As the number of American transracial adoptions grows, more adoptive parents must grapple with the best way to raise children who don't look like them.
As the number of American transracial adoptions grows, more adoptive parents must grapple with the best way to raise children who don't look like them. iStockphoto.com
It's common for adopted children to grapple with questions about where they come from and how they fit into their new family. But those questions can be particularly hard to navigate when adoptive parents and children don't look alike.
Today, approximately 40 percent of adoptions in America are transracial — and that number is growing. In decades past, many American parents of transracial adoptions simply rejected racial categories, raising their children as though racial distinctions didn't matter.
"Social workers used to tell parents, 'You just raise your child as though you gave birth to her,' " Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, tells NPR's Neal Conan. "An extreme majority of transracially adopted kids ... grew up wishing they were white or thinking they were white, not wanting to look in mirrors."
Pertman's organization has conducted extensive research on transracial adoption in America. He says turning a blind eye to race wasn't good for anybody. "We don't live in a colorblind society," he says.
University of Chicago professor Gina Samuels — who is multiracial and was raised by a white family — has also researched the experiences of children of color who were raised by Caucasian parents. She tells Conan that parents who take a colorblind approach to raising their children often do so with the best of intentions.
"[It] reflects maybe how they hope the world will be someday," Samuels says. "But oftentimes what this ends up doing is having children [meet] the world — the real world — unprepared."
And when parents choose not to address racial difference within the home, Samuels says, "then there's not a family norm of having the ability to come home and talk about it." And that means kids don't have a healthy way of coping with some hurtful situations.
Pertman, who is also the author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming Our Families — And America, says the experience is a lot like a marriage.
"When you marry someone who's of a different race and ethnicity, you don't pretend that it didn't happen," he says. "That doesn't mean that everybody has to deal with it in exactly the same way ... But pretending that race or ethnicity is not an issue in this country — or in one's own family — is not the optimal formula for success."