Transracial adoption occurs when two parents of one race or ethnicity adopt a child of another (Hoffman, Pena, 2013). Through the years there has been significant controversy surrounding transracial adoptions as it has been said that “(white families) no matter how well intentioned, may be ill equipped to help black children survive in a racist society and develop a healthy sense of themselves and racial identity” (Butler-Sweet, 2011).
Most notably the National Association of Black Social Workers [NABSW] have repeatedly voiced their opposition to transracial adoptions since the 1970’s, pecifically in regards to black children equating it to genocide. There has been a significant amount of research done surrounding the impact of transracial adoption on racial identity and development, but little has been done to document its impacts on one’s social identity past childhood.
The Law Adoption in the United States has historically relied on agencies matching children with homes that would be racially homogenous with themselves in which they often used superficial characteristics such as hair texture to determine placement (Sweeney, 2013 as cited in Bartholet, 1991; Melosh, 2002). It was not until 1948 when the Child Welfare League of America changed the guidelines to allow a child to be placed with any family that would accept them (Sweeney, 2013).
Despite this Sweeney (2013) states racial matching still continued although transracial adoption became more popular during the 1960’s. It was then in the 70’s that the NABSW, the National Urban League and many other agencies spoke out against transracial adoption on the premise that it was harmful to the racial identity of black children and presumed forced racial assimilation (Sweeney, 2013 as cited in Bartholet, 1991; Perry, 1993-1994).
In 1978, the Indian Welfare Act (ICWA) passed which focused on Native American children remaining in their community and keeping their cultural ties (Sweeney, 2013 as cited in Woodhouse, 1995). This law conflicted with the passing of the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) in 1994, which made agencies act colorblind upon making placements, but did not include Native American children who would still abide by the ICWA (Sweeney, 2013).
While the NABSW critiques had faded during the 80’s they reignited after the passing of MEPA. MEPA attempted to make race and culture irrelevant for non-Native American adoptions by eliminating the racial policies, which were thought to delay placing children of color (Brooks, Barth, Busier, & Patterson, 1999). In 1996 MEPA was amended by the Interethnic Adoption Provisions to remove barriers to transracial adoption. While meant to help, these laws did not often produce actual results.
The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being “found that only 8 percent of child welfare agencies in their stuff implemented new recruitment resources following the passage of the MEPA and only 2 percent of agencies in the study experienced a change in their client ase” (Jennings, 2006). Challenges for Transracial Adoptees In the Journal of Comparative Family Studies Colleen Butler- Sweet (2011) lists that transracial adoptees score lower on racial identity measures, have greater confusion regarding their ethnic identity and are less adjusted.
Additionally, Butler-Sweet (2011) found that confusion regarding racial identity could be dangerous to a child’s development and lead to behavioral problems and psychological distress. Through the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, Hoffman and Pena (2013) dd to Butler-Sweets findings by stating “for many transracial adoptees, ethnic identity can be a complicated journey because they have no contact with their biological parents or native cultures.
Although many adoptive parents try to educate their children about their cultures of origin, these children still face unique developmental challenges”. They further state that transracially adopted children face issues because they do not look like their parents and also do not match “established racial identity models because of their unique experience of being people of color growing up in white homes”.
Rarely does this unique experience get viewed through the eyes of the adoptees as Reynolds, Ponterotto and Lecker (2016) state that “historically the voices of transracially adoptees have been filtered through the perspective of adoptive parents, social workers, and journalists/writers” (as cited in Jones, 2015), but Sara Docan- Morgan (2011) sought to change that through her 2011 study on topic avoidance with Korean adult adoptees and their adoptive parents.
Her major findings suggest that “adoptee participants reported having received a range of racially derogatory essages, including appearance attacks, ethnicity attacks, and physical attacks. Most participants reported avoiding discussing these occurrences with their adoptive parents due to parent unresponsiveness and/or self protection” (Docan-Morgan, 2011).
The Debate Conna Craig (1995) states that there is plenty of evidence supporting the idea that delays in adoption cause harm to children, but little evidence supporting that transracial adoption does any harm at all. Craig (1995) continues to argue that “to insist that successful adoption means placing a child in a family f his racial or ethnic heritage is to overlook what every adopted child understands intuitively: Adoption is not easy. No matter how much a child’s family looks like him, it does not alter the fact that someone gave him up” (Craig,1995).
Craig also points out a study done by the Search Institute of Minneapolis in which 881 adopted children and 1262 adoptive parents were surveyed and it was found that children who were adopted fared as well as or better than a sample of non adopted adolescents in the areas of self-esteem, mental health, school achievement and the amount of time spent helping others. Another study (20- year longitudinal) conducted by Rita Simon of American University found that international adoptions caused none of the problems listed by the NABSW.
She actually found the opposite to be true whereas black children adopted into white homes typically grow up with a “positive sense of their black identity and knowledge of their history and culture. ” Simon also found that transracial adoption could create adults who have “special interpersonal talents and skills at bridging cultures”. Craig goes on to say that “it is time to shatter the myth that doptive parents are interested only in healthy white babies”.
Ivor Gaber a member of Children First, a group dedicated to looking at the best interest of the child, finds similar conclusions, stating “race and ethnicity are important in considering a child’s future, but that sometimes, the best available placement is not going to be a perfect ethnic match” (Gaber, 1998). Gaber (2008) further states that when adoption agencies spend lengthy amounts of time searching for a ethnically matching family it just adds another obstacle social workers must circumvent.
Identity of Transracial Adoptees Adoptees often report being happy to have been adopted and recognize that they have certain privileges and freedoms by living in the United States, but “there was often a denial of loss or indication that adoptees felt the benefits of their of their transracial adoption outweighed the loss and misfortune they experienced” ( as cited in Kim, 2010). This is seen as an internal conflict where in one aspect adoptees feel thankful for their family, but feel a sadness of sorts “linked to a sense of loss of birth family and a longing to fill the void in their identities, even f they struggle to express these feelings” (as cited in Kim, 2010).
Reynolds, Ponterotto and Lecker (2016) state that identity and identity development are complicated because of the many variables that impact ones identity. They further state that “both racial and ethnic identity are continuously constructed and co- constructed based on an individual’s sense of acceptance/ rejection or belonging/exclusion, or in others words an individual’s psychological orientation to belonging to a group (as cited in Kim, Suyemoto & Turner, 2010). Further research has ound that transracial adoptees most often identify with their adoptive parent’s culture (Padilla, Vargas, & Chavez 2009).
These identities evolve and mature throughout the course of life, often during key developmental periods or as a result of unexpected experiences (e. g. , racism). In addition, they are affected by social reference points as well as group acceptance, and have implications for psychological well-being” (Reynolds, Ponterotto, & Lecker 2016). Reynolds, Ponteroto & Lecker (2016) center their research on identity, but touch on transracial adoptees social dentity by declaring that transracial adoptees may face inconsistency with their ascribed and declared identities.
Patricia K. Jennings (2006) supports this idea in her publication on the trouble with the Multiethnic Placement Act by stating that studies have found that identity problems can arise as children mature (as cited in Abdullah, 1996). Social Identity Theory “Social Identity Theory (SIT) suggests that belonging to certain groups occurs through categorization and affective components that are associated with group memberships” (Feitosa, Salas, Salazar, 2012). Simply put, a person’s social identity is their sense of self, based upon their group memberships.
Social identity theory also suggests “that social group membership, also called collective identity, has an impact on self- esteem” (Aviram, Rosenfeld, 2002). The groups that one belongs to deliver a sense of belonging to the social world, these memberships can include ones extracurricular activities, ones church, ones neighborhood and ones family. It is in these groups that categorizations are made about perceived similarities including values, behavioral norms, speech, and attitudes (Stets, Burke 2000).
The importance of in-groups on one’s social identity was emphasized as Stets and Burke state (2000) ” one’s identities are composed of the self-views that emerge from the reflexive activity of self-categorization or identification in terms of membership in particular groups or roles”. Stets and Burke (2000) further state that “having a particular social identity means being at one with a certain group, being like others in the group and seeing things from the groups perspective”. According to Aviram and Rosenfeld (2002) “this may not be possible for individuals who are members of a stigmatized group”.
This is only one component of social identity theory, covering merely the macrosocial aspects of the attitudes of others, known as “Me”(Loewen, W. , Loewen, G. , Loewen S. , & Pauls, 2013 as cited by Jean-Claude Deschamps, 85). The other component of social identity theory is the microsocial component known as, “T”, the reaction to the attitude of others (Loewen, W. , Loewen, G. , Loewen S. , & Pauls, 2013 as cited by Jean-Claude Deschamps, 85). Ones full sense of self comes from the management of the social expectations of others, ones owns desires and ones own feelings about the correlation or discrepancies between the two (Loewen, W. Loewen, G. , Loewen S. , & Pauls, 2013).
Social Identity of Transracially Adopted Adults Considering the wealth of knowledge done on identity and the racial and ethnic developmental impacts of transracial adopted children it is clear that the research needs to expand further into the social arena. It is commonly thought that one “finds” themselves during adolescence, achieving a solid sense of self. As result, in adulthood many would say that they have a secure social identity.
This did not occur simultaneously though, it was one’s family, neighborhood, class, and their many other group memberships that helped form this, but what happens when one’s outward appearance does not match the majority of these groups? This study examines the different variables that influence transracial adoptees social identity. The study seeks to answer the research question; do adopted transracial adults experience a secure social identity? The goal is to analyze the responses of transracial adoptees to determine whether or not their interethnic adoption has impacted their social identity.