Trans-racial and Trans-Cultural Adoption

Every January we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the achievements Dr. King made as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s legacy inspires us to continue working towards diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. His important work has impacted so many areas, including adoption.

The way race, culture, and ethnicity are addressed in adoption has changed drastically over the last several decades. Years ago, it was common to hear people say, “I don’t see color” to convey that they treat everyone equally. The problem with that is it erases a significant part of who that person is, and it ignores the reality that non-white people continue to face discrimination. In a Washington Post article, transracial adoptee Dirk Uphoff expertly explains this when he says, “I think a lot of White people think that they have a good handle on race… and have what they would call a ‘colorblind’ kind of mentality, but I don’t think they understand that when you say the word ‘colorblind,’ what I hear is ‘I see you as white.’”

There has been substantial change in the adoption world when it comes to racial and cultural erasure. Over the last few decades, adoption education has grown to focus on the importance of acknowledging the adoptee’s connection to their background. Before adopting a child of another race, families must go through extensive training to ensure they have the resources necessary to help their child form a strong connection to their racial and cultural roots. This goes far beyond having books and toys that represent the child’s background. We ask families to observe their social circles and surrounding communities. Is there diverse representation that will provide mirrors for their child? How would your child feel if they were the only member of your family who looks different? We ask adoptive parents about their own experiences with discrimination and prejudice. Have they encountered racism directed at themselves or others before? How would they help their child if they were to experience that? We also ask them to look at their own upbringings. While growing up, were they directly or indirectly taught negative messages about people of other cultures? Have they worked to overcome those prejudices? Most importantly, we want adoptive families to understand that although they may feel that they would love any child, they should only adopt a child of a different race or ethnicity if they are able to provide that child the opportunity to know, understand, and connect with their background.

We are fortunate that there has been a large shift in how trans-racial/cultural adoption is addressed. There is now a wealth of resources such as training, adoptive parent guides, children’s books, support groups, adoptee memoirs, adoptee programs, and more that discuss the importance of celebrating the child’s racial and cultural background. So many of these resources are easily accessible to families, adoptees, and adoption professionals and more are developed every year.

Although there have been significant strides made towards more empowering trans-racial/cultural adoption practices, there will always be more opportunity to learn. As an agency, we are committed not only to helping our clients navigate trans-racial/cultural adoption but also to continue improving our practices to ensure that we provide ethical, inclusive services. We remain committed to helping adoptive families provide safe, supportive environments in which their child can feel connected to their culture. With the adoption community’s continued focus on trans-racial/cultural adoption practice, we work towards Dr. King’s dream of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice for people of all backgrounds.