More of the Things They Will Say To Your Face

Nancy French pointed me to this great video that illustrates the sort of comments you get from people when you are out and about as a multiracial family (often, but not always, an adoptive one). Been there, heard that.

Regular readers may recall that last year I collected comments from adoptive parents on an adoptive forum and posted them to demonstrate some of what humanity has to offer.

Like I said before, the point of this is not to throw a pity party for adoptive parents. Any discussion of transracial adoption shouldn't be all about the adoptive parents' feelings. Rather, calling this sort of thing out is about (1) preparing parents to deal with such situations in a way that's constructive for their kids, (2) whistling past the graveyard — a sharing of the experience, and (3) laughing about the brokenness and general asshatitude of humanity.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Dan Irving says

    The silver lining, sort of, is that asshattery seems to cross social, racial and political lines. This means the reverse must also be true right? I hope … /crosses fingers.

  2. John Barleycorn says

    Ran across this link today. Should hopefully add some depth to the condition the conditions are in, adoption or not, in the asshatituide dimension.

    ***As a result, the five-year-old child was put in an orphanage, and her mother was detained for two days (she was later released, and a birth certificate for the girl was handed over). Unsurprisingly, many Mexican activists have pointed to the racism running through this chain of events. None of the concern over the child's plight would be happening if the child had a different skin colour, they argue. The mother also would not have had her child removed so quickly if she was not native. The truth behind these statements have caused an uproar in the country and kickstarted a national debate – if Mexicans have long accepted and even found an honoured position for mixed-race relationships and people in their country, how on earth can they be racists?***

  3. John Barleycorn says

    I have heard that paste is not nearly as tastie without a serving or two of crayons for some Tam. Is this true?

    Also do keep in mind Tam that if an open bottle of paste is a bit more that your comfort zone can tollerate I have been told a glue stick may work as a suitable substitute. However, I do think in your case you should pass on the nutritional value of the glue stick and find a more suitable and creative use.

    Who knows…I am sure in no time you will have graduated to the gallon containers of paste.

  4. says

    Thanks Ken — I'm considering adopting (a couple years down the road) and it's good to keep stuff like that in mind and be ready to roll with it when it comes.

    I've got an aunt and uncle who are an interracial couple and they've dealt with some of the "but are they really your kids?" nonsense. Not precisely the same thing, but definitely along the same lines.

  5. Jeremy says

    Sadly, I've met many many many women who might say things like this.

    Yes, I'm from Los Angeles.

    Sorry ladies, its true. Guys generally don't say the things illlustrated in the video, but it's not because they're not dumb. It's because they are just generally less curious about other peoples children.

  6. ElSuerte says

    Ken, I am curious why you chose an overseas adoption, rather then a domestic adoption. Not trying to slam you, just ignorant of the factors involved.

    Some of the stuff I'm learning in my college diversity course would lead me to conclude that transracial adoption is a bad thing. That the kid would be alienated and stunted form being cut off from his ethnic culture. I'm don't buy it though.

    Do you guys think that parenting styles have to change if you adopt transracially?

    Anyone hear about the recent Indian Child Welfare Act case? They broke up a stable transracial adoption because the kid was considered Native American and the biological father suddenly decided to assert his rights.

  7. Xenocles says

    "That the kid would be alienated and stunted form being cut off from his ethnic culture. I'm don't buy it though."

    I don't buy it either. The extension of that theory is that it's better for a child to live in an orphanage until adulthood than to be raised by one or two loving parents. It also implies that the descendants of immigrants should go back to their old countries because that's where their ethnic cultures are.

  8. says

    @ElSuerte, some of the reasons are discussed here.

    Some of the stuff I'm learning in my college diversity course would lead me to conclude that transracial adoption is a bad thing. That the kid would be alienated and stunted form being cut off from his ethnic culture. I'm don't buy it though.

    That doesn't surprise me – about "college diversity courses."

    Many, if not most, modern adoptive parents believe in making efforts to expose kids to their birth culture and give them as many opportunities as they like to become involved in it. That's much easier when you live in a place like I do with a strong contingent of the child's ethnicity and lots of opportunities.

  9. ShelbyC says

    Meh. Most of those things aren't even bad, just non-PC. It's hard to believe that a little over 50 years ago the Lovings were convicted by a judge who said in open court, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

  10. ShelbyC says

    As a (non-transracial) adpotee, the idea of a birth-culture has always seemed odd to me. Having been adopted in Texas, it would have seemed very weird if my folks had, for example, decked me out in a cowboy hat and boots and taken me to rodeos because that was my birth culture. My identity and ethnicity formed around that of my parents, grandparents, etc. Of course, I understand that things might be different for trans-racial adoptees, primarily, as I understand it, due to feeding off the perceptions of others.

  11. a leap at the wheel says

    Have church friends where the biological dad is black African and mom is white American. Daughter has very cute hair. Never say anything. Afraid of looking like someone in this video.

  12. Michelle says

    I have 5 biological children, and 2 adopted. I've accepted that when people hear how many children I have, they think they have a right to question me on how I acquired them, but I'm always amazed that when I say two are adopted they respond, "So you don't REALLY have 7 kids, you only have 5."

    Uh, yeah, no. Try again.

  13. Josh C. says

    If you're ever inspired to write something about the decisions which went into your adoption process, I'd be interested in reading it. (That's as close as I'm going to get to asking about your private life)

    One piece of advice though: whatever motive you look for in people's words is the motive you will see. If you look for insult, you'll find it all the time; if you look for friendliness, you'll find that instead. I usually find I'm happiest if I assume that nominally hateful statements are really either poorly thought out, ignorant (i.e. simple lack of knowledge), or most often, just poorly articulated. Regardless of whether it's true, I'm happier.

  14. Doug says

    looked at the previous linked post, saw my comment and then "i eat paste" andi began to laugh so hard.

  15. James Pollock says

    Josh's comment above reminds me of this:
    If there are two ways of interpreting what I said, and one of them makes you upset, I meant the other one.
    (First rule of trans-gender communication)

  16. Mike B says


    I have to ask… What exactly led you to believe anything in a college "diversity" course would be worth learning, or true? I always assumed everyone who took them understood they were essentially meaningless bloviating by people who would shoot themselves in the chest if they thought it would spare someone else's feelings.

  17. Michael says

    I come from a family that adopted 4 biracial (black) children and remember a lot of weird looks in high school whenpeople found out that there was more black kids in my family than there were in the school. I am now married to a full blooded Japanese woman I have gotten many odd looks and questions. Some of my favorites were from the nurses in the hospital who thought our son had down syndrome I stead of being mixed race. One of those nurses also would talk to my wife very slowly as if she didn't know how to speak English until my wife informed her that her degree is in English.

  18. Geek Chick says

    My nephew is black, not cafe au lait, but actually quite a bit darker than his father. My sister gets the "Is that really your child?" business all the time, but so does his father. "How can he be darker than you, when your wife is white?" The thing is my family fails the one drop rule (maternal grandma was proud for being able to "pass"). Genes are funny things.

  19. a_random_guy says

    "Having been adopted in Texas, it would have seemed very weird if my folks had, for example, decked me out in a cowboy hat and boots and taken me to rodeos because that was my birth culture. My identity and ethnicity formed around that of my parents, grandparents, etc."

    I do not understand this either. Reading one of Ken's links, the white mothers of black girls are apparently constantly bombarded by black women with advice on how to style their daughters' hair to fit in with black culture.

    Aside from the sheer cheek and nosiness this represents, this is not the culture the girls are being raised in. Why should their hair styles be dictated by a culture they do not belong to? When they are older, they can choose their own hair styles, but as small children? This strikes me as utterly inappropriate.

    Seems to me this kind of nonsense should be cut off at the knees, with a cold look, and a curt statement "I don't recall asking for your opinion".

  20. says

    Reminds me of about a year ago when I saw one of my neighbors at the grocery store, telling someone – for perhaps the billionth time – that yes that brown baby was her natural son. When pressed further about where she got him, she snapped and screamed "I told you he's my son! I got him when he came popping out of my cooter, you idiot!"

    I applauded her for that.

  21. Dave says

    Having been adopted in Texas, it would have seemed very weird if my folks had, for example, decked me out in a cowboy hat and boots and taken me to rodeos because that was my birth culture. My identity and ethnicity formed around that of my parents, grandparents, etc."

    I too am an adoptee. My parents (not adopted parents, just parents, they are the only parents I have ever known) raised me as a part of their culture, and to this day, I consider myself a part of that culture. I am raising my own kids to be a part of that culture. The catch to that is that both the culture of my parents and the culture of my birth-mother are caucasian, so while I dont fit the stereotypical appearance of my family's culture, I can, and do, pass as it were. While I often get, "You dont look X," people back off when I shrug and reply that I certainly am, and both parents are 100% X. I dont know how well this approach would work if there was a glaring difference in appearance.

  22. says

    One of the things we do is go to events put on by adoptees. One of the constant themes we hear from adult transracial adoptees is that they want opportunities, but not forcing it.

    So we give the opportunities, but don't force it. One kid is mostly happy with galbi and japchae. The middle child likes Korean dance. The third child is happy in a Mandarin immersion program.

  23. Jess says

    TPRJones • Oct 31, 2012 @7:20 am

    I've never heard it called a cooter before but being a Southerner I'm going to remember that one – thanks for the laugh!

  24. Dave says


    Let me start by saying that it sounds like you are doing right by your kids, so this is not really directed at what you are doing, but perhaps at how you came by what you are doing: I have been to a few events put on by adoptees. Perhaps I ended up at a bad bunch. But it became immediately obvious to me that the other people who attended the ones I went to were people who defined themselves as adoptees, being adopted was a large part of their mental self-image. I could be wrong, I have seen no data on this one way or another, but I suspect that the more well adjusted adoptees dont end up at these events becuase they define themselves more on who they are and what they have accomplished, or are hope to accomplish, than the fact that they are adopted. IOW, stripped of my judgement-values, the adoptees who attend those types of events are a self-selected group and may not represent adoptees in general.

  25. Ancel De Lambert says

    Yeah, college diversity programs have an unnerving tendency to be idealized racism.

  26. says

    Dave, I understand and respect your perspective, but I'm not sure it's that easy.

    For a lot of people, being a transracial adoptee defines a lot of how they are treated and what they experience socially. This is particularly true when they live in predominantly Anglo places where they stand out.

    I have a number of adult adoptee friends and acquaintances. They have families and jobs and lives, but I suspect they'd all bristle at being told how they should define themselves. I've never cared for the "don't define yourself as x" argument because I don't think people are generally instructed "don't define yourself as Christian" or "don't define yourself as American."

  27. Dave says

    Ken, if I came across as suggesting that people shouldnt define themselves as one thing, my apologies, my intent was to be more descriptive and less normative, but obviously I am biased towards what worked for me. My point is less that people shouldnt define themselves as adoptees, as it is that adoption events tend to be dominated by those who do. Which makes sense. People who dont are going to have very little interest in associating with others whose only commonality is having been adopted. But it also gives the consensus that you see from those events a certain slant.

    That you seek input from your adult friends and acquainances who are adopted is certainly helpful and should balance it somewhat, but I would point out that you may have more such friends and acquaintances than you realize: if one doesnt consider the fact that one is an adoptee a particularly defining characteristic, it may come up in conversation about as often as what hospital one was born in.

    Despite my bias towards the solution that worked best for me, what I hope you will take away from this conversation is that your sources of information are a bit of a self-selected group. There may be no real solution to that (I certainly dont see one) but being aware of it might help you process that information better.

    You bring up as an analogy "don't define yourself as Christian." In that analogy, I am less concerned whether you or anyone else defines themselves as Christian, as much as if you would get an accurate picture of the political preferences of Christians if you primarily polled the attendees of "Christian Voters" conventions. Or an accurate picture of Americans if you mostly talked to people who wore American flag lapel pins.

  28. Linus says

    Wow, that story about the lady getting advice on her daughter's hair: she is a much, much, much better person than I am.

  29. ElSuerte says

    @Ken, Thanks for pointing me to that post. I had no idea that things were as screwed up as they were. By any chance do you have any good recipes for bibimbap toppings?

    @Mike B, It's a required course, so I didn't have a choice in the matter. Some of the stuff is interesting, and not crazy. Mainly stuff from the structural-functional school. Some of the psychology stuff is interesting too, though i don't know how valid implicit association tests are.

    Sadly, the majority of the field is inextricably tied into extreme left wing politics and general nuttiness, eg social conflict theory. We're on the section about sex and gender right now, and to examine the institution of marriage we studied Engels work (I wish I was joking) where we learned that marriage is literally a capitalist tool to exploit women. In one of the text books, they present an spectrum of intergroup relations that places the creation of Israel, Zionism, and the Palastian Territory as less acceptable then Jim Crow laws.

    That said, our instructer has been very decent. There's been no censorship, and she's been very engaging so far when I bring up contrarian points during discussion. There is even a little attempt at balance in the reading list. The other week we were prescribed an article from National Review, even.

  30. Charles says

    @a_random_guy —

    I can speak to a bit of this, being part of a multiracial household myself.

    It's not about "fitting in" — black hair is porous, and scalp oils aren't replenished fast enough to meet the ends. Daily washing is unfeasible (a typical schedule being biweekly), which has its own effects (combs and brushes need to be thoroughly cleaned whenever one's hair is, to avoid carrying over dirt). Straightening (a topic of much debate which I don't intend to go into here) requires either chemicals or heat, and is readily undone by contact with water. Services required for professional care are different and specialized (though you're not the first person to be unaware of this — one friend offering said services at a local salon was turned down by GroupOn on the basis that advertising them would be exclusionary… flying in the face that hair care services _not_ targeting that market are just as exclusionary, albeit to a different audience). In short — black hair needs to be treated differently for reasons that have nothing at all to do with fitting in culturally, and it is important for parents to be aware of this.

    Now, is it appropriate to assume that J. Random Adoptive Parent doesn't know any of this? Of course not. At the same time, it's not quite as unreasonable and offensive as you make it out to be.

    There's a documentary by Chris Rock (yes, he's done serious work) called Good Hair — you might find it interesting.

  31. says

    I can't bring myself to watch the video, because I strongly suspect I would end up screaming at the screen.

    Although I'm not part of a multiracial family, I can imagine the stupid shit that's said to you. After all, I went through many years of infertility and two pregnancies…and the stupid shit that's said to those incredibly common occurrences is hardly to be believed.

    My mother wins in my mind, though, for her comment to a stranger who passed us in the mall when we were kids. Looking at my black-haired mother and blond-haired sister, the woman asked "What a lovely child. Where did you adopt her?" My mother immediately replied "I gave birth to her. D'you want to see the stitches?"

    The woman apparently stalked away, greatly offended. I wonder if she learned a lesson? Probably not.

  32. Careless says

    I've gotten "she's very cute. Did you adopt her?" And "she looks just like you. Is she yours" with my biological, mixed race daughter