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Cory Olmstead, Adanna Johnson-Evans, Ph.D.

Exploration of the perspectives on racial socialization and race lessons among mothers of transracially adopted black children

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Transracial adoption (TRA), especially of Black children by White parents, is a practice that has been controversial for many years. Important issues surrounding TRA are healthy socialization of Black children, development of healthy racial identity, and fostering safety of Black children in society, considering the realities of racism and discrimination. Forty-nine percent of Americans believe that racism in this country is still a “big problem” (CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 2015). As a result, it has been said that even if White parents have the best interest of the child in mind, they may not be equipped to ensure healthy development and racial identity, and may not have the skills, experience or knowledge needed to teach a Black child to survive in today’s society (Grow & Shapiro, 1974; McRoy & Zurcher, 1983; Simon & Alstein, 2002). This is especially important considering the state of race relations, or relations between members of different races within one country, in America currently. Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that race relations are worse now than in 2014 (PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, 2015).

There has been research conducted to determine if transracial adoption is indeed in the best interest of the child (e.g. Zastro, 1977; Simon & Alstein, 1987; Hollingsworth, 1997; Brooks & Barth 1999) however, the results of these studies are conflicting in that the first wave of studies found no significant differences in the general adjustment of transracial adoptees (Brooks & Barth, 1999), while other studies have shown that transracial adoptees were more likely to suffer from a weaker ethnic identity or from identity confusion (Friedlander et al., 2000; Lee, 2003; Hollingsworth, 1997), and therefore have not been able to adequately address the issues associated with TRA. Current literature also lacks information about how racial socialization plays a role in adjustment for TRAs. Racial socialization is the process of transmitting rules, regulations, skills, values, history, and knowledge about culture and race relations from one generation to another (Wilson, Foster, Anderson, & Mance, 2009).

Through interpretive phenomenological analysis, the current study aims to explore how White mothers, who have adopted Black children, approached their adoption choices regarding adoptee race, and to explore the role of racial socialization in their parenting processes. In addition, the current study will explore how, if at all, White parents may utilize race lessons with their children. Race lessons are simply teachings about the meaning of race, and ways to effectively cope with racism (Smith & Juarez, 2015). A sample of 8 White mothers who have adopted a Black child will be interviewed using an in-depth, semi-structured interview in order to address the current study’s questions.

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