The Racialization of Adoption Threatens Black Children

Opinion   |   Ryan Bomberger   |   Aug 12, 2011   |   10:57AM   |   Washington, DC

Adoption is a powerful and emotionally potent act, for the birth mother and the prospective parents. The act of relinquishing a child to someone else and to take in a child, who is not biologically related, is an incredible act of love and sacrifice.

We need to foster an environment where people pursue adoption more and the public is educated about the beautiful stories that typify the adoption experience. This is part of the mission of The Radiance Foundation and its public awareness initiatives through

This August serves as the 15th year anniversary of significant action by Congress to help stop the racial politics affecting the placement of black foster children and recruitment of adoptive and foster parents.  The Interethnic Placement Act, signed into law on August 20, 1996 by President Clinton, barred any state or other entity that receives federal funds from using “race, color, or national origin of a child or of a prospective parent” in order to “make the child ineligible for foster care or adoption, or to deny a particular foster care or adoptive placement.”

Tragically, this was to counter decades of the racialization of adoption where many child welfare groups placed culture above the most crucial needs of a foster child: to be loved and have a permanent home. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW), rooted in Black Nationalist ideology, declared:

“The National Association of Black Social Workers has taken a vehement stand against the placement of black children in white homes for any reason. We affirm the inviolable position of black children in black families where they belong physically, psychologically and culturally in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future.”

So, is culture then preserved while the child awaits a family, languishing unnecessarily in foster care? Is ethnic identity more crucial than permanence?

Contrary to the claims of groups like NABSW and Child Welfare League, the preponderance of empirical studies prove that transracially adopted children are just as well adjusted as same-race adopted children. Researcher and esteemed scholar, Rita Simon, has conducted one of the most cited, in-depth longitudinal studies on the issue. Her research shows that 80% of transracial adoptees disagree with groups like the National Association of Black Social Workers. I’m one of those adoptees.

Black children remain in foster care at higher rates than other races and are disproportionately represented. There are a number of factors that influence this, but the main factor is race. We are a nation still so uncomfortable with the hue of our skin that we miss out on the ultimate act of racial reconciliation–loving a child of another race simply because they deserve to be loved. Same-race adoptions are beautiful as well as mixed-race adoptions.

For some reason, however, with every diatribe about racial healing and better cultural understanding, battle lines have been drawn around adoption. As long as we are human, the evil of racism will always exist. That should never stop us, however, from endeavoring to rid it where it harms the most vulnerable among us–the welfare of children. We are all guilty of our own prejudices, our firmly held stereotypes, our unwillingness to be proactive or more culturally competent (understanding others’ cultures), and the inability to admit any of it.

James 1:27 lays out a simple yet powerful framework for the purest form of religion: to take care of widows and orphans. To better understand this charge is to know the prevalence of war during those times that left countless women widowed and children orphaned, necessitating the call to conscience of those who believed in caring for those most vulnerable.

Today, although domestically we aren’t ravaged by militaristic war, we are being decimated by a cultural war of abortion and abandonment that is leaving behind spouseless mothers and orphans, both born and unborn.

The Radiance Foundation and countless other life-affirming organizations, through community events, conferences and media campaigns, try to raise the level of awareness of the need for adoption and for more to be involved. Although the expectation isn’t that every adult should or can adopt, we can all play a role fostering an environment that encourages adoption through our financial contributions, volunteering at pregnancy resource centers, supporting birth mothers and fighting material and spiritual poverty.

Laws like the InterEthnic Placement Act are crucial but are not, necessarily, transformational of the heart and mind. Too often, needless racial politics mire adoption and foster care, to the detriment of the child, by those charged with their welfare. In the end, what children really need, regardless of race or ethnicity, is a place to call home and someone just to love them.