Colorblindness and Transracial Adoption

A Facebook video led me to Melissa Guida-Richards who is an author, adoptee and mom. I think I had encountered her before in one of the many articles she has written. Then I found one in People that starts off with her story. Though I understand enough about how problematic transracial adoptions are, I also accept that they have happened and will continue to happen in our current society.

On November 18 2021, hers was the lead story in a People magazine article on – Why ‘Colorblindness’ Doesn’t Work for Transracial Adoptions — and How to Get It Right. Melissa is what is referred to as a late-discovery adoptee. Someone who didn’t know they were adopted until well into maturity.

Melissa Guida-Richards grew up in an extended family that cherished their culture and heritage as Italian and Portuguese immigrants. So as a child, she was confused when outsiders would ask her if she was Latina or “something else.” In first grade a girl told her “you’re Black. You can’t play with me.” “I’d tell them I was Italian,” Guida-Richards, 28, says. “But I would be confused. I’d come home and ask my parents and they’re like ‘You’re Italian. You’re one of us. Just ignore people.” 

She believed her parents, who also had dark hair and eyes, that her dark skin came from some past Italian origins. Then, at 19, she found documents proving not only was she adopted, but so was her brother. They were both born in Colombia – and not biological siblings. 

For years, parents who adopted children of other races might have thought the “right” thing to do was to pretend like they “didn’t see color,” and not acknowledge their children’s differences. But disregarding their children’s race could have far-reaching impact, and is the subject of her recently released book “What White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption.”   Guida-Richards and others, like author and international speaker on transracial adoption Rhonda Roorda, assert a colorblind attitude does not serve transracial adoptees in a world where color often defines you. 

“Many adopted children of color struggle with their identities and white parents who cling to this narrative [of “colorblindness”] are doing their children a disservice,” Guida-Richards says. “What is important for adoptive parents to realize is that their privilege will not protect their children of color as they face discrimination and racism. They need to prepare their children for a world that does see color.” 

About one-third of all adoptions between 2017 and 2019 were transracial, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  White megastars from Madonna to Angelina Jolie have adopted children of color, their photos gracing the covers of magazines. And the hit NBC series “This is Us” has put the adoption of a Black child into a white family – and his subsequent struggles impacting him into adulthood — front and center in an honest portrayal of the very real issues facing people of color in America compared to their white counterparts. 

“I think that because love was married to a colorblind policy saying we don’t see color. It has devastated many adoptees … we want to be seen,” Rhonda Roorda says. “I remember wanting to be white and dying to fit in, dying to please my parents, dying to understand the rules and the policies and the culture. It didn’t work. … We’re not seeing all of our children, we are not seeing the richness that they bring to the table.”

Guida-Richards was raised in a solidly white middle class New York suburb with limited diversity. Her father, who came to the United States from Italy at 13, told her the first Black person he ever saw was a student at his high school. “At first, they refused to even acknowledge I was Colombian, that I was a woman of color. They didn’t see me as the daughter they adopted from Colombia. They saw me as their daughter,” Guida-Richards says. “I understood that, but it left a big piece of my identity out.” Her family often emphasized that family and heritage matters, but they discouraged her from looking further into her own cultural background.

“I sat down with them and said, we need to talk about race. We need to talk about how I’m treated and how this has affected me,” Guida-Richards says. “It’s been 9 years and thankfully we are in a very good place.” While her late father came around fairly quickly, it took longer for her mom. Guida-Richards married a man whose mother was Colombian. When she became pregnant in 2016 with the first of their two children, her mom started opening up about her struggle with infertility and the decision to adopt. And she told her daughter that she was afraid that people, and even members of their family, would treat her differently if they knew she was Latina. 

“We did have prejudices that I experienced growing up in a white family who made fun of Latinos,” Guida-Richards says. “So when I found out I was Latina, I was like, how could you love me and say those things? They just wanted me to ignore that I was a woman of color and unfortunately, it’s not as easy they make it out to be.” Guida-Richards was honest with her mom about how she felt like “this big ugly secret” that her mom could only love as long as she fit into the mold. And she reminded her mother that she would soon be the grandmother to Latinos. “It took a lot of hard conversations until she understood,” Guida-Richards says. 

To help her understand her own feeling about being denied her heritage, Guida-Richards started reaching out to other adoptees, finding Facebook groups just for transracial adoption and adoptees from Colombia. “I realized that I wasn’t alone,” Guida-Richards says. “Race wasn’t addressed [growing up], so we struggled with our identity. We struggled with how to deal with racism because we weren’t prepared.” Guida-Richards eventually connected with her birth mother and her Colombian culture through both her birth mom’s family and her in-laws. “I knew a lot of Italian, I knew how to act Italian, but I had no idea what it is like to walk in the shoes of a Latina,” she says. “I just started to integrate a little bit at a time. Since my father was a chef who owned restaurants, food played a large part in my upbringing so I started with that.” 

As she started integrating the Colombian with the Italian traditions, she discovered that both her cultures tended to have a lot in common. “I’ve gotten to a place where I’m happy to be part of my adoptive family, but I’m also very happy that I have my birth family back in my life,” she says.

When Adoptions Fail

Joyce Maynard with the two Ethiopian daughters,
ages 6 and 11, she adopted in 2010. 

Famous moms like Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Charlize Theron make adoption look easy. In as many as a quarter of adoptions of teens, and a significant number of younger child adoptions, the parents ultimately decide they don’t want to keep the child. But what happens, and who’s to blame, when an adoption doesn’t work?

Writer Joyce Maynard revealed on her blog that that she’d given up her two daughters, adopted from Ethiopia in 2010 at the ages of 6 and 11, because she was “not able to give them what they needed.”

Other cases have been more outrageous, like the Tennessee woman who put her 7-year-old adopted son on a plane bound for Russia in 2010 when things went south. Recently she was ordered by a judge to pay $150,000 in child support.

In the adoption world, failed adoptions are called “disruptions.” But while a disruption may seem stone-hearted from the outside, these final anguished acts are complex, soul-crushing for all concerned and perhaps more common than you’d think.

On her blog, Maynard wrote that giving up her two adoptive daughters was “the hardest thing I ever lived through” but goes on to say it was absolutely the right decision for her – and the children. Yes, she has been severely judged by some people. She says, however, that “I have also received well over a hundred letters of a very different sort from other adoptive parents – those who have disrupted and those who did not, but struggle greatly. The main thing those letters tell me is that many, many adoptive parents (and children) struggle in ways we seldom hear about.”

Statistics on disruption vary. A 2010 study of US adoptions found that between 6 percent and 11 percent of all adoptions are disrupted before they are finalized. For children older than 3, disruption rates range between 10 percent to 16 percent; for teens, it may be as high as 24 percent, or one in four adoptions. Adoptions can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years to become final – and that window is when most disruptions occur, experts say. While some families do choose to end an adoption after that, those cases are rarer (ranging from 1 percent to 7 percent, according to the study).

Disruption rarely occurs with infants. It occurs more often (anywhere from 5% to 20%) with the older children. That is because the complexities of parenting a child who already has life experiences and certain behaviors is more complicated. When a child is rejected and traumatized early in their development, it changes the way they function and respond to people. Older children – especially ones who have been neglected, rejected and abused will often distance themselves from other people and develop a hard-shell.

According to the study, the older the child is at the time of adoption, the more likely the adoption will fail. Children with special needs also face greater risk of disruption, particularly those who demonstrate emotional difficulties and sexual acting out. Certain types of parents are more likely to end up giving up adopted children. These include younger adoptive parents, inexperienced parents, and parents who both work outside the home. Wealthier parents and more educated mothers are also more likely to disrupt an adoption. There is less tolerance, if someone’s more educated or they make more money,

What happens when a parent decides to give up an adopted child?

If a child has been adopted legally, then it’s like giving up a birth child. The parents who adopted the child have to find a home for the child or some other resources. That could be the adoption agency or the state (who would most likely put the child in foster care). If the parents decide to end the process before the child has been legally adopted, the child would then likely go into foster care. International adoptions follow the same rules, except the adoption agency usually notifies the country that the adoption has failed, however, returning the child to their country of origin is never an option.

If an adoption fails before the parents become the formal, legal parents of the child, the courts usually aren’t involved. If the adoption has been finalized, however, then the parents must go to court. A dissolution – sometimes referred to as an annulment – takes place after a child is formally adopted by a set of parents. The law treats these situations very seriously. States vary on their handling of these situations. Generally speaking, a parent will petition the court where they adopted the child asking to un-adopt them.

Disruption is never easy for the child. It takes an extreme toll and can cause lifelong issues of distrust, depression, anxiety, extreme control issues and very rigid behavior. They don’t trust anyone; they have very low self-esteem. They’ll push away teachers and friends and potential parents and if you put them in another placement and they have to reattach again and then if they lose that placement, with each disruption gets tougher and tougher.

If you are a hopeful adoptive parent – be careful what you wish for. Some adoptive parents believe are will be able to help a child and sometimes, to some adoptive parents, this means changing the child. They believe that if they just love the child enough . . . Truth is, it takes so much more than love. It may be harder to handle than you ever thought possible in your fantasy dreams.

Inspired and borrowed from Today’s – It Takes More Than Love.

Selling Babies

My original maternal grandmother and mom were exploited by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society branch at Memphis.  Though no actual records exist to show that any money changed hands, I believe it did based upon the history of that organization and the fact that my adoptive maternal grandmother had actually “specified” the characteristics that she wanted in the baby sister she was adopting to go with the little boy she had adopted from the same agency a couple of years earlier.

The TCHS warned my adoptive grandmother that “rarely do they have a baby so desirable” and therefore my adoptive maternal grandmother must act quickly and she did.  Georgia Tann’s story teaches everyone about the importance of ridding adoption of lies and secrets.  That is the purpose of pushing for open adoption records.

There needs to be a law making the sale of, or traffic in, children for the purpose of adoption illegal because while it isn’t known for certain to be happening in the United States, there is every indication that American adoptive parents who are looking overseas because they are unable to adopt quickly enough here in the United States, may be victims of inappropriate adoptions originating in other countries.

In 2006, a reporter wrote that 23,000 children – born in other countries – had been adopted by Americans. China is the most common go-to country with nearly 8,000 orphan visas granted from there. Russia comes in second, followed by Guatemala, South Korea, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. And Americans are increasingly turning an eye to African countries including the celebrities Angelina Jolie and Madonna.

When The Baby Thief was written by Barbara Bisantz Raymond in (published in 2007) an international adoption by an American parents cost as much as $40,000 and she noted that can like seem an enormous sum to brokers in countries where the average annual income is $1,800.