National Association of Black Social Workers, “Position Statement on Trans-Racial Adoption,” September 1972

Source: Geri Davis, available in Andrew Billingsley and Jeanne M. Giovannoni, Children of the Storm: Black Children and American Child Welfare (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972), 212.

A meeting at Harlem-Dowling Children's Service, staffed entirely by African-Americans. The agency was by founded in 1972 by opponents of transracial adoption whose goal was to locate black homes for black children. Harlem-Dowling was the brainchild of African-American administrators at Spence Chapin Adoption Service.

The National Association of Black Social Workers has taken a vehement stand against the placement of black children in white homes for any reason. We affirm the inviolable position of black children in black families where they belong physically, psychologically and culturally in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future.

Ethnicity is a way of life in these United States, and the world at large; a viable, sensitive, meaningful and legitimate societal construct. This is no less true nor legitimate for black people than for other ethnic groups. . . .

The socialization process for every child begins at birth and includes his cultural heritage as an important segment of the process. In our society, the developmental needs of Black children are significantly different from those of white children. Black children are taught, from an early age, highly sophisticated coping techniques to deal with racist practices perpetrated by individuals and institutions. These coping techniques become successfully integrated into ego functions and can be incorporated only through the process of developing positive identification with significant black others. Only a black family can transmit the emotional and sensitive subtleties of perception and reaction essential for a black child’s survival in a racist society. Our society is distinctly black or white and characterized by white racism at every level. We repudiate the fallacious and fantasied reasoning of some that whites adopting black children will alter that basic character.

We fully recognize the phenomenon of transracial adoption as an expedient for white folk, not as an altruistic humane concern for black children. The supply of white children for adoption has all but vanished and adoption agencies, having always catered to middle class whites developed an answer to their desire for parenthood by motivating them to consider black children. This has brought about a re-definition of some black children. Those born of black-white alliances are no longer black as decreed by immutable law and social custom for centuries. They are now black-white, inter-racial, bi-racial, emphasizing the whiteness as the adoptable quality; a further subtle, but vicious design to further diminish black and accentuate white. We resent this high-handed arrogance and are insulted by this further assignment of chattel status to black people. . . .

White parents of black children seek out special help with their parenting; help with acquiring the normal and usually instinctual parental behaviors inherent in the cultural and psychological development of children. It is tantamount to having to be taught to do what comes naturally.

Special programming in learning to handle black children’s hair, learning black culture, “trying to become black,” puts normal family activities in the form of special family projects to accommodate the odd member of the family. This is accentuated by the white parents who had to prepare their neighbors for their forthcoming black child and those who hasten, even struggle, to make acquaintance with black persons. These actions highlight the unnatural character of trans racial adoption, giving rise to artificial conditions, logically lacking in substance. Superficialities convey nothing of worth and are more damaging than helpful.

We know there are numerous alternatives to the placement of black children with white families and challenge all agencies and organizations to commit themselves to the basic concept of black families for black children. With such commitment all else finds its way to successful realization of that concept. Black families can be found when agencies alter their requirements, methods of approach, definition of suitable family and tackle the legal machinery to facilitate inter-state placements. Additionally, the proposed commitment invokes the social work profession to a re-orientation to the black family permitting sight of the strengths therein. Exploration for resources within a child’s biological family can reveal possibilities for permanent planning. The extended family of grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc. may well be viable resources if agencies will legitimize them; make them their area for initial exploration and work first to develop and cement their potential. This is valid and preferable even if financial assistance is necessary.

We denounce the assertions that blacks will not adopt; we affirm the fact that black people, in large number, can not maneuver the obstacle course of the traditional adoption process. This process has long been a screening out device. The emphasis on high income, educational achievement, residential status and other accoutrements of a white middle class life style eliminates black applicants by the score.

The National Association of Black Social Workers asserts the conviction that children should not remain in foster homes or institutions when adoption can be a reality. We stand firmly, though, on conviction that a white home is not a suitable placement for black children and contend it is totally unnecessary.


Source: Robert H. Bremner, Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History, Vol. 3, Parts 1-4 (Harvard University Press, 1974):777-780.

Page Updated: 2-24-2012
Site designed by:

To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3699
About the Project and the Author
© Ellen Herman