‘Acting White’ and ‘Acting Black’ Exploring Transracial Adoption, Middle-Class Families, and Racial Socialization

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Book Chapter

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More than 35 years ago the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) formally declared its opposition to transracial adoption (TRA), particularly the adoption of black children by white families. While the controversy reached a fever pitch in 1972 with the NABSW position paper, the debate surrounding transracial adoption has waned over the past decade. The controversy has been recently re-ignited, however, due to high profile transracial adoptions by celebrities and other public figures including Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna. The transracial adoption controversy of the 1970s and today typically focuses on concerns that white families, no matter how well intentioned, may be ill-equipped to help black children survive in a racist society and develop a healthy sense of themselves and racial identity (Grow and Shapiro, 1974b; McRoy and Zurcher, 1983; Simon and Alstein, 2002). Critiques are often based on assumptions about the identity of black children raised by their biological parents, yet there is little focus placed on black children raised in black homes who may or may not also struggle with racial identity development. Moreover, while the race of parents in relation to children is at the center of the transracial adoption debate, studies rarely delve into socialization practices of biracial families headed by one white and one black parent.

Black children belong physically and psychologically and culturally in Black families where they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future. Only a Black family can transmit the emotional and sensitive subtleties of perceptions and reactions essential for a Black child’s survival in a racist society. Human beings are products of their environment and develop their sense of values, attitudes, and self-concept within their own family structures. Black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as Black people. (National Association of Black Social Workers, 1972, pp. 2–3)