The Internal Stuggles Of Growing Up Transracially Adopted
I started this post damn near a month ago, and have avoided publishing it purely due to the fact that, I didn't really know how to summarize all my internal struggles with adoption. I could list them all, but then we would be here till 2020 (which under this presidency, may not be a bad idea). However, I think I have been able to gather my thoughts and organize them into a somewhat understandable format. I wanted to talk about these very personal internal struggles for two reasons. One, I think it's important for adoptive parents to understand what kinds of thoughts and emotional stress their kids may be experiencing. Most of us are not going to feel comfortable discussing these things with parents. Not necessarily because we don't trust you, but because we don't know what the hell is going on ourselves. Second reason I wanted to talk about this, is for other adoptees. I wish I had someone. I felt like a lone alien on this planet. I really thought my family was the only family on the planet to do something wild like adopt some non white kids. I started blogging for that exact reason. I never want an adoptee to feel like they're going through this alone like I did.
Anyways, we're getting deep before we even get to the good stuff, but before we get started, I want to just make a quick point. A lot of these things, I still don't have answers to. Many of these things, I still struggle with and pretty much all of them, are an ongoing battle that I don't know will ever actually end. So while I have been able to compile these thoughts, they're are by no means going to solve anyone's problems. I've been trying to solve these issues for years (I should probably see a therapist) to no avail, so don't count on me to fix you.
I think this was one of the only thoughts in my head for a good 2-3 years. Like whet??? Being black in a white family, you don't really get that luxury of "discovering racism" like most pocs do. Most pocs get to live their lives in their poc families, in their culture and it's normal to them, until some experience, snaps them into realizing racism is a thing. This usually happen at a young age (i.e. some kid laughing about your skin color or calling you a derogatory name) but for me, it was immediate. I sat down in my overpriced Los Angeles, apartment trying to think of a single memory that I wasn't aware of my skin color, and I couldn't. The internal struggle came more from not understanding what that meant. Why Is was different than the rest of these people who are my family. My parents were very open with me about my adoption when I asked why I looked different, which I always appreciated. However, as a kid, you might as well have been speaking Mandarin Chinese. Adoption? Race? Two Families? Laws?
Whet? It's confusing and really just the beginning of the avalanche of questions and emotional stress. I'm not saying that you shouldn't tell your kids they're adopted, in fact that would be worse. I'm just saying how it felt to me. If we are being honest, I already knew something was off, I just didn't know what the word was for it. It's pretty clear when your blackity black while everyone else is white, that 2+2 ain't equaling 4. This whole section could've just been a big question mark.
Do I Belong Here?
So if my birth family didn't want or couldn't keep me for whatever reason, and my current family ain't really even my family (from a child's perspective), do I really belong here? Do I? I spoke a little bit in my post "5 Things I Wish My White Parents Understood About Growing Up Black" about how being transracially adopted and not connected with the cultural backgrounds and celebrations of your white family, makes you feel like an outsider. As a child, I understood that my family loved me regardless of my skin color, I never felt unloved or even treated differently. But there is always a strange feeling of being on the outside looking in. It's like we are celebrating all the white history and my parents danish and Scottish heritage. One of my aunt's even is the great grandchild of the homie who started the Mosquito Fleets of Puget Sound, but we never once celebrated blackness. So as a black child, who already doesn't fit in with the family dynamic, adding the complete erasure of your identity and history, along with not really knowing where you fit it, just made me question if I belonged there. It's not only the heritage aspect, but there's just this weird unexplained feeling of not fitting in. It's what I would expect having an out of body experience would feel like. You're there, a part of the family, but not really. On some level, you're just on the outside looking in.
Who Am I?
My high school graduation speech was on the topic of "Who Am I", I can't tell you how hard that question has always been for me to answer. I think I stared at blank word document for a good 12 hours before typing a corny summary of my life and calling it a day. Finding my identity, is something I think most all adoptees struggle with, both transracial or not. Then the added factor of race and not feeling like you really "fit in" with your family, it's just an added extra layer of emotional stress. This was something I struggled with well into adulthood, and if we're being honestly, up until 3-4 years ago. Finding out you're not related to your family, and then knowing that you don't connect with any of their cultural values or belief, it kind of feels staring in a mirror with no reflection looking back at you. Usually, you can build a foundation of "who you are" from your family's history, bloodline, cultural experiences and beliefs, but when you don't have any connections other than being legally bound, it's like trying to draw a map of an area you've never seen before. You literally have to start building your identity from nothing. You have nothing to base it on. I remember one of the most aggravating projects I ever had to do in my life was "draw your family tree". I remember almost crying, I probably did at some point. Because do you draw your family or your "family"? Family trees are based on bloodlines, and I know nothing about mine. Imagine how embarrassing and frustrating it would be for a little kid, surrounded by other other kids happily scribbling away and making their 4D, interactive family trees, while you are sitting here and can't even get past the "me" box because you know nothing about your bloodline. You don't know what they're like, if you share personalities, what their family history, values and cultural was, hell you don't even know if you share medical history (also an aggravating question). So where do you start to answer the question of "who am I"?
"My name is Rebekah Hutson, I grew up in Olympia, WA I was homeschooled and I like animals."
What does that even mean? Who am I? To hell if I know. Who knows? God, probably don't even know. Trying to answer this question was one of the driving forces in me deciding to seek out my birth family. I felt that if I knew more about my birth family and their history, it would be the last piece of the puzzle I was missing. I'll write a separate post on that experience one day, as it is still on going, but I did find them, last year. I spoke to my mother and siblings. They still live in Houston and eventually I will go down to visit, but you know money is a luxury I do not have, so stay tuned.
Where Do I Fit In?
Too black for the white kids, too white for the black kids.
I am from whitest of white cities in Washington. I wasn't around other black people outside of my family members. I didn't know anything about black culture or history. I didn't know what it was like to grow up in a black household, I didn't get the black references and jokes. I essentially "grew up white". Mind you, on top of everything else, we were also homeschooled, so we didn't have much interaction with other non relatives outside of church or family friends. So when we got to high school and switched to a more modern and diverse church, I finally was around people who looked like me. Only problem was, I realized how much I missed out on the black experience. For the white kids, I was "too black", I'm dark skinned I don't have "good hair", I talk with a mix of slang and "proper english", so I was either fetishized by white people, or just straight up shunned. It was always one extreme or the other. Then with the black community, I wasn't black enough for those same reasons. I didn't know "black things", I wasn't raised in the culture, I didn't speak black enough, so on and so forth. So where do I fit in? White people don't want me and neither do my own people. It's a weird line to walk. Especially when you didn't ask for any of this. No one asked us if we wanted to be adopted, or raised in this city, but here we are. Why should I be blamed for decisions I had no control over? It's frustrating.
Who Do I Talk To?
Who do I go to with this? Who do I talk to? I don't even fully understand what is happening myself, so who else would get it? We tend to keep these things to ourselves, and never talk about it, hence the internal struggle part. I remember the few times I tried to share with friends, it was so exhausting having to walk them through everything. It's like talking to a brick wall. Even today, I don't bother talking about adoption things with people who aren't adopted, because it just becomes aggravating. You end up having defend yourself for having legitimate emotions, rather than having someone shut up and listen to you. Parents will jump to the "oh no, baby we love you" or "don't pay attention to those kids" *eye roll*, and friends will just tell you they don't get the big deal. I said in my post "5 Things I Wish My White Parents Understood About Growing Up Black" that you need to listen, don't dismiss. It applies to everyone. Sometimes people just need to vent and don't want to hear about how you get get it or dismissal of their feelings and experiences. I also have the added bonus of being very stubborn. I don't like to admit I need help, I always have things under control. It has backfired a lot in my lifetime, but it's something I'm working on. I have the feeling of needing to be the champion for everyone else. I know I'm strong and have the courage to be on the front lines, and people gravitate to that. I'm often the one people come to, to lay all their problems on and I don't mind, but in turn, it doesn't allow for myself to have any moments of "weakness" by admitting I sometimes need people to talk to as well. So that mixed with not knowing how to explain your thoughts, it was just easier to keep it all bottled inside, until this blog post.
What Is My Life Plan?
Now, how much this is actually connected to being adopted, I don't know for sure. However, the more I think about it, the more the two seem to be connected in some way. As a kid, I had all the normal dreams of being president or an astronaut. For a long time, I actually wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals so much, but that required a lot of science, that I just don't have the patience for. As I got older, I had less and less ambitions. Not necessarily to succeed, because I was a fantastic student. 4.0, valedictorian, got mad scholarships, I was in all the extracurricular programs, top player in sports, still hold the shot put record at my high school, won state, went to the Junior Olympics (shameless brag). On paper, I was amazing. Internally, I have no idea what on earth I was working towards. To be fair, not knowing what you want to do, is something every college student experiences at some point, which is why I'm not sure what percentage stems from just existing as a young adult and how much is from adoption But the reason I mentioned it here, is because it goes back to that loss of identity. I didn't know who I was, what I valued, what mark I wanted to leave on this world. I knew I wanted to be great, and do something great, but what was that thing? I originally went to college for a general business degree, but the thought of working 9-5 sitting in an office cubicle every day, was so boring just to think about. But what else was there? I also think the fact that I didn't see a lot of positive black role models, played a part as well. Today, with the internet and people like the Obamas, it's a little different, but when I was little and well into my teen years, I didn't see much of any black women that looked like me, doing anything extraordinary. There are so many extraordinary black women in the world, but they are never put in the media. So as a kid what is your path according to society? A secretary? A maid? Taking care of rich white people's kids in Manhattan? What do I do?
I said before that I don't have the answers. I really don't. But I did think about what could have been done differently to avoid having these internal struggles, and honestly I couldn't think of anything. These are just experiences that will happen to some degree and I think parents just need to be there to help us when we need it. It'll suck for a while, but I does get better (clique, I know). Seriously, though, fellow adoptees, eventually you will grow and figure out how to be comfortable within yourself. Not saying it's easy, but take some comfort in knowing you are not the first or the last person to have dealt with this.