Pushing the Limits of Transracial Adoption

My sister Amy forwarded this thought-provoking article to me: Raising Katie: What adopting a white girl taught a black family about race in the Obama era.

In case it’s not immediately obvious, here’s the focal point of the piece:

> So-called transracial adoptions have surged since 1994, when the Multiethnic Placement Act reversed decades of outright racial matching by banning discrimination against adoptive families on the basis of race. But the growth has been all one-sided. The number of white families adopting outside their race is growing and is now in the thousands, while cases like Katie’s—of a black family adopting a nonblack child—remain frozen at near zero.

> Decades after the racial integration of offices, buses and water fountains, persistent double standards mean that African-American parents are still largely viewed with unease as caretakers of any children other than their own—or those they are paid to look after. As Yale historian Matthew Frye Jacobson has asked: “Why is it that in the United States, a white woman can have black children but a black woman cannot have white children?”

This article made me think back to the time I saw a big group of foreigners at the Shanghai Pudong airport, each couple carrying a precious newly adopted Chinese baby, getting ready to fly back home. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now I do realize that all of them were white.

So this does make me wonder… Would a black couple have trouble adopting a Chinese baby in China?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Considering the clear racial hierarchy that exists in China I’d be surprised if it was as easy, but there don’t seem to be any explicit ruels against it.

    This 2006 NY Times article explains some of the stricter adoption rules that China introduced

    The guidelines include a requirement that applicants have a body-mass index of less than 40, no criminal record, a high school diploma and be free of certain health problems like AIDS and cancer. Couples must have been married for at least two years and have had no more than two divorces between them. If either spouse was previously divorced, the couple cannot apply until they have been married for at least five years.

    In addition, adoptive parents must have a net worth of at least $80,000 and income of at least $10,000 per person in the household, including the prospective adoptive child.

  2. I don’t think so.
    those couples who adopted were probbal really rich

  3. And, would it be possible (and probable) for a Chinese couple to adopt a white baby.

  4. It’s been known to happen Micah! There is a reporter that works for the BBC that is white and has a distinctly Chinese surname. I recall thinking to myself that he didn’t look particularly Eurasian and indeed, it turns out that he was the adopted son of a British Chinese family!

  5. Prior to 2007, a number of Chinese children were adopted by African American and black/interracial couples in the USA (and presumably elsewhere). There is even a yahoo group for black families with Asian children. Sometime in 2007, China became more reluctant to place children with black families. There is a very sad case of a single black mom, originially approved by China to adopt a special needs child, who was then denied permission, due to race. The (yes, mostly white) Chinese adoption community in the USA rallied around her, and the CCAA (Chinese Centre of Adoption Affairs, in Beijing) reversed its decision, and allowed the adoption to proceed. That mother is currently in prison, charged with the 2008 murder of her adopted child. http://bit.ly/YpQnV There have been cases of adopted Chinese children killed by their white parents, of course. But since 2007, African American families have been discouraged by ethical adoption agencies from pursuing a China adoption, due to the high chance of disapproval by China’s authorities (after a lot of time and money has been spent in assembling the prospective adoptive parents’ (PAP) dossier).

    Of course, because the waiting time for a non-special needs referral from China is currently at 38 months from the time the PAP dossier was logged into Beijing – and the wait is expected to increase to possibly 5-6 years – it’s not just African American PAP families who are looking elsewhere to build their families.

  6. In Sichuan, I knew of a local girl who wanted two children of her own (and willing to pay the extra tax for it) and she wanted to adopt 1 or 2 African children. I thought it was really cool of her.

  7. James Fallow posted an article called “Chinese/US attitudes on race, flu” on The Atlantic. It highlights a biracial girl named Lou Jing who has a Chinese mother and an African American father. He linked some of blogs and forums that talked about this girl, some of the comments on their are quite cruel, but I think it highlights a very negative, but existing aspect of Chinese people’s attitude towards race. From my personal experience with Chinese people abroad and in China, the Chinese people here have a more racist attitude towards African Americans, whereas Chinese people in China are all over the place, some may not even know the concept of race and racial differences (perhaps one could call it the “Chinese privilege” as opposed to “white privilege”.) But from a personal experience with other things, it seems like Chinese people are much more open to having friends who are different, they may be prejudice and ignorant, but if you are friends with someone who belongs to a group you may have prejudice of, they somehow turn a blind eye to it.

    Article: http://tinyurl.com/nfnwqx

  8. @InF, I read this story and feel alot of the hate you heard was directed towards the fact that Lou Jing’s mother who was already married at the time had an affair with an African American(she said this on public tv), I can understand why Chinese would feel a little peeved, for one reason she had an affair, that is very sad, and two a lot of Chinese would think “why is she having an affair with a foreigner, arent Chinese men good enough” so I think at some level they feel this is a little personal. Unfortunatly the child is wearing the green hat of her Mothers guilt (her African looks) that all chinese will notice. She is a lovely looking girl and mixed race kids are going to become more excepted over time.

  9. @Heilong79, I understand what you’re saying about the affair, the Chinese have a long history with animosity with Europeans, Americans, and the Japanese. There has been no history with African nations (and their decedents) as I know of. I wonder how different would this be had Lou Jing’s mom had an affair with a white American as opposed to an African American. From all the people I know who have white/chinese mixed children, the general impression I get is usually how pretty the children look. And if such girl was on a similar show with a similar background as Lou Jing, I strongly feel she would receive less hostility even though white people have had a worse history with China. This kind of all leads back to being black or brown in China does not buy you any benefits either.

  10. shocking and ridiculous that the article John highlights attempts to view the fact that “Black families aren’t adopting white kids” is racism against the black people. Come on. How ridiculous. How about it’s possible the black people don’t want to adopt white people. Is that so hard to imagine?

    I read this as MICAH did… would a Chinese person
    a.) adopt at all, and
    b.) adopt a white kid or even
    c.) adopt a black kid.

    do Chinese adopt? I’ve brought it up to many Chinese and I always get the same response. Heck no.

  11. @Magnus, and how many of those people were unable to have children?

  12. If Chinese people would choose to adopt, the easiest and most obvious way to go for them would be to adopt a Chinese child. There are so many Chinese children available for adoption, and it’s probably a whole lot easier to raise a child from your own culture (especially for the child), that it makes little sense for Chinese couples to consider adopting a black child.

    As to black couples in the US not adopting white children, perhaps that is also because there are proportionally a lot of black children available for adoption (the article also mentions this), and so the odds that a black adopting couple ends up with a black child is rather large.

  13. actually i know quite a few chinese who would happily adopt, some of whom are quire seriously planning to do so

  14. I agree somewhat with Magnus. I read a report somewhere that more than 98% of black women in the US marry black men, whereas a significantly lower percentage of white women marry white men. Could this be an extension of that phenomenon? That African-Americans generally feel less comfortable than white Americans with the concept of living with people of a different race?

  15. It is big base to breed human here,efficiently.Do you want an oriental baby,come over.How many adults here envy those adopted babies in their deep mind?that they subconsciously wish they could grow down to be back adorable babies,get the chance to be oversea.This is just the reality nobody is willing to admit.And now,if these adults pray to be changed back to baby state,meanwhile,they would pray the couple which would adopt them were not Black or other colored race!

    It doesn’t sound adoption,it sounds rescue…lucky babies

  16. Great comment, poster, real lucid.

  17. Plenty of Asians adopt kids from China. If the foreigners at the airport had been Asian, you wouldn’t have noticed them because you would have thought they were the natural parents of the babies. It’s not that you noticed the foreigners were white, it’s that you noticed them because they were white.

  18. Marcia Roberts Says: November 30, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    I am Afro-Caribbean. I adore children and would happily adopt a child from China. But I have also noted that people outside of the Black/Asian dynamic like to comment on race rather than the reason why adoption is a requirement. I was disgusted by the Qatari prosecutor who derided a loving Chinese Couple who had adopted a beautiful Ghanaian little girl, who had unfortunately passed away and the couple where looking at a death sentence after being charged with her murder. The prosecutor of this country implied that they only adopted her in order to kill her for her internal bodily organs in which to sell. Madness. Not only that, the prosecutor couldn’t understand why they would want to adopt a Black child as most adopters would choose a beautiful one, not a Black one child. This is Insanity. As Africa rises, there will be more hostility to people of natural colour. Economically when the tables turn in Africa’s favour, will the colour bar be raised or lowered
    and with regards to the Adoption process, will it be quite such am issue?

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