Cultural Stereotypes Die Hard: The Case of Transracial Adoption

Cultural Stereotypes Die Hard: The Case of Transracial Adoption

Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law

Ezra E. H. Griffith, MD and Rachel L. Bergeron, PhD, JD

September 1, 2006


Transracial adoption (commonly understood as the adoption of black children by white families) has been the subject of a persistent debate among adoption specialists, legal advocates, mental health professionals, and even civil rights advocates in this country for a long time. This has been so despite cumulative research evidence indicating that transracial adoptees can thrive and develop into confident adults with strong senses of identity and self-esteem. We contend that the evidence undergirding transracial adoption has not been effectively persuasive because of the tenacious and ubiquitous cultural belief that children and their potential adoptive parents should be matched along racial lines. However, the cultural principle of racial matching has also been diluted by judicial decisions that have narrowly allowed the use of race as one factor rather than as the controlling factor in adoption decisions. This article focuses on the use of a third element—federal statutory attempts intended to remove race as a controlling factor in child placement decisions. We will show how as a matter of public policy, the statutory efforts were meant to promote race-neutral approaches to adoption and to support transracial adoptions. However, in practice, the statutory attempts may still leave the door open to continued race-matching, which suggests that the cultural preference for race-matching in the construction of families remains powerfully ingrained and difficult to eradicate. As a consequence, transracial adoption appears to maintain its status as a culturally suspect phenomenon.

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