The Implications of Race Versus Culture
The term “ethnicity” involves both race and culture. “Race” means a person's genetic make up and is categorized by the United States Bureau of the Census as White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, or Some Other Race. It involves skin and eye color, hair texture, and other distinctive racial features. Ethnicity involves cultural background, such as Hispanic, Jewish, or Arab. There are hundreds of possible ethnic identifications. “Culture” means lifestyle, traditions, and behaviors that may have nothing to do with genetics, but are often distinct between groups of people.
As an adoptive parent, you should focus on the fact that culture is more important than race in shaping character: Culture is a chosen behavior; race is a physical characteristic beyond anyone's control. Your choices about blending your child's heritage into your family's culture will shape your future together in unique ways. The main point you need to keep in mind is that while biology is important, environment and culture will determine who your child becomes.
World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and the civil rights movement have had a big impact on attitudes toward race in this country. Soldiers brought home war brides from Korea and Japan, and society began to understand how unimportant racial features were in determining intrinsic worth. The civil rights movement drove home the point that we are all the same. The fact that the world is becoming a smaller place due to modern travel and communication has opened up world trade and interaction and allowed people to learn about other cultures and heritages more easily.
Some prominent people (as well as everyday people) from African American, Korean, Native American, or Hispanic heritages are challenging those who insist on classifying them as one particular race or another. As society progresses and science learns more about the realities of genetic and environmental influences, these artificial barriers between peoples will become less and less important. We are, after all, each physically different from each other. The traits that some people seem to pinpoint as racial characteristics (such as skin color, eye shape, and so on) do not have to stop family members who are racially different from feeling close and accepted by each other.
However, children who recognize their racial differences within a family or community can have negative, conflicted feelings at some time during their developmental years. Parents must be willing to acknowledge and help resolve these difficult feelings or it can lead to children feeling disconnected from their adoptive family. This is particularly true in the adolescent years, when teens are struggling to establish an identity.