Location, Location, Location: Adoption and Racial Microaggressions Experienced by Intercountry Adoptive Families in Diverse Communities
Adoptive families formed via international and transracial adoption are unique in society, yet more visible and conspicuous than many other family compositions (Wegar, 2000). The very nature of transracial adoption (TRA), due to multiple racial heritages within one family, often triggers questions and insensitive remarks regarding adoption. Given adoption stigma and the prevalence of racial bigotry in society, we used the construct of microaggressions that may target race (Sue et al., 2007) or adoption status (Baden, 2016) to explore experiences and perceptions of bias experiences among adoptive parents of children adopted from China.
Research questions: What microaggressions do TRA parents and their children experience in their communities, and how are the microaggressions related to community diversity? How are parents’ perceptions of others who commit microaggressions related to community diversity?
Trained coders coded interview transcripts from 40 parents for experiencing adoption (AMA) or racial microaggression (RMA) messages, type of microaggression, and parent’s perception of the microaggression-committer. Experiencing a microaggression was defined as an incident when a parent and/or child is the target of an actual bias event. Parents’ ascriptions to others’ motivation were coded as a) others are innocently seeking knowledge; and/or b) others are motivated by a particular bias. Parent’s perception of others and the situation was coded as a) others are rude and intrusive; b) others make too many comments about the family; c) others ask too many questions about my family; or d) if others are prepared, interactions will be better. Community (setting) diversity was coded using the Blau racial index for community racial diversity, using census data for family zip codes.
Results. Parents experienced an average of 8.23 AMAs and 6.26 RMAs. All parents experienced at least one type of microaggression. The most common AMA (83% of families) was “Biology is Best,” reflecting assumptions that adoption was a second choice for adoptive families. The most common RMA (75% of families) was “Alien in Own Land,” with the message that adoptees did not belong in the U.S. Neither AMAs or RMAs were linearly related to setting diversity. Scatterplot of microaggressions and diversity suggested a possible curvilinear relation, which was subsequently explored. Parents heard different types of message depending on the degree of diversity: in moderately diverse settings, parents were more likely to hear AMAs pathologizing birth parents and celebrating adoptive parents than in low or high diversity settings. RMAs exoticizing adoptees were heard more often in low diversity settings than more diverse settings.
Parents in low diversity settings were more likely to perceive AMAs and RMAs as biased or rude, whereas in more diverse settings, parents viewed them as innocent.
We discuss these findings and their implications for supporting adoptive families.