How the writer's new book gives fellow transracial adoptees a voice.
While there is an overabundance of adoption handbooks churned out by adoptive parents, virtually none are written by those who are purportedly the subject of these books, the adoptees themselves. This is indicative of a larger problem within the community: the domination by adoptive parents and the adoption industry of the adoption narrative — to the extreme detriment of adoptees. Indeed, my central preoccupation as a transracial adoptee writer is to make the adoptee the subject, not the object, of her own story.
So it was with great delight that I discovered Melissa Guida-Richards through Instagram and Twitter (yes, social media is tearing us apart as a society; on the other hand, it has been a lifeline for isolated and marginalized communities), where she acts as a bridge between two sometimes bitterly divided communities: adoptive families and adoptee activists.
Guida-Richards’ breakthrough What White Parents Should Know about Transracial Adoption: An Adoptee’s Perspective on Its History, Nuances, and Practices has just been published by North Atlantic Books. As far as I know, it is the first guide written by a transracial adoptee for white parents who have adopted or are thinking of adopting transracially.
Thank you for writing this much-needed handbook. Could you please share, as you do in the book, your own adoption story?
I was adopted in 1993 from an orphanage in Colombia [by] a family in the United States. I was about 5 months old when I became a part of my very conservative Italian and Portuguese immigrant family, and it was around then that my parents decided to keep my adoption a secret. I was 19 years old when I found my adoption papers and began to have honest conversations with my white adoptive parents, who believed at that time that color didn’t matter. I struggled for years with my identity [and] self-esteem and just generally didn’t know how to cope with being part of one family that lied, and now having another that I didn’t even know how to find. Being an adoptee was very, very lonely until I found some Facebook groups with other adoptees that inspired me to learn more about the adoption industry and my own personal story.
Why did you write the book?
I wrote this book to help future generations of adoptees by first helping prepare prospective adoptive parents for the nuances of adoption and how to support their adopted children by doing the work. I really felt like if there was a resource like this when my parents adopted, we would have had an easier time. At the very least, I hoped a book, published traditionally, would get some attention and inspire more ethical adoptions and pressure adoption agencies to be held accountable. I strongly feel that many people are unaware of the complexities and problematic issues around the for-profit adoption industry, and I hope my book brings those problems to light and also shows adoptive parents how they can use their influence to help change the system for the better.
Your book holds some painful truths for the very people who are its market, requiring them to look long and hard into their own motivations and biases. Was it difficult selling it to the publisher?
To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I luckily had some experience as a freelance writer and from publishing my first book with a smaller publisher and was prepared for how the publishing industry generally treats both adoptees and women of color. I knew that I would need to pull out all of my expertise, resources, and references to advocate for the need for a book like this. I was very happy to connect with North Atlantic Books, and they were very supportive of my vision from the moment I made it clear that I didn’t want to tiptoe around important issues.
Besides your own lived experience as a transracial adoptee, what kind of research did you do?
Oh, tons! I have a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and criminal justice and really made use of everything my professors taught me about reading and learning from peer-reviewed research. I read so many research papers on race, transracial adoption, adoptive parents, etc., that I was running out of room to keep everything in my office. I wanted to make sure that What White Parents Should Know About Transracial Adoption not only included my lived experience that readers could relate [to] and learn from, but also know that the information provided was backed by up-to-date, peer-reviewed research papers and books.
I love that your adoptive mother wrote the foreword. In the book, you reveal the personal struggles and alienation you felt within your family. Many adoptees grapple with speaking up for fear of offending their adoptive families. How did you find the courage to go public with potentially painful and embarrassing revelations?
When I first started delving into the world of adoption, I realized that, unfortunately, many adoptees get a lot of negative feedback and sometimes outright aggression and hate for sharing their personal experiences. While I am sympathetic toward adoptive parents and families, I wanted to honor my experiences by sharing them with others in the hopes that it would help further educate and prepare families. With the knowledge that I could be helping adoptees or former foster youth, I found that personally facing these fears has been worth it. In short, I found courage in the messages of adoptees and former foster youth around the globe that tell me my work has helped them.
As with most groups struggling for recognition and rights, when adoptees speak their truth, there tends to be a lot of backlash from the general (and badly misinformed) public. How do you deal with the negativity?
While I wish that it didn’t affect me ever, it does. For example, on my Instagram page, I do my best to block hate and negativity while encouraging healthy and respectful conversation. I’ve found that…adding safety precautions such as email filters, or limiting comments, will help. But what helps me cope with negativity the most is taking care of my mental health, going to therapy, having enough sleep, etc., because it makes sure I am in a good space. If I feel confident and believe that my work is helping others, getting backlash isn’t a big deal anymore.
I really appreciated the subtitle to your book, “An adoptee’s perspective on its history, nuances, and practices,” because adoption is all about the nuances. When adoptees criticize the institution of adoption, we get accused of wanting to end all adoptions. I don’t believe that is your goal in writing this book. What do you envision as the ideal future for transracial adoption?
Thank you! I firmly believe that adoption is something that will inevitably continue, so my hope is that we can make the industry ethical, minimize systemic racism and practices that harm children of color, and eliminate colorblind approaches to policy and placement of children of color in primarily white families. Ideally, adoptive parents, adoption professionals, birth parents, adoptees, and former foster youth will work together, respect one another, and elevate the voices of adoptees and birth parents so we can learn from the mistakes of the past and work toward a better future. The trauma that many adoptees experience needs to be validated in the adoption community, and we need to be willing to acknowledge flaws in the system so we can all do better.
Alice Stephens is the author of the novel Famous Adopted People, editor of Bloom, a book reviewer, and a columnist for the Independent.