Black, White, Just Right was the first book that I purchased when pregnant with our first baby. I wanted her to know from before she breathed her first breath that who we are as a family and who she is as a biracial child, was more than just right. I’m a Brooklyn girl born of Caribbean immigrant parents and my husband is meat and potatoes Midwestern boy born of farmers. It’s amazing how our love for children, especially those who have a more difficult beginning, brought us together.
We were first introduced to the adoption community soon after we were married when we spent hours and hours of training to be counselors for a camp. The camp was special and every camper was in foster care, so the children were finally with a huge group of their peers that could relate with their personal experiences. The training, the week of loving our campers and then meeting their foster parents was life-changing. So when I was asked by the parent for tips on how to take care of their transracial children’s hair, I realized there is a need in the community and a desire by adoptive and foster parents for more education on how to navigate through this journey of becoming a transracial adoptive family.
Life as an interracial family can be interesting. We get the looks of utter confusion when my more “white” looking children were being breastfed by me and I can’t keep track of the number of times that I’ve been asked if they are my girls. My older daughter went through a phase where she wanted to have long straight hair like her blonde cousins and we had some great talks about what makes her special and why she doesn’t look like the rest of her cousins. One thing that I have learned is that I don’t know what it’s like to be “mixed”, so I have to create an environment where my girls can see themselves in art, literature, music and in the faces of the ones we as a family interact with regularly. It is at the forefront of my mind at all times, in the books we borrow from the library, in the friends we spend time with, the ballet classes we sign up for, the school and church we choose to attend—diversity has to be reflected back to them. My biggest take away from reading my friend Tori’s blog, who is a transracial adoptee, was, “If you have transracially adopted and you ignore race in your home, your neighborhoods, your church, your politics, you are ignoring and erasing and minimizing your child!”
Now you might be thinking so how can I integrate my child into black and brown communities without being intrusive? A 2008 report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, an adoption research and policy organization, that reaffirmed that, “Black children had a greater sense of racial pride when their parents acknowledged racial identity, moved to integrated neighborhoods, and provided African American role models.” The report also found that black kids whose white parents minimized the importance of racial identity became reluctant to identify themselves racially. Think about it we will move across the country for a job or move to a different neighborhood for the “good schools” but stay in areas with a lack of diversity.
It might be uncomfortable to drive across town to the black-owned barbershop or frequent the grocery store that has more diverse clientele but it will be better for you to be uncomfortable than for your child to be the only person of color in the room.
White privilege comes in all shapes and sizes and I didn’t realize that I had bought into the European standard that dictates what is beauty is for us all. My hair was chemically straightened by the time I was 10 years old and for almost 30 years I continued to burn my scalp regularly to keep my hair straight and silky. Both of my girls have beautiful curls and I would encourage them daily to love and accept their curls, one day in doing so I began to feel like a fraud. How could I as their black mother tell them to love their curls when I burned mine into submission? My amazing husband was the one to give me a push in the right direction, so in February 2018, I cut almost all of my straight hair off and started embracing the curly, coils of hair that naturally grows out of my head. To be honest I was scared—I didn’t remember what my natural hair looked like or how to even take care of it!
Curly hair can be intimidating but for many black women, our hair is our defining feature. It’s the most obvious indication of our heritage and it’s the thing people seem to notice first. Most hopeful adoptive parents have never had to think about maintaining completely different hair textures from their own until they became transracial adoptive parents. Being able to maintain and style their child’s hair has a huge effect on the child, natural black hair takes time and money so the way their hair looks is correlated with the overall care that child receives from their parents. Thanks to Youtube and Google you can find many tutorials and tips on how to care for curly hair but I suggest starting a little closer to home if possible. Ask the women of color that you have invited into your life prior to your child joining your family. Seek out hair care professionals of color who are well trained in styling all textures and can give tailored advice. Cultivate a feeling of pride and not dread for wash day. Children are sponges and they quickly pick up on the fact that their hair takes more time, money and energy, so we need to be careful of what words we use to describe their crown.
I have talked to many moms who fear that they will not be enough for their child and they’re right. We can’t be! This is why we hire tutors to help with the new way to do math problems or violin instructors to help with music lessons. We are not enough for our children, no man is an island for a reason. Times may arise when your transracial children will need to have things explained to them by someone who looks like them—someone who has also experienced life in a black or brown body. I have learned so much from adult transracial adoptees. Sharing their truths is hard because society demands that they feel grateful for being placed into a loving family and removed from a “bad situation’. Please listen, seek out, and hear the voices of adult adoptees and learn from their stories. They have experienced similar situations as your child and will be able to put words to their feelings. I love this quote from Love Grow, “Adoption is not the call to have the perfect, rosy family. It is the call to give love, mercy, and patience.”
I have been so humbled by all the love and support I have received from the adoption community and I am here to help any way that I can!
Janine Beachy was born in Trinidad and raised in Brooklyn by parents of Spanish, French, East Indian and West Indian decent. Being raised with such an eclectic background, Janine learned from a young age that hair could be very different, even within the same family. In 2017, Janine embarked on a natural hair journey to bring back her curls and put an end to the harmful chemicals she used often. What she found was a connection with her two girls, her roots, and an entire community of people who’s curls were unique and in need of a little direction. Janine started the Instagram and Facebook pages, @life_with_curlz, in hopes of helping transracial and other and interracial families find the support and guidance they needed in dealing with their unique curl patterns and cultures. Janine hopes that her trial and errors will help people skip the mistakes and get right to the part where natural hair care is simple and fun again!Janine lives in Columbus, OH with her husband, two girls, two dogs and a bunny.