Document Type



January 2008


tranracial adoption, racial passing, mixed race, critical white studies, critical race theory




This article offers a theory of racial identity divorced from biological considerations. Law fails to recognize the complexity of racial performance and identity, thus categorically simplifying a perceived polarity of black and white. Ground-breaking scholarship addressing racial boundaries, as written by Randall Kennedy, Elizabeth Bartholet, and Angela Onwauchi-Willig, generally focuses on the enduring legacy of race discrimination. We approach these boundaries from a different angle—whites who become “less white.” We bring together the challenges of passing and adoption to offer a theory of fluid racial boundaries.

Transracial adoption provides one viable channel to discuss the possibilities of white-to-black racial identity transformation. By confronting the meaning of white identity in relation to their black surroundings, adoptive parents may engage along a continuum of what we term “interracial convergence.” Parents who adopt transracially potentially face some of the pressures of being black in the United States. The Interethnic Placement Act forbids the consideration of race in adoption placements, but white adoptive parents nevertheless receive sharp criticism from black social workers for lacking the ability to teach “survival skills” necessary for the child’s racial identity development. We argue, alternatively, that it creates a grey space where racial convergers—adoptive parents and racial passers—can challenge the stability of racial boundaries.

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