Facing Race in Adoptive Families

Children adopted into families whose race or ethnicity differs from their own—transracial adoptive families—force their parents to confront uncomfortable racial realities. Some opponents of the practice believe that, because White parents have little experience navigating a socially stigmatized racial identity, they cannot adequately prepare children of color for a society rooted in racial inequality.

In Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Carla Goar and her colleagues explore how transracial adoptive parents understand and address race in their homes. They interviewed 56 parents who attended “culture camps,” which connect families to information, community, and support with the hope that children will gain a sense of connection to their birth culture. (Some camps focus on culture, while others branch out to include to race.) The families provided an ideal focal group, since many already acknowledged that race was an important issue to address.

Of the parents interviewed, 15% used a “colorblind” discourse, which tends to ignore race out of fears that addressing it actually creates a racial divide. Another 19% used a “race-conscious” discourse, meaning they acknowledged racism and the structural disadvantages experienced by people of color. But a majority of the parents blended colorblind and race-conscious discourses, acknowledging a racial hierarchy one moment and claiming that we are all part of “one human race” the next.

Raising children of color forces White transracial adoptive parents to address a history of privilege they’re not always able to leave behind. However, parents who attended camps that explicitly addressed race used colorblind discourses least often, demonstrating that although racial dynamics are deeply rooted, they are also malleable. Reshaping racial dynamics, the authors argue, will require motivated, diverse, and critically engaged families and communities.