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


The case for trans-racial adoption

Increasingly, adopting a black child is the first choice for many families that aren’t black. I asked around and the reasons for adopting trans-racially were as varied as the families that told the stories. For some, adoption, specifically the adoption of a black child, had been a lifelong dream. Others said that they just wanted a child, any child – race was not an issue for them. And still others fell in love with a child who just happened to be black. Finally, there are some families (although not as many as people suspect) whose decision to adopt was as much about social justice as about building a family. In all of these cases, trans-racial adoption was an easy choice.

Our story

Our own journey contains many of these elements. For us, years spent battling with infertility meant that we had to fully mourn the loss of a biological child who ‘looked like us’ before we moved on to adoption. By the time our daughter arrived, I was reconciled to having a child that ‘was like us’ instead. Oddly, being a step-parent really helped. I have two beautiful step-daughters who were raised by their mum. They look like me (in the same way that a white adopted baby would – they have the same skin colour) but they don’t share any of my mannerisms, my sense of humour, my inflections, my approach to the world. Astonishingly, at the age of three, my adopted daughter is far more like me in every way. And despite the difference in our skin colour, people say that she looks like me, and like our biological son. Actually, they are right, when we are together, we are so obviously a family. Of course, if we had adopted any child of any skin colour our experience would probably have been the same and maybe that is my point – love makes a family and nurture is profound.

While I don’t dispute the challenges she may have to face being a black child in a white family, our daughter’s identity has been a source of wonder for us. One of the big myths about trans-racial adoption is that we love our children despite them being black. An adoptive mom recently described how a friend had said: “Well, I guess you don’t see her as black any more”. She was dumbfounded and I can relate. I will never think that my daughter is anything other than black, but instead of seeing that as something negative to be overcome, we see the colour of her skin as one of the many things that make her special.

At first, my husband wrestled with the fear that he might not be able to protect his daughter from the prejudice of others, but it was short-lived. The thought of leaving a helpless child to be raised in an institution, without a family, was so appalling that it was inconceivable for him to allow his fears to get in the way of the adoption.

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And, our family was very supportive. Our prejudiced grandparents are long gone and even if they weren’t, we are optimistic that our love for our child, and the delightfulness of our daughter (she has a real talent for engaging with people and making them feel special) would have challenged even the most dearly held intolerances. As far as others are concerned, it seems that all children (not just those adopted trans-racially) are doomed to being teased and misunderstood at times. After almost three years, we have yet to experience it personally but it may come and if it does, I am hopeful that our child will feel secure and loved enough to be able to deal with it.

Realistically, even if our family had wanted to adopt a white child, it would have been extremely unlikely. We were older adoptees (40, and over in the case of my husband) with a biological child. We would not have been accepted by an agency and our best option for a same race adoption would have been to find a birth mother who wanted us to raise her baby (something I was terrified of doing because of the prevalence of adoption scams targeting desperate people at their most vulnerable). I am grateful that it wasn’t a desire for us, anecdotal evidence suggests that if it had been, we might still be a one-child family.

But in the end, none of these factors were pivotal for us. Despite my brief wobble early on, I knew from the start that my daughter would grow in another woman’s womb and that she would be black – that was God’s plan for us. Maybe that is why I find it so hard to explain to others, it wasn’t about the absence of a negative or even about pragmatism, we adopted Asha because we knew with a certainty that the daughter meant for us was black. Adopting her was the most natural, most wonderful, most beautiful thing imaginable.

In some ways I wish I had more of a persuasive argument, a story of a big heart transformation that I could talk about. I wish for it because in my heart of hearts I want people who are closed to trans-racial adoption to reconsider – for no other reason than that there are so many children, mostly black, in need of families; and so many families, mostly white, coloured and Indian, in need of children, and I wish that they would find each other. It also breaks my heart that some families will be forced to choose between a same-race child and no child at all.