Article Response – Its Not Just about White Parents

Thanks to Susan Ito for passing on this response to that NY Times Article from yesterday!

South End Press

Press Release
South End Press Announces
Transracial Adoption: It’s Not Just About White Parents

Cambridge, MA – Aug 17, 2006 In today’s New York Times the frontpage headline “Breaking Through Adoption’s Racial Barriers” introduces an in-depth article about white
Americans who have–or are looking to–adopt children of color. But in the inches devoted to the “growing number of white couples pushing past longtime cultural resistance to adopt black children,” we find a series of unasked questions: Why are the so many children of color available for adoption in the first place, both in the US and abroad? How does transracial adoption affect adopted children of color–and their communities? Here and elsewhere, the voices of transracially adopted individuals fall to the margins, voices that are essential to a genuine understanding of this complex issue.

What’s missing?

Jeni Wright paints some of the missing picture with her words: “I lean over the sink so my nose is almost touching the glass and mouth to the ugly girl staring back, you look like an ugly African bush girl, over and over until my breath clouds over my face. I start to write ‘jungle bunny’ in the steam but I am crying too hard to finish. Why hadn’t anyone told me I was so ugly? I don’t even look like a real girl” (Outsiders Within, 27).The difficulties of transracial adoption go far beyond self-esteem, far beyond cultural literacy, infinitely deeper than individual discomfort. As Kim Diehl writes in Outsiders Within, transracial adoption is inextricable from long-standing power imbalances that extend from the personal to the institutional. “I did not have any power in the decision to seal my records; I did not have any power in the decision to take federal money away from social service programs that might have prevented family breakup; I did not have any power in the decision to make it a child placement agency policy to ignore race; I did not have any power to keep from being the physical embodiment of a political process that stamped its approval on transracial adoptions in a country founded on the enslavement and oppression of people of color” (32). Also entirely overlooked is the harm incurred before each transracial adoption ever took place. As Shannon Gibney, a biracial black adult adoptee, puts it, “Once again, the focus is all on the white adoptive parents, and their pain. Once again, adoptees are presented as objects, as children who apparently never grow up, and therefore do not have the capacity to analyze the geopolitical issues that have shaped their identities. Once again, we don’t hear the voices of birth parents or adult adoptees.”  Gibney goes on, “As this article presents it, the only people who are really affected by adoption are white adoptive parents and agencies.

Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption tells a different story. Where the Times reports “More than 45,000 black children were waiting to be adopted from foster care in 2004,” contributor Dorothy Roberts explains that the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, passed to “break through adoption’s racial barriers” has resulted in more black children being permanently severed from their families, adding to the growing list of waiting children. Sure, more white families have access to black children. But at what cost? People are led to believe that because more white families can adopt, that means more black children will have families. The opposite is true. In reality, there are now more black children than ever who will never have a family, stuck permanently in foster care limbo. As the Times reports “in 2004 … about 4,200 [black children from foster care] were adopted transracially … up from roughly 14 percent, or 2,200 in 1998.” In other words, of the 45,000 black children then needing homes because, under federal mandate, the state permanently severed them from them their families of origin (often including grandparents willing and able to care for them),white people adopted 9 percent. The Times quotes Rita Simons, a leading advocate of white adoption of children of color, as saying that this “is a significant increase,” even though what has increased most significantly is the private adoption of black infants placed immediately for adoption, not the adoption of children who have been removed from their former homes for legitimate reasons, let alone the legions removed for the number one reason black, Latino, and Native American children are removed–poverty. Writes Roberts, “the number of white families adopting older children of color, those most ‘in need’ of adoptive homes, remains very low. These children are most likely to be adopted by single Black women” (Outsiders Within, 53). Advocates of transracial adoption frame the debate as one that is about the rights of black children to homes, and making it possible for white parents to provide them. As Outsiders Within reveals, the issue is far more complex. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
About Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption
Healthy white infants have become hard to locate and expensive to adopt. So people from around the world turn to interracial and intercountry adoption, often with the idea that while growing their families, they’re saving children from destitution. But as Outsiders Within reveals, while transracial adoption is a practice traditionally considered benevolent, it often exacts a heavy emotional, cultural, and even economic toll.  Through compelling essays, fiction, poetry, and art, the contributors to this landmark publication carefully explore this most intimate aspect of globalization. Finally, in the unmediated voices of the adults who have matured within it, we find a rarely-considered view of adoption, an institution that pulls apart old families and identities and grafts new ones.
Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption
Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah, and Sun Yung Shin, editors
(South End Press, 2006)
About South End Press:
South End Press is a nonprofit, collectively run book publisher with more than 250 titles in print. Since our founding in 1977, we have tried to meet the needs of readers who are exploring, or are already committed to, the politics of radical social change. Website:

Available for interviews:
Shannon Gibney, Sun Ying Shin, Julia Chinyere Oparah (contributors to Outsiders Within and transracial adoptees) and Asha Tall (publisher at South End Press and a transracial adoptee) are all available for comments and interviews.

Asha Tall
South End Press
phone: 617.547.4002


5 thoughts on “Article Response – Its Not Just about White Parents

  1. I sent this to an A-parent friend who responded that her transracial adoptive parent group found it a little… what was that A word?


  2. I’m angry, too. Unfortunately, I think it is for a different reason than many of my white AP peers. I’m ticked off that the law of the land, MEPA/IEP presumes that: “in the great majority of cases, agencies can assume that a child has no special needs based on race, color, or national origin which should be taken into account in selecting a foster or adoptive parent.” What?!?!? TRAs aren’t blogging and speaking up on panels to say, “My life was easier because I grew up in a segregated white environment.” Foisting children of color on unprepared white AP’s is unethical, INMH. For me, the surprising part of the NY Times article was that a judge actually ruled that the Mebruer’s were “uniquely unqualified because of their limited interaction with black people and culture.” Of course, that decision was overturned. White APs and wannabes have utilized the unearned benefits of whiteness to utilize the adoption beaucracy to get the black and brown children who are disproportionately represented in the US foster care system into their homes. (Hmmm, do I get to use “they” when I’m one of “them” — a white AP with two African American sons? Now, I wasn’t involved in making the laws, but I sure have benefited from the way the adoption industry, public and private, is set up to make it easier for white adults to gain children thru adoption.) The part of MEPA/IEP that is often overlooked is the requirement to recruit adoptive parents of color. To me, this goes hand in had with hiring & retaining social workers of color in public and private agencies. If white social workers can’t work well with African American social workers as peers or as supervisors, then what business do they have placing African American children in adoptive families? Besides, recent research shows that agencies with African American social workers have greater success in recruiting adoptive parents. And the myth that black families don’t adopt is BS. The NY Times article made a brief mention of discriminating practices that prospective black AP’s face, but showed no interest in what it will take to overcome these kinds of barriers. After decades of TRA, its beyond time that those of adopted cross culturally, transracially &/or internationally should be smiling happily or crying tearfully at “that beautiful NY Times article.” Any anger from white AP’s that gets directed to the generations of adult TRA who are speaking their truths is completely misdirected. I like many of my white AP peers, including the Mebruers. Nevertheless, I believe we are failing in our family and community responsibilities by placing our comfort before that of our children. White AP’s should be required to follow thru on each of the suggestions contained in the exercise “What are you willing to do?” available at Additionally, we need to add our voices to the calls for racial justice. Thanks Lisa Marie for the wakeup call! Let’s hope more AP’s tune in and try to get it.

  3. Hi All,

    this is sort of a response to go along with the end of Mollie’s article. I looked at the link about what you are “willing to do” in the effort of TRA, and thought with surprise–“shouldn’t people be doing this anyway!?”

    Also, this post is a wonderful post and a wonderful blog, in general!

    Best Wishes!

  4. […] In a press release in The New York Times, it states that “the difficulties of transracial adoption go far beyond self-esteem, far beyond cultural literacy, infinitely deeper than individual discomfort.” The children of these white parents don’t have role models who look like them, don’t have guidance about how to deal with racism, and often times don’t feel as though they belong either with their own race or with white people. […]

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