How Can I Know if Transracial Adoption Is Right for Me?

Transracial adoption is delicate and difficult but beautiful all the same.

Derek Williams September 02, 2019
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Adoption is not exactly like purchasing a new car or being in the market for a new house or heading down to Sam’s Club to buy an overstuffed chair! Whenever a person considers adoption, they are considering a match between two parties: the adoptive parents and the adopted child. The final aim is the creation of a “forever family.” Among many questions is, “Can I adopt a child from another race, nationality, or culture?” Adoption is a lifelong commitment and should not be taken lightly. How much more, transracial adoption!

A transracial adoption is defined as a child of one race being adopted by a parent of another race. In practical terms, it could be a white family adopting a black child or a Latino family adopting a Native American child or an African-American single mom adopting a Latino child. In the eagerness and zeal of many young couples who wish to adopt across races, there are many things that they may be unprepared for. Yes, a loving, safe, and consistent home helps children recover from trauma. But the trauma could be magnified if we just ignore the fact that the parents and child are two different colors.

International adoptions. Transracial adoptions did not really exist in the 1800s and early 20th century. However, after the Korean and Vietnam Wars in the ’50s and ’60s and crises in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, international and, more specifically, transracial adoptions exploded! With the prosperity America experienced in the mid-20th century, couples had the resources to adopt internationally. All of a sudden, we saw Asian children calling Caucasian parents “Mom” and “Dad”!

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, American parents saw the harsh realities of orphanage life in Eastern Europe. Many parents soon began to adopt from countries such as Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, and other Eastern Bloc nations. Though we don’t normally think of transracial adoptions when we think of Europe, there are vast differences in culture, language, and religion that makes this type of adoption just as difficult. Not to mention the trauma many of these children went through in these orphanages! Many of these children underwent physical difficulties that were not tended to. They also may have underwent severe neglect and, as a result, had severe attachment difficulties. So, just because the skin color may have been the same, the adjustment to American life was no less easy. In addition to Ukraine and South Korea, other nations that are also very adoption-friendly to the U.S. are Mexico, India, Uganda, Columbia, Ethiopia, and Haiti.

Domestic Infant Adoption. A domestic private adoption in the U.S. is when a pregnant mom is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and is unwilling or unable to properly care for the child. The pregnant mom first makes the choice to bring the child to term. Secondly, she makes the choice to place her child in a loving adoptive home. Next, she may make the decision of whether or not to keep in contact with her child through the adoptive family. This is no small decision and the birth mom should be praised for making such a brave choice, often called “a life plan.” With the right support, this could be a “win-win-win” situation for all.

Private adoptions involving people of different races are rare, but they do occur. For example, it could be a friend or someone in the community that adopts a child from a woman with a crisis pregnancy. Someone like a teacher, a family friend, or a pastor could be the perfect person that comes alongside a young lady whose life is in turmoil. Support like this is golden! Life is precious and should be treated as such. Support like this demonstrates to the birth mom that she is special and loved. When the community comes around a mom in crisis like this, the mom recovers much quicker and is in a much better position to recover from whatever trauma she has experienced and to improve her life. She now knows she has someone to go to when in a tough position.

Foster Care Adoption. There are approximately 400,000 children in foster care. About 100,000 of those children are free for adoption. Foster care adoption is when children are adopted from the foster care system. These kids are in the system, through no fault of their own, due to abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Most children entering foster care are returned home. However, many of those cannot be reunited, for whatever reason. When that happens, these foster kids either “age out” of the system, are placed with relatives, are placed for permanent guardianship, or are adopted.

The vast majority of foster children who are adopted are Caucasian; however, African-American, Latino, and Native American children are also available for adoption. The majority of foster-adopt parents in this country are Caucasian. Therefore, there is a good chance that if a minority foster child is adopted, it will be a transracial adoption.

African-American Adoptions. African-American history is American history. From Crispus Attucks to Frederick Douglass to Jackie Robinson to Martin Luther King Jr. to Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama, African-Americans have left their mark on this country. African-American history is our history. Transracial adoption of black children is also a part of that history.

According to Court Appointed Special Advocates of Arizona, African-American children represent 5 percent of Arizona’s child population, but about 16 percent of the foster care population. Twenty-two percent of African-American children are placed in group home settings instead of with kin or community foster homes as compared to 15 percent of white children. We can debate and discuss the causes of these statistics. But here is the bottom line: African-American children need permanence. Instead of languishing in foster care, they need to have a forever family; preferably by a black family, but if there are none available, a non-black family will do.

The black community has long been known for taking care of one another’s kids for years. Whether it’s grandparents raising their grandkids or visiting uncles and aunts or the church picnic or the family reunion, the African-American community is a tight-knit community. You’ve seen Caucasian parents adopt African-American kids. Now it’s your turn. I challenge African-Americans to consider adopting an African-American child! Or at the very least, to come alongside of Caucasian parents who are raising African-American children and to be that “Aunt” or “Uncle” to mentor that adopted child to be that connection to their culture. They need you!

Native American Adoptions. Native Americans, or indigenous peoples of the United States, have a rich history. Unfortunately, the history of Native American adoption in this country has been tainted. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 came about as a result of historical injustices that many Native communities suffered. According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association, prior to this act, 25-35 percent of Native American children were removed from their homes by state child welfare and private agencies. Out of that, 85 percent of those children were placed outside of their families and communities even when relatives were ready, able, and willing to care for these children. ICWA places protections on Native children against unethical and biased child welfare practices. ICWA ensures that voluntary adoptions are truly voluntary. ICWA not only protests the individual but also protects the culture of all Native Americans.

Native communities have jurisdiction over Native American children from those communities. It is the duty of each Individual tribe to search for an appropriate Native American adoptive home before they place the child in a non-Native home. If there are no appropriate Native homes available, then and only then, will the non-Native home be considered. Finally, any transracial adoption involving Native American children can be contested right up until the adoption finalization.

If you are considering whether the transracial adoption of a Native American child is for you, you need to be prepared. You need to realize your child will not become Caucasian when they become a part of your family nor will you become Native American. You are now a transracial family. Therefore, it is imperative that you prepare yourself for those implications. Odd stares in public, inappropriate questions from family and friends, and questions the child may have as they grow older. The most important thing is that you keep that child connected to his culture. This means connection, not only about Native Americans in general, but also connection to their tribe, connection to their clan, and connection to their immediate family. This can be accomplished through an open adoption with relatives. Or attending cultural events that celebrate their heritage. Or by reading books or watching documentaries that give a balanced, honest assessment of Native American history can go a long way. Have your child educated on his rich history.

Practical Considerations. One of the main criticisms of those who object to transracial adoption is that the minority child will lose a bit of his culture. That only minority parents can teach a minority child about his culture. That white parents do not have the knowledge or experience or frame of reference to help a child to process prejudice he may endure and therefore, won’t know how to prepare and protect their child of color. As such, they feel only minority parents should adopt minority children. The other end of the spectrum are parents who ignore culture and through wishful thinking feel that their love alone will help them conquer all. There are bits of truth to both points of view. But a healthy balance is somewhere in the middle. Permanency in a loving home of another culture is better than no permanency at all; as long as the adoptive parents keep the child connected to his culture. The question is, how do I do that?

 - Food. Once a week, eat a family meal from his culture: Indian naan bread or Native American fry bread are great choices. Soul food during Thanksgiving will hit the spot!

- Hair. Be aware that Native American and African-American culture hold hairstyles in high esteem. If you do not know how to care for an African-American child’s hair, get educated. Why? Because their hair is of a different texture and may grow at a different rate than what you are used to.

- Holidays. Celebrate Black History Month. Take a day off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Learn about Latin holidays such as Epiphany and Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos.

- Language. Those in the Navajo community are very concerned about the loss of their native language, Diné. Have your Navajo child learn the language and preserve some of that which has been lost.

- Sunscreen. It is a false premise that just because your adopted child is of a different complexion than you, they don’t need sunscreen. Not true! They may not need the level of sunblock that a freckle-faced redhead does, but they do need to be protected also!

- Festivals and cultural events. Attend a pow wow. Attend a West Indian Day Parade. If there are none in your area, look it up on the internet!

It is important to keep your child connected to his culture.

The Ugly Realities of Racism

Just because you have never experienced racism before, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And just because you have adopted a child from another race, doesn’t mean that your child will never experience racism again. It exists and you must be prepared to handle it and be there for your child and help him to process it when it does happen.

Beware, racism is a two-way street. There are those who do not feel that a white woman can properly raise a black child. That something is lost in the process. That the child is missing out by not being raised in his culture. While this may be partially true, the way this is expressed may be less than kind. You must be prepared for this and be gracious in your responses.

We can discuss the pros and cons of transracial adoption at length. This article does not allow enough time for that discussion. However, one thing I think we can all agree upon: we need more adoptive parents of color to take care of kids of color. The least restrictive environment would be to place minority children with minority parents. But as long as there are not enough of these homes, there will always be transracial adoptions.

Adoption, in and of itself, presents awkward situations. But is also presents great opportunities to bond with your child. This is no less true for transracial adoptions. It also presents an awesome picture of unconditional love; that a person of one race is willing to sacrifice and care for a person of another race. It also shows that a person of one culture can respect another person’s culture and still be one family! Transracial adoption may not be perfect, but it is beautiful!

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Derek Williams

Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.


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