Cross-racial adoption has been long a topic of huge debate, where children are raised in a family of different ethnicity. Critics argue that growing up in a family of a different race can cause a child to feel a loss of identity and belonging. They may develop a complex of always feeling like the odd one out, especially if they are the only one of a different race among their siblings. On the other hand, proponents believe that the family’s race is of no importance as long as the child is in a loving home and that growing up in a family of a different race can in fact be beneficial to the child.
Although cross-racial adoption can mean a child of any race adopted into a family of any other race, the term most frequently refers to non-white children being adopted by white couples in the United States. This occurs partly due to a large number of white adoptive parents and a relatively small number of white children for adoption. Most adoptive parents find it easier to adopt a non-white child simply because there are more of them – especially when sourced from around the world. It is often a much shorter wait and less costly to adopt one of the many non-white children available. In the United States, about 24 percent of adoptees go to their biological relatives. Then out of the remaining 76 percent, 40 percent are of a different race than their adoptive parents. These non-white children are placed in white families and then grow up in predominantly white communities alongside white peers. Are they facing identity development issues by being in such a situation?
A study by Emma Hamilton sought to find a verdict on the debate. Close to 600 adopted adolescents in white Minnesota families were surveyed on their attitudes towards their family, pro-social and anti-social inclinations, the topic of race in the family, and more. The adolescents ranged in the race, including white, black, Asian, Latino and mixed-race. The study found that there was no difference between the white and cross-racial adoptees when it came to how they felt about adoption, spending time with their family, or anti-social inclinations. In fact, Asian adoptees were shown to be more likely than white adoptees to engage in pro-social activities, such as helping others. They were also less aggressive on average. Additionally, both the parents and children in cross-racial families agreed that the family discussed race and ethnicity more often as compared to parents of white adopted children.
This study is not the first of its kind and complements the results of past research on this subject. A 2007 research by Femmie Juffer and Marinus H. van IJzendoorn revealed that there was no difference in self-esteem levels between adoptees and non-adoptees, regardless of whether they grew up in a cross-racial family or not. It is suggested that cross-racial adoptees do attempt to find out more about their birth cultures, and are most content if their birth culture is in harmony with their adoptive culture. Even so, they tend to identify with their adoptive culture more than their birth culture, although they are usually proud to be members of their ethnicity.
However, despite these positive results, not every cross-racial adoption is smooth-sailing. Children who grow up in such an environment might be more acutely aware of racial differences than their peers who grow up in monoracial homes. For one, the adoptive parents may face backlash from their own families, especially if they come from traditional homes where races have never mixed. Some of the relatives may never even have known a person of a different race in their lives. While some families are able to accept the adopted child once they get to know them, others are not so fortunate. The adopted child could find their parents alone, without any relatives to support them.
Another quirk about a cross-racial adoption is that the child will eventually realize that they are different from their adoptive parents. In a monoracial family, parents may grapple with the decision to tell their child – when will they tell, and how best should they approach the subject? Should they keep it a secret after all? In a cross-racial family, there is no such worry, as the child will almost certainly bring it up in a question to their parents once they are a bit older.
Other people can also tell at a glance that a child of a different race is adopted. After the United States’ long history concerning race, people are very aware of colour. This could lead to more attention than usual, such as racist comments from passing strangers, compliments about doing a good thing, and more reactions. Additionally, previously all-white families may also be inadvertently opening themselves to racist attacks. In all-white communities, such a family may be known as the parents or siblings of a child of a different race. While not everyone who points that out has ill intentions, it could result in the child feeling like a black sheep. According to a 1999 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, around 50 percent of Asian and black adoptees felt uncomfortable about their racial appearance, an unfortunate circumstance that will persist for as long as the United States is not colour-blind. As such, to create a nurturing and safe environment for a cross-racial adoptee, it is crucial for these families to take extra care in ensuring their children do not feel like the odd one out.
Fortunately, young children are blind to colour. Raising a cross-racial child from birth is no different to raising a child of the same race as their parents. In a story that went viral on social media, four-year-old Jax Rosebush asked to have his hair cut short like his best friend Reddy Weldon, wanting the both of them to look identical. However, the caveat was that Jax is white while Reddy is black. It turned out that their skin colour did not matter. When Jax showed up at school with his new haircut, the two of them pretended to be each other and their teacher played along, confusing them on purpose. Jax never once mentioned his friend being black – the only difference he had seen between the both of them was their hairstyles. Upon learning about the incident, Reddy’s parents were glad to hear that race was not a barrier between the two friends. As a white couple that adopted Reddy and his brother from Africa, the Weldons believe that family is not limited by race and nationality – and neither was racing a problem for Reddy to make friends at school.
Ultimately, raising a cross-racial child is just like raising any other child as far as the family is concerned. While society may have both positive and negative reactions to it, those are out of the family’s control. The best a parent can give to any child is unconditional love and acceptance.