"Being Raised by White People": Navigating Racial Difference Among Adopted Multiracial Adults is one insightful article about cultural identity in adult adoptees who were raised by white parents. This is another interesting article about raising "culturally responsive" black children in white adoptive homes. While this type of information is certainly valuable, most resources on the topic of racial identity in "black" children address raising children of African American descent, not African-born children who are now residing in the US. The difference may sound trivial but African culture is NOT the same as African American culture. To expect African-born children who were adopted at an older age to understand and fit in with the culture of their African American playmates and classmates can be equated to expecting a Ukrainian-born child to identify with white American culture based solely on the color of their skin. And while undoubtedly it is important and necessary to raise our African-born children around others whose skin color resembles their own, it doesn't seem totally correct to expect African children adopted at a younger age to be taught African American culture as their "own", either.
The fact not all blacks share the same culture became painfully clear when we took our daughter to an African American children's dance class a few months after she joined our family. Assuming that she would enjoy being around other children and adults who "looked more like her", we drove to the African American Cultural Center and waited for the class to begin. The other children approached our daughter, introduced themselves and made conversation with her. When the class began, our daughter danced with limited enthusiasm and I could tell by the look on her face that something was wrong. After the class ended, she walked out and in a flat tone said "I don't ever want to come back." Shocked, I asked what had happened. She began to cry. After lots of prying and questions we arrived at the conclusion that she had expected the other children to have more in common with her. As soon as they began speaking and she noticed that they didn't have the same accent as her, that they referenced pop culture icons that she had never heard of, that their music didn't sound like "hers" and that they were more like her white siblings at home than the African classmates that she'd left behind she was sorely disappointed.
We had a similar incident when it came to hair care. In Uganda, nice braids (such as cornrows or box braids) are considered "good hair". Extensions or fancy weaves are considered really nice. Few women relax or straighten their hair on a regular basis. Our daughter had been in our family for less than a month the first time we received a comment about her hair. An African American woman walked up to us in a store and asked when I was going to "do something" to her hair. At the time our daughter's hair was still growing out from having been shaved and was only a few inches long. With hundreds of girls, boarding schools cannot properly maintain all of the girls' hair so it is common for girls in African orphanages and boarding schools to have shaved heads. I had been doing something to her hair- I'd been keeping it clean, detangled and well-hydrated and we planned to have it professionally braided when it grew longer, something our daughter was eagerly anticipating. However, it did not take us long to learn that "good" hair is often considered by many African American women to be chemically-relaxed, straight hair. Here I thought we were doing it right according to the standards of her birth country only to learn that we weren't providing proper hair care according to the standards of many African American women!
Where does this leave us? In a place where either we classify children according to skin color alone and expect them to identify most closely with the cultural group whose shade is most similar to their own or we think outside the box. We raise children in a world that is NOT colorblind and that recognizes all of our similarities but that also celebrates all of our differences. We recognize that skin color is but one part of our identity and that nationality, language, region, family background, religion, personal interests and so much more comprise who we are. We seek out African families from the same country or region living in our community to help teach our children about their culture and background. If possible, we travel back to their birth country together as a family. We support exploration of culture and identity and allow our children to help decide who and what defines them. We encourage them to play, study and learn with and from children of all backgrounds and skin colors. And we understand that there is more than just one shade of black, brown or white when it comes to racial identity.