The Effects of Transracial Adoption

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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The controversy surrounding transracial adoption certainly suggests that as a society, Americans are deeply ambivalent about racial distinctions in the family household. Specifically, transracial adoption has been defined as “the joining of racially different parents with children together in adoptive families” (Smith, Juarez, & Jacobson, 2011). This issue continues to cause much debate between those who view transracial adoption as a positive experience for both the children and society as a whole and the opponents who believe that the process is detrimental to Black children and Black communities.

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The vast majority of transracial adoptions in the United States involve White parents adopting Black children; the dispute over this particular interracial placement stems from the strong belief that African American children are unable to develop healthy racial and cultural identities within White families (Belgrave & Allison, 2013). Not only does the adoption process involve the acceptance of a child into a new family, but it also requires a convergence of both the personal and cultural values of the child, the adoptive family, and the birth family. There are many valid arguments in which support and oppose the process of transracial adoption, however, it can be assumed that both positions do agree that adoption should be in the best interest of the child and it is wrong of people who adopt African American children to not expose the child to African American culture (Simon & Altstein, 1996).

Transracial adoption continues to receive more scrutiny than other forms of adoption since it directly addresses the significant role of race in the child adoption process. Although parents may put forth the effort to teach their adopted children about race, White adoptive parents and Black adoptees ultimately experience race differently; for instance, racism continues to be central in the lives of transracially adopted children, yet racism is practically nonexistent in the lives of their White adoptive parents (Smith, Juarez, & Jacobson, 2011). Empirical studies concerning transracial adoption and its influence on the identity of African American children have suggested that some transracially adopted children tend to experience racial or ethnic identity problems and adjustment difficulties during adolescence.

Consequently, the research has shown that Black adoptees are more likely to be ashamed of their birth culture and are less likely to experience life apart from the dominant White culture (Adkinson-Bradley, DeBose, Terpstra, & Bilgic, 2012). It is important to recognize that the distinct identity of African American culture differs from other cultures in that it emerged from a history of abuse and oppression; the African American community ultimately consists of people and institutions which are similar in their African heritage and in their experiences with racism and discrimination.

Therefore, exposure to the African American community is essential in the socialization of African American children. As children grow and develop, they begin to adopt similar values, beliefs, attitudes, and self-concepts that mimic those of their own family structure, thus critics of transracial adoption assert that Black children reared in White homes will not share the experience the same situations that would allow them to properly identify themselves as Black people. Individual identity and its development in regards to race is a relatively complex topic, especially when discussing transracial adoption. The Nigrescence model of racial identity can be considered when analyzing the arguments that support and refute any positive cognitive and identity development of transracially adopted children. Nigrescence models consist of different stages that Black people experience while attempting to reach their own racial awareness in the United States (Belgrave & Allison, 2019).

The stages include Pre-Encounter, Dissonance, Immersion and Emersion, Internalization, and Internalization-Commitment. Opponents of transracial adoption can argue that Black children who are reared in White homes may never advance past the Pre-Encounter stage. In this stage, individuals tend to orient toward White culture and away from Black culture, typically by engaging in activities with White people and conforming to societal norms (Belgrave & Allison, 2019). The reasoning behind this view is that White parents cannot ethnically and racially socialize Black children because they themselves have not experienced discrimination. In 2005, president Barack Obama discussed his own struggle with racial identity after growing up in a predominantly White context. Although he was not adopted, Obama was raised by a supportive White family in Hawaii. He once stated that “away from [his] mother, away from [his] grandparents, [he] was engaged in a fitful interior struggle. [He] was trying to raise [himself] to be a Black man in American, and beyond the given of [his] appearance, no one around [him] seemed to know exactly what that meant” (Smith, Juarez, & Jacobson, 2011). Once he moved to the United States and became a target of racial discrimination, Obama may have found himself in the Dissonance stage.

During this stage, individuals come across a certain event or experience that ultimately creates a negative perception of themselves or the perception of the conditions of Blacks in America (Belgrave & Allison, 2019). After living with a predominantly White family and in a racially accepting region such as Hawaii, it was clear that Obama’s race became more salient to himself and others during his transition. His struggle with racial identity after experiencing heavy discrimination in America suggests that he was in the dissonance stage of the Nigrescence model. The Western perspective of transracial adoption greatly differs from that of African American psychology. Currently, there has been a steady increase in the number of African American children adopted by White families in the United States. The Western perspective on this issue seems to embrace this behavior as it deviates from the ‘traditional’ family structure and indicates acceptance of other races and ethnicities.

In Western culture, transracial adoption is viewed as a solution to the overrepresentation of Black children in the foster care system. The results from studies that examine transracial adoption are often equivocal, but there is supporting evidence to show that many transracial adoptees have positive experiences with their White families. For example, Simon & Roorda (2000) conducted a study on Korean children who were adopted by White families, finding that 95% of the adoptive parents said they “would do it again,” and more than 85% of the adoptees said they considered themselves either “very close” or “fairly close” with their adoptive mothers and fathers (Simon & Roorda, 2000). On the other hand, African American psychology tends to disagree with the procedure of transracial adoption.

As mentioned previously, there are common beliefs held by people who are opposed to transracial adoptions; these people believe that White families cannot teach minorities how to cope and survive in society and that African American children raised in a predominantly White culture will be culturally deficient, resulting in severe identity problems. African American psychology focuses on the African American experience in the United States, meaning that it aims to address the disparities, inequalities, and oppression that Black Americans face in their daily lives (Belgrave & Allison, 2019). In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) asserted their opposition of the placement of African American children with White families, stating that children who were transracially adopted were “maladjusted, [had] poor racial identity, the inability to cope with racism and discrimination, and [that] ‘cultural genocide’ [was] the likely outcome of transracial adoptive placements” (Simon & Altstein, 1996).

Evidently, African American children are highly overrepresented in the United States foster care system compared to White children. Prior to my research, I was unaware that each perspective, both Western and African American psychology, have their own definition regarding a child’s ‘well-being’ when it comes to transracial adoption. Western psychology emphasizes individualism in the separation of social and cultural influences. I have always been a supporter of transracial adoption, but I was always under the impression that adoption itself will give any child without a family a second chance for a better life, however, that is not always the case. I ignored the substantial impact that race has on a child and the child’s adolescent development. After analyzing the arguments for both sides of the issue, I now realize that there is a need to recognize the importance of race and ethnicity regarding the child’s well-being during the adoption process under the African American Psychological perspective.

Unfortunately, everyone has faced and will continue to face different obstacles and experiences based on the color of their skin. As a future law school student, I am well aware of the racial disparities in both the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This field will provide me with the opportunity to form relationships with people of all different races and ethnicities. Sometimes, attorneys are necessary in the transracial adoption process. Although there are logical arguments that support and oppose transracial adoption, my extended research on this procedure will allow me to inform my clients on the importance of a child’s racial identity and its effect on their development as a child of color.

Ultimately, the underlying issue surrounding the controversy of transracial adoption is the element of cultural diversity. The adoption process has potential advantages, but there is an extreme concern that White parents may not be able to help Black children develop the identity and skills that are needed to survive in a society that is overwhelmingly racist. A healthy racial identity is crucial for children of color to develop, and transracial adoption may prevent that development. Conversely, there are people who are aware of the disadvantages that many African Americans face; being able to address those difficulties early on in a child’s life will better help the child understand and react appropriately in any unique situation the child may face. While the Western psychology’s approach to understanding human beings is through social domination, the African American Psychological perspective highlights the importance of self-realization through cultural and racial identity. Overall, the child’s well-being should be the greatest deciding factor when considering transracial adoption, and the healthy development of a child’s racial identity must be recognized as a critical part of his or her future happiness and success. [bookmark: _Toc409783207]


  1. Adkinson-Bradley, C., DeBose, C. H., Terpstra, J., & Bilgic, Y. K. (2012). Postadoption services utilization among African American, Transracial, and White American parents: Counseling and legal implications. The Family Journal, 20(4), 392-398.
  2. Belgrave, F. Z., & Allison, K. W. (2013). African American psychology: From Africa to America (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  3. Simon, R. J., & Altstein, H. (1996). The case for transracial adoption. Children and Youth Services Review, 18(1), 5-22.
  4. Simon, R., & Roorda, R. (2000). In their own voices: Transracial adoptees tell their stories. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  5. Smith, D. T., Juarez, B. G., & Jacobson, C. K. (2011). White on black: Can white parents teach black adoptive children how to understand and cope with racism? Journal of Black Studies, 42(8), 1195-1230.
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The Effects of Transracial Adoption. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved from