Transracial Adoption Documentary: “Off and Running”

There are an estimated 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, over 2% of all U.S. children. Of those adoptions, approximately 8% are transracial adoptions, although reliable and recent data on this is difficult to come by. A compelling documentary called “Off and Running,” (POV) aired recently on PBS.   Here’s a short (2:36) clip:

Transracial adoption is controversial. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers issued a statement that took “a vehement stand against the placements of black children in white homes for any reason,” calling transracial adoption “unnatural,” “artificial,” “unnecessary,” and proof that African-Americans continued to be assigned to “chattel status.”    However, a couple of mid-1990s laws prohibit race from determining adoption placement. The Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994  (MEPA), prohibits an adoption agency that receives Federal assistance from delaying or denying the placement of a child on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent, or the child involved.  And a 1996 change to MEPA, the Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEP), forbids agencies from denying or delaying placement of a child for adoption solely on the basis of race or national origin.

Research about how adopted children do later in life, often called outcome studies, pretty consistently show that adopted kids do ok.   There’s comparatively little research on transracial adoption, but what there is suggests that these kids do ok, too.  One review of a dozen studies consistently indicate that approximately 75% of transracially adopted preadolescent and younger children adjust well in their adoptive homes. (Silverman, A.R. (1993). Outcomes of transracial adoption. The Future of Children, 3(1), 104-118.). A 1996 study  found that transracial adoption was not detrimental for the adopted child in terms of adjustment, self-esteem, academic achievement, peer relationships, parental and adult relationships.(Sharma, A.R., McGue, M.K. and Benson, P.L. (1996). The emotional and behavioral adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: part 1. An overview. Children & Youth Services Review, 18, 83-100.)

Still, transracial adoption within a society that is anything but post-racial means that it can be complicated, as Avery’s story in the documentary highlights.   For an excellent sociological analysis of transracial adoption that deftly combines personal insight with critical observations, I highly recommend Barbara Katz Rothman’s Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption (Beacon Press, 2006). And, if you’re a parent coming to terms with issues around transracial adoption, I also recommend the blog Love Isn’t Enough.


  1. marcg

    Considering that the social norm in this society is white supremacy, how can an institution of this society accurately measure how a Black child raised by white parents is ‘doing’? I can’t trust any of those kinds of statistics.

  2. cordoba blue

    I pasted the following from

    “Those who believe that ethnic identity support race matching and pride can be best preserved if, for example, an African American child grows up in an African American family. Since 1972, the influential National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) has taken this stance, suggesting that interracial adoption is a form of “genocide” and that “black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as black people.”

    “Same race makes sense because it is what the child is accustomed to, what causes the least disruption in the child’s life,” says Toni Oliver, a chairman of the organization. “Oftentimes when people are looking at ‘love is all it takes,’ they seem to overlook the impact race has on our society. Somehow when it’s a case of adoption, race suddenly doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”

    The North American Council on Adoptable Children also has serious reservations. “It is probably optimal if children are placed in same-race, same-culture placements, but we do not condone delaying placement and preventing children from finding homes just to meet that optimal placement,” says spokeswoman Diane Riggs.
    “Another issue is that even though blacks compose only 16% of the population in America, 40% of the children up for adoption are black. Is it right that these children must consistently wait for same race parents? The facts are the younger a child is, the easier he is to place. Waiting means aging and that translates into slimmer changes of being adopted.”
    My own personal feeling is if African Americans feel this strongly about adoption proceedings, let them decide what’s best for their own race. Only allow black children to be adopted by black parents. If this inevitably ends up in black children staying in foster homes or state facilities, then so be it.
    It’s not the best of all possible situations, but if black people really believe it’s “genocide” for black children to be placed in a white home, then a state institution is better.Personally, I think it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. However, I’m white, so I can’t relate at all. It’s true that love is not enough. Ideally, whites shouldn’t raise a black child if it interferes with the child’s sense of self.
    However, we don’t live in an ideal world, do we? An attitude of viewing whites as genocidal individuals instead of families who want a child to love will inevitably result in the African American children as the victims..not by any stretch of imagination the white families. The end result in labeling potential white parents as genocidal will be that many black children have no parents whatsoever. Making a statement against white people, taking a hostile stand against white people, at the cost of black children, is not the most reasonable or benevolent solution to this problem.
    It’s called triage. Work with what is, and save the ones you can, rather than merely dreaming of an ideal world while black children wait alone in institutions until racism in this country no longer exists. I’m not at all saying don’t fight racism. I’m just saying these children don’t have that kind of time! They are not sociologists or politicians or anti-racists.They are children. That should be the first consideration, over a world where racism no longer exists, because who knows when this will be accomplished.

  3. No1KState

    I hope to catch this the next time it comes on. I think it helps that the couple who adopted her are lesbians – looking at some numbers, they seems to be the most likely to be aware of their own racial biases. Also helpful is that the other kids are of color.

    It’s touching the way one mother tells her “exactly” who she is. I have two cousins who’re adopted; they could find their birth parents, move, and change their names, they’d still be my little cousins. That said, questions of identity occur in just about any adoption, regardless of issues of race. Race will be just one more multilayered question.

    For what it’s worth, all things being equal, black children should be placed with black families (and the same with other racial minorities, of course). My biggest concern is more that the child is taught to recognize and resist racism and racist stereotypes about her/himself as well as others.

    But where transracial adoption does occur, I do think it’s important to connect that child to some part of his/her ethnic heritage. Whether in terms of religion or literature or anything else. The child shouldn’t be left to think that people who look like them are abnormal or defective. It’s also important not to have this child in a situation where they’re the only raisin in the neighborhood pie. I went to a school that was about 50/50 black to nonblack students, and still ended up as the only black child in several of my classes. So yeah, I was “alone” when my AP history teacher declared that slavery wasn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. Uh, awkward.(He also said that women have had more power in marriages throughout history, so take that for what it’s worth.) I can’t imagine having my childhood experience without the counteraction of racial awareness and solidarity. I couldn’t prove my teacher wrong at the time and so just sat there, but at least I knew he wasn’t right.

    And for the love of all that’s good and holy, if you adopt, or have, a black daughter and you don’t know how to do black hair – learn or find someone who does! Don’t have your child going around looking like “who shot john and forgot to kill’im!” (I’m not absolutely sure what that means, but Alfre Woodard says it in LOVE AND BASKETBALL and it’s one of my favorite lines.) WomanistMusings wrote a blog post complaining about the way Angelina and Brad let their African daughter look out in public.

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