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As I listened to the panelist with the darkest skin-color speak about his ugly experiences with racism, I found myself becoming both saddened and angry. This outspoken 17 year old articulated a crystal clear perspective about his isolation as one of the only Latinos in his school. To me, he sounded resigned to feeling powerless and outnumbered as a young Latino male. I was struck by how hurt, angry, and disappointed he sounded, very similar to how I must have come across as a teen panelist, when I was invited to speak about my personal experiences growing up in a largely white environment– and that was thirty years ago.
In the three decades since I went through my own tumultuous adolescence, we have learned enough about race and the persistence of racism, that we should be able to anticipate, if not predict outright, how this young man’s white classmates and neighbors will respond to his presence in their otherwise all-white social environment. In short, we know that racism persists, and that there are steps we can (and must) take to protect and support children of color who live in these hostile, unwelcoming environments where miseducated whiteness is the norm. We also have learned enough about adoption and its lifelong consequences to be in a position to better prepare families like his for the questions, concerns, and predictable developmental milestones experienced by many adoptees.
Yet, even with all this compiled research and information about race and adoption, parents still have not received the message. Too many families still think it is acceptable in 2009 to raise children of color in oppressive white environments as the only brown person for miles around. How many more panels must we sit through where adopted teens tell their heart-wrenching stories before agencies will stop approving the social isolation of adoptees of color? How many more adoptees must sit on panels to share with audiences their stories of single-handedly integrating their otherwise all-white communities?
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