The Cost of Being a Transracial Adoptee

It did not rub off.  The “dirty” skin I was teased for just a few steps away from my favorite spot on the monkey bars, this dark skin felt permanent. Frustrated and glaring at skin and soul both, my childhood heart detached from part of my identity. I did not return to recover it again until my mid-thirties.  Nearly three decades after the dismissal of pride and the onset of shame, I started to be free again to live vibrantly as me. Only recently have I been okay with not being white.

My skin does not make me less than or make me smaller than others as I was taught that grade school day. Now I know it clarifies my uniqueness in some communities. My skin crosses bridges to people, to humanity, to trauma, and to belonging. This dark skin coupled with a tender spirit dilutes grudges and fears and helps those who have been systemically and institutionally oppressed or oppressive. I get to speak truth as a dark skinned person in ways that oppressed feel heard and oppressors see aggressions. But before I arrived at claiming ownership of my skin and its beauty, I endured the detachment and the ugliness of self-loathing. In order to free myself from shame, I had to learn my life experiences and heart could help others find their path to freedom. 

Inferiority and identity angst as the rescued brown girl lapped over the edges of my thoughts for decades.

The color of my skin has always been linked with my adoption into a white family and white community.  Inferiority and identity angst as the rescued brown girl lapped over the edges of my thoughts for decades.  I want to share more about adoption. Yet, I always stop myself. I assume others do not think like me or my words would come off as ungrateful.  

Yet the trauma of outwardly moving from one place of dark-skinned people to a new white family is embedded on the inside of me; it is stitched to my spirit that I do not belong.  Adoption was sloppily written on my heart, leading me to a path of conviction that I was not part of the fabric of one nation or another. The very building blocks of humanity, AKA family, were not mine to claim until someone claimed me.

After someone had claimed me, enduring being different had its costs.  Being a transnational adoptee in a transracial adoption has never been easy or simple.  It is the most significant lens with which I take in the world.

And in this, adoption hurts me.

But we are not allowed to say that.  Adoptees are only to put forth gratitude.

Often others just want to hear the stories of new families created.  Can we really take a person and graft them into the DNA, that thick and true place we claim “blood” is?  Communities and belief systems echo similar mantras. Family first, above all else in the world, before friends, before careers, before causes, before opportunities.

We want to look at adoptive families and feel strongly that this is one of our calls to justice, because the orphan and the widow surely are. We allow and even elevate interracial adoptions believing that in diversifying family we will make the world a better place. Surely we do all this; in ways of empowerment of humanity and embracing multiracial families.   

But there is a co-existing truth that hides in the dark and in hushed tones, over and over again, about how an adoptee must stand to believe they are lovable.  Similar to the abused and forgotten…

Adoption hurts me because it has wounds which often feel un-acknowledged.

Surely it is easier not to  write of it all. Surely it is easier to agree with people that I have attachment issues, and wish away, like many around me, my recent years of wrestling with transracial adoption.  

There are consequences for being vulnerable.  There is sadness for being different. There is grief that every new trial gets funneled through the filter of my race, of my core wound of abandonment and rescue project versus just seeing highs and lows of relationships, jobs, and choices as a normal ebb and flow of life.

Adoption hurts me because it has wounds which often feel un-acknowledged.

Adoption lingers as a thief of confidence that I hold beauty innately, that I don’t just have to wait for others to assign it.

Adoption hurts me because even though it gifts opportunities and family, that rightly so, should be lauded, it also grants a core fiber that undermines trust.  I question more. I doubt more. I believe the rug underneath me is never steady and racial differences multiply this sensation. Every day as a kid it was as though I showed up to a competition wearing the wrong color jersey, close, but just not spot on. 

Adoption helped me, we believe.  A white family took me in and offered a life that has afforded me much. But I miss my country.  I miss my people. Every time I get dismissed, placed on the outside, tolerated as an add-on, adoption cuts my emotional limbs.

I never get to forget that I am adopted–not for a day.  The color of my skin, the jokes, the constant extra energy to believe I belong, the truth that it is part of the air I breathe daily.  

Does writing this make me ungrateful?

Probably…from a distance.

Yet know this: Pain does not erase how adoption helped me, I am just saying it hurts, too.


Photos: ALP STUDIO on Unsplash

Nasreen Fynewever

Nasreen Fynewever, M.Ed, was adopted from Bangladesh, raised in Michigan, and now chases hope in Minnesota with her husband and three young sons. Nasreen is an educator of 15 years and consults as a freelance writer and strategist, with experience in conference management, author support, business development, and public speaking.

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