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HISTORY OF ADOPTION IN THE UNITED STATES


THE HISTORY OF TRANSRACIAL ADOPTIONS

Placement across racial lines-which almost always involved non-white children and white adults-challenged matching by suggesting that visible difference was compatible with love and belonging. During the first half of the century, anecdotes about children of color accidentally placed with white parents circulated in journalism, fiction, and professional literature. With few exceptions, these stories were considered tragic and shocking. The problem of racial mixups in adoption illustrated an important point. Most Americans believed in the naturalness of race-matching, but race-matching could be very difficult to achieve, so it was not at all natural in the sense of being automatic. In practice, color confusion was common, and parents and social workers alike expressed deep concern about how to categorize mixed-race children for the purpose of matching.

Making families inter-racial on purpose was the point of most international adoptions from Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and Vietnam as well as adoptions arranged by the Indian Adoption Project after 1945. Attitudes toward these transracial placements reproduced the historical color line in the United States, which was emphatically black and white. White parents were more likely to accept "yellow," "red," or even "brown" children. Those who took in "black" children were considered the most transgressive. After World War II, demographic pressures shaped this trend at least as powerfully as civil rights ideology. New contraceptive technology like the pill, legalized abortion after Roe v. Wade, and the sexual revolution all decreased the supply of healthy white infants, along with the stigma surrounding illegitimacy. The result was that some white parents reconsidered their preference for same-race adoptions.

Black children and white parents have always defined the debate about transracial adoption, achieving a symbolic importance that overshadowed their tiny numbers. After Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 Supreme Court case that made laws prohibiting racial intermarriage unconstitutional, some states, such as Louisiana, continued to ban transracial adoptions. Family-making between blacks and whites was invariably what these statutes aimed to prevent. Even at their peak around 1970, perhaps 2,500 such adoptions were finalized each year, and no more than 12,000 African-American children in all were placed in white homes before 1975. Researchers, policy-makers, and child welfare professionals carefully scrutinized these adoptions in hopes of discovering whether inter-racial families helped or hurt children, and how. Outcome studies rarely showed that children's development or identity were positively harmed, but they still could not answer the most important question: Was transracial adoption a socially desirable or undesirable policy in a society dedicated to pluralism but also polarized by racial strife?

 

From: The Adoption History Project website www.uoregon.edu/~adoption/index.html Used With Permission.

 

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