Theses Doctoral

The Experience and Understanding of Racial Difference in Families Among Adults of Color Adopted by White Parents

Redington, Rebecca M.

The notion of normality in families is socially constructed. In fact, so-called traditional families represent only 3% of households in the United States. The presence of dissimilarity in families has given rise to a deficit model, where families constructed outside of the norm are recognized as vulnerable to problems and likely candidates for intervention. At the same time, mental health practitioners indicate feeling unequipped to address the concerns of these families. Rather than assume nontraditional families are destined for maladaptive outcomes, research must investigate how family members address differences to produce strong, high functioning families. As such, the purpose of this qualitative investigation was to a) identify what transracially adopted individuals think and feel about their own race and the race of their parents/other adoptive family members, b) understand how racial differences are addressed in families formed through transracial adoption, and c) elucidate how transracially adopted individuals are affected (in childhood and adulthood) by ways in which their parents address or do not address issues of race with them. Data was collected through 13 semi-structured interviews with adults of color who were transracially adopted by White parents. Participant narratives were transcribed and then analyzed using Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR). Results illustrate the complexity of identity formation and parent/child relationships in the lives of transracial adoptees. Racial messages received from family members and communities are identified, including themes of colorblindness, racial discrimination, and having no sense of belonging. Participants described various ways in which they dealt with race-related messages on their own, through methods of isolation and avoidance. They also discussed negative emotional responses to race-related encounters, such as confusion, anger, and anxiety. Participants' experiences of their own racial identity, as well as their relationship to their birth race and culture, are described. Suggestions for prospective White transracial adoptive parents are made, including the importance of incorporating adoptees' birth race and culture within family life. Finally, implications for mental health practitioners working with transracial adoptive families, limitations, and suggestions for future research are provided.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Counseling Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Smith, Laura
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 14, 2011