselves out in so many ways for so long that quite frankly I’m so surprised I am left with strong self-esteem.

So, what are the things that helped me with my self-esteem? Although I was raised in a White environment, later to make friends with African Americans and other people of various racial backgrounds; my parents were incredible. A couple of lessons they taught me as a child and things they demonstrated that have stayed with me a lifetime…

1. Never apologize for who you are, for there is nothing wrong with you or this family.

2. Judge a person by actions not by what they say.

3. Choose your close friends by how they treat you not by what they look like.

4. My parents clearly and consistently demonstrated to me that if companies were known not to hire people based on race then we were not to spend money there.

5. There was not a piece of gold or a diamond in our home due to ‘blood’ money’. My parents led by example. They showed me what it meant to be respectful of myself and my Black adopted brothers who were all adopted from foster care.

6. As a young adult, I remember when my white sister began dating a man who would eventually become her husband/father of their two bi-racial children. Both my mother and father didn’t even blink at the racial difference. Powerful message!

I truly believe these ways of conducting self as parents really contributed to how I view myself and why I can be proud of my family, regardless of what others may think. And, when asked whether white people can raise children of color it’s pretty easy for me to say… ‘yes, I would not have traded my parents in for anyone.’

How are others attempting to instill a positive sense of self within their child(ren)?

Susan Harris O’Connor, MSW.  Author, The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee  all rights reserved by author of post 1/2014

12 thoughts on “A Worthy Voice: Trans-racial adoptee; Susan Harris O’Connor

  1. # 1 just made me cry. I think fundamentally, as adoptive families (yes I’m a White adoptive mother – although dad is a man of colour), we absolutely have to establish that we are a family and we are totally valid As We Are. Just recently, I stopped saying we’re an adoptive family. I make them ask.

    Vis-a-vis self esteem in a racial context, we are blessed to have openness on both sides of my son’s birth family, which makes a big difference when it comes to looks, culture, etc. We reference him looking like his birthdad and so on and we see them in person as well.

    My husband has brown skin so my son has always referred to himself and Daddy as Brown and mommy as white.

    My adoptive family friends are my rocks. We share the experience of adoption, and they are all dedicated and committed to doing what’s best for their kids and families. We get together with the families regularly to reinforce that there are lots of families like ours.

    We live in a very polyglot environment where fusion families and kids of all colours are the norm in classrooms so I like the world my son is growing up in.

    Anyway, I could go on and on but despite all of that, I worry all the time that we aren’t doing enough and that we aren’t enough. I have to remind myself of #1.

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  2. thank you so much for a really clear and helpful message to those of us trying to support our “blended” families (or whatever adjective you prefer). I’m like harrietglynn above, my father was not white, but i am seen as white (my mom’s white genes prevailed in me, and my dad’s were stronger in my sister). my husband and i have adopted two amazing boys who call themselves “Brown”. you’re suggestions are one the money, and i am inspired by your words and the confidence in yourself that i want my boys to have.

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  3. I just wanted to tell you thank you for your post. I am an adoptive, white mother with an African American son, and your message is so encouraging to my husband and I!

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  4. I think it’s fitting that your parents “didn’t even blink” when your sister married outside her race. My parents are white, and raised five black children and also didn’t blink when my black sister married a white man. I read somewhere that people should only consider adopting a child of a different race/ethnicity if they would consider marrying someone of that race/ethnicity. Some food for thought.

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  5. Thank you so very much for this, Ms. O’Connor. We need your voice and your positivity in our community. I posted this blog to our public FB page (I run a nonprofit for transracially adoptive families) with this comment, “Given the recently renewed back-and-forth over whether white adults can be good parents, even good enough parents, to children of color (via transracial adoption, specifically), I want to share this with you.” I know I really needed to hear your words today, and that many others will benefit also. I wish you all the best, and so much more.

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  6. Reblogged this on taficity and commented:
    Given the recently renewed back-and-forth over whether white adults can be good parents, even good enough parents, to children of color (via transracial adoption, specifically), I want to share this with you.

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  7. Thank you for sharing. We are also a family with challenges even beyond race. We are two white women, in our late 40’s, Jewish, and adopted the most wonderful biracial boy. We have a wonderful relationship with his birth family. He is now 18 months old and is so friendly. Every night we tell him that he is kind, intelligent, funny, and handsome. We can only hope that humanity will evolve where our differences will be appreciated.

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