The “colorblind” approach does not work

USA Today just published an article entitled Adoption increasingly crosses racial, ethnic lines.

My husband and I starting researching issues in transracial adoption when we started Zoe’s adoption process in 2006. We have read over and over, and heard over and over at conferences and trainings, that we need to address our family’s racial differences. Study after study has shown that a “colorblind” approach does not work. We cannot just pretend that we are all the same, or that race does not matter.

We have been very intentional with our choices when it comes to racial issues and our family. We talk about race consistently. We talk about how we are alike and how we are different. We attend Vietnamese and Hispanic celebrations. We have visited a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple and a Catholic mass in Vietnamese. We moved so that our children would attend schools that would be more diverse. We have made it clear to those around us that we will not accept racial slurs or stereotypes in front of us or in front of our children, and we have removed ourselves from those situations when necessary. 

I think other adoptive parents who have had the same kind of training and who have read the same articles as we have understand, but we do still get some pushback from some people in our lives who have not, so I wanted to share some excerpts from this USA Today article. Please remember that this is one of HUNDREDS of article that say the exact same thing ( i.e. we aren’t just pulling this stuff out of our a**ses).

With 130,000 children adopted each year in the USA, researchers find growing numbers involve kids whose race is different from their parents’.

The latest data show that about 40% of adoptions in America involve such families. Among children from other countries adopted by American parents, 84% are trans-racial or trans-ethnic, says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a non-profit research, policy and education organization.

Pertman shared the statistics as part of a panel on multiracial identities at a weekend meeting here of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non- profit group of family researchers, mental health practitioners and clinicians.

“When you form a family with kids of a different race or ethnicity, you become a multiracial, multiethnic family,” says Pertman, a father of two adopted teens…

Gina Samuels, an associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, has focused her research on identity development among trans-racial adoptees.

A multiracial adoptee who has worked in child welfare, Samuels has found the goal of being “colorblind,” which white parents often espouse, may not be the best approach for them to take with their kids of other races.

“Colorblindness actually creates discordance,” Samuels says, because parents set their children up to believe that race doesn’t matter — until the children find that often race is an issue in the real world and they aren’t prepared for it.

Her study of multiracial adoptees, “Being Raised by White People: Navigating Racial Difference Among Multiracial Adopted Adults,” was published in 2009 in the Journal of Family and Marriage. She found that “colorblind” parenting might actually be more harmful than helpful to children.

“Adapting and understanding of equality doesn’t require sameness, so for family members to be able to relate to one another, we don’t have to be the same,” says Samuels, who is part black; her adoptive mother was white. “We can be racially different and we can see the world and experience the world differently.”


5 thoughts on “The “colorblind” approach does not work

  1. That is how my parents raised my sister. Other than a few incidents in middle school, she never really saw herself as different. When she left for college she was confronted for the first time with the fact that everyone saw her as Korean & that was not how she identified herself. How she described it was if she were able to fly above a classroom, to her everyone looked the same, including her. If anyone else had the same view, she (my sister) would stick out.
    All that to say, we’re doing things differently than my parents.

  2. You know as mother of 4 young children I haven’t even thought about this. I guess I’m just so overwhelmed with day to day life to think of bigger issues. I will read that book. Thanks for the post! You guys were smart to do research before you decided to adopt, we just jumped in. 🙂

    • Natalie-

      Right now we just talk about how we are alike and how we are different. Colin, Zoe, and Mommy all have black hair. Noah and Daddy have brown hair. Mommy’s skin is darker than Daddy’s, and Zoe’s skin is darker than Mommy’s. Mommy is the only one with green eyes – everyone else has brown eyes. Zoe has a friend from China in her class, so we talk about her skin looks like Maya’s skin.

      Later on we will talk about race, racism, and stereotypes, but for now we keep it pretty simple. However, we have had to address race a couple of times with our family and friends. One person was using the N-word. I asked him to stop and pointed out that I have children who are not caucasian. He said, “Well, they’re not Black, so what does it matter?” I told him that it did not matter, and that my family and I would not be around him if he was going to make slurs against anyone of any race.

  3. MY Zoe (born in China, age 14) got a notice the other day from the Urban League. They wanted her to join and perhaps give her a scholarship. She didn’t know she was “of color” and considered herself white! She has beautiful carmel coloring. I found that rather amazing!

  4. Pingback: Racism exists – even for Asians | My Minivan Rocks!

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