"A Healthy Black Identity" Transracial Adoption, Middle-Class Families, and Racial Socialization

Article excerpt


  Black children belong physically and psychologically and culturally
  in black families where they receive the total sense of themselves
  and develop a sound projection of their future. Only a black family
  can transmit the emotional and sensitive subtleties of perceptions
  and reactions essential for a black child's survival in a racist
  society. Human beings are products of their environment and develop
  their sense of values, attitudes, and self-concept within their own
  family structures. Black children in white homes are cut off from the
  healthy development of themselves as black people (National
  Association of Black Social Workers, 1972, p. 2-3).

More than 35 years ago the National Association of Black Social Workers [NABSW] formally declared its opposition to transracial adoption [TRA], particularly the adoption of black children by white families. While the controversy reached a fever pitch in 1972 with the NABSW position paper, the debate surrounding transracial adoption has waned over the past decade. The controversy has been recently re-ignited, however, by the May 2008 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute Report which questions the benefits of "color blind" adoptions as mandated by the Multiethnic Placement Act. Based on a synthesis of the literature on transracial adoption, the report recommends that race be reinstated as one factor in the adoption placement process. Proponents of transracial adoption have responded by arguing that re-instating race as a factor in adoptions will mark a return to the practice of rigid race matching that was widespread throughout the 1970's and 1980's (Crary, 2008).

The transracial adoption controversy has typically focused on concerns that white families, no matter how well intentioned, may be ill equipped to help black children survive in a racist society and develop a healthy sense of themselves and racial identity (Grow & Shapiro, 1974; McRoy & Zurcher, 1983; Simon and Alstein, 2002). Critiques are often based on assumptions about the identity of black children raised by their biological parents, yet there is little focus placed on black children raised in black homes who may or may not also struggle with racial identity development. Moreover, while the race of parents in relation to children is at the center of the transracial adoption debate, studies rarely delve into socialization practices of biracial families headed by one white and one black parent.

Most studies of transracial adoption, including those cited in the recent Donaldson Report, also overlook the importance of class in shaping identity. Similar to the understanding that family is critical to racial identity formation, socioeconomic class also has a tremendous impact on how parents socialize their children (Brimeyer, Miller, & Perucci, 2006; Dereene & Tai, 1975; Hansen, 2005; Hochschild, 1989; Kohn & Schooler, 1983; Lareau, 2003). The small but important literature that does exist on middle-class black identity suggests that the experience of being black and middle-class is different from that of the black working-class and poor. Recently, Lacy (2007) has found that the black middle-class faces a dilemma whereby the disadvantages of being black and the advantages of being middle-class are combined, shaping a complex and multidimensional middle-class black identity. However, most of the literature on black identity and transracial adoption tends to overlook the importance of socioeconomic class. Moreover, the majority of research on transracial families focuses on middle-class informants, while research on black families typically focuses on the working-class and poor (Lamb, 1999; McAdoo, 2006; Taylor, Chatters, Tucker & Lewis, 1990; Willie, 1991). To fully understand and fairly compare racial identity development for black youths from different racial family backgrounds, it is necessary to understand how class impacts their racial identity development. …


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