Tuesday Topic: Red and Yellow, Black and White

This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from Carla who writes,

Our adopted daughter from Ethiopia has expressed to us several times that she wishes she had white skin and hair like ours.  This is a major concern I have always had since we began our adoption journey to Ethiopia.  I was always told that it all had to do with how we handled it and if we didn’t have problems with it, then our adopted children wouldn’t.  Well, I don’t believe this is true because it is an obvious difference that these children see and have to deal with.

We continue to tell her that God created people with different skin colors and they are all beautiful. I don’t think she is dealing with skin color in and of itself, but the fact that she is part of a family with a different skin color.  I am still concerned that this is an underlying issue with her and am not quite sure how to handle it.  I haven’t brought it up to her at this point because I don’t want to make it into a big deal, but at the same time I don’t want to ignore it if it needs to be addressed more.  I just try to help her when she brings it up.

We also adopted a boy at the same time who is younger and he has not expressed having any concerns with this.  I’m not sure if it’s because he is younger or a boy or both.  Have you experienced this with your adopted children?  If so, how did you handle it?”

As always, I love to hear your responses to our Tuesday Topic questions.  You are often much wiser than I am!  Let’s share our thoughts with Carla and see if we can come up with some good suggestions for all of us.

In the comments, Becky suggested:

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

I own and have read both and found them both to be helpful.

Encourage one another,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

24 Comments

  1. Becky
    March 1, 2011
    Reply
  2. lisa h
    March 1, 2011

    not sure that I have an answer, but we're feeling the same things in our house. As a matter of fact, our 4 year old son (from Uganda) recently excitedly told us that when he grows up, he'll be white! He reasoned that if you get taller and heavier when you grow up, so you must also get whiter too! All of the people in the family that are older than he is are white. He and his little brother are black. we've talked about how he will grow up to be a beautiful, strong brown man…. but he's pretty convinced that when he gets older….. he'll turn white! looking forward to reading the comments / wisdom here ….

    Reply
  3. Ali
    March 1, 2011

    This topic crosses my mind a lot, because I know one day I will have to have an answer. My son is 9 months old right now. But the day will be here before I know it. I am currently reading "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla" hoping to gain the knowledge and confidence I need to respond to my son when the questions come. I look forward to reading everyone's answers to this post! I have been practicing answers out loud to my son now, even though he is just 9 months. Maybe the practice will pay off and I will confidently give him good answers.

    Reply
  4. Amy
    March 3, 2011

    It's ironic this came up because we continue to struggle to know how to respond with our 3 YEAR OLD, who according to experts (including the author of "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla") should not be noticing our color differences yet. She does. She has since she was two. A little background – we play a game called touch tummies to give us skin to skin interaction when she is upset. The first time her different color came up she was upset, so I suggested we "touch tummies and snuggle" (which usually worked very well as a distraction/fun game/ and snuggle time). She said to me "THEY DON'T MATCH" and cried harder. I asked her what she meant and she said hers was brown and mine wasn't. I would love to hear if this has happened to others. She does still believe colors can be chosen and change (as the author of ICYV says). But she has an awareness. No help here, but full understanding. I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla (ICYV) did give me some good information.

    Reply
  5. carla
    March 3, 2011

    Wow, this was kind of disappointing that there were so few comments. I've been thinking that maybe it's just one of those situations you deal with as they grow up the best you can. Fortunately, we live in a diverse community and her school is the same way, I'm sure this will help in the long run. 🙁

    Reply
    1. Jennifer
      March 11, 2011

      Carla, I just found this site. Be encouraged! It doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong. Coming to terms with our differences is a process that changes as our children get older. They will continue to have hard questions–and you will continue to figure out how to answer them. We have five children–all adopted (except the youngest, she's home while we finish the adoption process). Our oldest three are black. The youngest two are white. Some things that help us…

      -have ongoing conversations when they're not asking (I love the way God gave you such sweet tiny curls! I love the way God is so creative! It is so cool that we are all unique in our family.)
      -dad always builds up the girls and how beautiful their skin, eyes and hair are (sometimes I will give him a call and a heads up if someone's having an especially hard time, and he greets them with a ready comment). Never underestimate the power of dads here. I could say the same thing to my girls until I'm blue in the face. Let dad say it and my girls beam!
      -reading "I Don't Have Your Eyes," "Black, White, Just Right,"
      -have lots of children's books about hair and skin and mixed families around your home
      -not to taking their questions personally. If they think it only upsets you, they won't ask.
      -children want to be like the ones they love. Point out the ways you are the same and different and celebrate them. My oldest son especially loves it when we point out how he and his dad have the same goofy sense of humor!
      -remembering that there is sadness and joy in adoption. It is normal to grieve whatever took a child from his or her birth family. It's a real loss to have a part of your story gone. But that doesn't mean that there can't be happiness and love in the new family. Happiness and sadness can coexist.

      I have more to say, but my baby's crying!

      Reply
  6. Sharon Wheeless
    March 4, 2011

    We're still on the waiting list to bring our two kids home from Ethiopia. I wonder if this is less of an issue in racially diverse communities? Any thoughts?

    Reply
  7. Jane
    March 4, 2011

    My sons too have expressed a desire to have hair "like yours" and we've responded that God made them exactly as they are supposed to be and how wonderful their hair and beautiful their skin is. I also make a point to compliment them at times when they aren't expressing a desire to change their hair/skin to help build a self-confidence in them. There are lots of great natural hair resources out there which I like to use to help me know how best to care for their hair so that if I feel good and confident about it, hopefully they will too. We've also used this as a jumping off point to help them feel connected to their birth family. We point out how their skin is the same beautiful brown color as their birth parents and invite them to look for other similarities. I think it's also good to talk about ways in which you ARE similar, and other ways in which you are different from those with similar hair/skin colors. It is helpful in building a healthy self-image as a unique creation of God.

    Reply
  8. Alyssa
    March 4, 2011

    The first comment struck me as funny– my white daughter cried when she found out she woudln't be brown when she grew up. She always wanted tohe brown dolls, etc. Now she's prety happy to be a pale redhead!
    We were just matched with our first adopted child this week (through Oregon foster care system) and will be meeting him soon. His birth father is African American but he's never met him. His birth mom and foster families are white. Foster mom said "they don't see color" and haven't really talked about it.

    Reply
  9. Alyssa
    March 4, 2011

    His counselor thinks he should be exposed to role models, culture, etc. Fortunately– and this may be one fo the reasons we sere chosen– though we are Caucasion, our extended family is diverse. Our kids have cousins who are Latino (and adopted), white/Chinese, White/latino/A.A., Mexican/American and just white! I grew up in Canada and am italian, my dad's European family lived in Mexico for a couple generations…..where we live, there's not a lot of diversity. I plan to talk with my brother in law about his experiences growing up here as African/american but he is unique in that his dad was actually from Nigeria–but mostly absent and he mostly played with Philipino kids!

    So our family will have no problems… I don't want to make more of it than I should but I want to honor his heritage as well. I'll lok for this book and be happy to hear any advice!

    Reply
  10. amber
    March 4, 2011

    I was hoping to see more too. I have 3 bio kids who are white and my 4 year old adopted son is black. He desperately tries to match us and do everything the other kids do. Example: He won't eat breakfast until everyone else has made their choices to ensure he is NOT the only one with his choice. And he does this with EVERYTHING. He also points out that we don't match (skin tones) and he doesn't wish to be white but he wishes I were black. I am actually having a tough time deciding whether or not we should adopt another black child bc I feel awful that he feels so singled out already. He has been home 10 months and still when I look at our family pictures I feel like we are so unbalanced. I did not realize prior to adopting how much it would bother me emotionally to have only one black child in our family. I knew he would struggle but did not know how deeply it would affect me.

    Reply
  11. Kirstine
    March 4, 2011

    My first thougt was it's one of the losses in adoption. When orphaned and adopted you loose a number of things – one if them looking like your family. And with every loss there is grief. When she is sad about being different she'll need a safe place to process. With time she might accept it, embrace it and turn confident and happy with her beautiful brown skin. But I can imagine it's hard for you to witness because the issue of race is tender in itself. I would worry about it too if our adoption was transracial.

    Another thing (and I know it's silly): my son is three and he thought he might grow up to be a girl. Children have so many thoughts and misconceptions – some of them more humerous than others. Just my two cents.

    Reply
    1. Sami
      March 6, 2011

      I think this is an excellent answer. So insightful, thanks! So true, there is much to be mourned in adoption, but so much to be rejoiced in, too, right? Don't we give our kids a gift if we show them how to do both?

      Reply
  12. Guest
    March 4, 2011

    Certainly no big answers here, but an opposite situation. We are a caucasion family (no adopted kids) who lived in Uganda for a number of years. We moved when our youngests were 2 and 4. The entire time we lived in Uganda one of our daughters drew herself brown. She also drew our entire family brown. She loves to draw so we saw numerous pictures of how she viewed us all. We lived and went to school with over 100 other Ugandan children. Us being the only whites in a sea of brown. Ultimately, I think there is an innate desire in all of us to want to fit in and to look like those around us. Adults are no exception as all of a sudden everyone is wearing a certain type of clothing item or has a certain new haircut. Giving our children love, affirmation, time, speaking of God's plans, prayer, etc. are things that can and should help our children be comfortable with who God made them to be.

    Reply
  13. TFMomof5
    March 4, 2011

    I have twin girls that are biracial with their parents of Caucasian/Chinese heritage. Since they were fairly young our girls (now 8) have noticed that their skin coloring is darker than the rest of the family. We also live in a rural community that is not very diverse. I think it is important to acknowledge that some cultures historically have not been valued as God values all peoples. It's also important to acknowledge that they are different in color, but also to help them respect and value their cultural heritage. With some children it's a point of difference rather than similarity with their parents and what they really want is to be the same. To look the same, act the same, have the same values are all things that help kids feel like they belong in your family. Maybe wanting to be white is more about wanting to be the same than not liking the color of your skin.

    Reply
  14. kristine
    March 4, 2011

    Hi,

    I am the white mom of an 8 year old mixed race bio son (my husband is African American.) We are waiting for our Visa appt to bring home our 4 year old son from Ethiopia. We chose Ethiopia because being we wanted our children to be the same race, we didn't want a transracial adoption because we felt it would be too difficult for us, or rather more than we wanted to take on. I have a deep respect for all white families who choose to adopt brown skinned kids, there is a lot of work involved to help them have a positive self image.

    I have not read I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla, I want to one day but I've heard it's gotten mixed reviews from some bio moms of mixed race kids. I would certainly disagree with the age children notice skin color differences. Our son was two when he started to talk about skin color. He was very upset he was not 'creamy' as he put it. This surprised both us but upset me more than it upset my husband. At the time our son was in daycare 2 days a week and the children and caregivers were all white. He loved his daycare and he loved his friends. He went through a very emotional time dealing with the fact he was the only brown skinned child. I too was telling him how beautiful God had made him and how sad I would be if he didn't have his beautiful brown, hair, eyes and skin. I told him how the world was magnificent because of all the beautiful colors of the trees, the flowers, all around us was multi-colored. He never seemed to feel good about this. When he was 3 1/2 I was driving him home from daycare and he seemed very sad. This was unusual. Most days he was talking a mile a minute about all they had done but this day he just sat in his car seat and stared out the window. I asked him what he was thinking, did he feel OK ( I think I suspected he was coming down with a cold.) He told me that one of his friends asked his teacher why he had brown skin. His teacher (who I adored and still do) told him that God made us all different colors to make the world more beautiful. I told him that was wonderful. I will never forget the look he had on his face when I looked in the rear view mirror. For the very first time he looked at me like I was a fool, ignorant. When I said how much I thought that was right he said "No it's not mommy. God didn't make everyone different, God made ME different. I'm different, they're the SAME." And then he looked back out the window with the saddest look on his face.

    to be con't…

    Reply
  15. kristine
    March 4, 2011

    Con't
    This had me devastated and confused. We are very close with my family and my husbands. His favorite aunt his my husbands sister. We live in a diverse community (although the daycare and our church are mostly white.) What I began to learn is that we do need to talk about color and talk about it a lot. But I believe how we speak about it must change over time. When children are toddlers – early grade school, they want to fit in. When they leave the comfort of their family and begin to venture into the world, they instinctively want to know how they are like the people they are meeting. Stressing difference only makes them feel insecure. So, after that car ride, I changed how we spoke about color. We mentioned it more than usual (my husband and I had been together for 13 years and rarely spoke about race before my son was born, so this was new and felt awkward.) We didn't talk about 'race' actually but just skin color. When skin color was mentioned I always mentioned something that that person had in common with us. If someone was white and liked Jazz the way my husband did we might talk about the fact that Jazz was invented by African Americans with brown skin but that people of all different skin colors loved Jazz. If there were two different violinists in the school orchestra of different colors I would say it's nice to see people of different colors sharing the same talent. One day a few months after the car conversation, my son and I were sitting on the floor on the first day of school at a new school. Once again, my son was the only brown skinned kid there and he sat on my lap trying to disappear underneath my armpit so no one would notice him. A little boy near us slid over (he was about 4 years old just like my son) and this blond haired, blue-eyed boy said in a loud voice "That boy is black!" I couldn't believe it. We didn't use the term black in our house at that time, we don't feel it's bad, just always used skin color because he was in pre-k and it made more sense for us. In any case, my son almost started to cry, thinking "why did he call me black?" not having heard that term. I looked at the little boy and noticed he had spiderman shoes. "Oh, you have spider man shoes! This is Quinn, my son. he loves spider man too! He even has a spiderman outfit that he wears almost everyday!" As I said this the little boys eyes got really big and my son started to come out from under my armpit because he wanted to see the reaction of the little boy to hearing he had a spider man outfit. The little boy, obviously impressed leaned over to my son and finally addressing him instead of me said, "my feet stink!" My son laughed, got off of my lap and sat next to the boy and they became very good friends.

    That taught me so much. From then on in, we didn't talk about difference (we have just started talking about difference now that he is in 2nd grade and he is developmentally ready for some of the history of this country.) we spoke about how we are all alike, we love our families, we value freedom, we want our children to be healthy and on and on.

    Being that our son is only in 2nd grade I know that we are only at the very beginning of the learning curve.

    One thing that I would stress is that our son is very verbal. I don't think all children are. I wouldn't wait to bring up issues of skin color (and later race) until the child brings it up because not all children will bring it up. I also think that it will bother some children more than others and I believe that is just personality. Our son is deeply sensitive to 'fitting in.' Not all children are. Last year at the end of our vacation in the Dominican Republic my son said to me, "Mom, next year we'll go some place where you match everyone." I laughed and told him I felt very comfortable in the DR and that I would love to come back there because the people were so nice and I loved the beaches. "I know, I know" he said "But still, it's really nice to match sometimes!" And I thought, yes it is sweet heart, sometimes it's nice just to fit in. One more memory. When he was in first grade and he was talking about his all-white pre-K school a friend asked him what it was like being the only brown skinned kid in his class (his grade school is very diverse and he asked to go there because he didn't like being the 'only') My son said being at the school it was like he was 'famous.' Our friend said, that must be kind of nice sometimes (my son is a bit of a ham and loves to act so I guess he thought the attention would be appreciated.) "No," our son said "because I wasn't famous for something good I did, I was famous for something I had nothing to do with and even famous people don't want to be famous when they just want to be someone's friend." As I said, my son has always been incredibly verbal. For that I'm deeply grateful!

    Reply
  16. Starr
    March 4, 2011

    Carla
    I think that all children look to their parents to 'see' how they should feel about something…
    If your child were talking about behaviors (good verses bad for example) your would answer with 'conviction' and each time your child asked you would answer the same way, until they internalized it…
    It is possible that your child asks/speaks of this issue (black and white) because they feel the worry in your voice although I'm sure you try to answer with 'conviction'…
    This to the child is no different than any other question they need answered, what is different is the 'worry' you may unconsciously project because of 'past racial issues' and I'm sure just your concern for your child that they never experience the pain of prejudice…
    Treat this as any other issue without adding any worry to it and I can guarantee you that it will never be an issue…at least inside your family, and your children will grow up proud to be good and loving people regardless of the color of their skin….but you must yourself feel the way you want/hope your child will…
    I don't remember my twins ever saying that to me when they were younger but now that they are 16, I frequently tell THEM that I wish I was at least 1/2 black so I could have their beautiful smooth, soft and clear skin and NO wrinkles now that I'm 'old'… 🙂
    Hope that helps a little….here for you

    Reply
  17. Dawn
    March 4, 2011

    We as in my hubby and I are light skinned and all 8 of our children have dark skin. 🙂 In our homeschooling material- somewhat by accident…just was there….there was a powerful statement to our children that they picked up on and always say when people point out our differences. Everyone has brown skin….some are lighter brown almost appearing "whiteish" some are darker. When people ask my oldest- now 11 yrs old- she simply says we are ALL BROWN!

    Now at the same time we live in the south and there are many people our children see on a regular basis that are their same skin color. There are times when we are the only light skinned people in the store. Although our children may not say anything I know they notice.

    I think it is important to talk about it. Don't make it the end all be all, and yet – don't ignore it either! There is a middle ground. Acknowledge that sometimes we want to be like who we love. It's true. We idolize our family because we love them, we idolize friends because we love them…..we want to be like them. But if we are like them in appearance – does it really make us like them? How can we focus this admiration to be towards character and not outward appearances.

    Reply
  18. Margaret
    March 5, 2011

    So much to say on this…Our children are 10 and 13. They are Ethiopian, we parents are White. I think that race is an issue for them, in our family and in the world. They see it and think about it. My son, who came to our family at 5, used to talk about being white when he was younger. Our daughter wishes she had white girl hair at times. But both of them clearly see themselves and are absolutely clear that they are and will be "brown" and that they are Ethiopian American. I don't think kids their age in America can NOT think about that…
    Even though I was raised to not mention race, I have changed a lot. In our house, race is often the subject of conversation. Sometimes we bring it up, sometimes our children do. I think it's important to normalize talking about race so our kids will be able to share their experiences with us. I agree that living in a diverse community and having friends who look like them is good for kids, but I also think they have to be able to talk and think out loud about themselves and racial issues they encounter. My son had to read To Kill a Mockingbird this year in school and he absolutely hated it. Slowly, he began to talk about the experience of reading it, and the different reactions of White and Black students to the book. I think his willingness to talk about this with us at all was due to years of talking about race.
    It's tricky, acknowledging difference without shoving it down your kid's throat, etc. But it doesn't make them feel any less our kids. I'd love to hear/read more about other people's conversations with their children about race/racism/identity.

    Reply
  19. Chris
    March 6, 2011

    We have 9 kids of a different race than we (caucasian) are – AA, East Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian. Many of our children are now grown, doing well and are comfortable in who they are as minorities and as members of our family. I recommend two things – to never have only one child of a different race in the home and to encourage lots of contact with other multi-racial families, families formed through marriage and birth or formed through adoption. It helps to 'normalize' the differences.

    Reply
  20. Maria
    March 9, 2011

    I'd like to share my experiences as a mother of 3 african born adopted
    children. We live in Sweden, a country where people with non-caucasian skin
    colour were extremely rare two generations ago. Our children attend a
    school where a sizeable number of the children or their parents have come
    as refugees from s ex Somalia. It was our idea that it would be helpful for
    our kids to be in a mixed-race school. We still think it is but also see
    that our children identify themselves culturally as "white" – they see that
    our style of clothing, our traditions, our housing etc is more "white" than
    "african immigrant". Yes, we hear frequent wishes to be white!

    After close to 10 years of experience of parenting my african children I
    have advise that many of you have mentioned:

    (cont.)

    Maria

    Reply
  21. Maria
    March 9, 2011

    1) It is good to have sisters or brothers with the same skin colour.
    2) Being in mixed race environments may bring many questions from friends
    with both majority and minority backgrund. This means we can early on help them come to terms with not being "mainstream".
    3) Some of our friends have the same family situation as us. We all definately count each other as extended family! When we are together the children love being like "every one else".
    4) We often speak about skin colours. Children see this but our society "pretends" there are no differences (in a well meaning way) in fear of racism. Show kids that the topic of skin colour is not taboo at home.
    5) Our 8 year old – a late bloomer, possibly with developmental issues: "Mom, I want to be white!" (said not for the first time 🙂 and instead of me saying how beautiful I find him I
    asked more …) "So, what is good about being white? Would you score more
    goals in soccer?" "No." "Would you enjoy doing maths more?" "No.""Would you
    have more friends?" "Yes!"

    cont.

    Reply
  22. Maria
    March 9, 2011

    cont and last post

    My child believes that his difficulties in making friends is due to his skin
    colour! I am sure there are other more important reasons which are beyond
    the logic of a 7 year old… I'll continue to ask what the peceived advantage
    of being white is when the question comes up again!

    Maria

    Reply

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