In a 2007 national survey, 40% of children adopted by Americans, both domestically and internationally, were of a different race than their adoptive parents (source). Transracial adoptions are very common.  But who adopts who?  If you ask Google Images, white families adopt non-white children. Six of the images below appear to feature white parents with children of color:


Why in America do we associate transracial adoptions with white parents?

One reason might be simply numerical.  White people aren’t more likely to adopt – in fact, the population of adopters is less white (73%) than the general population (78%) – but only 39% of adoptees are white. So, when white people do adopt, there’s a decent chance that they’ll adopt a non-white baby. Compounding this, they may be more likely to adopt transnationally because whites as a group are more affluent and so may have the money necessary pay the expenses of an overseas adoption, traveling across the globe possibly multiple times.

I think, however, that we also associate transracial adoptions with white parents out of bias.  Many Americans are suspicious that minorities might not be “fit parents,” especially to a white child.  In this scenario, we value white children more than other children and imagine that they should be placed only with good/white parents. Or, conversely, we imagine that it is only children of color that need saving and only white people that save.

The idea that people of color never raise white children as their own is illustrated by the story of Regina and Stacey Bush.  Regina is Stacey’s adoptive mother.  She’s black and Stacey is white.  Jessica Ravitz, at CNN, discusses the various ways in which the mother and child upset other people’s sense of what’s normal and right.  Ravitz writes:

When a young Stacey once started climbing into the van to join her family at an Arby’s restaurant, patrons came running to grab her, yelling that she was going into the wrong car. The girl was given detention at school, accused of lying because she called a young black boy her little brother, which he was. At a movie theater one time, someone called the police because they feared Stacey had been abducted.

These reactions reveal that many people still can’t imagine a non-white person raising a white child that is his or her own.

Hannah Rau is a sophomore at Occidental College. She plans to study Sociology and Art History.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter andFacebook.