Race, ethnicity and place: A conversation considering all things

Summer Sam/ Mama C and the Boys 2010

I’m excited to launch something a little different here at Mama C that will hopefully invite my lurkers, and my steadfast contributors alike to join. For months, well more like years now, I have been thinking about how living in 86% White/ 6.4% Black or African American/ 3.0 Asian/2.4% Biracial identified/.5 American Indian/Alaska Native/ .5 Native Hawaiin/Other Pacific Islander and / 1.0 Other race/ Portland, Maine can and will impact my children.*  Bottom line: as a TRA and biological parent is it in my children’s best interest all things considered to stay here?  I’ve read John Riable’s writing on the subject, memoirs by TRA adult adoptees, like Black Baby, White Hands: A View from the crib and recently crumpled in a heap a few times over, when this post by a very dear friend who left Portland, Maine with her transracial family made me wonder it all all over again.  She is at peace with her decision, another friend said after reading the post. That was it. Peace. That’s what I want too. Peace with my own decision, as the head of the household to raise my family, here.

Of course your here and my here are not the same. My hope is that the way this series of vignettes unfolds, adult adoptees, first parents/families, adoptive parents or parents in the process, and those who love all of us, will have their own “here” to speak from. Maybe you live in/grew up in a predominantly White neighborhood, in a larger urban setting that has much greater racial and ethnic make up  a few miles away. Maybe those few miles felt like you needed a passport to get there as a young person growing up… Maybe you are about to adopt and wonder just how radically you are willing and able to change your life to make certain your kid will know what it means to be Black, Indian, Chinese, Korean, or Biracial?

DISCLAIMER and PROCLAIMER: I do not hold a PHD in racial identity formation, adoptee identity formation, ethnicity studies, or parenting.  I am a rigorously intentional parent who is open and wiling to shift my thinking. When I can see things from a different perspective, I feel that I am doing this soul in this old body justice.  I can also be defensive as hell if I think I am being judged, and judgmental as all get out, if I think I am more right. These conversations are to give me more ways to look at things, from other perspectives.

The vision (which might change): a series of short vignette posts over the summer, that capture a moment ripe and worthy of reflection and questions on race/ethnicity and place from our transracial family experience.These little vignettes may include back story, pictures, interviews, informational text, surveys and the like. All of these moments will have the following connective tissue: race, ethnicity, place, and the transracial family. Ultimately it is my hope that these vignettes will help all of us learn from each other, ask big questions, evaluate where we live (emotionally and physically) in terms of what is best for our families, and at the very least deepen our commitment to our collective work of parenting transracially.

Before we get started:

Layman’s language: These are the understandings/definitions of terms that I am going to use as I set up the conversation starters:

  • Race: A category like Black/ African American or White/ Caucasian that people in general assign to other people in general based on skin color, hair, and other features. I capitalize Black, and White and Biracial as a preference. This is a practice I began during my writing at Mom’s of Hue (Now we of Hue).
  • Ethnicity: Identity with or membership in a particular racial, national, or cultural group and observance of that group’s customs, beliefs, and language. In the case of my here, Portland, which has a robustly thriving and growing ethnically diverse population (11% of the population over the age of five as of 2009 was foreign born) ethnicity and race are sisters in the discussion. Example: There are eight Black children who live next door to us. These children share a racial category with Sam and Marcel (Black) but not an ethnic category (Somalian, Congolese). These eight children do not share an ethnic category with each other (Muslim and Christian, Somalian and Congolese). These children are sharing the childhood experience of being in the 6.4% of  Portland residents, (which is actually much higher for kids, because the data gathered is not for children 5 and under) who love to play freeze tag, and ride bikes, and whack a baseball into oncoming traffic on our street together. I will be asking myself, my children, and my readers how they view this “sisterhood” of  race and ethnicity in their exploration of race and place where they live too.
  • Socio-economics: Uh huh. And probably more to be inferred in these pieces then taken on. Over 60% of the students in the elementary and middle school where the boys will attend are eligible for free and reduced school lunches-offered as a snap shot only.

This morning we are having breakfast with our friend Hassan, an African American male, in his early twenties, who graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, is a nationally known jazz musician and composer, and wearer of many hats. We were introduced by a mutual friend, who thought we’d all benefit from knowing one another, over a year ago. He loves being part of a single parent led family dynamic, with two boys that all remind him of his family. I love his gentle energy and limitless adoration for the kids. Perhaps an interview with him for this undertaking?  Or maybe there will be no time for that in the eating of chocolate chip pancakes (Sam’s favorite) and good diner coffee drinking!

So, here we go. Before I post vignette #1 in a few days, I invite folks to leave a comment and/or introduction if they are interested in participating (not necessary–but I’m all for introductions). What specific part of this topic would you be interested in looking at? I hope what gets going here, branches out all over the ether, encouraging like focused conversations, and sharing of resources too.


* All statistical information for this page came form this data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2005-2009. As 2009 marked an increase in number of Black/African American and foreign born populations in Portland from 2005-2009, it is my hunch that those number will continue to grow: http://www.factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ADPTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=16000US2360545&-qr_name=ACS_2009_5YR_G00_DP5YR2&-gc_url=&-ds_name=ACS_2009_5YR_G00_&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false


  1. My town, 82% white, 6.1% black, 4.3% Hispanic, American Indian 0.3, and Asian 8.1.

    I am a single mom to 2 adopted boys, 3 and 10 weeks, both AA. And yes, absolutely I pondered moving to another suburb before I adopted my first from Ethiopia. I can’t move to another area, or another state because of the nature of my job but I could move to a suburb that has more like 27% black. I wondered if he would be happier in school with more of a mix of races in his classes I made the decision to stay where I am for a few reasons. First, the neighborhood I live in is the part of town where that 6.1 and 4.3 comes from. Second, financially it made better sense to stay where I am already invested in my home. Thirdly, and honestly, I just like it here, my friends are here, I like what the town has to offer. That community is valuable in my sons lives, too.

    As young as they are everything is still to unfold when it comes to so many issues. What will their identity be, how will it be formed by who and by what? I heard something interesting on NPR about an AA girl who was adopted and raised by a Caucasian family. She said she was often accused by other AA people that she was trying to be something she was not, she was putting on airs or not being true to her identity. She didn’t talk or act like some blacks thought she should. She realized as she would point out to these people, that she was not trying to be anything other than what she is, which is an AA girl raised by a Caucasian family. She wasn’t one or the other, but a mixture of both. I’m not sure what I will take from this but I thought it was revealing in how we are still trying to come to terms with race and families that are becoming more and more integrated and full of variety.

    I guess my musings about the future center around whether or not I need to actively pursue AA role models for my sons or if they will present themselves to us naturally through normal activities such as school, sports and friends.

    I look forward to this conversation.

    Kim, Ross and Ryan

    PS – my son loves chocolate chip pancakes too!

  2. SO timely for us! We are searching for a new house with the main question – which school will our daughter attend. The more multi ethnic the better. We will be moving mostly for this reason. I’m a bit confused though … are you posting vignettes and inviting people to comment or inviting people to comment and post their own vignettes in response to your vignette? Vignette is such a great word!
    very exciting!
    Joanne from butterstreet.com

    • Joanne–I am not married to either way! If something here inspires you to write and post elsewhere–GREAT. I’d love it if after you do so, you leave a link here. My initial thought was that the “vignettes” I post would inspire conversations here–and then elsewhere. But like I said–whatever works for folks is GREAT! Eager to hear how the conversations here give you all other ways to look at your process around the school/community choice.

  3. Liz–you inspired much of this. I have been wrestling with how to keep what you called the vulnerability of my earlier post accessible to many. And I so desire the feeling of peace that I feel you communicate so clearly in your piece. Some days I am there, others not. So this should help me clarify that–and hopefully offer others a way in too…

  4. love this conversation! and am looking forward to learning much!

    we live on oahu where the make up is 46.04% Asian, 21.28% white, 8.87% Pacific Islander, 2.35% black or African American, 0.25% Native American, 1.28% from other races, and 19.93% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.70% of the population.

    we consider ourselves very lucky to be in a “mixed” environment. my husband, i and our biological son are Hawaiian, Irish, Filipino, hispanic. our adopted daughter is Caucasian, and our foster son (of 2 yrs) is Caucasian.

  5. Oh mama, am I excited to start digging into this conversation. I recently attended a workshop here in the bay area on trans-racial adoption and three adult adoptees of color spoke to this very topic amongst other valuable pieces of the adoption puzzle and they all said that where they lived played a big roll in feeling good in their own skin. My son is African American, 20 months old today and full of joy, love and confidence and I want to keep it that way. San Francisco is definitely less diverse than one would expect and Socio-economics plays a big roll in that. Thank you so much for speaking to this very important topic and I hope to get ideas and learn more from the discussion.

    • Angelica. And what did they say about where they lived? Diverse neighborhoods, schools? What aspect(s) of where they lived had the biggest impact?


    • Angelica-I mirror what Kim said–would you be willing to tell us more about the TRA adult talk? Perhaps you’d be willing to write a reflection on it, and do a guest post on it here? I too have an adult TRA adoptee friend who I am going to BEG and implore to speak to this in his own words here soon. So on all counts YES let’s here from the experts!!!

      • Kim and Mama C,

        The speakers had a very different takes on the topic due to age and location while growing up but it all came back to the same thing really. If I’m remembering right, what they all wanted more of was to feel like they belonged in a greater way than acceptance from their immediate family. They wanted to see a reflection of themselves, not only in a book or culture camp but in their everyday lives and in the places they called home. One speaker had very involved and interested adoptive parents on this topic who took it very seriously. Her mother is one of the founders of an agency geared towards children of color and adopting children of color called PACT.
        C, I would love to guest post regarding the speakers and workshop taken. I really felt it was helpful and also strangely reassuring. It may take me a bit to organize my thoughts but I’d love to share what I learned.

  6. You know that I live in a very culturally diverse city. My husband is also a brown-skinned man so I do think that living in a multiracial environment is ideal for our family. However, a loving family in a stable, rooted environment is more important than anything: it’s the top. If you were totally oblivious to racial difference and had no intention of fostering this in any way, I think your situation would be different. I’m not saying don’t move, I’m just saying there are lots of factors to consider and if Sam is connected and happy where he is, a move away from all his friends and his home could be disruptive. And …. if you did move, do it sooner rather than later. We moved from the only place I’d ever lived when I was 14 and I never got over it. My two cents! Feel free to ingore me… blah……!

    • harreit–thank you as always for you two cents. (Which always equalls more like two million to me you realize). For clarification I am NOT PLANING TO MOVE. I am really at peace for more and more reasons here. It is because I am at peace, that I want to show how and why I am, and what we have created here, through the vignettes that I hope will deepen my commitment, and offer others by way of the conversations other resources/angles in etc to enrich their own thinking and experience.

      I agree that the time to move (for us) would be very soon, (I was told by one family therapist that I have through a child’s 2nd grade year at the outset in order for them to find ease socially in a dramatic move). You bring up a topic that is now on the list: loving family and stable, rooted environment-as reason to stay or not. I have read people argue both ways on this. All of these things are factors, and highly charged and personal ones. That has been the biggest reason why I have NOT left so far. Our foundation. Am I able to place enough wait on that foundation to stay? My new thinking around that to be revealed soon! Thank you for your voice here–please keep joining in!

  7. Hello C- long time no write! I saw this post on Twitter and came by to tell you that as mom of a biracial daughter I find myself asking the same question(s). Because I am estranged from my family except my sister who lives in Florida, my daughter does not get to see “brown” people like me on a daily basis. My neighborhood is largely Puerto Rican and we spend a lot of time with my husbands family. We homeschool and I seek out other brown families and introduce as much multicultural reading material, movies, cartoons, games, artwork as possible. I am definitely interested in learning more about your discovery as I wonder if we should be doing more.

  8. I am very excited to watch this unfold! My husband and I are white and have just started the adoption process. It is very likely that we will adopt transracially, and we are already thinking about what that means for our family and how to provide our future children with the best possible environment.

    Since we are only at the beginning of the process, I don’t think I’ll have much to contribute, but I really do look forward to reading.

  9. Your questions will be a GREAT contribution. Many of us were where you were once.,. my first “vignette” addresses that indirectly I think. Thank you for you adding your comment and experience! You might encourage others who are new to the voyage to chime in!

  10. Thanks so much for doing this – I live in a not-very-diverse town about 20 minutes outside of Portland, and my Ethiopian-born son is three and a half. What’s keeping us here is grandparents and other family who are a huge part of our daily lives and support system. My best friend as I grew up in this town is a biracial woman who was raised by her white mother, who was literally the only person of color in our school, and I’ve witnessed her struggle – I want my son to have a better experience as a person of color living in Maine. I’m constantly questioning myself about whether I’m making the right choices for him.

  11. Really looking forward to this, and you’ve got a great discussion going already!

    I think the angle that I am most interested in right now is making the most out of the connections to people of color that you do have…I live in a very diverse place, and yet I find myself noticing that often when I take Elfe to events – a puppet show, story time at the library, that kind of thing – she is the only brown child there. Not always, but often enough that I notice it – where are the children and families of color? How do I find where they go for things like that?

    • I second that! I find the same thing. Any place I go into with my children I find i do a scan and note to myself, no diversity. You bring up a good point. I live in the triangle are of NC. I could look into storytimes at libraries in Durham for instance where it is likely to be more diverse. I’d have to drive 1/2 an hour to do it but if it fits in to my work schedule, why not?

      I have found that even within a small area different playgrounds attract different crowds. I try to go to the one in my town that has more of a mix of kids.


      • Kim,
        The key to Durham is consistancy. Go to a free event, library, bookstore, The Scrap Exchange, Central Park, or a free to Durham residents event i.e. The Life Science Museum on Wednesdays. (you would have to pay entry fee.but freebie coupons abound). Go to that same place 3 times in a row your kids will make affinity friends that will more often than not be of interesting ancestry. min

  12. I am not, nor will I (probably) ever be the mother of a child of color. I am the other side of the equation. I placed my (white) son in a family that is biracial. He has one White parent and one Black. He has 2 Black siblings, and 2 mixed siblings. I am interested to read everyone’s take on race and growing up, how it effects you as well as how it defines (or doesn’t) you.
    Thank you for the chance to ‘spy’


  13. Hi, I’m commenting late to this thread. I am grateful to you for providing this forum for discussion on your blog using your thoughtful, pondering-provoking posts and reflections. We are a caucasian family with a biological son, and just had African-American siblings placed with us about a month ago. Suddenly the training and preparation we had done to become a transracial family is not enough, though we are grateful we started someplace. Your blog has been one of those places I’ve come to for that thinking reflection prior to this placement, and for that I am grateful. I look forward to participating in this conversation.

    • Amara, thank you for this comment–it is feedback like this that KEEPS ME WRITING! So good to have you here–and CONGRATS–and the work is our work–and it really never gets easier–but the change you experience as a family, is in my experiences worth every second of the effort to unfold your life to this point and do it differently offers a payback that is so rewarding and manifold.

  14. Hello I am min.
    I am intrigued. I live in the dirty south but I grew up in the midwest. I can pass as a member of several ethnicities an on occasion, I do.
    Could I, very respectively, introduce the idea of phasing out the use of the word race as you have defined it? I know that sounds extreme but “race”is not a clean word. It is not benign. It is not a word the bespeaks harmony and fosters warm fuzzy feelings of unity. Race is a fine word when you are in a majority situation but when next you find yourself as minority among strangers please ask yourself if you would feel comfortable using that word in conversation. Then ask yourself would they feel comfortable with that word. I know it seems a petty thing. Much ado about nothing.
    Yet, I think we are all agreed that we are really one race:human.
    Not so very long ago I was reminded that the color of my skin was proof that I was sub-human and not entitled to certain basic courtesies. Not a vacation highlight I must admit. Just a thought; the thing about “race”. Hope I didn’t offend.

    • I think that our chidrens generation has a deeply powerful opportunity to remove the social construct of race from the fabric of the world as they know it–as Census date now shows the majority of children born in 2010 were not white. Are you suggesting that by not using the word race we will be more successful antiracist allies? As a white Mama of brown boys, I do not feel that I have that right. This piece over at My Brown Baby titled “Why white parents should talk about race with their kids” puts it better than I would this morning. As long as much of the world is going to see them one way or another, I need to prepare then for how to handle that reality, and look forward to a world that they will create that is less and less reliant on race, and fully embracing of how a people choose to see themselves. But if you have found a way that my use of the word race does not seem to be moving our conversation here forward, I want to hear it. Thank you for bringing your voice into this conversation!

      Recently I read an article that equated not talking about race with your kids with not talking about sex with your kids.

  15. First off I agree with you.
    Secondly, you read little deeper than I intended. I literally meant that you could use another word. In this age of mashups, hashtags, urban dictionary etc creating a new word to define your place in the world is so doable. You have a positive message. You are seeking to expand your community and grow something you have not yet seen. By its very nature a new word invites dialogue as people question the user of the meaning. By virtue of being on the web you’re broadcasting. So become a source page. Provoke people to link to you to get the definition. The word “race” is a thought poacher people already have an idea where the conversation is going. The concept of race is the essence of your conversational meal and yes that must be discussed even when it can’t be easily digested.

    As to the issue of man against man well that is going to be in the news of the day for as long as there are days and people. A good parent attempts to prep their kids to handle the good, bad, and the bogeymen real and imagined. FWIW my kids would love it I would stop talking to them about sex! I am negotiating something that is basically everything- your- mother- would- tell- you- about- sex- if- she- was a gynecologist in the hood.

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