Cordan James is a social entrepreneur, whose work focuses on education and empowerment. From his Comeback kids Mentorship Program to his mentorship with Fathering Together, his life's work is rooted in mentoring, advocacy, and leaving the world a little better than he found it.
Drawing on his experiences as a former foster care kid, an adoptee, and a father, Cordan brings his unique perspective to his work, and we are very grateful that he agreed to join us as our June Activism in Adoption speaker. We had the opportunity to sit down with him last week, to unpack his mission and to talk about fathering, and this week, we are talking about the intersection of race and adoption.
Our Activism in Adoption talks are thematic, primarily addressing Race, Resilience, or Relationships, but obviously, there is a lot of intersectionality in these concepts. Many of our attendees are white parents who are either parenting, or expect to be parenting, kids of color. Do you have an advice for them, on how to prepare?
It starts off with the adoption agency, educating more, and providing more education around families considering interracial adoption. But I would also say, you’re going to have to do the work yourself. I think it is important to immerse yourself in your child’s culture. When we talk about norming, these children need to see themselves as normal. They need to see themselves reflected in your world. There are definitely conversations that you are going to have to have with your support system, and your direct family; whoever is involved in your every day family life now needs to brought in to that immersion. It can’t just be you, it needs to be everyone that will have contact with this child.
And if you can create a community for this child, and that community supports all of you, that’s great, because you are going to need a community. The child needs it, you need it. And you need to see yourself as a white parent with a Black child – they need to see other kids that look like them, and you need to see other parents that look like you, that you can talk to, share your struggles, woes, and successes with.
How do Transracially adopted people develop a sense of identity, or racial identity, growing up in a white household? What can parents do to support that development?
I think probably the first step is to realize you don't know what you're doing. We're all trying to figure this out. So just lend yourself some mercy and some grace. I think, again, it breaks down to communication. If you’ve built this community around your family, and are communicating regularly with your community, that’s the key. Identity formation is a constant thing. It can’t just be, I went to this event and now I understand cultural difference. It has to be constant, because it’s constant for your youth.
I had a client once who said, I’m not proud that my parents are white. And those parents, they’re trying to digest this: what does it mean, and what does it mean for them? He felt like, when he’s in public, he’s uncomfortable with his white parents. I wanted to understand what was at the root of that. And I found out that the root of that was his Black friends were discrediting his Blackness because he had white parents. When I say, the conversations have to continue, it’s because you have to figure out how to unpack that. How do we sit in that with him? I think that’s the key, getting permission from him to sit in that experience with him. That’s where we gain identity.
We ask this of all the adult adoptees we interview. What is something that adoptive parents don’t know about what it is like to grow up as a transracial adoptee?
My mother witnessed everything I’ve gone through, from being spit in the face to being called racial slurs, and for some reason, adoptive parents often feel like that is just going to go away. Like, racism is just going to disappear, or that yes, that incident was one person that did that to me, but I had ten other people and instances, and eventually, [adoptive parents] have to start believing that this is real, and that is affecting their child.
And it’s crucial to understand that youth today, they have their phones in front of them, and their friends have their phones in front of them, and they see things. I run a youth advocacy program and I have nine-year-olds talking about politics. They are talking about Black Lives Matter, or Asian hate. I don’t know that I would have talked about that at nine years old. So, it’s in the house much, much more. It’s in the house much earlier. It’s in the schools, and in their friend groups, and because of that, the racial identity piece of development comes a lot earlier. The sooner you can be on board with that, the better.
White parents are finding themselves having to have ‘the talk’ with their transracially adopted kids. How can they do this, when they aren’t talking from lived experience? What is the best way to approach it?
The best eway to approach the topic, I think, is to sit down with your child and ask them, what are you feeling about this? I don't think I would start that conversation. I think I would probably let my child educate me on what they're feeling, and where those feelings stem from, and what kind of things are important to them, and just handle it on a level that it's important to them. There’s a lot there is a lot of misinformation out there, and we can go read articles and see the stuff that's going on, but what's directly affecting your child is what's going to matter the most.
We are so grateful to Cordan for coming to speak at Activism in Adoption. To join us in exploring Fatherhood in adoption this month, tickets for June's Activism in Adoption talk are now on sale, and potential adoptive parents can earn adoption education credits for their attendance. To learn more about Cordan, visit his web site, or find him on Facebook or Instagram.