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On the Front Line of Transracial Adoption: Background information when reading That Kind of Mother

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That Kind of Mother

by Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam X
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 304 pages
    Feb 2019, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book

On the Front Line of Transracial Adoption

This article relates to That Kind of Mother

Print Review

Transracial AdoptionThe protagonist and her husband in Rumaan Alam's novel That Kind of Mother are a white upper middle-class couple who adopt a black infant. They love and raise him alongside their own biological son, and treat them as brothers. Race plays a key role in almost every aspect of their lives. The story takes place in Washington DC in the late 80s and early 90s, when transracial adoption was uncommon. There is wisdom to be gleaned from both transracial parents who adopt and their adopted children. Here are three points of view on the issue.

In an interview with Natalie Brenner at, a platform for sharing stories and connecting with resources about adoption, Angela Tucker, a nationally-recognized leader on transracial adoption and an advocate for adoptee rights, shares both positive and negative experiences as a black child adopted by white parents:

"Natalie: Did people ever ask your parents intrusive and sometimes-inappropriate questions about you while you were right there, and how did your parents respond or how do you wish they responded?

Angela: Oh, of course! I haven't met one conspicuous family that hasn't run into the intrusive questions as it seems to be [inevitable] for transracial families. The comment that we continue to get is from those who call my parents 'angels,' or gush about how amazing they are for 'taking in all these poor kids.' My parents typically responded with a definitive 'No. No. We are just parents, who love our kids."' I loved this, because I knew, after further exploration of this topic that they don't feel pity towards any of their children's biological families, and subsequently, they don't feel any pity on us. The ever-present White Savior attitude was not a narrative that I was familiar with, until society began to place that label on us. My parents did not feel that they were 'saving' any of their children, but rather that we would each be afforded a different life, and different opportunities than we would've had were we not adopted by them. My parents' simple answer 'No. No,' felt brilliant and honoring."

Not every transracial adoption is that positive and clear though. Writer and adoptee advocate LisaMarie Rollins admits in the journal The Root that it was hard for her to navigate her identity as a black girl with white parents, growing up in Washington state.

"I grew up in a place where most of my life I was the only person of color. Not just the only black person, but the only person of color. It was super painful. Crazy, racist things happened to me. Not only verbal racism but physical, sexual violence, all kinds of things," Rollins says. Her parents tried to raise her in a "colorblind" environment, which she attributes to the idea that some white parents hold that their whiteness can protect their children from the harm of racism. "It's the idea that you can put this veil around [the child], this veil of white privilege," she said.

Transracial adoptive parent Rachel Garlinghouse offers this on the Adopt A Love Story website: "No book, no conversation fully prepared us for the questions, the second-glances, the assuming statements entrenched in stereotypes…Race and adoption, they are complicated. Intricate. Bittersweet. Inseparable. My children are my greatest blessing, and I am a mama bear. The truth is, most of our interactions are overwhelmingly normal and positive. But there are times when ignorance and stereotypes lead to uncomfortable and inappropriate situations. Transracial adoption is an incredible, intricate, and tremendous responsibility. Being a mindful, educated, and committed parent is not only helpful and healthy, but also a necessity. Your child needs you."

These are just three stories from adopted families, but there are countless more perspectives on transracial adoption, as well as many stories about children who don't look like their biological parents. More of Angela's story, and information about her advocacy work can be found at www.theadoptedlife. A great book on transracial adoption is In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption, and {Joy Filled} Transracial Families is a useful Facebook page. And here is a list of 25 resources for transracial families.

Another take on transracial adoption from the TV series This Is Us.

Article by Donna Chavez

This "beyond the book article" relates to That Kind of Mother. It originally ran in May 2018 and has been updated for the February 2019 paperback edition.

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