• Cathy Holt

Transracial Adoption and Our Society Today.

Transracial Adoption and Our Society Today. By James Earl, MPA, LBSW

NOTE: Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer

Over the past few weeks, I have watched a number of documentaries addressing race relations in the US. From King in the Wilderness, Spies in Mississippi, and James Baldwin’s I am Not Your Negro, I have made a concerted effort to contextualize present day events through the lens of the past.

Most recently, I watched Black, White, & US, a documentary on transracial adoption. It highlights the experiences of four white families in Utah who to unlearn their beliefs about racism as they raise adopted African American children. (Interesting fact: Utah is the nation’s leader in transracial adoptions.) This documentary is essential viewing for any white person seeking to understand an aspect of the African American experience. It raises the difficult question: are white parents culturally equipped to raise African American children. More than forty years ago, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) had this to say on the subject: 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. (Trans-racial Adoption Position Statement, National Association of Black Social Workers, 1972, pp. 2–3)

The crux of this argument is the preservation of the child’s identity. To come to a minimal understanding of this stance, all one needs to do is research how slavery effectively robbed black people of their identity by forcing them to adapt to a different culture. I am in no way implying that transracial adoption is akin to slavery, but the documentary explicitly questions the aptitude of white parents to help black children maintain their culture and sense of self.

Watching the film, I was infuriated to see what amounted to me as consistent attacks on black identity:

· Family #1 shared a story that illustrated the criminalization of black boys - when a teacher told the family’s 9-year old son he would go to jail in the future if he continued to behave as he was. However, as his mother observed in the classroom, he was acting no differently than the rest of his white classmates yet the teacher was not disciplining them equally.

· Family #2 recalled discovering their child playing slave and master with the child of a family friend. You can guess who was playing the slave.

· Family #3 discussed how family members tried to suppress their child’s black identity when he wore his afro because they did not want him to look “too ethnic”.

· Family #4 described a cautionary tale they’ve seen play out and hoped not to repeat. At a young age, a black child’s process of self-identification in a white family begins when they go from a recognition of color to a recognition of difference in color. As they transition into grade school, children begin to associate racial identity with society at large. Then in high school, they become more culturally aware and begin to gravitate toward elements of black culture, if they haven’t already. For white parents in conservative communities, this poses a problem as they look down on black or “urban” culture. As a result, parents begin to distance their child from influences tied to race, and the teenager typically begins to feel alone and culturally isolated.

If the parents are willing to assess, internally, if they fear black culture, there can be a point of reconciliation, but if they begin this reflection when the child is in high school, it comes too late.

At the outset of the documentary, I would say my beliefs about transracial adoption (I was unaware of the NABSW statement before the documentary) were directly aligned with the NABSW, but I also believe every child, black or white, deserves to thrive in a happy and a healthy home. Then I recalled 1 Corinthians 13:13:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I believe in the transformative power of love. Thus, any act to understand an individual, to be more empathetic to their experience, is an unequivocal act of love. I was inspired by the self-discovery of each family as they underwent the painful process of unpacking their implicit biases, shedding their ignorance, and acknowledging their white privilege - all in the name of love. As they became more enlightened, I was hopeful as they challenged the micro-aggressions, prejudices, and outright racism of those around them. In many ways, the responsibility of becoming the parent of a black child forced them to broaden their perspective. How could I not draw a parallel from their experiences to the times we find ourselves in today? We are in a moment in history that is forcing all of us to broaden our perspectives, especially those seeking to understand what it means to be black in America. The experience of each parent in Black, White &US gives me faith that society at large can transform its perspective on black lives.

Film Trailer: Black, White & US


James Earl is a Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker and certified personal trainer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington. James brings 10 years of experience into the social work profession and 10 years in the fitness industry. James’ personal experience and passion for oncology social work were shaped by the loss of his mother and grandfather to cancer at early moments in his life. As a program director, at Cancer Care Services he oversees the Survivorship Program and Community Outreach. James is also a fitness entrepreneur and the co-owner & group fitness instructor at Dream Performance. James is married with 2 children. He currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas. His hobbies include reading, fitness, and sports.

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