Why We Need to Talk About Race in Adoption

The author and her mom and dog in 1983

Two years ago, on vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains, I saw a white couple at a restaurant with their Asian daughter. Though her father told her to quit staring, I felt the girl's eyes on me all through the meal. I smiled at her, feeling a strong sense of kinship, a pang of sympathy. As a child, whenever I saw another Asian person – which I hardly ever did – I used to stare, too, hungry for the sight of someone, anyone, who looked like me.

Adoption has changed in the 32 years since a social worker told my parents “not to worry” about my ethnicity. Thanks to many transracial adoptees who have shared their experiences, there is a greater emphasis on the importance of racial and cultural identity. Numerous books have been written on the subject, and excellent blog posts abound. Transnational adoption has inspired documentary films such as First Person Plural, In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, Wo Ai Ni Mommy, and Somewhere Between.  

While “colorblindness” in adoption has been widely challenged, however, not everyone is convinced – like the adoptive mother who recently told me, “I don't see my son's color. Race is just not an issue for us.”

Some people maintain that any cultural loss is unimportant compared to what children gain through adoption. But in both mainstream media and personal conversations about adoption, cultural and racial identity need not be pitted against a child's right to love, safety, and security.

This unfortunate “either-or” framing of the issue finds frequent expression in discussions of transracial adoption. Michael Gerson—whose wife is a Korean adoptee—wrote in the Washington Post: “Ethnicity is an abstraction…. Every culture or race is outweighed when the life of a child is placed on the other side of the balance.” In a National Review article criticizing Kathryn Joyce's book The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, adoptive father David French dismissed “the 'culture'” (note the mocking quotation marks) of internationally adopted children as “the culture of starvation, of rags, of disease, and of abandonment.”

Another common framing of transracial adoption suggests that America's “melting pot” has made race less relevant. In her NPR review of Somewhere Between, a documentary following four women adopted from China, adoptive mother Ella Taylor wrote: “[T]he film makes it seem that these girls' lives are dominated by worry about who they are and whether they'll be emotionally crippled by conflicting allegiances. Adopted or not, few of us develop our identities in the abstract – least of all today's adolescents, who… are far more nonchalant about racial difference, let alone adoption, than we boomers can ever be.” But even if Taylor is raising her own daughter in “a polyglot world,” not all adopted youth feel “nonchalant” about adoption and racial identity—nor should indifference be presented as the ideal.

“There's no one way to experience being adopted, or being a teenager, or being a woman of color,” says Linda Goldstein Knowlton, director/producer of Somewhere Between and the adoptive mother of a daughter from China.  “Being 'race-blind' – saying race doesn't matter – could make a child feel as though an important part of her is being rejected.”

Some adoptive parents feel uncertain about how to discuss race with their own adopted children. Taiwanese adoptee Marijane Nguyen says that she doubts her parents were aware of how much she struggled with her identity. “They never asked,” she says. “Race in our household was never discussed. Because there weren't many Asians in the community I grew up in, I always felt like I had some deficit because I wasn't white.”

Louisville adoptive mother Amy Cubbage says that it is difficult to fully understand the challenges of transracial adoption until you are actually parenting. She and her husband recently transferred their six-year-old daughter to a more diverse school, and are now contemplating moving to a town with a larger Asian population. When they took their child to visit China for the first time since her adoption, Cubbage said, “We have never seen [our daughter] so at ease with herself… we underestimated her need to see where she's from and see a place where everyone looks like her.”

Dr. Elizabeth Vonk, director of the MSW Program at the University of Georgia School of Social Work and an adoptive parent, leads a play therapy group for transracially adopted children. She notes that many parents find it easy and fun to introduce their children to their birth cultures, but may be less comfortable helping them
 explore their racial identity. “Racial socialization requires pushing beyond parents' comfort zones to acknowledge racism, white privilege, and prejudice,” she told me. “I do still meet parents who are convinced that a colorblind approach is best. It is a belief system that makes positive racial identity development more difficult for their children.”

Even adoptees whose parents are willing to engage in meaningful discussions about race will inevitably have questions about their identity and needs their families might not be able to anticipate. Angela Tucker, an African American adoptee raised in a large, racially diverse family, credits her parents for taking her to African-American fashion shows and teaching her and her siblings about different cultures. Still, she said, she has struggled with knowing where she fits “within traditional Black culture,” a question that led her to search for her birth family. She and her husband recently secured the funding necessary to complete Closure, a documentary about Tucker's adoption reunion.

We cannot have an honest discussion about transracial adoption if we aren't willing to discuss race, prejudice, and privilege. Adoptees need to feel safe when we talk about the instances of racism we encounter. This may not sound easy—because it isn't easy for white parents to raise children of color. But as the mother of two multiracial children, I can say that it's not easy for parents of color, either.

Some people who plan to adopt across racial lines give me blank looks when I suggest that they closely examine their town, their neighborhood, their local schools, their social activities and community organizations before adopting outside their race. They bristle when I emphasize the importance of educating themselves about the persistence of inequality and the experiences of transracial adoptees and people of color living in this country. Sometimes they remind me that my experiences as a transracial adoptee aren't universal—which is true—and therefore I don't actually know what their adopted children will face.

Maybe I don't, and I don't know why adopted Asian kids stare at me. I just know why I used to stare.

Photo: The author, her mother, and their dog in 1983.

by Nicole S. Chung
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65 Comments Have Been Posted

wow, thanks so much for writing this

There's so much that you address in this post. I'm so glad that you do.

adoption and race

I'm glad to see this issue raised. I also want to point out that racism and sexism are the main factors leading to the separation of a child from their natural mothers and other members of their original families. Social justice would be better served if these major problems were addressed before, rather than after, the loss of a child through adoption.

Amen, Loretta. AMEN.

Amen, Loretta. AMEN.

Good point, but . . .

I don't think it can be an either/or solution when it comes to social justice. It must be both: Advocacy and support for birth families so they can choose to keep their children AND providing adoptive families for children who are separated from their birth families. Otherwise we ask many children to pay the price by having no family until we achieve true equity on this matter.

Educating adoptive families about the complexities of being a transracial family is also key. I appreciate this article very much but also would point out that during the last decade there has been a concerted effort by many transracial adoptive families to do better work on respecting and honoring their children's race and ethnicity. (Most certainly there is still long way to go.) We can thank Korean adoptees and adult adoptees of many races for speaking out about their experiences.

No one is going to bother

No one is going to bother with the children in foster care (the "children who are separated from their birth families" you mentioned in your comment) until we start strongly discouraging the destruction of families whose main issues are poverty and social disadvantage, NOT abuse and neglect.

It's hypocritical to speak of helping adoptees with their racial and cultural identity when you have been the driving force to separate them from their number one source of both: their own families.

If there were no market for these children, governments wouldn't be so quick to remove them. Ever notice it's the genuinely abused kids so often overlooked by CPS? They know the kids won't be adoptable because they are too traumatized. They go for the easy steals, children with no serious problems within their families, because they'll have the best chance of adjusting. And the younger the better.

(No one from CPS or whatever state equivalent try to tell me I'm exaggerating. Don't even go there. Just because YOU might be individually ethical doesn't mean your entire agency is.)

We like to blame private adoption agencies and government foster agencies and CPS and so on, and certainly each of these entities shares some culpability but at the end of the day there has to be a so-called "buyer."

It's particularly insulting that feminists buy into this. It's not feminist. It's a form of social control meant to punish women for not Breeding With A License. For crying out loud, the entire anti-choice movement is about increasing the ready supply for domestic infant adoption! Notice how they mostly focus on white women? There's a reason for that.

Very interesting food for

Very interesting food for thought. Thank you for sharing.

It's true

A guy I work with told me he quit his church's anti-choice group when he realized how many members were racist and trying to force white girls to have babies and 'even up' the birth rate so blacks couldn't take over. It's the unspoken racist underside of the 'prolife' movement.


This is fascinating - how long ago did this happen? I wrote a study on the reproductive rights movements and its intersectionality with race in 1970s and 80s USA, and at the time there was some suggestions of this among radical black groups that black women should have as many children as possible. It was a similar sentiment - more babies = more black people = more power. Most women were having none of it, though. During the heyday of eugenics, too, there was the notion that white women should have as many children as possible...it amazes me that this continues more recently.

I realise this isn't all that relevant to the article but just thought I'd mention it. Interesting article though. Just a speculation - Linda Goldstein Knowlten's comment that a 'colourblind approach' might make a child think that 'an important part of her is being rejected' makes me wonder. While I absolutely appreciate that race can and does constitute a significant part of many peoples' identity and perception of themselves, if a child is brought up from a very young age (as in, from a baby) by parents who are taking the 'colourblind' approach and do not make race into a 'big deal', will they still perceive their race as being a really important part of their identity? Isn't our perception of our identity formed primarily by the way we are raised? I'm absolutely open to other peoples' opinion here, and I'm just speculating - I know that this is a contentious topic!

None of us live in a vacuum

If you are raised to believe that the sky is green but then encounter hundreds of other people who say that the sky is blue, you are going to be pretty confused.

Non-white adoptees who are raised by white families who tell them that race does not exist and does not matter have to live in a world where race does matter and where race is discussed a lot -- whether openly or covertly. As George Zimmerman recently proved, being the wrong race in the wrong place can even prove deadly.

What is the first thing you say about a baby? "Ohhh! He looks just like you!" This is fine, it just points to the reality that most parents are biologically related to their children. Given that, it's not unrealistic for kids to expect a Korean child to have Korean parents. And given that, the Korean child with white parents has to navigate a constant stream of questions and confused looks from other children that many adults are too polite to show.

In short, we all have to live in the real world, not the pretend world where race, identity, ethnicity, etc. does not matter or does not exist. Sure, race matters more here than it might in a place like Brazil and less here than it does in a place like Japan. The fact that race does not mean the same thing everywhere does not mean that it means nothing.

Racism is simply a fact of life for people who are not white in America, just like sexism is a fact of life for women, homophobia for gay families, etc. It's there and pretending that it's not causes more problems.

Parents have the job of teaching their non-white children how to deal with racism, even if the parents do not experience racism themselves. Love matters, but it doesn't just magically help you deal with racial hatred, bigoted jokes, crazy assumptions, hair that no one else has, or people who refuse to date you. Children should not be left on their own to figure all of that out -- the parents need to look ahead and prepare themselves.

This is not a contentious

This is not a contentious topic for me to write about. I grew up absorbing the majority's perception, popular culture's perception the canonized version of America's US vs Them perception of people who looked Asian. It wasn't even from a historical or personal point of view. I had nothing to go on but that. And to make things worse, I had no idea how to rail against this as a young person because I had not identified with being a person of color to begin with. I was raised in a colorblind home. With some knowledge from my mother, that at least Asians were treated better than Blacks or HIspanics. I understood the tokenism and honorary white status Asians could and did hold in some cases in the 70's-today. My life has been very influenced by the political movements WW2, the Vietnam War, and all stereotypes of Asians. What I do now, as a woman in my 40's, is to embrace being me. I try to live from my soul, not from an identity or ethnic identity. And by the way, I recently learned that according to Anthropology-Ethnicity is a flexible term. We can and do take one on and shed it and can repeat it over and over again. Ethnicity is more of a behavior within culture. So that's what I've done. It's taken me a while, and I will never be Korean per se. But I am a great amalgamation of experiences. Every day is new.

Kids aren't raised in a

Kids aren't raised in a vacuum. While their parents are in denial about racism or have the privilege of ignoring it or being unaware of it because it doesn't affect them, non-white children do not have that privilege. When they go out into the world, they will be affected by a world oriented towards whites and affected by racism. They will notice their race, so will others, don't delude yourselves about that. Later, after they have had these experiences and maybe learned more about race relations, they may be hurt when they can't discuss these things with denying parents, when they look back on a childhood where their race was carefully never brought up, as if shameful, or it may hurt when they're children and they want to talk about it and their parents refuse. Etc., etc.

"If there were no market for

"If there were no market for these children, governments wouldn't be so quick to remove them. Ever notice it's the genuinely abused kids so often overlooked by CPS? They know the kids won't be adoptable because they are too traumatized. They go for the easy steals, children with no serious problems within their families, because they'll have the best chance of adjusting. And the younger the better."

Huh? Last time I checked children of color are grossly overrepresented in CPS child removal rates. These children are also the least likely to be adopted or even fostered. If CPS agencies are conspiring to "steal" easily adoptable babies, it sounds like they're doing a pretty bad job of it.

Seems to me like you're conflating two different phenomena - public foster care adoptions and domestic (usually private) infant adoptions.

Lost Touch with Reality

Dana, I dunno where you are getting all your facts, but you have clearly lost touch with reality. "The entire anti-choice movement is about increasing the ready supply for domestic infant adoptoin" is ludicrious! The pro life movement is about just that, pro life and the baby's right to life. And if you would educate yourself the focus is not on white women, but African American women who percentage wise have the most abortions and the most multiple abortions per woman.

I find it particularly insulting that so many of your kind place the blame on those that are trying to do the best they can to help children that find themselves without families and compare it to a supply and demand type situation. Always casting the blame on everyone else except those responsible in the first place...grow up!

In 2009 we adopted our Chinese daughter for no other reason but because she needed a family to take care of her and love her, and we are adopting another Chinese daughter for the same reason.

Whatever twilight zone you're living in is not the nationwide norm. Children are not removed from homes because their parents are poor, they are removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect, and a myriad of other reasons, rich, poor, black, white. Of course there are exceptions and abuses of the system on both ends. You really need to get off of this I am Woman, Hear me Roar pedestal and get out in the real world.

That may have been true at

That may have been true at one point, but I've worked with CPS in several different states, and family reunification is now the number one priority in ALL cases where it's possible. The kids who are removed permanently are kids whose families make no efforts to make the positive changes mandated by the court, often parents with drug problems that go unaddressed over the period of a year despite the fact that the court has ordered (government-sponsored) rehabilitation and (government-sponsored) therapy and parenting classes.

Additionally, the vast majority of children in the foster system are older children (and often children of color) who have been abused and neglected, often over a long period of time. So... I don't know what magical land you're coming from where all of the children in the foster system are easily adoptable, drug-free infants, but it's not the United States.

Thank you thank you. I know a

Thank you thank you. I know a number of adoptees across racial lines, whose parents have very white social circles, and...yeah this is a thing people need to think of.

I'll never forget the day another hapa child saw me & said "will I look like HER when I grow up?!" Getting well through elementary school without even meeting someone who looks like you? Never seeing other people like you in all stages of life? Yeah it's rough. And adoptive parents need to think about it.

celeb trans-racial adoption

There seems to be a lot of trans-racial adoption among celebrities lately, mainly white single movie stars adopting African-American infants (Charlize Theron and Sandra Bullock, to name two). I wonder if any of them have ever spoken about or (we hope) considered the issues involved and how they are dealing with them in their ultra-privileged worlds.

I'm guessing that Charlize

I'm guessing that Charlize Theron has a bit of understanding considering that she's from South Africa.

True, white south Africans

True, white south Africans are notoriously anti-racist".........................

Good article, I'm glad people are talking about this issue now! It is so fucked up "Some" white people think they can take whatever they want, other peoples' kids, other peoples' lands, resources..


I really enjoyed reading this.

Attention must be paid

It's hard enough growing up as a nonwhite child in white-norm America if you live in a diverse city and have nonwhite family. How much more isolated and out-of-place kids must feel if they're the only nonwhite person they ever see! Thanks for writing this.

Well done!

Thanks for writing this Nicole, you did great addressing a topic that as you described, often times gets "blank looks". I have no doubt your words will only benefit and educate both perspective and current adoptive parents. Thanks for the shoutout to CLOSURE too!


I find ignoring racial difference astounding. I actually thought no one could be that out to lunch anymore as to call up the "colour blindness" argument but you bring up an excellent point that my child and many that I know grow up in a very multiracial environment BUT that does not negate the need to talk about, acknowledge race in all its forms. From the minute my son arrived in our family, we have pointed out our various skin colours and hair textures as beautiful but decidely different. Brown was the first colour he knew and he frequently points out his and other people's browness as a point of connection between them. He is very aware that people want to touch his hair and he does not like it. So we've discussed in the most basic of terms how to tell people and how WE a parents will help him tell people to back off (!). He also knows his birthparents so I point out their similarlites as well.. Anyway... I find it scandalous that people aren't doing this from a very young age. We don't like in a post-racial age. I do believe we live in a much better environment for healthy discussions, acceptance etc of race and I'm glad of that. I'm glad that APs are educated around racial differences. Anyway, I LOVE your post and I was very moved by Somewhere Between in particular around race and feelings of belonging. Another point I think parents forget it that their kids may not mention race when they are little but when they hit identity-formation years, it's going to be a big deal. I was also very moved by Closure.


This is a very thoughtful post that examines a controversial and important issue. I love reading your work, Nicole; it reminds me to get out of my narrow zone of experience and really think about the issues that others face.

Such a great, thoughtful

Such a great, thoughtful article, that intelligently ties the author's own experience into a much broader discussion of race. Any potential adoptive parent thinking of transracial adoption needs to consider these issues and avoid the (very human) instinct to get defensive.


Thanks for sharing so honestly about your experiences and thoughts. I have found your article very helpful as I try to introduce and discuss these issues with my son.

White people can't do

White people can't do anything right, just stay out of it!

It's much worse than that.

It's much worse than that. We CAN do things right--but all too often we choose not to. That's far worse.

Let's make it easier to raise our children of color

As a transracial adoptee and mother of two biracial children, I struggle still with how to pass on my Korean culture (which I know little about) to my children. They are curious and proud of their Asian roots.

While it is hard for the transracial adoptee, it can be equally hard for the offspring of the transracial adoptee.

My blog post sums up this feeling:


what about children of transracial adoptees?

Thank you for bringing this up. I think about this a lot -- and often wonder how my daughters will figure out who they are when their mother is missing such a huge part of her own identity. I worry that my kids will feel cheated out of their heritage. And without that positive racial and cultural identification, I think it's inherently more difficult to deal with the challenges of racism, being a POC in the U.S., being a POC in their mostly white families, etc. I'm trying my best to remedy that, and supply or compensate for what's missing, but there's only so much I can do.

racial bias

Thanks for writing and publishing this piece. It is very helpful to me as a Caucasian mother of a Chinese daughter. My daughter's father is Chinese, so that helps her in certain ways vis-a-vis coming to terms with her own identity. But we live in a small city with a tiny Asian population and do not have relatives here. My daughter, who is 6, recently had what I believe might have been her first encounter with racism. She was at a park with her dad having a picnic. She told me that two boys were playing nearby and they were staring at her and her dad. Then one of the boys pulled the corners of his eyes toward his ears and kept on looking at my daughter and laughing and looking away. The next day my daughter informed me that this boy, the one making the exaggerated gestures. was Asian himself. When I asked her what she thought he meant by doing what he was doing her interpretation was that he and the other boy were trying to get her to play with them and that they wanted her to be the villain in their game and to chase them. I wonder how you would suggest I discuss this incident with my daughter in a way that will be healthy for her and that might prepare her for other instances of racism that she might well encounter, keeping in mind her age and level of social comprehension. Many thanks, in advance, for your thoughts.

Judging by your daughter's

Judging by your daughter's reaction it seems that that wasn't her first interaction with racism. What do this young boys expressions even mean without the presence of the white gaze? I don't know why you want to lay the blame for your daughters introduction to anti-Asian racism at the feet of Asian people themselves, and then present yourself, a white person, as her only source of refuge. The problem, if there is any, seems to be with her interpretations of the boys actions, which are completely informed by her current life experience growing up in a white household in a fiercely white supremacist society.

Color-blind parenting is lunacy, and not the norm

My daughter and son are a different color than I am, and it requires a conscious effort to make sure that their culture is respected. I also know that, no matter how well I know them, I never see what they see, even if I'm standing right next to them. I don't understand how anyone could presume to think that denying their children's experiences was a good choice.

If it is any consolation, any good adoption program/social worker will require an adopter to have a plan about how to make sure that their children learn about their culture and meet people who look like them regularly. I had to take multiple courses on parenting children of a different race and talk with transracial adoptees to learn from their experiences. It's not ideal, but, in my children's case, they were siblings with no family who needed a home, and I wanted to be a parent.

I also want to urge people to try not to judge people who choose to adopt this way with cynicism. Most of them are doing it because they want to be parents, and they wanted to parent children who lacked options, not out of some sort of white savior syndrome. The adoption process is a long one, and chances are anyone with superficial motivations would fall by the wayside. I'm not saying that there aren't people who do it for the wrong reasons, but in my experience that the vast majority of transracial adopters are trying to be the best parents possible for their children, and that means that most of them wouldn't dream of ignoring their children's race. (For some reason, though, it's always the ones with the half-baked philosophies who spout off about them.)

Thank you Moretta for your

Thank you Moretta for your comment. Like you said it's not the norm! Is kind of overwhelming sometimes to read some comments....makes you want to apologize for adopting. And the reality is that adopting parents want the best for their children and they would do whatever it takes to make their kids integrated and happy. And race is not deny or erased from them. I often wonder how my daughter life would be back in China were as a special needs child was labeled as "retarded/low iq" (that is not!) plus orphan....she was already stigmatize there. Now she is "labeled" as very smart, has a family who adores her and eventually, yes, somebody will point out she is Asian and we are not. What scenario is better?

Not Better But Best

I don't think this article or the comments are saying it would be better for these kids not to be adopted. Shouldn't people be aspiring to more than just giving these kids *relatively* good starts in life though? As you say, most adoptive parents want the *best* for their children, not just *better*, and to me this piece is about how some of them are (unintentionally) quite ignorant about how to do that when it comes to race and ethnic identity, and how hard it can be even if they do have some knowledge.

The either/or "better"/"best"

The either/or "better"/"best" framework is exactly the one I wanted to move beyond with this article. While many adoptive parents are far better educated on this issue than they used to be, there are still adoption professionals and adoptive parents who either aren't convinced yet or just need more education and support in order to help their children develop a positive racial and cultural identity. Let me stress, again, that this is a difficult task for many parents of color as well. I think we need to be honest about the challenges in order to have a hope of meeting them.

Perhaps the status of special

Perhaps the status of special needs children is not at its best in China but as there are difficulties in the US for people with disabilities, esp for people who are deaf/mute and on average do not have anything higher than a fourth grade education. But nothing is static. There are always going to be social movements, which unfortunately due to censorship in media we may not hear a lot about, for improvement of status of minority and "othered" people. So don't assume that your daughters life would have necessarily been worse without you. Your bond as family is definitely something that cannot be replicated but I'd like to think that there are people in China who would have loved and cherished her and not seen her disabled status as reason to consider her less than.

So try not to fall into either/or thinking. Esp when it perpetuates the idea that predominantly non-white countries do not foster the kinds of children often adopted in the west. The US is certainly no better in terms of neglect of children. A lot people seem to not want to adopt kids b/c they are special needs, they are queer, they are non-white, they are older, etc. A lot of people just seem to want some perfect mythical baby. Not necessarily you, but these prejudices make it hard for kids in the US to find homes. Plus the system itself can be a challenge.

The most offensive thing I

The most offensive thing I hear from pro-adoption people in the U.S. is that they don't need to adopt from U.S. foster care because "those children are already taken care of."

We routinely export American newborns to other nations, as well. It's child trafficking, is what it is. Either people need to be forced to adopt from foster care until the "backlog" is gone or we need to redefine what it means to be a foster child; just because they're not languishing in orphanages doesn't mean they're *doing well,* and too many people refuse to emotionally attach themselves to a child if they can't put their name on the child like he or she is their very own pencil box. I mean what is this, kindergarten?

"The most offensive thing I

"The most offensive thing I hear from pro-adoption people in the U.S. is that they don't need to adopt from U.S. foster care because 'those children are already taken care of.' "

I've read a lot about adoption from different perspectives, and I've never come across this sentiment. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but I doubt it's as common as you seem to think it is. What I have come across somewhat frequently are prospective adoptive parents who feel that they are not equipped to deal with older foster children who may have attachment issues, special needs, and/or a whole host of other psychological problems. I think that's fair, and I don't think such parents should be guilt-tripped into believing otherwise. It's better for everyone that adoptive parents are honest about their limitations in this arena, and I think it's pretty warped that you think anyone should be *forced* to adopt from foster care.

That said, I don't get the practice of renaming adopted children either, and I would never do that to a child I adopt.

It's not about putting your

It's not about putting your name on them, it is about being terrified of putting your heart and soul into bonding with and loving this child, of dealing with the behavioral difficulties and trauma that most children in foster care, possibly for years, all while knowing that at any moment they could be snatched away from you and returned to the bio family that caused the trauma in the first place and leaving you with absolutely zero rights to contact them or even know that they are ok. I've seen it happen, families who were brave enough to adopt from foster care left heartbroken and shattered when the children they had loved for years were returned to their abusers months before the adoption was supposed to be finalised. Emotionally investing in a child as a temporary caregiver is completely different to the emotional investment of being a parent. It has nothing to do with owning a child like a pencil box, it has everything to do with the terror of not having any say in that child's fate.

Biracial/bi-ethnic children face similar issues of identity

I'm glad people are starting to more openly discuss the struggles these adoptees face and the importance of teaching them about their cultural heritage, insuring they get to interact with others from that background with regularity, learning about our white privilege and the very real and prevalent existence of unrecognized bias toward non-whites in this country. I do hope that more adoption agencies are learning about all of this themselves and are better preparing/training trans-racial adoptive parents that there is no such thing as color-blindness. As the very white biological mom to two beautiful daughters whose dad is native South American, I learned this the hard way only after our oldest bore the emotional scars from incidents involving teachers and fellow students, incidents I basically refused to acknowledge or accept as possible "in this day and age" due to my own lack of understanding of my privileged upbringing - privilege I gained simply from being white. She just graduated from high school in a town that considers itself quite diverse and progressive and can't wait to get away to a place where she feels more welcome in the classroom and isn't constantly having to answer the "what are you?" Question from the kids at school -- the same kids that someone in the article said just don't have the issues with race these days that existed a generation ago. I've lived in various parts of the US, as well as South and Central America and my work to provide language access in healthcare for over 90 different language groups has brought me into contact with folks from all over the world. There is no doubt in my mind that being white gives me an edge in virtually every arena in the world. I'm hopeful that as we learn to openly and civilly discuss these issues (and as our genes get more mixed up through inter-racial marriages like mine) we will truly see the day when we judge others "on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin."

Hoping to adopt

My husband and I are hoping to adopt a baby in the near-ish future (however long it takes for someone to pick us is how long it takes) and given the demographics of our region, that child will most likely be African American or biracial. We're white, and we know that transracial adoption brings its own set of challenges. It just doesn't feel right for us to work with an agency in a faraway state in the hope of adopting a white baby--we are committed to an open adoption, so geographical closeness is more important than race. We've been reading everything we can find about transracial adoption and having difficult discussions with each other and our families. (Our agency does cover it in our classes, but we've just started the process.) Your comment is so encouraging to me as we navigate this process. I know we'll make mistakes raising any child, but we're doing our best to be as prepared and humble as possible.

You want to be humble but you

You want to be humble but you want to target a pregnant woman, match with her before the baby is even born, make her feel beholden to you and then promise her an open adoption that she's supposed to trust you with, when that open adoption will not be, in practice, legally enforceable in any state. (In the fewer than half a dozen states that might sometimes make a half-hearted attempt at enforcement, she'd still need a lawyer. If she could afford a lawyer, she wouldn't be "making an adoption plan.") With over 100,000 children in foster care who are already permanently severed from their families of origin, this is just inexcusable.

Please don't. Enough hearts have been broken already. Lobby your state government to take better care of mothers with young babies, and go find a child who actually needs you. That is what it is supposed to be about.

As an adoption professional

As an adoption professional it is very difficult to get this point across to families adopting. Thank you for your post! It was well referenced and hopefully will strike a chord about racial blindness for adoptive families. It's not about doing some Asian dance classes, eating cultural food or visiting "Chinatown". Especially when adoptees leave the protection of their homes to enter the world on their own seen as black, asian or latino.

Recently at a restaurant, I

Recently at a restaurant, I pointed out another family, very similar to ours, white parents and an Asian child. I said to my Korean daughter, "Look, their daughter must be adopted as well." My daughter, who is 10, is fully aware that she is Korean. We have not skimped on exploring her Korean heritage as a family. Yet she still asked me, "How do you know?" What is so obvious to me, was clearly not obvious to her. As parents, we aren't colorblind, but clearly, right now at least, my daughter is. I think growing up in a diverse community, with both adopted and non-adopted multiracial kids has been a big part of her feeling that she "fits in."

Your daughter might just be

Your daughter might just be whip smart rather than colorblind I'd assume from this story. How did you know that was an adoptive family with white parents and an Asian child? "How do you know?" is a valid and interesting question on her part. I'm curious how you answered her. There are a variety of possibilities. It seems like she was calling you out on an assumption, an assumption she encounters everyday and is curious about.

Colorblindness in children

This reminds me of many conversations I had over the years with my children, specifically my daughter... Neither of our children are adopted and we are a Caucasian family which spent 20 years traveling the world with my military husband. The military lifestyle generally opens up a very diverse world to family members and we embraced it. Back to my conversations... From the time my children were very small, I made a conscious effort to NEVER describe their friends, or anyone else, by the color of their skin. It was usually "the little boy with the dark curly hair" or the "blond girl", "the short boy with the red hair", "the really tall girl"... These descriptions were only if I didn't know the child's name of course. When they were in high school, they truly did accept all races as equals and were very offended if someone made a negative distinction based on color of someone's skin. That being said, as older children, we were raising them in a very small town, with very little diversity. I am extremely proud of my children and of the adults they have become. We will be welcoming our first grandchild this year and I would expect our son to raise him/her the same way as he was raised.... maybe judge someone's behavior, but never judge them on their skin color or general appearance.

You should not be so proud

You should not be so proud and self-congratulatory about NEVER describing someone by using the color of their skin. What you've managed to teach your children is that skin color is such a bad thing that it is NEVER to be mentioned. You have bent over backwards to ignore one of the most obvious traits. Would you ever say (in order to teach your kids not to be sexist), I have NEVER described someone by using their gender??

You have also managed to negate one of the most beautiful things about a person. My family is a lovely shade of golden brown. SEE IT. It is gorgeous. Use it to describe us, it's pretty and an accurate way to describe us.

What is wrong is when you attach negative meaning and traits and preconceived notions to the color you work so hard not to see.

we feel lucky...

My wife and I, both white, feel like the luckiest people on the planet experiencing this amazing life we lead as adoptive parents of a seven year old Chinese girl. We are doubly lucky to live in Denver, which has a very large Chinese adoptive community. In fact, when we see a Chinese girl at a restaurant or out shopping, she is almost always with a white family. Our daughter attends a Chinese language school where many of the kids are also adopted, and all of her teachers are Chinese. So we feel incredibly fortunate to be raising our daughter in this area at this time. Will she feel so lucky when she is older and grappling with issues of identity and abandonment, I don't know. But I sincerely hope that the experiences that are shaping her life now will help prepare her for her later, more complicated one.

My wife and I, both white,

My wife and I, both white, feel like the luckiest people on the planet experiencing this amazing life we lead as adoptive parents of a seven year old Chinese girl. We are doubly lucky to live in Denver, which has a very large Chinese adoptive community. In fact, when we see a Chinese girl at a restaurant or out shopping, she is almost always with a white family. Our daughter attends a Chinese language school where many of the kids are also adopted, and all of her teachers are Chinese. So we feel incredibly fortunate to be raising our daughter in this area at this time. Will she feel so lucky when she is older and grappling with issues of identity and abandonment, I don't know. But I sincerely hope that the experiences that are shaping her life now will help prepare her for her later, more complicated one.

thank you for this

Thank you for this. I'm biracial adopted into a bi-ethnic family (which is apparently why my birthmom chose the parents she did), and while I certainly had my share of personal searching to do to fully understand how privilege and prejudice work, I do appreciate that my parents chose magnet schools with diverse populations, took me to Martin Luther King celebrations every year, and made sure to buy books about people who looked more like me. And it helped that I had a sister who, though not the same, also knew what it was like to be mixed. It turned out not to be enough, but what is? Is any person of color ever fully prepared for the big, adult world that is going to interrogate their identity?

It terrifies me when anyone says they're colorblind, since it's a lie and an insult, but it's especially unnerving when parents do it. I hope this opens a few people's eyes.

This is not just a 'white' problem.

I am a little uncomfortable with the ways that a lot of the comments designate problems with biracial adoption as 'white' problems. These problems can equally arise by children being adopted into the homes of ANY other culture.

While I was not adopted, I am a biracial child and have experienced a lot of the problems that are being connected with 'white parents' from when I was sent down to live with my mother's family every summer. I struggled to there because I am so light skinned and did not see myself reflected back in their faces. And I experienced a lot of violent racism because of it as well.

While I know this can't be seen as entirely akin to being adopted, it did give me a glimpse for two months of every year of what it would be like for myself to be adopted into a culture which ignored that my mother was born and raised in their community. Because my father's skin is so white... I also appeared white to some, and this placed me as 'other'. In contrast as well, I wasn't white enough to fully pass when I was home either, so I also faced disbelonging there.

I think it is important to look at the ways in which ALL children can be affected and not focus solely on the fact that white families are the predominant adopters of racialized children. Noting this solely as 'white' families taking children will once again ignore a sector of these children who need representation.

You must not know much about

You must not know much about transracial adoption if you made a comment like that. In the US, it is absolutely a white privilege to be able to adopt children of color. I know many Korean adoptees who all have white adoptive parents, and literally only know of one Korean man who was adopted by people of color (Chinese, so they were the same race, different ethnicities). And it's true that a lot, perhaps even most, white people hate talking about race. Do your research before you try to excuse white adoptive parents for glossing over the issue of race with their adopted kids of color.


You are not alone! We share a bond that can enhance race relations. There are complexities involved but the reality of living in a world that constructs race as part of our differences is a discussion that parents need to have with their kids so they feel secure in themselves to face what lies ahead. We can't change the world overnight but we can support one another to stay strong in a world that expects an explanation for why we have the right to a family regardless of our differences. Our ethnic backgrounds cannot be pushed aside because the lessons of our ancestors will carry us through to the next generation and we deserve to have something to pass on to them. Our kids, adopted or not, will benefit from the knowledge of both sides of society's uncomfortable relationship with the construction of race and privilege.

Without change, there can't

Without change, there can't be change.

inter-racial adoption

The issue of interracial adoption is really complex. Although I am white, I am part Japanese. And I was born and raised in Japan. In many ways that makes me more culturally Japanese than my two children, who we adopted in Japan. We tried to help the children connect to their Asian heritage and made sure they learned Japanese. Yet my children look Asian so they are pigeonholed as Asian even if they don't necessarily feel that Asian. I struggle with many of these issues in my recent book Yokohama Yankee: Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan


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