3 Black Adoptees on Racial Identity After Growing Up in White Homes

They share their thoughts about the new film Black or White and their own struggles with racial identity.

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Does love know no color?

The ad campaign for Kevin Costner’s new film Black or White definitely supports that idea, pushing the hashtag #LoveKnowsNoColor while promoting the transracial custody drama.

Black or White pits a child’s white maternal grandfather (Costner) against her black paternal grandmother (played by Octavia Spencer) in a legal battle for custody. Think Losing Isaiah meets The Blind Side, dealing with the matter of white parents raising black or biracial children. In both those films, as in Black or White, the main focus seems to be on the adults in the room, fighting over the future and well-being of a child of color. But what of the children put in this situation, raised by white families?

The Root talked to three transracial adoptees, all adopted by white families in the 1970s, about their experiences and views on transracial adoption, as well as Costner’s new film. While all three appreciated the love and foundation their families provided, a common theme evolved: In a racially polarized society, children of color cannot be raised devoid of their history and culture. All three agreed that white families who adopt children of color need to abandon the naivete of colorblindness and deal with the racial reality their black and brown children face.

Here are their stories:

Chad Goller-Sojourner 

Author and performer Chad Goller-Sojourner used to be afraid of black people, despite being a black person himself. “I used to cross the street when I saw multiples of them. Rap music scared me,” he said.

Raised by white parents in a mostly white community, Goller-Sojourner had an identity that was completely assimilated. “One of the interesting things from when I was younger is when you grow up with white parents, white neighborhood, white church, your default identity is a white kid. Blackness comes later,” he said, adding, “People always reminded me I was black.”

It wasn’t until he went off to college, to a town he described as whiter than his hometown, that he began the work of unpacking his “blackness.” He had to move away from his parents and the privilege of their whiteness to see the reality surrounding him.

“Regardless of how you got to the front of the line, no one wants to be sent to the back of the line, giving up things you’ve held so dear as white,” Goller-Sojourner said of letting go of his “whiteness.” “Sophomore year, I went to my first black house party … it was like, 12 people. I remember the police came and I thought, ‘Wait a second, over [at white parties], white kids are jumping off the roof, banisters, fire escapes.’ Air was different there. These police officers were looking at us the way I’d look at others before crossing the street.”

After that, he added “Sojourner” to his name, changed his major to African-American studies and launched himself headfirst into better understanding his cultural roots. “All that happened very quickly because I was making up for lost time,” he said.

Of Costner’s film, Goller-Sojourner is wary. “There’s a lot of these movies where the white savior comes up. White people come and save us and everything is good,” he said.

Goller-Sojourner expressed concern that the film, which pits a financially better-off white family against a less-wealthy black one, plays into old white superiority tropes, not telling the full story. For him, it’s not about just meeting the basic needs of a child: race matters. He believes black children should be adopted in pairs when adopted by white parents and that white parents need to immerse themselves in black history and culture, and make black friends.

“If you’re going to adopt kids, it’s the white parents’ obligation to shepherd them in same-race maturation,” he said. “When you have a transracial family, mixed-race family, you’re going outside the normal. Somebody has to be uncomfortable and it shouldn’t be the child. … Your child should not be your first black friend. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t know no black people, why are you trying to bring one to your home?”

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