Are Transracial Adoptions Easier Because of Celebrities?

Dawn Davenport


should fertile couples adopt or does it hurt infertile couples?

Celebrity adoptions bring transracial adoptions into the spotlight. Is that attention helping change attitudes?

I don’t know whether I believe in pure coincidence or not.  Is it a coincidence that within the last couple of weeks I’ve heard a variation on the “transracial adoption in trendy” theme?   Maybe it is just a fluke or maybe I’ve tapped into the zeitgeist or semi-universal subconscious belief.  The first was a conversation I overheard where a man commented on hearing that a mutual friend was adopting an African American baby: “Oh yeah, everyone is doing that now since Brangelina and Sandra Bullock have made it cool.”  The second happened this morning when one of our Creating a Family community sent me this quote from a Slate magazine article about the author, Michael Lewis, who wrote Moneyball on which the Brad Pitt movie by the same name was based.  Lewis is also the author of The Blind Side, about a white couple adopting a black teen turned football star.  She highlighted this quote: “Do books never make any difference? The bestselling author chuckles. ‘The Blind Side … caused a number of white people to adopt black people … . So I have shifted individual decisions… .’”

My first response upon hearing both comments was a sarcastic chuckle, “Oh yeah, people are going to make a life altering decision that will change their lives forever just because someone famous did it or because they saw a movie!?! People just aren’t so easily influenced.”  But as I sat down to write a scathing blog on this assumed gullibility, a niggling doubt crept in..  Have our decisions and attitudes about transracial adoption been influenced by what we read in People Magazine and see on TV and at the movies?

How much credit to celebrities deserve for social change?

I think transracial adoptions are easier now for people to consider because they are more common.  While I don’t think many people are trying to imitate the stars or movies, I do think we’ve benefitted by the media exposure.  However, are the stars and movies leading the societal shift in attitude or are they too following what is happening generally?

Whether on the conscious or unconscious level, we are all influenced by our society and culture, and our cultural attitude about mixed race families and transracial adoption are changing.  A recent study found that marriages between blacks and whites are on the rise.  Societal attitudes about these interracial marriages are improving as well, with 86% of Americans now approving of such unions. This reflects a major transformation in the past five decades. When Gallup first asked about black-white marriages in 1958, only  4% approved.

American acceptance of transracial adoption and biracial families

Celebrities can help normalize transracial adoption.

Our movies and their stars are both reflecting this trend and leading the way.  Stars get more attention than the rest of us.  It’s impossible not to see their glamorous and adorable pictures while waiting in the checkout line.  I don’t believe that the everyday folks are copying the famous when they marry or adopt outside their race, but I do think the famous make our decision easier if for no other reason than by making it seem “normal”.

Most people don’t go into adoption saying they specifically are looking to adopt a child of another race.  Once they see where the need is or the shorter wait, however, many embrace this route to parenthood.  The movie and media focus on transracial families likely helps this acceptance.  I think it also helps extended family acceptance. “If it’s good enough for Sandra, then it’s good enough for my son or daughter.”

All this seems good, if, and this is a big IF, prospective adoptive parents are open to being educated about the ramifications of adopting a child of a different race.  I haven’t really seen anyone or heard from anyone who thinks that just because Brad and Angelina and Sandra adopted a black child or Asian child, that there is no need to think through how to best raise a black or Asian child.  Still I worry that the media exposure makes light of some of the very real differences involved with transracial parenting.  Truth be told, I strongly suspect that Brad, Angelina, and Sandra have been and continue to be educated on transracial adoption too.

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15/11/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Are Transracial Adoptions Easier Because of Celebrities?

  1. Avatar Mommy to be says:

    I also thought no way when I heard the comments you heard, but after reading your blog, I think maybe you’re right. I hope so because I’m ready for something to be easier in trying to make a family. 🙂 I hear you on the getting educated part. I’ve been listening to some of your shows on transracial adoption and I will listen to them all before we decide.

  2. Avatar Jenna says:

    We were open to any race or gender because we just wanted to be parents and didn’t mind if our family looks different. We weren’t influenced by celebrities at all, so it took us by surprise with all the comments we’ve received from other people comparing us to celebrities. One woman walked by in the grocery store and said, “she looks just like Sandra Bullock!” I don’t look anything like Sandra Bullock, so I’m thinking she was referring to our family dynamic. We just have to chuckle about it.

    I do notice that most people assume we’ve adopted internationally. I wonder if that’s because the media focuses more on this.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Jenna, I’ve heard from a lot of people who adopt transracially that the assumption is that they adopted internationally. Of course, with Asian/white transracial adoptions, that assumption is correct, but with black/white transracial adoptions, not necessarily.

  3. Avatar rhonda says:

    I think in someways it helps. Specifically, it raises awareness to the options. Adoption seems to be on the rise and that means famous people as a percentage are also adopting more. It is a good thing. I adopted from Ethiopia. Did I do it because Angelina did, NO. Did I know she had adopted internationally, Yes. I love that her family is complex and diverse. It does erase some of the stigma to “being adopted.” My daughter sees adoption as a natural thing. As just her truth. I was not aware her daughter was from Ethiopia until after I started my adoption process. I chose Ethiopia for a variety of reasons. I looked into domestic and international adoption. Once I chose international adoption I chose an agency. An ethical agency was more important than where I adopted from. Then I looked at the countries I could adopt from. Some programs excluded me because I was single. Of the ones available, I chose the one that felt right for me.

    People tried the, “why don’t you adopt from the US” on me. Or heard comments about adopting a “black baby”. I shut them down, QUICK and often rudely. One, you are not my family so you get no say in my decisions. Two, 99% of them were not adopting thus in my opinion get no opinion on the issue of adopting domestically or internationally. PERIOD. For me, God matches up families so I was to adopt from Ethiopia, a coworker domestically. Our concern should not be black/white/Asian/Hispanic/African/domestic/international. Our concern should be about Ethics.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Rhonda, I think the greater exposure raises awareness of both adoption and transracial adoption. It used to be that no one outside of “adoption circles” had ever heard of transracial adoption. Now, it seems as if everyone knows that Brad, Angelina, and Sandra adopted across racial lines.

  4. Avatar Joanna says:

    Uh, no. I wouldn’t buy an hand bag because a celeb had it. I certainly wouldn’t make a life-changing decision based on anything they did. However, maybe seeing all these trans-racial families will make life a little easier for the rest of us, especially if they are positive images.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      I wonder if the rest of you have found that the media coverage of celebrities makes it easier for your extended family to embrace the idea of adopting across racial lines.

  5. Avatar Sarah says:

    In general, I agree and think celebrity adoption exposes people to the possibility that they CAN adopt transracially or transculturally, normalizing the practice and making it easier for the rest of us. The downside is that people often associate transracial adoption with things they loathe about celebrity: narcisism, excessiveness, privilege, whatever else you hate about the industry.

    (Ps, I don’t mean to be a spelling jerk but is “celebreties” in your blog title spelled right? Perhaps you’ve found a little known spelling that escaped me…)

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Sarah, I think you’re right about the quick association with the perceived negative side of celebrity. You’re also right about the typo. The problem is when I correct something on the blog, it reposts to Facebook. I had already made a small correction, so it had posted twice already. I was hoping no one would notice and I was going to correct tomorrow so it would repost then. Guess I didn’t count on your eagle eye. 🙂

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