By Barbara Freedgood, LCSW

As events in this country push the important conversation about race to the forefront, I am moved to speak on this matter as it relates to adoption. I take this on with a gulp since it is almost impossible to talk about race without offending someone, or making some faux pas, but I think it’s important, so I will try.

Those who are part of the adoption community well know how adoption exists at the cutting edge of many social issues: the modern family, diversity and difference, the right to open records, identity and equality. Among these no topic is more profoundly charged and difficult to navigate than race.

In the adoption community we have a unique situation: parenting across race. Many families formed by adoption are transracial. More often than not the parents are white, raising children of color who they have adopted. There is a complex web of issues that lead to this parenting arrangement in the first place. Suffice it to say that the privilege white Americans often enjoy places them in a position to adopt and care for children who come from less privilege and who are often not white, whether they are American or foreign born. I am limiting this to speaking about the U.S. since this is where I live and what I know.

Of course when people think about adopting they are not usually thinking about these social issues. They are thinking about having a family and loving a child. They are no more prepared to parent a child of another race than they are to navigate all the complication and loss that they will face with their child being adopted, whether they are of the same race or not.

More often than not adoptive parents bond well to their children which of course is what we all hope for. The weakness in transracial adoption is that white parents can become color blind to their child. They love them and see them as their child. They can forget that when their child goes out in the world, the world sees them as the color they are and often reacts to that first. White parents can remain unaware of what they send their children out into the world to face because they do not experience it themselves. It is so important that this does not happen.

Parenting a child of another race requires that we see clearly what our children of color face and that we help them to navigate a world that sadly contains racism and discrimination that white people do not have to experience. I see this as perhaps the most significant contribution we in the adoption community can make to challenging the status quo of race in our society. As April Dinwoodie or the Donaldson Adoption Institute says, “It’s not enough to think you can love a child of any color.” You have to be prepared to take on the difficult moments when your child and your family are on the receiving end of discrimination.

As recent events have unfolded, I find the parents in my groups who are raising children of color struggling to understand and support their children in a world that sees and reacts to them differently. We have had soul searching dialogue and experienced some of the pain that this issue gives us when we allow ourselves to feel it, something that is so hard but so necessary to do if we are truly going to help our children.

I recently encountered an article entitled “Why it is so Hard to Talk to White People About Racism”. I share it with you here because I think it provides an important and useful framework for thinking about this topic, particularly for those of you are living in multiracial familes formed by adoption. You are on the front lines of talking to white people about racism and of challenging your own which we all have to do:


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