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Transracial Adoption and Growing Up White

By Holt’s vice president of policy and external affairs, Susan Soonkeum-Cox.

The recent NPR report, “Growing up White—Transracial Adoptee Learned to be Black” is an illuminating story of the complexities and challenges of transracial adoption.  This is certainly not a new topic, or an easy one, but it is a critical reminder for everyone involved in transracial, domestic or international adoption, not to minimize the importance of race and identity as a life-long part of the adoption journey.

When Holt first placed children from Korea with adoptive families in the U.S. in the 1950’s, it was during the era of physically matching children and parents.  This ‘matching’ made it possible for the adoption to be secret, hidden, as if the child was physically born to their adoptive parents.  Adoption of Korean children into white families split wide open the notion of secrecy. It was impossible for adoptive parents to pretend that their Korean children were born to them.

The wisdom of the day was for parents to ‘Americanize’ their child as quickly as possible.  “Fitting in” was given priority over understanding or maintaining connection to race, culture and nationality.

That was nearly sixty years ago.  It took only one generation of adoptees becoming adults to understand clearly that acknowledging and embracing differences was equally important as ‘fitting in.’

I love that Chad Goller-Sojourner was aware that his parents were ‘in his corner.’ But for children struggling to learn and understand their place in the world regarding race and identity, they need more than just parents in their corner.  Chad expresses this with great insights from having struggled through on his own.

I appreciate Chad’s courage and grace sharing his experience to inform and educate others.  It is the individual and collective voices of those who live the experience that will help individuals, organizations and institutions evolve with the ever-changing times.

Thanks to the pioneering work of individuals like David Kim, who, as a Korean, wanted children adopted from Korea to know and embrace their cultural identity and history, Holt has a long history of commitment to the importance of these issues.  But these issues are also fluid in the challenging and dynamic times we live in.  We can never be content or complacent that we are doing enough.

Holt offers a number of programs and services to  encourage positive conversations and experiences related to race and culture.  Prospective adoptive parents are required to participate in classes to understand the importance of race, heritage and culture for the child who will become their son or daughter.

Holt pioneered heritage tours to Korea in the early 1970’s and Culture Camps for adoptees, and these tours  have evolved and expanded over the years to be current and relevant for adoptees and their families. You can read more about these programs here, here and here.

However, just offering services isn’t enough. The conversation about race, culture and identity must be ongoing. Thank you NPR for bringing individuals like Chad Goller-Sojourner to us. His story will resonate with other transracial adoptees who will be strengthened knowing they are not alone.

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