Transracial Adoption

Nora Long

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

        Transracial Adoption: the practice of placing infants and children into families who are of a different race than the child's birth family

        In modern America, there are literally thousands of children and infants waiting anxiously in foster homes for permanent adoptive families. These children "are among the most abused and neglected in America" (Penn and Coverdale 243). Since there are considerably more black and Hispanic children available for adoption than white children, many white couples who cannot have children of their own are eager to take in a colored child for adoption (Smith 4). This has created a furious and racially biased debate. Groups like the National Association of Black Social Workers claim that transracial adoption is cultural genocide. However, extensive studies have proven that transraciallly adopted children grow up emotionally stable and fully aware of their cultural identity. Transracially adopted children have reinforced the validity of the studies with their own testimonies in favor of transracial adoption. Furthermore, restricting a child a stable adoptive home on the basis of race is unconstitutional and unfair to the child. The fact is that white parents should be able to provide loving homes to black children in need.

        One supportive study of cross-race adoptions was conducted by Rita Simon of American University and Howard Altstein of the University of Maryland. Over the course of 20 years, Simon and Altstein tracked 204 white families who had adopted minority children. The study consisted of interviews with the adopted children, the adoptive parents, and their own biological children at different times during the 20 year period. During a set of interviews with the adopted children at ages four to seven, researchers found that even at such young ages, the children could correctly identify their race (Simon and Altstein 15). Furthermore, they were "aware and comfortable with [their] racial identity" (15). In interviews five years later (1984) Simon and Altstein investigated the transracially adopted children's levels of self-esteem. The results showed that the self-esteem levels of the transracially adopted children were almost identical to levels of children who are raised by their birth parents, as well as children adopted into same-race homes (190. Also, they concluded that children adopted across racial lines fit into their white families just as well as biological or white adopted children (18). Even after they moved out of the house, this continued, when "adoptees were as much in touch with their parents and felt as much a part of their family as the birth children did" (18).

        The most important finding of Simon and Altstein's research was that transracial adoptees were "aware and comfortable with their racial identity" during childhood, adolescence and in adulthood (19). Transracial adoptees grew up to have "a positive sense of their black identity and a knowledge of their history and culture" (21). Simon and Altstein gathered from their study the following conclusions:

         "[O]ur studies chow that transracial adoption causes no special problems among the adoptees or their siblings. We have observed black children reared in white families and have seen them grow up with a positive sense if their black identity and a knowledge of their history and culture" (Simon and Altstein 21).

Studies like these are solid evidence that their are not psychological or emotional problems for black children who are adopted by white families (21).

        In addition to the studies, the testimony of the transracially adopted children themselves vouches for the success of cross-race adoption. One example is an article advocating tranracial adoption by Kristin St. John, an African-American woman who was raised by white adoptive parents. In her article, St. john stated that her white parents supported her efforts to explore her own heritage and African-American background (St. John 152). She emphasized that she grew up completely comfortable with herself, and aware of who she was culturally and personally (St. John 152). There could be no better authority on the outcome of transracial adoption than the adoptees themselves. These children prove the success with statements like, "I'm proud of my racial and ethnic background, both the biological and cultural ones" and "I am fully comfortable with who I am" (St. John 152 , Simon and Altstein 20). James McBride, the black son of a white woman in New York wrote in his own article, "Iíd rather see a black child in the hands of a white, yuppie mom...than being bounced around foster homes and never knowing real love. ...If a child doesn't get love, education, discipline, religion (your preference) and, most important, a place to call home, all the culture in the world isn't going to make that child a capable, functioning adult" (McBride A15).

        The success of transracial adoption is a result of the adoptive parentsí efforts to include African-American culture in their children's upbringing. Researchers have concluded that on the whole, white parents who adopt black children make a conscious and successful effort to do so. Simon and Altstein's study of transracially adopted black children in 1984 showed that the adoptive parents "worked hard at being parents of children of a different race, " and that they conscientiously introduced the child's culture into the family's life (Simon and Altstein 17). As one cross-race adoptee stated, "[M]y family proved sympathetic and helpfulÖ in exploring my heritage" (St. John 152). White families can successfully raise children of another race.

        It is important for us to consider that the alternative to transracial adoption is far less desirable for children. For many minority children the only alternative to a white home is to remain in the foster care system, which means being shuffled between temporary homes and losing the benefits of a permanent family. "Leaving African-American kids in foster care rather than allowing them to be adopted by loving parents inflicts very serious harm on children," for several reasons (Smolowe 51). Shuffled between foster families and orphanages, children never learn to trust others and may develop "attachment disorders" (Smith 13). They lose significant developmental experiences of early bonding and attachment. Furthermore, when permanent placement is denied or delayed the child may reach a crucial age at which they are placed in the "special needs category," because they are so old (Smith 14). At that time, their chances for adoption become even slimmer (Smith 14). Therefore, it is imperative for the sake of the child's emotional stability that they receive permanent, adoptive placements as soon as possible. As one adoptive mother claims, "[A] choice for a permanent placement is by far preferable to a long wait for a child in foster care. I believe that there is more damage done in the wait that in issues of race" (Smith 14). Race issues should not outweigh the importance of the basic human need for a place to call home and a loving family (Smolowe 500).

        In today's American society, a high value is set on equality for all races. Our children should be no exception. Studies have proven that placing black children in white homes does not harm their identity, and that delaying or denying permanent placement may cause irreversible attachment disorders. With these facts proven, I feel that denying a child an adoptive home on the basis of race is unfair and unconstitutional. To do so denies them the basic equal opportunity for a stable home (Smith 5). Children are equally deserving of the benefits of stability and should not be denied them on the basis of race (Smith 13). "[I]f legal bars against interracial marriage, often based on outright racism, are unconstitutional, why are not...prohibitions against trasracial parent-child ties also [considered] unconstitutional" (Smith 5).

        With so many children who need homes, I think that white parents should be able to adopt black children and provide them with the love and stability that children need. Researchers have proven that transracial adoption does not prevent black children from having a familiarity with their with their own race and culture. On the contrary, cross-race adoptees are aware and satisfied with both white and black American culture, and suffer no identity or self-esteem problems as a result of living in a cross-race home (Simon and Altstein 21). Children who are left in the foster care system for want of a same-race home are likely to develop attachment disorders as well as decrease their chances for being adopted, because they become too old (Smith 13, 15). Denying a child the benefits of a family is unfair to them, and to do so on the basis of their skin color goes against the American ideals of equality (Smith 5). There is no reason that white families should not be able to adopt white children.


McBride, James. "Adoption Across the Color Line." The New York Times 3 June 1996:

Penn, Michael L. and Christine Coverdale. "Transracial Adoption : A Human Rights
      Perspective." The Journal of Black Psychology 22 (May 1996): 240-246.

Simon, Rita J. and Howard Altstein. "The case for Transracial Adoption." Children
      and Youth Services Review 18 (1996) : 5-22.

Smith, Janet Farrell. "Analyzing Ethical Conflict in the Transracial Adoption Debate:
      Three Conflicts Involving Community." Hypathia 11 (Spring 1006) : 1-24.

Smolowe, Jill. "Adoption in Black and White." Time 14 Aug 1993 : 50-51.

St. John, Kristin. "Adoption Should be Color blind." Parents July 1995: 152.

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.

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