Transracial Adoption in the United States: The Reflection and Reinforcement of Racial Hierarchy

33 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2011 Last revised: 27 Jul 2012

See all articles by David Ray Papke

David Ray Papke

Marquette University - Law School

Date Written: July 27, 2012


This article explores the racial dimensions of transracial adoption as a socio-legal phenomenon. The three parts of the article trace the history and summarize the law of whites adopting (1) Asians, (2) Native Americans, and (3) African Americans. The most obvious feature of these three types of transracial adoption is that whites serve overwhelmingly as the “adopting race” and also exercise the most control in the adoption process. In addition to this basic pattern of racial dominance, the three types more subtly reveal a racial hierarchy among racial minority groups. When these groups stand above or below one another, the hierarchy impedes the development of solidarity among racial minority groups and thereby enhances white dominance in transracial adoption. This article does not deny that some white adoptive parents transcend racism, and the article also does not oppose transracial adoption. However, transracial adoption as a socio-legal phenomenon nevertheless reflects and reinforces racial hierarchy. Transracial adoption is an illustration that in the contemporary, supposedly “post-racial” United States, race remains associated with power or the lack thereof.

Keywords: adoption, transracial adoption, family law, interracial adoption

Suggested Citation

Papke, David Ray, Transracial Adoption in the United States: The Reflection and Reinforcement of Racial Hierarchy (July 27, 2012). Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 11-15. Available at SSRN: or

David Ray Papke (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics