The Adoptee Experience in Transracial Adoption

Over the last few decades, transracial adoption has become a larger focus of adoption education as our perception and understanding of race and ethnicity has changed. Much of this shift has been driven by adoptees speaking up about their experiences with transracial adoption. Their courage to share their personal stories and hardships has been influential to the adoption community, letting everyone know that transracial adoptees need more.
We recently sat down with Eli, a 24-year-old adoptee who has been learning about their birth family. In addition to talking about their experience with post adoption support (which you can read more about here), we also delved into the challenges of transracial adoption. Our discussion really emphasized how significantly transracial adoption practices have changed in the last few decades.
Around the time Eli was adopted, there were far fewer tools for families welcoming a child of a different background. Many people thought in what we refer to as the “colorblind” mindset, meaning they chose not to see race or ethnicity and rather viewed all people as the same. While the general sentiment behind that perspective is well-meaning – all people are equal – it completely ignores that crucial fact that a person’s race and ethnicity are an important part of their identity. Failing to recognize and support that part of adoptees can have detrimental effects, such as:
  • Feeling like the only one who looks different. They may be the only one in their family that is of a different race or ethnicity. Although they are a member of the family through adoption, they may feel isolated or “othered” because they do not share the same traits.
  • Low self-esteem. Not seeing other people who look similar and not having their differences acknowledged or celebrated can leave adoptees with negative feelings about themselves.
  • Not being able to fully connect with their culture. When adoptive families fail to acknowledge their child’s background, the child doesn’t get the opportunity to connect with their heritage. They might feel that they are not able to relate to other people of their same background because they never got to learn about where they come from.
Because of the advocacy of so many transracial adoptees over the last several years, we better understand the integral role race plays in an adoptee’s identity. We have shaped our education to prepare adoptive families to better support their child’s connection to their background. We teach families to understand that a child needs more than just love. They need the opportunity to connect with their culture, see individuals who look like them, and celebrate their identity.
Adoptive families also need to be prepared for the difficult conversations that come with transracial adoption. Specifically, they need to acknowledge the unfortunate reality that their child may experience racism and they need to be prepared to confront that and protect their child. Especially for white adoptive parents, their child may have experiences related to race that they have never had to go through.
Adopting a child of a different race or ethnicity is not a choice that should be made lightly. Families need to understand and appreciate the value of cultural connection. They also need to be prepared for continue educating themselves as their child grows. There will always be more to learn about the ways they can best support their child.

Check out our other posts of transracial adoption: