Interracial Communication book available now!

IR book cover

I am pleased to report that the third edition of the book Interracial Communication: Theory Into Practice has been published, and that it contains a short version of my Checklist for Allies Against Racism.

I developed the checklist many years ago (in the 1990s) when I was part of an interracial coalition working to implement multicultural education in the Ithaca, New York public schools. As I observed well-intentioned liberal and progressive allies struggling to hear and understand the anger and frustration of concerned parents and teachers of color at organizing meetings, it occurred to me that white privilege was sometimes getting in the way of genuine dialogue.

That is, our white allies and would-be supporters were often unable to “get” our perspective as people of color. It made it difficult to believe that we were fighting for the same thing. It was challenging for us as parents and teachers of color to hang in there and trust that we would be heard. So, in an effort to be helpful and move the conversation forward, I came up with a list of concrete behaviors that, when I saw white folk doing them, helped me to determine that they actually DID understand racism and what people of color were feeling and saying.

The list can be read as a hopeful one, in that it reflects my view that there ARE (some) white people who understand us, and who can be depended on in the struggle against racism. In other words, the list reflects things that allies do regularly to signal that they “get” it and have our backs.

In a nutshell, true allies share power. Allies believe in us. Allies treat us as equals. Allies are not afraid of us. Allies see us as human, like themselves. Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s a lot harder to pull off in practice. Sadly, it is not easy to find people living by those values and practices on a day to day basis.

I find it interesting–not to mention a little depressing–that more than 20 years later, the list is still needed. I get requests all the time from individual activists, anti-racism trainers, professors, teachers, and diversity consultants who want to use the checklist in a workshop or class on race. All those requests suggest to me that we are NOT living in a post-racial utopia, and that we still have much work to do to promote social justice in our society. I am glad that people find the checklist useful, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, it makes me sad that we still need to convince large numbers of oblivious people to wake up and start understanding their roles as allies.

If you want to see the full Checklist for Allies Against Racism (it’s a lot longer than the abridged version in the book), you can download it for free here. Since it is a copyrighted document, I ask that you request my permission if you decide to use it in a class or publication.

I will be giving two talks in the Washington, DC area in late February. You can catch me at the Barker Foundation’s annual conference on Saturday, Feb. 22 in Rockville, Maryland.

Talk 1: Preparing Families for the Complexities of Transracial Adoption In this session geared to professionals, participants will learn about the special issues that must be addressed as adoptive parents prepare to raise children in transracial placements. Included topics: Assessing the “preferred qualifications” of potential parents, pre-placement and post-adoption issues, and helping families understand what works and what does not work in transracial parenting.

Talk 2: What Works and What Doesn’t Work in Transracial Families

In this session, Dr. Raible shares research-based strategies that support the development of healthy individuals and relationships in families formed through transracial adoption. Participants will come away with a “To Do” list of practical steps that families can take to address the complexities of race and adoption.

It’s November, and National Adoption Month is almost over. Thank goodness!

I am happy to share a link to my latest writing about adoption available online at Gazillion Voices Magazine.  If you get a chance to read it (by clicking here), I think you will understand a little better why I am not a fan of National Adoption Month or the even more ridiculous-sounding “Gotcha Day” celebrations that some adopters force on adoptees. You will also understand why I always cringe when I hear pet owners talking about “adopting” their “rescued” animals.

I am really pleased to see Gazillion Voices growing by leaps and bounds, and I am proud to be part of the writing team.

One of the best Adoption conferences…


It’s time to plan your trip to NYC for the Adoption Initiative Conference hosted by St. Johns University and Montclair State University. We’ve moved it from its usual spot in October to the Spring of 2014, and to a new site, the Queens campus of St. Johns. Mark your calendar for May 29-31!

If you want to present at this amazing conference, click here to submit your proposals. The link takes you to the conference website.

This biennial event promises to deliver another round of thoughtful, critical perspectives on adoption for researchers, students, clinicians, social workers, adoptees, family members, and others interested in understanding the complexities of the adoption experience. See you in New York at our new conference location!

NY Times Op-Ed

Click to download Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White Parents –, Frank Ligtvoet’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, the one where he mentions yours truly in flattering terms. I am honored to receive mention in such a prestigious, widely read publication. Thanks for the shout-out, Frank!

I do take issue with a number of assertions he makes. For one thing, it’s not clear how he knows that “for many transracial adoptees, every time they look in the mirror it’s a shock to see that they are black or Asian and not white like their parents.” Really? Every time we look in a mirror we are shocked? Based on what evidence?

His claim that “a Korean or black kid raised in a white world has lost his or her culture” sounds sensitive and caring, but what exactly does he mean by a “white world”? The world I live in is peopled by many cultures, and I feel free to move in and out of and through all of them. Does he mean “in a white family with parents who don’t have any black or Korean friends and who avoid any opportunities to mingle with people of color on a regular basis?” If that is the case–and many adoptive parents are guilty of this kind of diversity avoidance– then I would say that the kids have lost out on exposure to different cultures. But how does he know what specific culture was “lost,” or even whether it ever felt found, owned, or claimed in the first place?

And if he means that the kids have lost ties to their homelands or birth communities, say so. Don’t bandy about the word “culture” so loosely. It confuses people. The way Frank uses the term makes it sound as if “cultures” are essential things to be possessed, rather than fluid and dynamic relationships, emotional identifications, and lived practices developed with others over time.

Lastly, I have to correct his appropriation of the term I devised based on my research with white non-adopted siblings of transracial adoptees. His article states, “Even if adoptive parents started out naively… as a white family with kids of color, many of us end up as a nonwhite family. Or in the terms of John Raible… a transracialized family.” I use the term transracialized to describe the ways individual white identities can shift in response to long-term caring relationships with people of other races.

Transracialized is NOT synonymous with nonwhite. Transracialized suggests that some (rare) white members of transracial families reach a new awareness of race and racism to the point where they enact whiteness in creative and unpredictable ways, rather than reinscribing more typical performances of whiteness. In their actions, transracialized individuals participate in race discourses as allies against racism. They are not colorblind or post-racial; they are committed anti-racist allies to people of color in general and to the transracial adoptees in their multiracial families.

But I do appreciate Frank’s attempts to pay attention to his children’s experiences with racialization. For me, to worry about lost “culture” is not as useful as a clear analysis of race and racialization. Racialization refers to how each of us learns to “do” race and participate in keeping it going as a social construct. Rather than speculate wildly about how black people are perceiving and relating to his kids, I hope that Frank starts paying more attention to how he himself is relating to individual people of color and the communities he and his family feel close to. Focus on how you are performing and transforming your inescapable white identity, Frank, and people of color will no doubt take notice. Especially if you look, sound, and act like someone they can count on as an ally. It’s not so much about what “cultures” claim your kids, or which ones they claim. It’s about who they will turn to whenever the racist you-know-what hits the fan.