What is Transracial Adoption?

Mary McMahon

A transracial adoption is an adoption in which the placed child is of a different race or ethnic origin than the parents. Most commonly, transracial adoption involves white parents and black, Latino, or Asian children. Often, a transracial adoption is also transcultural, with the adopted child coming from a different country or culture as well as a different racial background.

Transracial adoptions often involve Asian children.
Transracial adoptions often involve Asian children.

One of the places where transracial adoption is most common is the United States, where families have been adopting children of different races since the Second World War. Many early transracial adoptions involved parents who simply wanted to help children in need, no matter what their origins were, and often the children were integrated into existing families with non-adoptive siblings. With the Vietnam War, adoption outside the United States became even more common, and childless parents began to adopt transracially as well.

Transracial adoptions can involve children of Latino heritage.
Transracial adoptions can involve children of Latino heritage.

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Transracial adoption is a controversial issue. Advocates for transracial and transcultural adoption argue that adoption should be colorblind, because adoptive parents simply want to help a child in need, or do some good in the world. They also point out that many transcultural adoptions involve the removal of children from bad situations, and that such adoptions can sometimes give a child a better chance in life. Furthermore, transracial adoption can help to break down the barriers between races, promoting integration and greater understanding.

However, there are some sensitive cultural and political issues involved in transracial adoption. Many transracial adoptees and concerned activists have expressed discomfort with the idea of removing children from their racial and ethnic backgrounds, because this can strip them of their heritage. Parents of a different race, argue opponents of transracial adoption, can never fully understand the culture and heritage of their children, and they may not prepare their children for discrimination. Their children may also be viewed as outsiders by people of the same race, and some transracial adoptees have stated that they felt “stolen” and isolated from their culture by their well-meaning parents.

Adopting across international and race borders is also perceived by some people as easier and less expensive than adoption within one's own race. As a result, some people denigrate transracial adoption, suggesting that parents are trying to cut corners, and that this does not speak well of them. In strict point of fact, the standards for international adoption are very high, and often there are not enough babies available for domestic adoption; parents may also try to adopt domestically and be foiled by regulations such as those prohibiting adoption to parents over 40 or gay couples.

Parents who decide to adopt transracially often do a great deal of soul searching before taking the plunge. A transracial adoption can be a very educational experience for both parents and child, especially when the parents think about racial and cultural issues before beginning the adoption process. For those who believe that need is colorblind, the many successful transracial adoptions around the world illustrate that sensitive parenting can go a long way.

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