This is not a burden that any child should have to carry. As a multiracial adoptee raised by white parents, I sat down to watch Netflix’s latest documentary series with extreme caution. Colin in Black and White is going to lead to a lot of discussion guides for transracially adopted families. I can tell you that right now. Do me a favor and don’t buy one, don’t even read it, unless it was written by a transracial adoptee of color. I’m not writing one, but I do want to talk about how episode 3 shows Colin trying to talk to his white parents about racism. And it is brutal.
Trigger Warning: Racial trauma. Emotional abuse.
I want to break down a 3 minute section from about the 9:35 minute mark to about the 12:00 minute mark. It’s a lot. I know. The family has arrived in Oroville, California for another Baseball tournament. Colin progressively learns how he is not treated the same as his white parents or teammates throughout this episode. In this particular hotel, the manager singles him out and confronts him.
Of course, she discovers “this man” is actually the adopted son of the two white people she assumed he was “bothering”. Kudos to the actress for bringing to life the super awkward and cringy reaction we are so used to smiling through. I don’t want to dwell on this scene but here are just a few thoughts I simply can’t fail to express.
The manager feels uncomfortable, right? So she shares something totally unnecessary thinking it’s related to this situation right here. Her church has a program for foster youth. Eye roll.
But then that “getting one” line. Wow! She manages to dehumanize and commodify children in half a second. While smiling weirdly at Colin.
I wish his parent’s would’ve looked at her like she had two heads, said “Okay…well, if that’s all, have a nice a day.” and turned away.
Of course she follows it up with the “Where did he come from” question.
And that is how white adoptive parents are encouraged by everyone (it seems) to have a white savior mentality, even if they never intended to be white saviors.
Notice how the parent’s react. They saw it as a compliment. Mom thinks she was sweet. They walk away from the interaction feeling like the manager was just providing good customer service.
Colin is visibly bothered. They don’t notice.
At about the 11 minute mark, the family is settling into the hotel room. The chronic, “little t” traumas of racial micro-aggressions are getting to him. His dad asks, “What’s wrong with you?”
Colin recounts what happened in the lobby. He feels hurt and for the first time in this story, he is coming to his parents with this. He’s telling them. He is asking them to help him make sense of why he’s being singled out and treated so badly.
What does mom say? “You’re talking about the manager.” She’s already making Colin feel like his perspective is off for questioning an authority figure. She’s already gaslighting him.
So whose fault was it that Colin was treated badly? Colin’s. What was wrong with the situation? How he looked.
When I say transracial adoption encourages internalized racism in children of color, this is what I mean.
His parents are misdiagnosing the situations. The racisms are happening but they are telling him, “No…that’s not what it is. It’s something else. Probably something wrong with you.” This is how a child of color can easily grow up believing that we are to blame for other people’s bad and biased behavior.
Later in the episode, Colin will try to change how he looks. He’ll wear a button-down shirt and tuck it in so he doesn’t look like a vagrant. He’ll try to adapt to the world of his parents, even though it is uncomfortable for him (air conditioning in the car) and even though it puts his life in real danger (interaction with traffic cop).
Later in the episode, Colin learns not to internalize his racial oppression. He meets another team of Black athletes who name the problem for him: anti-Blackness, racism. He learns to externalize the problem (it’s not me, it’s them). And he’ll later give voice to that in the elevator scene. Though his parents will total miss it, snickering at him and thinking he’s the one being “feisty”.
This next part of the scene is not ok. Mom asks if that’s what is really bothering him.
“I don’t know. Sometimes I just feel… uncomfortable?” Colin opens up. He’s trying to articulate something he doesn’t understand. He is coming to his parents to help him find the words.
More gaslighting: No is doing that to you. She’s also placing their intent over their impact. If no one is trying to make you feel bad but you still feel bad? Too bad. They didn’t mean so it doesn’t count!
Mom is also starting to get emotional here, isn’t she? When she says, “You have to talk to me” and slaps her hands? Whew! She’s deflecting her discomfort about this conversation. She can sense the implications of this conversation but wants to avoid it because she is not equipped for this.
This moment is well-scripted. While telling Colin that he can talk to her she is showing him that he can’t.
RELATED POST: 4 REASONS I DIDN’T ACKNOWLEDGE ADOPTION LOSS
Instead of confronting her inadequacy as a parent, she puts the responsibility on Colin. She tells him it is his job to know what’s going on and tell her about it. He has to be the adult. He has to be mature enough to figure this out on his own and then make it easy for her to see and understand.
Is she hurt that her son doesn’t let her in? Upset and blaming him for what? Hurting her feelings?!
In this scene, Colin opens up to his parents about a hurtful interaction regarding race and adoption and he ends up being criticized for keeping his feelings to himself.
I watched this and felt a wave of shame crashing through the screen. Emotional manipulation, much?
This is how you make a child think they’ve hurt you by bringing up this topic.
This is how you center your feelings.
How you teach a child to become your emotional caretaker while you neglect their needs.
I have absolutely no problem calling this emotional abuse.
This entire series shows how Colin’s parents are both supportive and kind in some ways AND also actively contributing to his racial battle fatigue. His parents clearly love him but they also neglect to give him the support he needs and actively perpetuate racism (remember Episode 1 when mom says he looks like a thug?).
This is the nuance white people often fail to understand.
That they can both love BIPOC while causing us great harm.
2 + 2 = 5
This made my skin crawl. Mom has criticized Colin for not talking to her and making her feel shut out. Even though he was literally opening up to her about his problems.
She effectively ends the conversation though. It was causing her to feel insecure and uncomfortable, after all. She’s returned to a place of feeling good about herself as the parent who would do anything for her son. And, walking away, she tells him so. She tells him to see her as eager to listen and ready to support. Even though she consistently proves that, at least about race, she is the exact opposite.
It’s more than heartbreaking. It’s the lived reality of so many adopted people of color who were raised by good white parents. The reality is, white adoptive parents* who do things like this typically have no clue. Being unaware, they are unlikely to acknowledge and take responsibility for the harm they’ve caused. They literally see themselves as nothing but loving and supportive. If you say anything that threatens this self-perception…well, many of us have see the classic response of Denial and Reversing the Victim and Offender role. AKA: DARVO. Look it up.
*Obviously we know there are white adoptive parents who do have a clue and are teachable, but you are not going to make me say “Not all” are you? I didn’t think so.
There is something so sinister about the subtle and joking kind of way that his parent’s push aside the harm Colin encounters. Their whole vibe says “it’s not a big deal, son” and yet it really is. I think this episode did a good job of showing us how impossible it can be, how burdensome and exhausting, for transracial adoptees to talk to white adoptive parents about racism. This episode showed a pattern of conversation and behavior that, if not interrupted, can lead to the adult adoptee distancing themselves from their white family.
However, in spite of his parents, Colin is able to cultivate self-confidence and self-love as a biracial Black person. Read that again. In spite of his parents, not because of. This, to me, is remarkable. It’s admirable. It is a testament to his character and personality. I wish this were true for all of us transracially adopted people of color.
I’ll be sharing more thoughts about Colin in Black and White on my Patreon, which you can access for $3 a month.
I’ve been on a journey the past couple years to reclaim lost heritage. Specifically, knowledge of my Chinese ancestry. I did grow up knowing a little about the white side of my family, but the Chinese side? All I knew is that they were Wongs, they were from Canada and my father played the guitar.
I’ve made huge progress in my search this year. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to know my Chinese ancestral home village! This journey of reclaiming lost heritage is revealing a lot to me about the role heritage plays in our lives, in our sense of self and even in our faith.
While I’m not ready to share what I’ve learned about my ancestry just yet (so much is still happening and I’m taking time to savor and process it), I do want to share what it means to me as an adoptee and encourage you to reflect on what it means to you. After all, we all have a heritage.
Essentially, heritage is what is passed down to us from our parents and ancestors. Therefore, it’s potentially quite a lot of different things and individual families often emphasize different forms of heritage over another.
For example, some people will emphasize the language or culinary traditions passed down through the generations. Others might think more about ethnic phenotypes or national pride. Heritage can encompass generational family values like community service or aptitudes like artistry or athleticism.
Heritage, in any form, is an inherited sense of our distinct family identity, the good and the bad. A sense for one’s heritage can give us a context to help us make sense of ourselves as individuals. We sometimes call this representation or mirroring; when children have healthy relationships with adults who share their traits. Children who see themselves in those they love, learn to love themselves.
A strong sense of heritage can make people and communities resilient in the face of suffering and fight back against oppression. Embarrassingly, I think of the movies Braveheart and 300 (the one about the Spartans), but better examples aren’t hard to find.
There are many reasons why someone may not have knowledge of their heritage or have missing pieces of knowledge. Throughout history, when one group of people seek to conquer another, erasing their heritage is a common and effective tactic.
We see this in the Old Testament when the Israelites were conquered. We see it in the way European Americans enslaved Africans and terrorized Native Americans, stripping them of their language, hairstyles, and family connections. When Communist China sought the reshape the people’s national identity, many family genealogy books (which recorded family values and stories as well as hundreds of years of lineage) were sought out and burned.
There are also those who have voluntarily disconnected themselves from their heritage. Maybe it was to distance themselves from a painful family identity. Maybe to trade it in for a different group identity that gave access to privileges they wouldn’t have had otherwise. In either case, that usually signals the end of the passing down that family identity to future generations.
When heritage is lost or erased, we lose a piece of the natural human experience. We lose the ability to learn about who we are with the support of that broader context of family identity.
One last thing before I wrap up these thoughts.
The most powerful thing I’ve learned on this reclamation journey is that my identity as a Christian was never meant to replace my heritage, but to restore it. Sarah Shin’s book, Beyond Colorblind, really cracked this wide open for me.
This realization is powerful because I grew up understanding my identity and salvation through a white lens. In other words, a lens that naturally devalued ethnic heritage.
If we understand “white” as a group identity based on the made-up (false) concept of racial categories, then we understand that “white people” have a real ethnic heritage. For example; Welsh, Breton, German. However, generations of European immigrants downplayed their ethnic heritage in order to self-identify as white and access the privileges of whiteness. For example; access to citizenship, ability to own land, vote.
Reading the Bible through a white lens, it appears that is what we are to do as Christians as well. We leave behind our ethnic heritage (worldly identities) to better identify with Christ and access the privileges of salvation; what we inherit as an adopted child of God.
As an adoptee, I believed I would find more wholeness and satisfaction in replacing my heritage than in reclaiming it. My adoptive family’s heritage became mine, and that wasn’t necessarily bad. But I should have seen that as an addition to, not a replacement for, the identity I’d lost.
Reading the Bible through the lens of non-white cultures, it’s clear God never intended anyone to give up their entire identity. After all, the Bible depicts every tribe, nation and tongue represented in heaven. Instead, being in Christ allows us to restore that which was broken and lost. That way we can embody Christ’s love through our distinct family identities.
This is why I feel reclaiming lost heritage is so vital. It is part of Christ’s healing work to make me whole; to learn to love the parts of myself that God created for good, no longer devaluing God’s work. It is part of how God will work through me to fight injustice and strengthen me to endure suffering.
Of course, I’m learning that reclaiming our heritage is risky and costly. I’ll write again about the risks and rewards. For now I’ll just say I do believe my security in Christ is what enables me to confront the painful things in my heritage and not let fear of more loss paralyze me.
If you’re not familiar with this series by Emmanuel Acho, it’s pretty great, actually. The videos of “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” are making their rounds in our social feeds and I do like it. I do. However, Emmanuel Acho’s adoption segment needs a critical review from an adoptee lens. There are problems here and we need to address them.
First, here is the video if you haven’t seen it. It’s about 16 minutes long.
In publishing, there is something called a sensitivity reader (learn more here). A sensitivity reader uses their lens, their lived experience, as someone with a marginalized identity (e.g. Black, LGBTQ+, an adoptee, etc) to give feedback on a work and opinions about any elements that might be offensive, harmful, etc.
When I write adoptee critique posts like this, that is basically what I’m doing. I’m revealing to you what I see through my transracial adoptee lens. I’m providing critical feedback. It might expose you to a perspective you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. This is practice for learning to walk a mile in an adoptee’s shoes. This is the whole purpose of my site; addressing uncomfortable perspectives on adoption, race and faith.
So let’s get started.
[NOTE: I’m only going to say this once. I do like much of what the parent’s had to say. I am NOT attacking the white parents.]
The premise of this video is that it discusses raising Black children. Well, if you want to talk about raising Black children, why not talk to Black parents?
How did they go from the previous segment (where they featured interracial couples talking about being parents someday) to this one, featuring white adoptive parents?
Was that just a sloppy segue to somehow connect the spot on interracial couples to the spot on transracial adoption?
I don’t see why this white couple should be speaking on this issue.
The adoptees here are children. Now, sometimes kids have found their voice on something and they are excited to talk about it. That is not these kids! They were clearly not coming in ready to engage on being Black and being adopted. They have found their own voice on yet. This should not have been asked of them.
If these kids aren’t leading the convo here, then who is? Who was invited to speak? The parents. Who got dragged along? The kids. It seems obvious to me, that they are there at their parent’s request. Even if they were excited to be filmed in this video, it was not their idea.
Therefore, to me, this appears as if they are a prop for the parents to talk about something they’re still not the best people to ask about; re: raising Black children.
This tells me that the people running this show think it doesn’t take a lot of work to address adoption (or raising Black children) properly. They can just call in some woke white people and their Black kids and it’s all good.
Take note: Adoption is often a go-to, feel-good topic to fill content holes for people. As an adoptee, that hurts. This is not an easy reality to live and I don’t like anyone saying, “Hey…why don’t we cover transracial adoption? That’d be neat!” without taking the time to understand that they are stepping into a complex and often hurtful adoptee reality. It’s a topic that needs to be handled with more care!
When Emmanuel asks her if she ever wishes she had Black parents?
NO child should have to answer a question like that, unaware, in this kind of pressure situation. Her parents should’ve made it clear beforehand that NO impromptu questions be asked of their kids. The kids should’ve had the time to think about what they wanted to talk about in advance.
The question he threw to Story revealed TWO things to me.
1: That she was conflicted on how to answer and felt pressure. That sucks. Her parents were there. The cameras were rolling. A very good looking man was asking her a question. Feeling conflicted but pressured to answer is not a good spot to be in.
2: That she felt the answer had to be either yes or no. Maybe that’s because she’s not at that point yet, cognitively, or maybe she is and that is why she seemed conflicted. Still, she wasn’t able to articulate, in that moment, that the answer could be BOTH yes and no.
I have no idea what was going on in her head, but watching and hearing her, I was like…Ahhh! The power dynamics here were VERY unfair to this young lady. If she had complex or conflicting emotions in that moment, which I suspect she did, how terrible to walk away from this whole recording session, unable to express that and holding that within her.
This is why we should not have adoptees who are still children, still minors, doing things like this. We should not be making videos about adoption that feature a child’s adoption story or asks them to speak on what it’s like to be adopted.
Adoptive parents should be protecting their child’s privacy while helping them learn to make sense of their own story and find their own voice.
When we are ADULTS, then let US tell our stories and interpret what it means for you. Once adoptees have matured to the point we can hold in tension conflicting beliefs and emotions inherent in adoption AND be able to articulate that, THEN come ask us for interviews.
Why do you think so few productions like this and so few adoption centered videos online (like the viral ones that get shared) feature ADULT adoptees?
Why do they almost always show children?
It’s not like there is a shortage of adult adoptees willing to share and able to do a good job of it.
You might think…well it’s just because kids are cute.
Ask yourself why that matters? If we center children because we enjoy seeing their cute faces and our hearts are moved by their stories…then what are we prioritizing? Our good feelings and emotional entertainment.
You might think it’s because kid’s need to be adopted and therefore the best way to make that happen is feature stories of kids.
Then aren’t you treating our story (with the inherent pain and conflict)… like an advertisement?
What if instead, you asked an adult adoptee to share their story and photos/video footage of themselves as a child?
Then, they can control over how their story was presented?
Wouldn’t that be more ethical?
In Part 1, I pointed out a few important differences about the kind of legal adoption Paul had in mind when he used adoption as a metaphor for salvation. Part 2 is about what happens when we confuse Paul’s metaphor with adoption as we know it today.
More things to know about me as you read: I’m a mixed Chinese/German American transracial adoptee. I was adopted at birth to distant relatives of my (white) first mother. I love all my parents.
The painful things I share here are not an indictment of them, but a commitment to the truth of my adoptee experience.
My situation is unique, and I generally think of it positively. I am also a mother of 2 bio kids + 1 through legal guardianship. I am sensitive to the parent experience also. This is the perspective from which I write.
If you’re not familiar with the American Christian (often white and evangelical) depiction of adoption being “the gospel on display”, let me give you the Tiff Notes.
Essentially, the idea is that some human things (like marriage or parenting) are imperfect reflections of the “true and better” thing, which is Christ and the gospel. If you’ve ever read a Christian marriage book that draws lessons for the husband and wife relationship from the image of Christ and the church as ‘his bride’, this is the formula.
In this formula, the gospel (our salvation) becomes the “true and better” adoption. While human adoption is flawed, this perspective claims it’s value is in how it reflects the gospel of Christ. Therefore, choosing to adopt becomes a very Christ-like thing to do. This perspective also makes people very resistant to criticisms of adoption.
Oh and one more thing; Christians often state that “we are all spiritual adoptees.” Usually this is an attempt to relate to an adoptee, to validate or normalize their experience, but often the result is adoptee perspectives are universalized into being a non-issue, and our voices are silenced.
Originally, Paul used the adoption metaphor to tell us something about God. Turning it around, as if the metaphor tells us about ourselves or mandates modern adoption, doesn’t make sense.
Christians do not feel called to vacate charges against the condemned because of Paul’s use of justification as a metaphor, right? So let’s look at how our concept of adoption today leads us to misunderstand Paul’s metaphor.
Most people believe they have a child’s needs in mind when they set out to adopt. But remember, the spiritual adoption metaphor centers the desires and actions of God as our adoptive Father. Attempting to make that metaphor apply to adoption today will tempt us to move from a child-centered approach to a parent-centered one.
And in fact, prioritizing the desires and actions of adoptive parents is exactly what the adoption industry has done. This has caused a huge amount of corruption in modern adoption for over a century.
Centered around the desires of adoptive parents, adoption becomes the response to infertility or someone’s felt calling to help children in foreign countries or “unwanted” babies. This creates a demand that outweighs supply and children are procured in horrific ways. Opportunists will kidnap and sometimes sell children for adoption. We know predatory agencies coerce and trick vulnerable mothers into electing to adopt.
Focusing on adoptive parent’s desires blinds us to how the adoption industry works in opposition to family preservation.
While this was not part of my story, it is for many adoptees. We cannot ignore or dismiss their stories as isolated or non-representative cases. Adoptees often ask “How could God have desired for my family to be ripped apart by lies and deceit so that I could be adopted?” or “Why did God allow this to happen in order to answer your prayer for a child?”. The knowledge that it did not, in fact, have to be this way is a cruel burden that cannot be dismissed by the assertion that it was God’s will.
When we center adoption around the actions of adoptive parents, we tend to celebrate their savior-ism. We often want to comment adoptive parents on their great faith and obedience in adopting. To the listening child, this makes adoptive parents appear to be their saviors who deserve unending gratitude and obedience just as Christ’s actions should stir our hearts toward similar feelings toward God.
Claiming adoptive parent’s actions are Christ-like may not be wrong, but many adoptees and even non-adoptees hear this and assume the child is obligated to be grateful for their adoptive family no matter what.
I realized my adoption was centered around my adoptive family’s good deeds when I started speaking up about racism. I had relatives (not my immediate family) tell me that I was being ungrateful to them for challenging their racist ideas.
They attempted to shame me into silence by claiming they had “loved me like family”. It’s clear they saw my adoption as being about them, a validation of their righteousness. The implication was that I did not deserve their love, which I’ll talk more about in a second.
Expecting an adoptee to respond to their adoption like Christians respond to salvation is cruel. It makes it hard for adoptees to acknowledge or talk about any loss or grief they might feel. Reverend Keith C. Griffith said, “Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”
Imposing spiritual adoption, where God knew us and chose us though we did not deserve it, onto modern adoption leads us to a wrong view of vulnerable children. We now know trauma is inherent in adoption, even for a newborn. Adoptees frequently struggle with rejection or abandonment and adoption trauma can manifest at any point in our lives.
Talking about adoption in a way that implies adoptees are like the undeserving and wicked sinner is spiritually abusive.
While it is true we do not deserve salvation, we should never state that a child “did nothing to deserve adoption”. Yet I have heard and read this multiple times, even from adult adoptees themselves who have internalized this message.
The truth is, no child deserves to lose their family.
The truth is, all children deserve a loving family.
I could not see the trauma of my adoption until I was pregnant with my first child. Suddenly, I remembered a story my adoptive mom liked to tell about my infant days. I kept pushing her away, she recalls, so she prayed over me and rebuked a spirit and I finally relaxed and let her hold me. This story always made me feel ashamed but I was too young to articulate that. I responded as expected, showing gratitude for my mother’s overcoming love. When I finally understood my adoption trauma I realized my mother’s story is the spiritualized version of a stressed infant, struggling to adapt without my familiar mother and refusing to bond with a stranger.
I no longer feel ashamed by that story. However, it hurts to know that, as a child, I was allowed to get the impression that something was wrong with me. Really, I was normal. I was behaving like any healthy infant would. It was my situation, my separation, that was wrong.
Spiritualizing adoption attempts to make a triumph out of a trauma. Triumph demands praise, but tragedy and trauma require lament in order to heal. I did not begin lamenting my adoption until my 30’s.
Conflating spiritual adoption with modern adoption blurs the lines between God’s family and adoptive families. While we often stop short of equating being under the old authority of sin to the child’s first family, children are good at filling in the blanks. At least I was.
Without being told, I put my first father and the Chinese ethnicity I inherited form him into the place that sin and wickedness occupy in the spiritual adoption metaphor. My child brain took this comparison to places my parents did not intend. They would’ve corrected me if I’d asked, but I didn’t. Instead of questioning, I simply internalized.
I sensed that I should never look back to my first father or Chinese heritage. God had given me a new life through adoption, both spiritually and here on earth, so I should never turn back.
As a transracial adoptee already struggling with internalized racism, this mix up was spiritual proof that Chinese people and culture was inferior and suspect.
A current biblical counseling site still tells adoptive parents to minimize the importance of their child’s heritage. Without the adoptee perspective to shed light on why this is damaging, many Christian adoptive parents don’t think twice about that!
To me, my adoption does not look like the adoption Paul was using as a metaphor for salvation. Making my adoption about the gospel left me unable to see how adoption had truly impacted me. I had pain I did not acknowledge and therefore could not bring to God.
When I began to process this, I realized I had to deconstruct my faith. I had to cut out the lies and correct the half truths. At times I felt like I was losing my faith. I can see why so many adoptees raised in the church grow up and never come back. I don’t believe any Christian adoptive parent would knowingly risk this.
Family, we need to start sitting in the uncomfortable truths of adoptee stories.
This is definitely a topic I’ll cover more, but I want to leave you with a few thoughts right now.
When I think of spirit led actions to help children in need, I think of passages like James 1:27, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
From my adoptee perspective, I see the emphasis on helping vulnerable families through the hardships that cause family separation instead of assuming family separation and jumping to adoption.
I see the doctrine of adoption as a beautiful picture of what God has done for us, but not as a mandate for how we must show God’s love to others. Surely opening our homes and families to children in need is a Christlike thing to do, but there are many ways to do that. Ethical modern adoption is merely one of many options. I would argue adoption should be the last resort, but I’ll save that for another post.
This isn’t the definitive word on adoption in the Bible. Just my thoughts. And I haven’t even mentioned adoption-like stories from the Old Testament (Moses, Esther, Ruth, etc)? I will write about those in the future so please follow my blog and join my reader list.