Transracial Adoption – No Longer a Black and White Issue

Transracial Adoption – No Longer a Black and White Issue

Afropean: Adveures in Afro Europe

Nat Illumine

N.b. This article is based on research conducted by the author for an undergraduate dissertation entitled ‘A Political Minefield: Transracial Adoption Policy and the Mixed Race Experience’ (2013) alongside a British Association of Adoption and Fostering conference entitled: ‘Transracial Placements: No longer a Black and White Issue’ (held on July 7th 2014). This articles focuses on transracial adoption but does not explicitly focus on the mixed race experience.


There has been an on-going and controversial debate in the UK about transracial adoption – the practice of white families adopting children from ethnic minorities. The debate has a complex history, and British governments have historically flip-flopped on policies, on the one hand attempting to place ethnic minority children with loving parents as quickly as possible, and on the other hand trying to ensure racial, ethnic and religious matching between adoptive parents and adopted children, with varying degrees of success. Whether white parents are able to successfully raise ethnic minority children with a sound sense of racial identity, as well as effectively preparing them for the racism they may experience, is central to the debate.

The History of Transracial Adoption in the UK

Transracial adoption (TRA) began in the UK in the 1960s to allow white parents to adopt ethnic minority and mixed race children, because the number of white childless couples wanting to adopt far exceeded the number of white infants in care. The British Adoption Project was also set up in 1965 to address the increasing numbers of non-white children in care who were deemed ‘hard to place’ due to their ethnicity, thus establishing TRA in which white families were adopting non-white children…

…Racial Literacy and “Race Mixing” in the General Population

There has been markedly little research into the racial literacy of white parents and the potential strategies they may offer to transracially adopted ethnic minority children in combating racism and formulating positive identities. Racial literacy is defined as an understanding and appreciation of both racial and cultural differences, as well as the realities of racism and discrimination. White mothers have been specifically positioned within this discourse as failing to both inculcate a positive racial identity in their (transracially adopted or mixed race) children and effectively assist them in dealing with racism.

The academic and social commentator Jill Olumide (2002) posits TRA as a discourse about race mixing that is mediated by professional welfare organisations, citing adoption and fostering policy as ‘one of the few areas in which race mixing may still be prevented’. Olumide suggests that opposition to TRA problematises bonds in interracial families by suggesting that bonding between different races is unnatural. This view allows for social work professionals to ‘define the racial “needs” of poor children’, creating specific knowledge claims which are then perpetuated by the media as a discursive device against race mixing…

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