When Black Parents Adopt White Children…It’s Complicated

Dawn Davenport


Transracial adoptions are becoming increasingly common in the US, but not when transracial means black parents adopting white children.

black parents adopting white children-unique issues

When most of us think of transracial adoption we think of white families adopting children of color. But in fact, transracial adoptions can “go both ways”—black families can and do adopt children of different races, and they face similar issues with other transracial adoptive families, but also issues that are distinctly unique. As with most things with race in our country, it’s complicated.

T.V. Tells His Story

T.V. is a black doctor and his husband is a light-skinned Latino. They adopted their first child at birth in 2008. She is mixed race (black and white) and T.V. says she looks mixed. Two years later they added a mixed race baby boy to their family. People often comment that the children looked like biological siblings.

When they decided to adopt again in 2010, they specifically sought another mixed-race child. They were matched with an expectant mom who was 8 months pregnant. She was mixed race but looked black. The father was white. She showed them pictures of her three other kids who had a different father—all looked mixed race. After birth, the mom decided to parent but kept in touch with T.V. by text. Two months later, she asked him if they still wanted to adopt the baby. YES! She sent a grainy picture and T.V. flew out to meet the baby.

“When I saw her for the first time it was the biggest shock of my life! She looked Scandinavian—almost albino. Blue eyes, blond hair, and very white skin. I immediately got cold feet and started having second thoughts, but by this time we had already said yes. I had been communicating with this woman for a couple of months. How could we change our minds?? However, as a black man, the thought of parenting a white child, especially a white girl, was terrifying.”

T.V. kept his concerns to himself and they adopted E. The first six to nine months were hard. He regretted the adoption and was afraid when he took the baby out of the house. Would people be rude? Would they call the police? Would they think he was a babysitter or a kidnapper? He would cover E’s car seat with a blanket when he took her out so that he wouldn’t have to put up with people staring.

Five years later his fears have never materialized. No one ever mistook him for a babysitter or kidnapper—at least not that he knew of. Nosy questions and comments were about as bad as it got:

“Is she adopted?”
“Is she albino?”
“Don’t worry, she’ll get darker as she gets older.”

“Now she is just my daughter and I don’t care what people think. We largely associate with Latinos and blacks and everyone knows she is our daughter. But on most occasions, she is the only white. She notices and comments on skin tones. My sister has three kids who are full black, so E is the only white child in a group of six in our family. My parents love all their grandchildren the same, but I think E holds herself apart some from the other kids at times. I don’t think it is damaging to her, and in fact, it could just be part of her personality, but I notice it.”

Hair and Skin Care Challenges

T.V. had always taken pride in his hair care expertise with his older daughter. He knew all the best products and styles, and his daughter’s hair showed it. With E’s hair, he was clueless. White hair products were a complete mystery and he had to ask white friends for help. It was quite a comeuppance! He also has to constantly remind himself that she needs to wear sunscreen. It’s been “a steep learning curve.”

Talking about Race and Racism

One of the surprises in adopting a white child as a mixed couple has been the impact on their discussion about race.

“If I only had my older kids it would be easier to talk about race and racism. For example, it’s hard to talk about slavery in front of E because I don’t want to say it in a way that makes her feel guilty or like she’s part of that group.

A big issue for me, especially with my son, is to prepare him for the possibility of police brutality. I try to be careful to talk about individuals and not generalize. I can’t help but wonder if my talk would be different if I only had my two black kids. I think I would be more damning of police officers.

I’ve noticed that my parents also temper their speech. They used to be very open about how upset they were with white racism, but now they don’t talk that way in front of my kids. I wonder if that is good for my older two. Shouldn’t they hear the truth of how their grandparents feel? We still talk about these issues, but we are more sensitive about how we talk because there is a white person in the family.”

T.V.’s Latino husband doesn’t have the same concerns about race. He views all of the kids as Latino. Their first language is Spanish and the family socializes primarily with the Latino community. He believes that people will see them the same way, but as a black man, T.V. knows there is a different story in slaved-history America.

Society Treats Her Differently

E will grow up and likely identify as a white woman in America. She knows she is mixed-race because her parents have told her and shown her pictures of her birth parents. Her fathers stress her mixed heritage, in part, to build solidarity with her siblings. But T.V. knows that ultimately, she will be treated based on how she looks, and she will have privileges that her siblings will not.

“She is only five, but we already see this. People are enamored with our blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter. We are told frequently how pretty she is. She is pretty, but so is my eldest daughter. People just seem more enthusiastic over E, and my older children notice this. How do I explain this to all my children? Do I say to my two oldest, you will experience discrimination, but E will not?”

Worry about the Future

T.V. worries about the future. For now, all the children are under 10 and are mostly seen by society as part of their family unit. This will change as they get older. What will people think when they see T.V., an older black man, with E, a teenaged white girl? Their first thought will likely not be father and daughter.

The same holds true for siblings. If his black son and E are horsing around as siblings do, T.V. worries that someone will say: “What is this black boy doing to this white girl?” He worries that if they are stopped by police as teens, his son may be hurt because of assumptions made by the police about the nature of their relationship. He worries about how his older children will feel when they are old enough to recognize the advantages of white privilege.

“She is our daughter and I love her and I believe that she belongs in our family, but I sometimes revisit the question and wonder if we made the right decision by adopting her. I think she has gained the best of both worlds because she will fully understand both the black and the white worlds. For her, I see the adoption as mostly an advantage. For her two siblings, I can only hope it’s the same way.”

08/01/2018 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 17 Comments

17 Responses to When Black Parents Adopt White Children…It’s Complicated

  1. Avatar Jackie says:

    I think the writer does have issues related to reason prejudice. In a way it is good because he’s careful not to make sweeping statements about racism to his children. And his parents are similarly restrained. But he does seem to hold a lot of resentment against whites, not realizing that all whites are born into this world without a choice and all are blameless for the past.
    The world these children are born into is not the world he was born into and it’s not the world his parents were born into. When he teaches his children that the email is one way he can prejudice their interpretation of their life. It’s better to let them find their own interpretation. He would be better if too couch his warnings in terms of,”In the bad old days, X Was more common”.

  2. Avatar susan says:

    Don’t you think the child sees herself as mixed race? My cousin has a child that is mixed race black/white with blonde hair and blue eyes and warmth to her skin. She sees herself as mixed race. I have mixed race kids that are half Pakistani and they see themselves as mixed race. One has fair skin and green eyes. She loves being mixed race as do her darker siblings. Kids need to be taught to be comfortable in their own skin. Even if you live in an homogenous society humans find a way to divide people according to something. I grew up with Protestant/Catholic divide. If you cannot stop people thinking this way then best to protect the child by building self esteem. The child is more than their skin colour. They are their talents and achievements, their character and personality. All parents should focus on those. Looks are incidental and good looks fade.

  3. Avatar Simone Duffy says:

    I love the comment “Just love her,” My daughter is adopted, she appears mostly Caucasian and is thriving because that is just what I do. My best friend who is African American children are mixed race and they are thriving because of this very basic principle. We all do a lot of fun things and try not to project or worry about what others may be thinking about us.

  4. Avatar Rose says:

    Glad to see this article. There is a need to talk more about transracial adoption where the parents are black. I personally support transracial adoption of any kind just the same as I support all other adoptions. That said, there are challenges that arise from being raised transracially depending on the community one lives in. I do think that black parents raising a white child are likely to face more problems than white parents raising black children. However, this could just be because white parents have been adopting black children for a long time and this has been now somewhat normalized in society. I believe that the more society sees black parents raising white children, the more “normal” that will become as well. That’s why I think this topic needs more coverage and discussion. It’s not a common phenomenon as yet but it is happening and it would be great for all these families to know they are not alone and for these families to gain greater acceptance.

  5. Avatar Tracy says:

    What a tragic mess. In this person’s household…it is clear who wears the proverbial “pants!” It’s the one raising all the adopted kids as “latinos.” What is the so-called black male even doing there other than to provide a paycheck, house cleaning, and perhaps some uncle-ben type advice. It’s a mess. Let’s face it , or so-called blacks to adopt other races is senseless. Every race should adopt its own, but I see what the agenda is around this world and it is to cause confusion especially among the so-called black (indigenous) races.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Thankfully, your opinion is not the majority-held view. All children, regardless of their race or of the circumstances that led to the need to be adopted, deserve permanence. There are many of us who have adopted children from other races to build healthy, happy, thriving families. We celebrate the beauty and diversity of it and are more than happy as an organization to provide resources and support for the families to continue to grow and thrive.

  6. Avatar Fevulous says:

    In what way is he being racist? Just because you choose to be blind to racism and the racial implications and constructs in society and ‘not see color’ doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You don’t have to deal with them yourself, that’s why you think they don’t exist, they don’t affect you!

  7. Avatar Holly Webb says:

    You dont hear of Black families adopting white children. I am 100% proud of you sir. I’m sure you’ll run in to moments where you think prejudice is showing. But it’s a lie. Its human nature to question things we don’t fully understand. Just love her.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      It’s certainly less common, isn’t it?

      • Avatar Rose says:

        I think it’s that it’s less common and less talked about. However, there seem to be quite a few cases of foster-to-adopt cases that have resulted in black parents with white children. There are also cases of embryo adoption where women have given birth to children of different races. Maybe in a couple of decades it won’t be any stranger than white people with black kids.

  8. Avatar K says:

    I completely agree. I’m so sick of the victim mentality. Could you imagine if the races were reversed and a white person admitted that they regretted adopting a black child? Gasp! Racist! I couldn’t roll my eyes any harder if I tried. Now cue the replies saying my opinion doesn’t matter because I have “White Privilege.”

  9. Avatar Max ronald says:

    Yikes! I feel bad for all of these kids. What a bunch of nonsense. These racist parents are going to out their kids at a major disadvantage.

    My papa always told me that black people were the real racists. Never guessed he was actually right.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      You have got to be kidding me?!? Talk about a bunch of nonsense! These kids are growing up in a loving home with committed parents. Where is the disadvantage in that? Would you say the same thing if the parents were white and the children were black? Acknowledging that transracial adoption is complicated regardless the race of the parent and children is the reality and in no way affects the love and commitment of the parents.

  10. Avatar Brandy McConnell says:

    Thank you for taking a child into your family who deserves to have good parents. Your love for your children is perfect although it may seem nothing else is.. I wish more people could be as open as you have been. She will grow up to be an amazing young lady.

  11. Avatar A says:

    I feel sorry for that girl, for having such a ( ) foster parent.
    All the guy is talking about is how its going to effect him, aside from his victim mentality.
    All the cliches were in there police brutality, slavery.
    How about how it will effect the child, bringing her up with these non factual racist ideas about whites, cant start soon enough to install some white guilt right..
    Talking about white privilige lol, does he see her as his daughter or as a white girl from the oppressor race that he adopted. This guy needs some mental help and not be a foster parent.

    {Edited to remove expletives}

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