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Transracial Adoption in Contemporary America

Sandra Patton

Publication Year: 2000

Can White parents teach their Black children African American culture and history? Can they impart to them the survival skills necessary to survive in the racially stratified United States? Concerns over racial identity have been at the center of controversies over transracial adoption since the 1970s, as questions continually arise about whether White parents are capable of instilling a positive sense of African American identity in their Black children.

"[An] empathetic study of meanings of cross-racial adoption to adoptees"
—Law and Politics Book Review, Vol. 11, No. 11, Nov. 2001

Through in-depth interviews with adult transracial adoptees, as well as with social workers in adoption agencies, Sandra Patton, herself an adoptee, explores the social construction of race, identity, gender, and family and the ways in which these interact with public policy about adoption. Patton offers a compelling overview of the issues at stake in transracial adoption. She discusses recent changes in adoption and social welfare policy which prohibit consideration of race in the placement of children, as well as public policy definitions of "bad mothers" which can foster coerced aspects of adoption, to show how the lives of transracial adoptees have been shaped by the policies of the U.S. child welfare system.

Neither an argument for nor against the practice of transracial adoption, BirthMarks seeks to counter the dominant public view of this practice as a panacea to the so-called "epidemic" of illegitimacy and the misfortune of infertility among the middle class with a more nuanced view that gives voice to those directly involved, shedding light on the ways in which Black and multiracial adoptees articulate their own identity experiences.

Published by: NYU Press



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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This study would not have been possible without the generosity of time, insight, and emotion of the adoptees and social workers I interviewed. I wish to thank the social workers I spoke with for teaching me what the adoption world looks like from their perspective, as well as for the enormous help many of them ...

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Introduction: Narratives of Adoption, Roots, and Identity

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pp. 1-27

Lynn’s story about roots and family trees raises the question: What makes us who we are? How do we, lacking knowledge of our birth families, claim a history, a heritage, an ancestry in a social context that largely defines “real” kinship through “bloodlines”? The metaphor of roots resonates beyond the lives of adoptees. ...

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Chapter 1: Origin Narratives

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pp. 28-61

When I was a child I had a book called The Chosen Baby (Wasson, 1950). Originally written in 1939 by Valentina Wasson, the edition I was given had been revised and updated in 1950. My adoptive parents gave me the book to help me understand adoption—my origins. It told the story of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, ...

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Chapter 2: Navigating Racial Routes

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pp. 62-98

Culture shock is a term used to describe the bewilderment and distress individuals often experience upon traveling to a foreign land. It occurs when a person’s assumptions and expectations about self, others, and reality fail to provide the information necessary for cultural interaction and survival. ...

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Chapter 3: Searching: “I Have a Family with No Blood”

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pp. 99-129

Shelley was searching for her birth mother. She wanted to know more about her genealogy, about pertinent facts like her medical history. She had had some medical problems, and explained, “You need . . . you need to know. I think it’s important.” She wanted to see who she looked like. But her frustration with the child welfare system ...

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Chapter 4: Producing “IL/Legitimate” Citizens: Transracial Adoption and Welfare Reform

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pp. 130-167

This series of scenes dramatizes the question: “Who decides what makes a mother?” This was the question used as the tag line in advertisements for the 1995 film, released at the height of political and public policy discussions about “fit” versus “unfit” mothers in the context of welfare reform and transracial adoption legislation. ...

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Conclusion: Narratives of Identity, Race, and Nation

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pp. 168-192

How was Gabrielle’s identity a “state project”? The county adoption agency placed her in a White family, and told them she was Mexican and Creole. She was raised in a community and culture dominated by Whiteness. In her mid-twenties she requested and received her “non-identifying information.” ...


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pp. 193-196


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pp. 197-216


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pp. 217-222

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About the Author

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p. 223

Sandra Patton is Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Minnesota.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768723
E-ISBN-10: 0814768725
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814766811
Print-ISBN-10: 0814766811

Page Count: 236
Publication Year: 2000

OCLC Number: 50706141
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Birthmarks

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Interracial adoption -- United States.
  • Adoptees -- United States -- Interviews.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • Adoption -- Government policy -- United States.
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