Current thinking on trans-racial adoptions?
August 6, 2019 4:00 PM   Subscribe

We are beginning the adoption process, but I keep getting hung up on whether it is OK for us to adopt a black child.

My husband is white, I'm white-passing middle eastern. We live in Orange County, in a city that is majority Asian. There is no substantial black population in our city (less than 2%) or anywhere nearby, but every other ethnic group is well represented. This would be our first and probably only child.

We are open to any race birth-mother, but because we live in an area where there are few black people, I feel conflicted about adopting a black child. I'm worried I'd be doing more harm than good trying to raise a child where they'd never see many/any people around like them, even knowing I'd do everything else I could to be an understanding parent.

Am I overthinking the issue? Is there a trusted body that has information on how to make the appropriate choice?
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Human Relations (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You are not overthinking the issue at all. More adoptive parents should be thinking through the issue. My thinking on this has been formed by reading adult adoptees. Lots of folks have opinions on this, but I think adult adoptees are the best resource we have. (People who grew up in multiracial biological families may have some insight, but it's a different scenario when adoption is in the mix.)

Racial mirrors are incredibly important. In the US, there is so much anti-black bias that it's particularly challenging to be an "only" (meaning, the only kid of color in your class) when you are black.

My take, as an adoptive parent of black sons, is that it's not right to raise black children in an environment without racial mirrors. If you are unable or unwilling to move to a community that's more integrated, I don't think it's ethical to adopt a black child. (Though I also want to be clear that my kids growing up attending majority black schools and living in a historically black, gentrifying neighborhood has not at all erased their issues around black identity and adoption.)

The blog Harlow's Monkey is written by an adult transnational, transracial adoptee who is also a researcher on adoption. It's an excellent resource and links to much more.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:09 PM on August 6, 2019 [38 favorites]

This 2014 NPR interview with transracial adoptee Chad Goller-Sojourner is worth a listen.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:25 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's worth also considering that many people seeking to adopt a child won’t consider adopting a black child from the United States.

Please don't feel like it's somehow antiracist to be willing to adopt a black child and racist not to be open to a black child. Racism is very much part of the fabric of every American life. It's not an accident that black people don't live in your community; historical patterns of racism, and systemic racism, mean that blacks were likely excluded by formal and informal means. But the way to remedy this is not to raise a black child there in racial isolation.

I've said on more than one occasion: it's not my child's job to be diversity for your child. Which is to say, don't adopt a black child to diversify your family or community (which I don't think is your aim).
posted by bluedaisy at 5:25 PM on August 6, 2019 [27 favorites]

They discuss this on Red Table Talk
posted by jj's.mama at 5:49 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

We have been trying to adopt for over 4 years, working with a county in Southern California. You raise a valid question that is not brought up often enough by those trying to adopt.

You should know that there are social workers who do not support transracial adoptions. NABSW
posted by socrateaser at 6:29 PM on August 6, 2019

I suggest reading All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir
by Nicole Chung about her experience of being a transracial adoptee - she was the only Asian in her adoptive family, and often the only Asian in her school.

She writes about the negative sides of this, including having to face racism alone, both in the playground and within her own extended family; and also a loss of connection to her culture; and how she still experiences negative side effects to this day.

"What does it mean to lose your roots―within your culture, within your family―and what happens when you find them?

Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as Nicole grew up―facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from―she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.

With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Nicole Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets―vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong."
posted by Murderbot at 9:10 PM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

The final two sentences of that Chad Goller-Sojourner interview are powerful:
“If you don't have any close friends or people who look like your kid before you adopt a kid, then why are you adopting that kid? Your child should not be your first black friend."
posted by blueberry at 9:29 PM on August 6, 2019 [30 favorites]

Your social worker should ABSOLUTELY be talking to you about this. A family therapist who specialises in transracial adoption is a great resource for discussing and worth their weight in gold for talking to before you adopt. Really really great to talk to openly with your partner before you do the paperwork.

Just as you say an age - even a gender if you already have children of one gender sometimes - your family resources when you adopt need to be the right resources to support the child coming to you. Do you have the right resources for a black baby? Maybe. You would need to move into a black neighbourhood and make a serious effort to connect with the black community in your city now. It sounds like, given your family's heritage, it would be a lot easier for your future child, for you to connect with an Asian, Middle-Eastern or White or mixed-thereof, child and to connect with those communities.

Your kid will need you to do the work. If you don't, you're basically shunting the responsibility of figuring out their racial identity and heritage (in a racist society) on to them when they're an adult without any of the support of their family or community which is immensely cruel parenting.

It's possible, but you need to talk and think about what you can do honestly and think hard. And be honest - that's why a therapist is great because if you come to realise no, it's okay to say no, we're not ready and to say hey we can do this instead.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:41 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Two of our three adopted kids are African-American. And we do live in the largely white suburbs although we are in Houston which is pretty crazy multicultural, so there's lots of exposure.

Our approach was early, abundant, and frank communication about race and the environment they live in. On one hand we explain how it is totally *not* okay for people to act and think certain ways about black folk, but to help them develop situational awareness in a world where some people still *do* think that way and have a dignified yet compassionate response in the face of the very real racism they will experience.

We are a pretty culturally adventurous family anyways, so they developed a natural comfort with diversity in general. But, especially when our kids were younger, we made a constant effort to expose them to as many diverse examples of people who look like them in culture as possible. I don't claim to even try to raise my two black kids as "black people" so much as just "kind people." With a sense of who they are in general, not just racially.

(We spend way more time dealing with the special, neurological circumstances of their births and the fact that they are adopted in the first place. Race has been, so far, a relatively minor concern.)

What we didn't know, and wish someone had told us earlier, was about the hair and skin care which is sooo much different than for our other two kids. Find a trusted friend who knows about that stuff and have them guide you. In our case it was someone from our church who pulled my wife aside when our son was 18 months and discreetly said "Girl...."

So, I have to share. I was pretty proud of my 16 year old last week when, at trivia with us, after a category about fine dining, she exclaimed "Now *that's* some white people shit!" It was, I admit. And she got one of the largest laughs of the night. But she was a trooper and helped us on the music and TV categories, which was her designated team role.

I guess the point is that we focus on being a big, loving, accepting family first and foremost. Then surround ourselves with a supportive network who can help us with any racial blind spots.
posted by cross_impact at 8:55 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hi! I'm an adoptive parent of MeFi and have answered questions about adoption in a few different threads. This thread not only has some conversation from me, but also links to previous threads where I've commented on adoption.

You've gotten some good, but also slightly divergent, feedback in this thread. One issue that I have not seen discussed so far is that of open versus closed adoptions. We chose to work with an agency that would only set up open adoptions and have kept in regular contact with our child's birth family for over nine years. We see the birth family in person twice a year and usually send cards or letters a few other times beyond that. I do think it is important to prepare one's family specifically for trans-racial adoption, but open adoption also is a step toward addressing identity questions and issues in the adoption process. If you haven't heard these terms yet or had much chance to look into them, I would recommend looking for books or working with your social worker on those topics, too.

I wish you the best of luck on your adoption journey!
posted by Slothrop at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am a white adoptee active in several adoption groups and in the (few) that respect total honesty from adoptees, inter-racial adoption is strongly frowned upon. The only thing worse is international adoption.

To distill it down it is the abuse of power and social hierarchies for the benefit of only 1 party in the triad. Its also basically impossible for a white family to provide the upbringing a child of color needs and deserves. When I observe inter racial adoption families I am disturbed. When I observe transnational adoption I seethe inside. I used to say sorry but you are asking-thanks for that really!- and I can’t be sorry to be sickened by the entitlement of white adopters any more. If thats too harsh I do apologize for my strident tone but not my opinion.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 10:34 AM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

To add some points that might be worthwhile from my reference to Red Table Talk, Kristin Davis said that the birth mother chose her. Davis chose to accept any child from any background. Once she was chosen to adopt African American kids, she had to take classes on how to take care of their hair along with some other topics. Hair care is a very important part of a black child's culture as it's not just a part of hygiene but it's a bonding and relational process between the person doing the hair and the child.
posted by jj's.mama at 11:29 AM on August 7, 2019

To the white folks commenting here: being black in the United States is about a lot more than figuring out how to take care of your hair. Hair is really easy to focus on because it's so obvious when white parents get it wrong. But a white parent can get hair perfectly right and still do real damage in other ways (beyond the typical ways that parents can damage their kids).

I don't claim to even try to raise my two black kids as "black people" so much as just "kind people." With a sense of who they are in general, not just racially. ... (We spend way more time dealing with the special, neurological circumstances of their births and the fact that they are adopted in the first place. Race has been, so far, a relatively minor concern.)
I think this is a beautiful sentiment and I really wish the world was able to see black people not as black people. This is not the world we live in. I really wish the best for these kids, and I truly hope this parent is right, but I know many adult adoptees of color spend a lot of time in therapy trying to unpack the damage from growing up in white communities.

I wonder, why do we think it's okay that our kids should leave their families of origin for us, but we aren't even willing to move to a different neighborhood for them?

I didn't know all this when I adopted black kids. I wasn't trying to be a white savior, and I thought my eyes were open, but I think white adoptive parents who think deeply about these issues have a few different paths that we chose from (not always very consciously): the love is enough path, where we acknowledge racism but also avoid really confronting our complicity; and the very complicated path where we realize we may have perpetuated harm on our kids by adopting them but we still have to do right by them, somehow and some way.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:46 AM on August 7, 2019 [12 favorites]

I'm in some adoption-related Facebook groups and this topic often comes up. This Twitter thread was making the rounds today, about how a Black classmate (adopted by white parents) of the author never read a Black author until college. I think that gets to the point a lot of people have been making - I won't pass a judgement on transracial adoption happening or not, but if it does happen, the white parents have a lot of work they must do to learn/know/embrace Black (or other minority) culture.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:04 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm sharing (with permission)- a MeMail I received from someone who preferred to remain anonymous, but had really useful links that I thought would be useful to add here in case anyone looks this up in the future. Here it is:

My partner and I are white and recently adopted an African-American newborn. We are over the moon with happiness and also understand, every day, that we have some real deficiency in being able to raise a black kid, and that we have so much research and work to do to help them grow up to be a fully African-American person. We live in a place that’s diverse but also segregated, and we think about the kind of questions you're facing a lot.

Anyway, here are a few resources:

1. Pact (an adoption organization in Emeryville CA) has a fantastic set of resources related to transracial adoption and related topics, here:
We didn't work with them but someday hope to go to the "Pact Family Camp" when our kid is older and if we can swing it (it's expensive!).

2. It's not specifically about adoption, but there's some very relevant stuff in The Loving Generation, a terrific series of short videos about race and identity among people with one black parent and one white parent (about 40 min altogether, produced by the NYT). Lots of support here for bluedaisy’s note about mirroring, and the importance of seeing other kids and adults of color.

3. Nikole Hannah-Jones, one of the people interviewed in those videos, is very much worth reading and following on twitter. Here's a pretty brutal thread from her on transracial adoption. The stories here are from people who, it's safe to guess, never asked "am I overthinking this?"

Heartily nthing the suggestion of reading and listening to adult adoptees. Nicole Chung's recent book is great (she's great on twitter too). It's important and valuable to look squarely at the hard stuff, and it sounds like you're doing just that. I like this line from Pact's mission statement: "Transracial adoption can work beautifully if the parents are serious about helping their child build a positive racial identity."

Good luck thinking this stuff through with your husband. For us it's working out great, though I know we have a lot of hard stuff (and homework) ahead of us.

posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:12 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone for all the links to outside sources with information, and to those of you who have shared personal stories as well. It's exactly what I was looking for.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:18 PM on August 7, 2019

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