Growing up Black in an all-white world: Vancouver journalist explores transracial adoption in new memoir

Harrison Mooney was born Black and raised in a white, Christian fundamentalist household, made to downplay his racial identity from a young age. Now, the award-winning Vancouver-based journalist is sharing his coming-of-age story in a powerful new book, Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery.

“It’s my story,” he says. “And if it’s scary to tell your story, that means you need to tell it, so that’s what I did.”

Born in 1985 to a teen mom who was an immigrant from Ghana, Mooney was adopted by a white family of fundamentalist Christians in Abbotsford – what some proudly call the buckle of B.C.’s Bible Belt.

The book lays out how he was raised to believe that to be righteous, he had to somehow deny his identity. He also talks about being made to feel less-than because of his race and the circumstances of his birth. And he went along with it for a long time.

“My blackness is such a huge part of who I am, and there was nothing I can do to stop that from being true. Nothing,” he explains.

“You know, so much of the morality was around eschewing blackness and I didn’t realize that as a young boy. I really didn’t realize what I was internalizing until I was much older.”

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Known as Harry as a child, he started going by his birth name, Harrison, as a young adult to signal he wanted to be taken more seriously.

The turning point was when his youngest brother, who is white, dressed up as Mooney for a church harvest party — in full blackface.

“It takes more than changing your name,” he admits. “I think the road to becoming is long and you can’t just rebrand yourself, but it was a pivotal first step on the road to becoming who I am now.”

Still, the more he pushed back at the narrative of his upbringing, the harder it became to live in the family home.

“Our relationship is strained, I suppose you could say,” he says of his adoptive parents. “We talk every now and then [but] it’s clear that we’ve drifted so far apart that I don’t see a road to reconciliation.”

Mooney admits the book likely won’t improve that, but he feels it was important to share his truth, despite the consequences.

“Again, this is about me and my story, and my right to tell it, and I’m not going to let other people pressure me into something else.”

Mooney also has a dim view of transracial or interracial adoption.

He has this advice for adoptive parents of racialized children.

“As your adopted children grow into full three-dimensional people, if you can’t accept where they go, and what they begin to think about what happened before they were conscious, then your relationship is going to be strained and you will wind up drifting to separate realities,” he says.

“[And] my advice to adoptive children is you’re not crazy. The things that you’re seeing are real, the feelings that you’re feeling are real.”

Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery is published by Harper Collins.

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