Last updated on Jun 10th, 2021 at 06:46 pm


Why are people reluctant to adopt trans-racially?

I questioned loads of people and came up with two key reasons why some families avoid trans-racial adoption:

  • Stigma and identity – the deep-seated desire to have a child who looks like them, anxiety about their child’s identity as a teenager and adult, and concerns about the stigma of adoption.
  • Fears and prejudices – sometimes those of the adoptive parents, but often from other people in their inner circle.

Stigma and identity

Historically, stigma has been a huge factor. Growing up, one of my close friends was adopted and her perception was that she was matched to her adoptive family predominantly on the basis of looks. It was back in the day when the Government prohibited trans-racial adoption and it appears that this obsession with being with people like you extended to adoption. This may have been largely about identity but it also spoke of a deep-seated reluctance to bring unrelated children into the family. After years of infertility, my aunt and uncle told my grandparents that they were considering adoption. Their reaction was swift and merciless, that no adopted child would inherit anything from them. Perhaps they would have reconsidered but I suspect that their obsession with ‘genetic purity’ would have stopped them from loving an adopted child. Sadly, my aunt and uncle didn’t find out – they abandoned their plans and remained childless.

Careful matching meant that in many cases, children didn’t even know they were adopted. Years ago I watched an episode of the brilliant sitcom Friends, in which one of the characters inadvertently told a small boy that he was adopted. It made an impression on me both because of the exquisite awkwardness of the situation – it made me squirm – and because my brother and I had apparently done the same thing when we were children. It never occurred to us that our seven-year-old friend didn’t know he was adopted or that we had been the first to tell him. It is a painful memory, especially now that I understand what his parent’s unwillingness to share his adoptive status must have done to him.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

I would love to say that the stigma is long gone but sadly, there is still a lot of prejudice about adoption. Many people feel that it is easier to just avoid public acknowledgement. Looking the same goes a long way to helping you avoid the scrutiny of strangers and the need to have the adoption discussion so often and so openly with your child.

And, identity goes even deeper. Many families, especially those that have come to adoption via a long hard journey with infertility, are desperate to adopt a child that looks like them. When you speak to people who have given up on fertility treatment, one of their biggest areas of grief is that they will never have a child with their looks, mannerisms and abilities. Some people find this very hard to get over.

Fear and prejudice

In a country like South Africa, fear and prejudice is almost self-explanatory. Even families that are comfortable with the thought of adopting a black child are sometimes tormented by concerns about how their family’s and society’s fears will affect an innocent child. The anxieties vary from family to family (everything from grandparents rejecting the child to bullying from people outside the family). And for many, the biggest fear is that they will not be able to love a child that is black. Regardless, the result is usually the same, a reluctance to risk trans-racial adoption. Even families that do go on to adopt black children speak about having had to overcome some or all of these fears, prejudices and identity challenges first.