Advocates for Children
College Park Scholars
University of Maryland at College Park

Stephanie Lo Re

Does love truly conquer all? Or are some obstacles simply not able to be overcome? These are the two basic points of contention that arise in the debate over transracial adoption. Transracial adoption is the practice of placing infants and children into families who are a different race from the child. The debate of whether this action would be morally correct began to take hold in the early 1970ís, as some African-American families started to feel that it was an offense against their community to place African-American children into Caucasian homes. William T. Merritt, then president of the National Association of Black Social Workers, stated that "black children should be placed only with black families, whether in foster care or for adoptions" (Simon, Altstein 5). The Association believed that the placement of African-American children into Caucasian families laid the foundations for "cultural genocide."

Certain professionals, including mental health specialists, have suggested that these African-American children have been emotionally harmed as a result of their placement into Caucasian families. (Alexander 1) Proponents of transracial adoption have disputed these claims with the basic philosophy that if there is enough love in the home, if the house is both emotionally and financially stable, then these characteristics are all that are necessary for the proper raising of any child. The race of the parents and the race of the child is irrelevant.

The most recent action within the debate was the passing of the Multiethnic Placement Act by the 104th Congress and its signing by President Clinton. This piece of legislation was introduced by Senator Howard Metzenbaum in 1994 in response to concern over the percentage of African-American children in foster care.

At the heat of the argument is disagreement over the definition of the most fit parent for a child. Does this definition take into consideration race? If so, who possesses the greater capability to raise a child, parents of the same race as the child or those of a different race? Opponents believe only parents of the same race can handle the challenge most effectively. They believe that only same race parents can provide the best guide to self-identity for the child. Advocates of transracial adoption believe that the race of the parents is irrelevant. They feel the only stipulation is that the adoptive parents make a tremendous effort to incorporate the culture of the childís birth family into the childís life.

Dissension also exists regarding predictions of what may happen to a child as a result of his/her transracial adoption. Opponents of transracial adoption, perhaps most prominent among them the National Association of Black Social Workers, firmly believe that this action could have harmful effects on the adopted children later in life. They feel that the inability or unwillingness of adoptive parents of a different race to instill a sense of ethnic identity and knowledge of cultural heritage into the child can prove to be detrimental to the child as an adult. Opponents believe that in order "to be an emotionally healthy adult, one must develop a healthy identity throughout growth and developoment. Culture makes the differenceÖ" (Abdullah 6). Harbored confusion over identity is likely to surface at the onset of adulthood. Advocates do not agree. They feel that successful incorporation of the childís cultural heritage can definitely be achieved by parents of a different race. They firmly believe that it is entirely possible for children adopted by people of a different race to realize their own racial identity with a clear understanding.

The age of the adoptee at the time of adoption is another important issue which should be raised. This issue should be considered when determining whether being raised by parents of a different race may have any adverse effects on a child. The age of the child at the time of adoption is a very significant factor of consideration: "It can be speculated that the most important determining factor for positive outcomes of transracial adoption is the age of the child at the time of adoption. Previous investigations have confirmed the existence of a developmental sequence for the formation of ethnic identity" (Harrison 2). Age of the adoptee represents only one sub-issue under the broader topic of transracial adoption which is sometimes not paid the full attention it deserves.

Despite their many disagreements, both sides of the debate do not dispute certain unarguable facts: "Increasingly large numbers of children bereft of functioning parents are flooding social welfare agencies," and "the number of such children has exploded from 276,000 in 1986 to 450,000 in 1992" (Kennedy 2). Proponents of transracial adoption argue that an effective way of approaching this problem would be to avoid relying on race as an important factor when deciding on the eligibility of certain prospective adoptive parents. Opponents vehemently argue that this is not the course of action (transracial adoption) which should be used as a solution to Americaís problems of child welfare. Opponents feel that the government should "support efforts to save families; to support the maintenance of racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage; and to protect children from exploitation of people who suffer from the ills of a racist and sexually deviant society" (Abdullah 3).

The most blatant differences of opinion within this debate center over the definition of what type of parent is best fit to raise a certain child and the possible negative effects transracial adotion can have on a child. The debate over transracial adoption has become particularly passionate in recent years, with both sides remaining steadfast and unyielding in their positions. Perhaps a solution can be reached in the near future. However, the chances of this occurring are not very high considering the fact that this issue is basically a moral one founded almost entirely on personal feelings and individual experiences.


1. Abdullah, Samella B. (May,1996). Transracial Adoption Is Not the Solution to Americaís Problems of Child Welfare. Journal of Black Psychology, p.254.

2. Kennedy, Randall. (Oct.,1994). The Politics of Transracial Adoption. Current, p.8.

3. Alexander, Rudolph. (May,1996). A Review of Empirical Research Involving the Transracial Adoption of African American Children. Journal of Black Psychology, p.223.

4. Harrison, Algea O. (May,1996). Comments on Transracial Adoption. Journal of Black Psychology, p.236.

5. Simon, Rita J.; Altstein, Howard. (1996). The Case for Transracial Adoption. Children and Youth Services Review.

This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Search for books about this topic:

Enter keywords...