Sharing the Spotlight

Background of the study:

By and large, the non-adopted white siblings in transracial adoptive families have been overlooked by adoption researchers. Recently, such siblings have come to be known in the adoption community as “invisible” children, since their experiences frequently are ignored and their specific needs often go un addressed. For my dissertation research, I interviewed twelve adults who grew up between the 1960s and1990s with a brother, or sister, adopted internationally (from Korea) or, domestically (either biracial or, African American adoptees). I wanted to hear what it was like for, white individuals to live with diversity in their families. What did transracial adoption mean to these non-adopted white siblings?

Theoretical framework and methodology:

The participants were interviewed individually and then the recorded interviews were transcribed. Each interview transcript was analyzed using the tools of discourse analysis and narrative analysis. The purpose of this analysis was to document the kinds of selves (Wortham, 2001) each participant narrated in talking about their experiences with race and adoption. The idea is that identity is more than what we are: it is also what we do. We narrate OUT identities through the language we use, and in our interactions with others.


27 different kinds of selves were documented. These narrative selves were then c1ustered into five groups (or composite narrative identities) as follows:

  • Safe sibling.
  • Responsible sibling
  • Moral sibling
  • Aware sibling
  • Transracialized sibling

The five composite identities are not meant to represent a stage model of identity development. Rather, they represent tendencies in the ways these 12 sibling participants narrated their identities, drawing on discourses of race and adoption. I do argue, nonetheless, that the transracialized sibling identity represents a significant break with the more typical ways of enacting white identities. In other words, I do see some development from “pre-transracialized” to transracialized identities.

Transracialization is my term to denote the unusual and creative ways to enact new racial identities. Transracialization breaks with (or transcends) more typical performances of racial identities as prescribed by racialization. (Racialization describes the ways we learn to see the world in racial terms, including the way we understand ourselves and others as “raced” beings.)

Most of the 12 sibling participants narrated identities that followed predictable expressions of whiteness, such as color-blindness or a simplistic multicultural identity that downplays differences (“We may be different, but we are essentially the same”). Transracialized siblings, on the other hand, talked about race and adoption in complex, sophisticated ways that suggested a more nuanced comprehension of and engagement with discourses of race and adoption. For example, they espoused anti-racism, became adoption-savvy, and struggled to describe their racial identities in new terms. This led me to label these creative enactments of whiteness as post-white identities. That is, they still described themselves as white, but as white and something more, something that made them feel different from other white individuals.


All of the sibling participants expressed deep affection and love for their adopted brothers and sisters. Some reported mostly positive outcomes and experiences, while others shared heartbreaking stories of suicide, estrangement, trouble with the law, and so on. Collectively, their narratives represent what 1 call the “good, the bad, and the ugly” sides of the transracial adoption experiment. As white children growing up in transracial adoptive families, they all came to share the spotlight of public scrutiny of their families and their parents’ decisions to adopt a child of another race. For me, their stories represent our society’s unfinished-and largely abandoned-struggle for racial integration. These siblings and their families need and deserve our ongoing support.

Note: Far citation purposes (to reference this study), please cite as follows: Raible, J. (2005). Sharing the spotlight: The non-adopted siblings of transracial adoptees. Amherst, MA: unpublished dissertation, University of Massachusetts.

Source: Coalition 2006 Conference Presentation by John Raible, ED.D.  For more information see John Raible Online

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