Adoptees, Adoption, adoptive parents, Birth Fathers, birth mother, Birth Parents, Expecting Parents Considering Adoption, Open Adoption, Parenting, transracial adoption, Uncategorized

This is Us: Who are the weatherman and librarian? Randall’s Transracial Support Group and Ghost Kingdoms

WARNING! Spoilers ahead. Season 5 Episode 13: A look into Randall’s Ghost Kingdom and experience at a transracial support group.

Are you keeping up with NBC’s hit drama This is Us? This season dove deep into Randall’s feelings towards transracial adoption. Throughout season 5, the show portrays the conversations the Pearson family is starting to have about adoption.

Now 40years old, Randall is just starting to understand and speak about some of his experiences. Throughout the entirety of the show, Randall is portrayed battling his emotions as he keeps different compartments in his brain under lock and key. In past seasons, the show depicted the adoption from the adoptive parents’ (Kate and Jack’s) point of view. We are just now gaining a glimpse into the complexities of Randall’s adoption through his own eyes.

So, who are the weatherman and librarian?

In this season of This is Us we get a glimpse into Randall’s ghost kingdom. In his ghost kingdom, he imagined his birth parents as the local librarian and weatherman.

Randall’s Ghost Kingdom: the weatherman and librarian

Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood, Randall was not exposed to many people that looked like him. While his adoptive family did everyday tasks, like eat dinner together, he found himself lost, daydreaming of what it would be like if he were with his birth parents. What would they look like? How would it be different than his life right now? What may they talk about?

After becoming engrossed in his alternate life, something would pull Randall back to reality and he would continue about his day. Young Randall did not fully understand why he drifted to this imaginary world and he often felt guilty for needing this alternate universe. Randall was experiencing a ghost kingdom- a common occurrence for transracial adoptees.

A ghost kingdom refers to the imaginary family adoptees imagine as their real biological families. Randall’s ghost kingdom is different than most. His love for his adoptive family never fully allowed him to become lost in his ghost kingdom.

Understanding Randall’s Ghost Kingdom

Randall explains the concept of ghost kingdoms to his brother, Kevin, during episode 13 titled “Brotherly Love.” Kevin comes to visit Randall in Philadelphia for the long-awaited discussion of their childhood. Randall pictured the local friendly librarian and weatherman as his parents because they were the only black adults he consistently saw in his life.

“It [ghost kingdom] is the imaginary land you imagine you had if you were never adopted… I realized I have had this Ghost Kingdom all my life,” Randall tells Kevin. “Since I never knew who my birth parents were, I imagined the nice librarian and the local media guy from the news were my parents… They were the only two adults I saw that looked like me.”

Even after finding his birth father and mother later in his life, Randall still found himself imagining his parents as a librarian and weatherman. He was trapped as a 5-year-old and thus still trapped in the trauma he experienced during his childhood.

Randall and his brother Kevin continue to have conversations about race and begin to heal their wounds from childhood.

After attending a transracial support group, Randall is reassured that ghost kingdoms are a normal occurrence in transracial adoptees. Randall’s, however, is unusual.

Due to the guilt Randall felt for leaving his adoptive family for this alternate reality, Randall begins to include his siblings and adoptive parents into the fantasy. This is rare. Most transracial adoptees are not so connected to their adopted families that they intertwine the adoptive family into their fantasy family.

At the end of the episode, Randall is finally able to find comfort in his ghost family. Although he is still 5-years old, Randall imagines his real birth parents subbed in for the librarian and weatherman. This breakthrough conversation between the Pearson brothers brought comfort and peace.

The Complexities of Ghost Kingdoms

Ghost kingdoms are a real concept transracial adoptees experience. The concept is much more complex than portrayed by the show.

The term ghost kingdom was coined by Betty Jean Lipton, an influential psychologist who specialized in adoption therapy and fought for adoption reform. Unlike imaginary friends, ghost kingdoms can last for a long time. Usually, a child with an imaginary friend outgrows their fantasy by around 9-years old. Ghost kingdoms can last into adulthood for adoptees. Adoptees who have not met their biological parents can retreat into these fictional worlds even daily. 

In an article for People, the This is Us director Kay Oyegun and writer Jon Dorsey describe the show’s inspiration for the ghost kingdom storyline. In the article Dorsey explained the inspiration for the ghost kingdom discussion:

“We had a transracial speaker come into the [writers’] room, and she walked us through her experiences as not someone who is personally affected but also someone whose work engaged with other transracial teens and adults and holds support groups. She actually gave us her personal Ghost Kingdom narrative. Her dad was Magic Johnson, and her mom was Halle Berry. Those are the people she imagined as her parents growing up.”

The show does a fantastic job at showing the complexities of transracial adoption. The writers and directors research the processes of adoption to make sure the depiction is accurate. Randall’s experience serves as a cautionary tale for the dangers of not discussing race in adoption. Not discussing adoption, can cause identity issues among adoptees. Although it can be uncomfortable, it is important to not ignore the issue of race but talk about it.

In Season 6 of AFTHtv, we examine the importance of discussing race among the adoption triad.

Young Randall posing on set with Randall’s birth parents Laurel and William. At the end of season 5 episode 13, Randall is at peace and can finally picture himself as a child cooking in the kitchen with his birth parents.

Randall’s Transracial Adoption

Today, most adoption plans include some degree of openness among the adoptive triad. However, open adoption is still a new concept and Randall grew up in a closed adoption. He was not actively exposed to his culture. When Randall was adopted, the standards for adoption were different. The understanding was to not openly discuss adoption, heritage, and race.

In this season, Randall took a huge step by attending a transracial support group. Joining this group helped him understand his experiences and feelings. Support groups are a great resource for adoptees to understand that they are not alone, to speak openly, and to get advice. Adoptions From The Heart hosts a monthly transracial virtual support group to offer a safe space for transracial adoptees.

The Importance of Embracing Culture in Adoption

Embracing culture and race is an important aspect of adoption. AFTH intern and transracial adoptee, Keri, gave her advice in an interview with AFTHtv and explained how transracial adoptees and families can start exploring an adoptee’s culture.

“I know it can be hard for families who do not have a mirror for their child.” Keri explains on AFTH, “But it’s important to not be scared to try different things. Whether it’s cooking a meal that’s specific to that culture or attending an art event.”

For some adoptive parents, it can be difficult to navigate incorporating culture because there are so many aspects. To this Keri explains, “Don’t be afraid. There are so many aspects [of cultures] but take it one step at a time and it’ll come together. Decide if you want to start by talking about art, or language, or holidays.”

Keri’s adoptive family approached her about attending Chinese school, and other experiences which have helped her to build an understanding of her background. She now uses these experiences to share her culture and stories with friends and new people.

For more information about ghost kingdoms or to hear more about Keri’s experience, look at the resources below.

Leaving the Ghost Kingdom. Meeting my birth father for the first… | by Michele Merritt, Ph.D. | Medium

AFTHtv S8Ep9 Advice for Other Transracial Adoptees & Their Families – YouTube

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