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Questions for Potential White Transracial Adoptive Parents

Elizabeth Behrens

“How do I find other Black kids for them to play with?”

I was asked this question by a White adoptive mom of two Black preschool-aged daughters. After I recovered from the shock of the question, I responded she needed to start by meeting Black families in her neighborhood, children’s preschool, and church. If those places offered no possibilities, then the problem was much bigger than she imagined.

While I’m no expert on transracial adoption (being only 5 years into the experience myself), I do talk to many prospective, White adoptive families deciding if they should adopt outside their race. I keep talking and typing on this issue, because the situations that led to these questions should never be a reality for a White adoptive family of Black children.

Starting the Conversation 

The first question I ask families as they consider walking this road is, “Are you aware that love is not enough?” It takes people aback. But if a White couple believes they can raise a Black child simply by loving them “just like any other child”, they are not prepared for the complexities of bringing up a child in our racialized society. Love is only enough if it spurs the family to fully examine their own White privilege, fragility, and identity and leads them to dive into the challenges and realities of being Black in America.

But that’s just the beginning.

Will Your Child Be the First Black Person to Regularly Eat Dinner Around Your Table?

If you don’t have any Black friends close enough to you that they are a regular part of your life, you are not ready to adopt a Black child. Your child needs to see themselves mirrored in their world and yours. You need to have a broader understanding of racial issues. Neither of these things is authentic or truly possible if your entire circle of friends are fellow White people.

Will Your Child be Alone In Their Neighborhood, Church, and School?

If the answer is yes, then it may not be in the best interest of the child for you to adopt them. If you are willing to make large-scale changes to your life, then absolutely make those changes and then consider adopting transracially.

Our Black children need to see adults in their lives in positions of power and authority. They need to see Black spiritual leaders, Black teachers, Black doctors, Black neighbors. That simply isn’t possible in nearly all-White communities. Not only does this benefit your child, but your whole family. Being in racially insular communities doesn’t allow for a broader understanding of the fullness of God’s image , and doesn’t prepare any of us for the rapidly changing, culturally diverse country we live in.

Are You Willing To Be Brave?

The immediate answer may feel like it should be an automatic yes, but the reality can be much harder. How will you respond when a close family member or friend makes a racist joke or comment? Do you feel prepared to speak out against micro-aggressions against your child? Are you willing to lose people for speaking out against racism in all its insidious forms? If that’s not something you feel ready to take on yet, then taking on transracial adoption probably isn’t the right choice for your family.


If you think learning to be a White parent of a Black child is about learning to do hair, rescuing a child, or creating a family that looks more like heaven, it’s time to do some serious introspection before you embrace transracial adoption. Black children don’t need rescued by White people.

Transracial adoption can be beautiful, but as with any form of adoption, there is loss. There is not only the loss of birth family, there is the loss of growing up in your culture. As parents, it’s our job to minimize the effects of this loss of culture as much as possible. Showing your child that you value people of color by having them in your life as friends, neighbors, role models, and leaders is an incredibly valuable place to start.

By the way, the woman who asked the initial question never responded. She got angry and left the group where she had found me. Future White parents of Black children, don’t let that be you.

23 thoughts on “Questions for Potential White Transracial Adoptive Parents

  1. Tray R.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a big stigma surrounding African Americans or other minorites adopting white or other ethnicity children. It seems to be a harder process. I have an African American friend that has fostered and adopted both white and hispanic children. Not only does she get stares, or asked questions, but she has also been accused of kidnapping children and had the police called on her when she wouldn’t “prove to strangers” she was the mother or answer their questions on her right to be with “these children,” as if she was required to respond. It is unfortunate that it only seems to be “normal” if white people adopt other race children, and there are hardly any questions or an eyebrow raised.

  2. Mike

    Ok but somewhat flawed article and lots of great comments.

    I would like to add:

    If a white family adopts a black child and raises him/her in an all white community, how will that child feel as if they belong to the color skin they see in the mirror each day? If your response is it doesn’t matter is because you are white and when you look around it is what you see. Therefore, if you are white person and reading this you probably don’t truly understand the difference. Even if you were raised in another country and brought to America, because of the history of Black America (slavery and ongoing racism) it would be difficult to understand. Imagine a man being raised around all women all his life without ever seeing a man. Then when he is an adult begins to interact with men, he won’t belong or even feel he belongs because he urinates sitting down. I hope to all my wonderful white people this helps. And no I am not saying staying being an orphan is better than being adopted by white parents but it is not salvation either.

  3. Rae

    The point is that child will suffer, and suffer greatly. You cannot learn to “appreciate your culture” by visiting an Indian restaurant once a year on your birthday and watching some Bollywood movies. What children need, especially children who have already gone through great trauma and loss, is to feel safe and accepted. Instead they will be in a community where they always feel like they do not belong, are not good enough, are not normal. And child of color in America is already under a lot of cultural pressure. It is magnified when no one in your family understands or can teach you how to love yourself for who you are. Love, food and a warm bed are not enough to raise a secure child. I wish it were so. We all as parents have to sacrifice for our children. I’d suggest that family be willing to move if they really think raising a child of color is what God is calling them to.

  4. Rae

    This. This is the truth. Adoption is just one small facet of the larger problem: that some many white Christians are still ok with living lives in communities built by racism, politics and culture, not the Gospel. We don’t reflect the realities of the Gospel in our churches. We press our cultural preferences on others (knowingly and unknowingly) and judge them when they don’t want to follow. There has been an insidious rot in our American culture from the beginning, and until we can live humbly and respectfully with all people’s and cultures these problems will continue to exist.

  5. Rae

    We shouldn’t limit our care to those who look like us. However, the problem is that we as Christians are ok with living in communities and going to churches where people look exactly like us. And we never explore the reasons why these communities and churches exist in this form to begin with (the answers will start to unravel everything you believe about your life and raising your Black child in it). I didn’t go on that journey until after I already had a Black child living in my home, but it is worth it. Kids don’t just need love, they need a better world to live in. Family doesn’t end at the four walls around your house– if the church is to be your family, then it needs to “model Heaven” too.

  6. Jason

    Beautiful response to a ridiculously racist article.

  7. Jason

    This is insane. You’re going to recommend that people shouldn’t adopt, that the children are better of being orphaned, because of some very erroneous cultural education (I was going to say brainwashing) that you’ve been taught. This is just sad that you feel good writing such garbage.

  8. Lin

    “Black children don’t need rescued by white people?” This seems like an incredibly insensitive and narrow-minded comment to those of us who have followed a call into the hard places to care for the forgotten and unwanted (transracial foster parent here) Maybe you feel that way…..but ORPHAN children need rescued by GODS people. Our foster daughter was so much more than the color of her skin, and yet, your comments seem to suggest that we did her a disservice by bringing her into our predominantly white community. shall we limit our orphan care to only those that look exactly like us?
    “Are you aware that love is not enough?” What an awful thing to say to someone who sought your advice….there is nothing more powerful than the transformative, redemptive love of God within his people. If that isn’t enough, we are all in bad shape.

  9. Ann

    This was an interesting article as were all the replies. I’m a grandma and have known many white families who have adopted children of other ethnicities, but I’ve never seen white children who were adopted by African, Asian, Indian, Latino families. Why is that?

  10. ET

    As a Korean American whose parents were both Korean immigrants, I was raised in Chicago where Koreans are plentiful but for complicated reasons my parents chose to raise us in almost an exclusively white community.
    I ended up marrying a white guy & we adopted 4 children from Korea. We lived for many years in a community of limited diversity, but when the opportunity arose for us to move somewhere more diverse (Denver, CO), we jumped at the chance! Though we don’t live directly among the Korean community, I’m so glad my kids now rub shoulders w kids of different ethnicities; they know other adoptees, other Korean kids, both adopted and not. Still, as they navigate the whitewaters of of adolescence, I also see the reality of struggles & realize that I too have been guilty of thinking “love is enough”. I have known of Korean adoptees growing up in rural Iowa, not knowing a single other person that looked like them for the first 18 yrs of life. Believe me, that affects an individual. Though they knew the love of family, it was hard in every other arena of life. Bullying, isolation & loneliness are things that cannot just be “loved away”–that’s why the author’s phrase “love is not enough” rings true. Just another opinion as food for thought.

  11. Erin

    What an opportunity you lost with that mother. Rather than delving into why she was asking the question, about HER children (already adopted), instead you added more race-guilt on top of the mom-guilt we all experience. I live in Oklahoma. Was it a mistake to adopt my son from Vietnam, because we have such a low population of Asian people here? Yes, perhaps I SHOULD have had more Asian friends before, but does that limit God’s plan for my son? Of course not. If I’m trying to help my son connect to his heritage now, does guilt over my reasons for adopting help my child. Not at all. If that woman’s adoption is past-tense, then it was part of God’s plan. She is seeking a way to make connections for her children which she knows they need, and you instead judge her reasons for adoption.

  12. Billy

    I agree that biblical principles should be followed in adoption. I can’t comment on the situations with those parents you state rejected or abandoned their kids. Nor can I comment how well you truly understand their circumstances.

    However, I can share the struggles my wife and I had with an older child adoption. Our son came home at 15 with RAD. When he was 18 rejected us, and we’ve spoken very little in the two years since.

    My wife and I have suffered through many of the statements you made from people who did not know any of the details. And we continue to suffer through them. We have been accused of rejecting and abandoning him from Christian families.

    This may be difficult for you to witness, but it was difficult for us to experience. We lost family, friends, and our church as a result. The experience left us in a fog that we are only recently coming out of. Had it not been for the Lord putting in our lives other Christian families who validated us and our commitment to suffering for the Gospel, suffering by bringing him home, suffering by living with him, and suffering through the judgments and misunderstandings afterward, that we are able to look back on those years and know we were obedient to the Lord.

  13. Lorelei

    I think an important facet of adoption needs addressing here that I don’t see, perhaps I missed it. Regardless of race, adoption needs to be a forever commitment to biblical loving relationships with the adopted children. I watched well intentioned couples adopt both related and unrelated kids, and even blended families where a child had one natural and one adoptive parent. When problems arose, either marital or medical, I saw these adults reject these kids. I doubt they began with the intention of abandoning their children. They allowed the lie “that’s not REALLY my child” to color their treatment of the children. It has been awful to watch. If you can’t unreservedly commit to true parenthood, please, don’t adopt any child, let alone transculturally.

  14. DCal3000

    Jahber, I appreciate your comments, and you make some good points that help clarify my own statements. I recognize that a black family moving into a white community will, by default, be able to raise their children in a more diverse environment than the local white parents can. Diversity, however, does not seem to be Ms. Behrers’ chief concern–at least in relation to children. Instead, her concern appears to be that an adopted child be around a wide array of people that look like the child and are of the same birth culture. And if that is the deciding factor in relation to bringing a child into a community, that prevents not only many international adoptions, it hinders black families from moving into white communities and white families from moving into black communities. It would even hinder rural, white Minnesotan parents from moving their child into an urban, white neighborhood in New York. Even with modern Internet technology, one cannot raise a child surrounded daily by people from his or her birth culture if no such people exist in the area. As Ms. Behrer suggests, that may be a legitimate concern that parents should consider. But if we make it too prominent a concern, we encourage segregation, even inadvertently. And that is one of my primary worries about Ms. Behrers’ article. By drawing such stark lines between races and cultures, Ms. Behrer may accidentally be making it harder–not easier–for communities to interact and grow.

  15. Amy W

    Hmmm. I think I’m with you, if we can adjust the audience to include all white parents, not just those adopting black children. I want my white son surrounded by black role models just as much as I want that for my black son. And being I well-informed about issues of race is critical to successfully raise both my white son and my black son. I guess I’m saying that it’s really not ok for white kids to be raised in an all-white community either.

  16. DCal3000

    Mr. Roney, thank you for your helpful reply. Parents should teach an adopted child about his or her heritage, and they should work to appreciate that heritage themselves. I am merely concerned that Ms. Behrens’ line of thinking unnecessarily restricts such opportunities. The implications of her statements would forbid a white (or black) person from rural Iowa from adopting an Indian child in the first place–merely because (hypothetically speaking) there are no other Indians around. She says, very explicitly, that children need to be around people of their own culture, and she says, “That is simply not possible in nearly all-White communities.” Thus, though she may not have meant it, her line of thinking would prevent anyone from a non-diverse geographic area from adopting anyone from a different culture. That sentiment, albeit inadvertently, keeps communities segregated.

    Now, of course, the first and foremost concern in any adoption situation is the child’s welfare, and all else should be secondary. Ms. Behrens’ cautions to naive potential parents are helpful, and I value her insight. I am simply concerned that she draws too stark a line between cultures, inadvertently preventing cultures from having the opportunity of diversifying and growing.

    In closing, I want to again stress that I appreciate your reply to my comment. I want to clarify one more point though. You seem to be under the impression that I was speaking of parents in Iowa adopting an Indian child yet not wanting to be around Indians. I was not speaking of that type of potential parent, and potential parents in such a situation should 1) not adopt an Indian child, and 2) seriously search their hearts to see if they are really living in accord with Christian love.

  17. Billy

    Excellent article, Elizabeth! I have four adopted kids, three are black and one is multiracial. We have taken similar steps to ensure we are in community with families of our children’s race, as well as other adoptive, foster, and transracial families. We’ve found most people in the white community want to believe the world is color blind and can get very offended when we contest that racial harmony hasn’t progressed as much as they thought. I’ll add that social media has been crucial to our family’s growth and development. Like-minded people are out there, and maybe we can’t interact person-to-person, but on Facebook and other social media we can connect with families who believe what we believe. So even the family with internet in Iowa who adopted from India can connect with another family who can relate to their unique struggles.

  18. Scott Roney

    Thank you for saying so many things that desperately need to be said. As the father of two Black children, two Indian children and two white children, I can testify to two things: transracial adoption is beautiful, and there will be a cost. Jesus told us to “count the cost” of following him, and those desiring to adopt must do the same. Love always has a cost; loving someone from another culture who faces the constant threat of racism brings a greater cost. It’s absolutely worth it – but we must be willing.

  19. Scott Roney

    If someone in rural Iowa does not like Indians or Indian culture, or merely values their Whiteness so much that they would prefer not to be around Indians, then they should not adopt from India. You have to be willing to love your children more than your own comfort, and to adjust your life to fit their needs and honor their culture (not the other way around!).

  20. Jahber

    DCAL3000, you’re missing a very important truth that I assumed was generally understood, but perhaps not. If a white family lives in an all-white community, the chance that everyone they know (or at least interact with on a meaningful level) is white is quite high. Opportunities for black children to interact and engage with people who share their culture and skin color are basically non-existant unless parents are willing to go out of their way to create those opportunities. And that can be harder than most people realize.
    If, however, a black family moves into a white neighborhood, they will assuredly still have black family members and friends elsewhere with whom they associate.
    The problem isn’t *really* the whiteness of the community. Not really. It’s the general lack of diversity in the lives of people who live, whether by choice or by happenstance, in white communities. And for an informed reader, that was actually quite clear. We need to be willing to listen to people who have walked the road. Some of us just aren’t. And some of us just aren’t good at it yet. But we can be.

  21. DCal3000

    To follow-up on my previous concern, I am also concerned about the suggestion that someone in an all-white community should generally not adopt transracially. To be sure, people contemplating adoption should try to make sure that they do not place a child in an environment that would likely harm them–if, for instance, prejudiced neighbors would constantly treat the child as inherently “other.”

    But Ms. Behrens’ views, albeit inadvertently, seem themselves to promote “otherness” rather than “togetherness,” or even “diversity.” If white parents in a white community should not adopt a black child, then by implication, black parents with a child might be unwise to move into an all-white community. And vice versa. But that view would be something segregationists from fifty years ago would entirely agree with. We should not continue to lend credence to such views, since Christianity does not teach us to see different cultures as inherently “other.”

    Instead, I think it would be helpful to treat race and culture as something less static than Ms. Behrens does. Yes, white parents adopting a black child should absolutely make sure their child has a healthy appreciation for his or her ancestral heritage. Diversity is a good thing, we all like to find out who our ancestors are, and familial heritage is important even in the Bible. But perhaps, as Christians, we should not aim to treat race-defined culture as something set in stone. Cultures constantly change. It may be that transracial adoption is a path to creating new cultures that are not so divided as American cultures in the past were. But if divisions are to end, we cannot simply view white parents or black parents as inherently “other” in relation to their adopted child. Ms. Behrer makes many, many good points, but I fear she uses skin color to draw too stark a line.

  22. DCal3000

    I have several serious concerns about this article, though I applaud the author’s desire to remind parents who contemplate adoption to prepare for and carefully consider the challenges they will face.

    One of my main concerns: The author’s suggestion that parents should not adopt a child who will be the only one of their ethnicity/culture in the community effectively bans international adoption, especially in rural areas. If someone in rural Iowa adopts a child from India, the child may grow up apart from native Indians. For parents who adopted internationally, do you agree with Ms. Behrens that such cultural separation is problematic, or was adoption worth it anyway?

  23. Amy

    Thank you for sharing this! We are just starting to explore being foster parents and have agreed that we would be willing to take any child (regardless of race/gender) but also agreed we would need more preparation to take on children of another race (exposing them to ethnic/cultural heritage, addressing racism etc) Lots of great points here and things to think about

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