Transracial Adoption: Love, Identity, and Culture

History

Throughout history and so many different circumstances, there have always been stories of transracial adoption, of families taking in children that were not biologically or initially part of the family, for one reason or another. Some birth parents are not able to care for the children. In the early days of history, before the term “adoption” was coined and there were laws to regulate it, there was no concern of what ethnic or religious background the child had, who the children had belonged to, or why the children had ended up in the situation of adoption or being placed in a new family–there was a child in need, so a family took a child in.

In 1973, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) released a statement about the stance on transracial adoption, making it clear that the association strongly opposed Black children being adopted by White families. In the opening paragraph, the strong opposition is made clear: “…taken a vehement stand against the placement of Black children in White homes for any reason” (NABSW, 1972). This opposition is founded on the belief that White parents cannot provide a Black child with the cultural knowledge and identity that the child would have if being raised in a Black family and environment.

Members of the NABSW opposed transracial adoption for multiple reasons, most consisting of inadequate exposure to Black culture. These reasons include:

The reasons why the NABSW opposes transracial adoption are still relevant in today’s racial, ethnic, and cultural climate. There are still challenges for Black individuals across the U.S. with racism; however, instead of the outright racist attacks that were common at that time, racism has become more institutionalized.

Today, as adoption policies and ethnic and racial cultures have evolved, taking in a child is not that simple. Dating back to WWII, many people were opposed to having children of color adopted by White families. These beliefs still are still present today. While there will always be cases where a transracial adoption is not best for the child, these reasons and cases are far outnumbered by the cases where a child is in need of a home. For example, in the U.S., the foster care system is broken. Depending on where the child is placed into the system, children can be placed in homes rampant with abuse, neglect, and other horrid conditions. Foster children could be shuffled from home to home without much notice, carrying personal belongings in a garbage bag. Children may also be left in homes and situations in general that are not fit for a child.

Transracial adoptions are not limited to a White/Black family dynamic. A child from any other culture in the world can be adopted by a family of a different culture. However, as opposition grew to White families adopting Black children, the number of international adoptions increased. Speculatively, there is less controversy over adopting a child from another country–especially one perceived as third-world or war-torn–than a child in the United States. Also, a parent may feel more removed from the racial, religious, and other cultural tensions in the U.S. if those hopeful adoptive parents go through another country for the adoption; while more complex in some ways than domestic transracial adoption, it takes away the social pressure of trying to combat opposition and stereotypes in the U.S.

Transracial adoption, like many other forms of adoption, has a complicated history. While there are still those that are against it–many for the same reasons as the NABSW in the early ‘70s–there are so many wonderful examples of a healthy, happy transracial adoption. With proper adoptive parent education and loving home, there is no excuse as to why a child cannot be adopted by any type of family, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else.

My Story as a Transracial Adoptee

Being a transracial adoptee had a significant impact on my life. While I had a relatively normal childhood, the psychological effects of being biracial (Black and White) in a White family were the most impactful. I was adopted as a newborn in 1996. By all accounts, I was a normal child, except I always carried a level of introspectiveness and curiosity that set me apart for other children.

Growing up, it was very obvious that I was adopted considering the fact that I was the only darker-skinned member of the family. Despite this, I had very few blatant racist attacks during my childhood. Most of the encounters I had were very subtle. I did not realize what many of those encounters meant until I was in my early 20s. People were always coming up touching my hair and trying to figure out where I was from. I was not able to verbalize how this was affecting me at such a young age, like most other adopted children.

Culturally, I was completely lost. I had no idea what it meant to be Black, much less how to be White. While I started questioning my history and my culture at a very young age, it was not until college that I actually was able to begin to explore it in depth. Throughout my childhood, I was encouraged to act stereotypically “white” to fit in with my family and peers at school. I grew to resent this, as it kept me from being myself or branching out to find friends of different ethnicities. I stuck to being friends with my White classmates, feeling that I was not “Black enough” to have Black friends–which isolated me further than I already was. Because of the inferiority complex I had, I hated being biracial. I hated the fact that I was different from the rest of my family and friends; that I was not accepted by either the Black or White community. I just wanted to find somewhere that I could be comfortable in my own skin. Today, at 23, this still hasn’t happened. Being a transracial adoptee still haunts me in subtle ways on a daily basis.

Despite all the psychological trauma, I went through as a child and as a young adult, I have remained resilient and strong, developing my own identity through creating my own experiences and seeking out cultural opportunities in my community. It has helped me grow as a person and become comfortable in my own skin.

Adoptive Parents…Listen Up! 

For adoptive parents, there are many things that you can do to help your child live as normal of a life as possible being a transracial adoptee. These steps won’t be easy, but the hard work you put into making your child feel like she fits into her family and her community will be well worth the while. Based on my experience as a transracial adoptee and what I have learned from fellow adoptees, here are a few tips on what you can do are:

-Educate, educate, educate! Do as much research as you can about different cultures before you even begin the adoption process. If you do not feel that you could adequately provide the child with the cultural exposure that he needs to feel connected to his first home, then that should be one you stray away from. Be sure to keep your expectations realistic about adopting transracially, too. Every child is unique, especially when it comes to his interpretation of his own culture and the new one he is acclimating to.

-Explore the reasons why you are wanting to adopt transracially. The motivation behind your choice for adoption is pertinent to the future of it. As sad as it is, there are some people that choose to adopt children from other countries to fulfill an altruistic self-prophecy or as part of a “fad” to adopt an “exotic” or “foreign” child. Nothing good can come from either of these situations or motivations. However, while there are some corrupt individuals that want to adopt for the wrong reasons, those people do not define the attitudes and values of most parents. Staying honest with yourself and true to your heart about wanting to adopt will lead you to the right choice.

-Embrace the phrase “Love is not enough.” Reading this statement at face value, stating that love is not enough seems contradictory to the entire concept of adoption. Many adoptive parents are told that if the couples simply love the child enough, nothing else will matter. However, this isn’t always the case. A child has certain developmental, emotional, and psychological needs that love cannot always meet. In the case of transracial adoption, having enough cultural exposure to develop her own identity is a necessary facet of how the child will grow up; love is also a necessary part. The combination of both of these things will create a relationship based on trust.

-Analyze the resources available in your community. Is it diverse? Are there plenty of cultural organizations? Before you bring a child into your home, make sure to check out all the resources that are available in your community and other communities close to you. Depending on the age of the child you adopt, different resources might be needed. For example, if your child is elementary age, you might consider looking for cultural organizations that do hands-on programs on history, food, or other cultural aspects.

Additionally, the demographics of your community are important, even if it seems like a minute detail. Depending on the background of your child, he may or may not flourish in a more culturally-enriched environment. For example, if you live in a primarily White suburban neighborhood and adopt a non-white child, it is very likely that he may not grow up around anyone that looks like him. Accurate representation, especially for school-age children, helps to empower your child to be comfortable in his own skin. It also helps him to identify role models within his community.

Schools are also a place to look for a diverse environment. Communicate with your child and ask, in an age-appropriate way, what types of environments she feels comfortable in. Try to phrase this as simple as you can, as young children often may not be able to communicate exactly what she feels the most at home in. Most often, the more diverse the area and the more open-minded the family, the better.

-As your child grows, show that you are also interested in learning the history and personal culture. Nothing means more to a child than having his parents be interested in things he enjoys, adopted, or not. Coming from a transracial adoptee’s point of view, when a parent genuinely invests time into helping learn more about his background and culture, it can do wonders for the child’s development. By becoming involved in his activities at a young age, the parents become the child’s cultural support system. The adoptive parents will be who the child goes to when he has an unsettling prejudicial experience. As a parent, this outcome is the first step towards helping your child develop a strong cultural identity.

As you continue to explore transracial adoption, absorb as much information as you can about the adoptee experience. We are resilient and strong. The more you put yourself into your adoptee’s shoes, the more prepared you will be to help your child live a happy and psychologically healthy life with you.