Emmy award winning This is Us deals with so many of the complexities of transracial adoption including the visual message of 'one of these people are not like the other'. From inception, transracial adoptees must manage being different, knowing they did not come from the womb of the person they call Mom. Adoptive parents have something else they must balance: their own socially influenced bias, with that of the care for their child.
Transracial Adoption and Racism
As This is Us ends for the fall season I was brought back to several poignant moments that Randall has experienced this season. Difference once again came to light when the judge who was due to approve the Pearson's adoption refused saying "I don't feel like this child should be with you." This is very much in line with the views of the time, in 1972 The National Association of Black Social Workers stated they didn't think black children should be adopted by white families because "...transracially-adopted children were prevented from developing a positive sense of themselves as black people which would be necessary to cope with the racism and prejudice which they would eventually encounter." The reality is they were not wrong in asserting that black children need to build coping techniques to manage prejudice and racism. I experienced racism from a very early age; when I was called the 'N' word in kindergarten. Fortunately, I had my mother and my best friends mother to advocate on my behalf and the situation was swiftly dealt with. This didn't lessen the blow to me or fully prepare me for the racism I was going to encounter later in life. My parents tried to equip me with the skills I would require to manage this, but it wasn't enough and I did suffer through some terribly painful experiences. The fact that most of my family were not able to relate to this caused significant self doubt and minimizing of the racism I faced. Transrcaial adoptive parents have a responsibility to provide as much education to their child as possible and to listen and empathize with the situations they experience.
Often what parents do is overcompensate for this which can be awkward and uncomfortable. Being 'claimed' has pros and cons; we need to know you accept us and love as much as you do your biological children, while respecting that we have a dual history, and our birth family is apart of us and we a part of them even if we don't have contact with them or ever meet them. Respecting that relationship will draw us closer to you. Rebecca fought so hard to 'claim' Randall but ended up pushing him farther away when she withheld his biological family information from him. She was so determined to ensure people accepted Randall as their son that it made her insensitive to his need to know himself and where he came from. In her mind the family he has should be enough to make him whole. It's hard for the family to comprehend when it doesn't.
Search and Reunion
When Randall does go on a search for his birth family his brother and sister are also uncertain as to why he feels a need to do this. Randall explains his ongoing desire to know more information about his birth family by telling them, "It's like a ringing in my ears, sometimes it's quiet and dim and other times its loud." This is the reality for many adoptees sometimes searching can consume their lives unhealthily and other times it is just a constant desire to know who our birth family are.
Randall needed to face his birth father and express his anger, frustration and hurt at being abandoned and learn about where he came from and what contributed to him being who he was. Like Randall I have lived my whole life with unanswered questions about who my birth family is and why I was left in a ditch in the ground. 10 years ago, I was featured in a film that documented my journey to Haiti to find my birth parents.
The search for my birth family was like looking for a needle in a haystack. With absolutely no information I returned to the hospital and orphanage that had cared for me as an infant in anticipation of them providing me with more insight into my story. I garnered national attention while I was in Haiti as I was featured in newspapers, radio and television, hoping that someone would recognize my story. Many women came forward to claim me, expecting that I was their returned child. It was heartbreaking to see how many families longed for the opportunity to be reunited with their 'lost child'. I empathized with them because I had the same longing, but sadly I left Haiti empty handed.
Recently, my search has taken me to ancestry DNA sites where I uploaded my DNA which was matched to a first cousin. This was the link that I have been desperately searching for my entire life. I finally would know where I came from. In addition to medical information I would hope to develop the type of relationship that Randall had with his father. A relationship that acknowledges the lost time that can never be reclaimed, focuses on the future and respects my family that have loved and nurtured me. My emotions spun as I travelled to Montreal in early October 2017 and conducted further DNA testing. A week later I received the news I've waited for my entire life. It was a match, I had found my paternal family! Such joy and sadness hit me as I learnt that my birth father had passed away 18 years ago, and I will never get to develop a relationship with him. I do however, have seven siblings who I started reaching out too and I have been welcomed with open arms. My journey will now take me to America in December to finally meet my siblings in person and I'm excited to start creating a lifetime of memories with them. I am also continuing to actively search for my maternal family and I feel a renewed sense of hope and urgency as I'm praying I will find my birth mother alive.
This is Us is an emotional roller coaster, which I connect with on so many levels. I'm thankful that the writers and actors are respectfully depicting transracial adoption with all its nuances. I hope as Randall and Beth continue their journey through fostering that the show will continue to seek the voices of fostered and adopted people. Our voices matter thank you for sharing our stories.
Judith is a foster parent recruiter at Maple Star Foster Care and a freelance consultant Social Worker specializing in Adoption. She is currently writing her autobiography due out in Fall 2018. firstname.lastname@example.org. In honour of November's Adoption Awareness Month, her documentary; Adopted ID will be screening at Women's Health in Women's Hands on Wednesday November 29, 2017 at 6:30pm for tickets visit https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/adopted-id-special-adoption-month-screening-tickets-39590601555?aff=efbeventtix