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Migraciones internacionales

On-line version ISSN 2594-0279Print version ISSN 1665-8906

Migr. Inter vol.10  Tijuana  2019  Epub Jan 01, 2019 


“New Racism” From the Perspective of “Quiet Migration”: Interracial Adoption in Spain 

María José Rodríguez Jaume 1


Fernando Llanas

1Universidad de Alicante, España,


The increase in international adoptions of minors (quiet migration) all over Spain has coincided in time with the rise of immigration. The links between these two phenomena give rise to a hybrid line of research focused on the racial experiences shared by both the adopted population and the immigrant population. A comparative analysis of data coming from three public opinion research sources reveals: (a) the presence of “racism without race” within Spanish society, even though phenotypic differences play a determining role in the social construction of race; and (b) a low “racial awareness” amongst interracial adoptive parents, which leads them to reproduce the ideology of “color-blind racism.”

Keywords: colorblind racism; interracial families; international adoptions; ethnic minorities; Spain


En España, el incremento de las adopciones internacionales de menores (migración silenciosa) confluye temporalmente con el auge inmigratorio. Sus nexos generan una línea híbrida de investigación que aborda las experiencias raciales que comparten tanto la población adoptada como la inmigrante. A partir del análisis de los datos procedentes de tres fuentes demoscópicas, se advierte la presencia en la sociedad española del “racismo sin razas”; si bien las diferencias fenotípicas son determinantes en la construcción social de la raza, y de una escasa “conciencia racial” entre los padres adoptivos interraciales, lo que les lleva a reproducir la ideología del denominado “racismo daltónico”.

Palabras clave: racismo daltónico; familias interraciales; adopción internacional; minorías étnicas; España


The Immigration and International Adoption Boom in Spain: Temporary Convergence and Disciplinary Intersections

In the 80s of the last century, Weil (1984) presented in a specialized magazine on migration the international adoption of children as “quiet migration.” In his article, he denounced that the study of international migration focused on the movements of adults, omitting transnational migrations of girls and boys adopted in countries other than those of their birth. At the dawn of the 21st century, the phenomenon of international adoptions finds itself in an unprecedented geographical and numerical scenario, causing its initial consideration as quiet migration to be profoundly altered. Peter Selman estimated that at the beginning of the 21st century more than 32 000 girls and boys were moving between more than a hundred countries through international adoption (2002, p. 206); international adoption increased by 42% between 1998-2004 ( Selman, 2006, p. 185 ),2 declining thereafter, except in Italy ( Selman, 2012 ).

Since the 1980s, demographic studies show the dissimilar role that countries play on the map of international adoptions, either as issuers or receivers of children. Particularly, in Spain the extension of international adoptions takes place in a very unique context. In 2004, without an established culture for adoption abroad and with a rate of 13 adoptions per thousand inhabitants, Spain became the second country in the world in international adoption ( Selman, 2006, p. 189 ). Additionally, its statistical presence and social notoriety occurs in the so-called “prodigious decade” of immigration in Spain ( Aja, Arango & Oliver, 2011, p. 13 ). From 1997 to 2008, Spain was the European Union country that received the more immigrants, with a positive migratory balance of more than five million people ( Arango, 2010, p. 56 ). Thus, the international adoption boom ( Rodríguez & Jareño, 2015 ) temporarily converges with the immigration boom in Spain ( Arango, 2010 ).

Studies on international adoption made from demography anticipated the potential held for social sciences in studying with an interdisciplinary approach the connections between this phenomenon and that of international migration. Overcoming the traditional limits in the study of the two phenomena, two hybrid lines of research have been inaugurated. The first has incorporated the theoretical basis of migration into the analysis of international adoptions. The causal explanations offered are articulated around the classic model of push and pull factors applied to migrations from Ravenstein's studies (1885-1889).

Thus, international adoptions are another example of the migration of girls and boys from their countries of origin (due to war conflicts, hunger and diseases), to the rich countries that attract them, either for humanitarian and demographic reasons or because of new lifestyles ( Howell & Marre, 2006 ; Hübinette, 2004 ; Rodríguez, 2015 ; Rodríguez & Jareño, 2015 ; Selman, 2002 & 2006 ).

Studies of international adoptions have endorsed the progress shown by migration scholars in other areas. Hübinette (2004) and Hübbinette and Tigervall (2009) have applied the transnational migration paradigm to the study of the diaspora of the Korean population adopted internationally. Another example is Leinaweaver (2011) , who picks up the concepts of regrouping and return to analyze the similarities and differences that occur between Peruvian migrations and adoptions in Spain.

The second hybrid line of research addresses the racial experiences shared by the adopted population and the immigrant. The works of Hübinette and Tigervall (2009) on adopted children of Korean origin residing in Sweden; Leinawear’s work (2014) on adopted Peruvian children living in Europe; De Grave's work (2015) on Ethiopian children adopted by Belgian families; and the international adoption studies in Spain of Howell and Marre (2006) , Marre (2009) , San Román (2013) and San Román and Marre (2013) show that although families and adopted children do not consider themselves as immigrants, they experience similar racial and social discrimination events. In this sense, such research in the field of European immigration indicates that racist and xenophobic attitudes based on phenotypic differences persist, which can lead to mistakenly identifying people as “immigrants,” despite being born in the country or having Spanish citizenship ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles 2014 ; Cea D’Ancona, Valles & Eseverri, 2014, p. 18-19 ).

This overlapping experience introduces the main objective of this article, which is none other than to contribute to the double theoretical-academic debate that each of the disciplines provides: on the one hand, the extension of what in the field of migration is called “new racism” and, on the other, the way in which this new racism is managed within the interracial adoptive families.

Our contribution is organized in three sections. First, the research questions and the theoretical framework are introduced. It is followed by a section in which the methodological strategy followed and the three social surveys analyzed are presented. The fourth section includes the analysis carried out, structured around the three components that, according to Brigham (1971) , determine the measurement of attitudes towards immigration, while bringing us closer to the context of racial and cultural socialization in interracial adoptive families. This paper ends with a discussion about the results obtained.


After World War II and the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were exterminated due to the ideal of the “superior Aryan race,” UNESCO declared in 1951 that the term “race” lacked scientific significance. This statement was ratified in 2003, when the deciphering the complete sequence of the human genome showed that the “race” construct had no scientific validity to explain outgroup differences. This acknowledgment, as well as the extension of the values of individualism, freedom and equality in democratic societies, motivates the explicit rejection by the population to be reflected in the mirror of censorship and discrimination towards certain social groups. However, the denial of the “socially undesirable” does not mean that the attitude of the population is not racist. In fact, the latest Eurobarometer on discrimination in Europe reveals that 46% of the European population believes that skin color or ethnicity is a disadvantage to be hired ( TNS Opinion & Social, 2015, p. 1 ).

There is a broad academic consensus according to which racism, far from having banished, emerges as a “new racism,” which is chameleonic and adaptive to the diversity of social contexts and circumstances. It is capable of displaying all the subtlety of social control through a series of indirect beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of discrimination and labeling of what is the Other. This new racism falls within the sphere of “racism without races,” and supports racial prejudices in cultural differences and not in biological ones as traditional racism did ( Balibar, 1991, p. 37 ).

However, phenotypic differences (racial stigmas) are still used socially to distinguish and classify immigrants or foreigners in an economical (working-class racism), cultural and national (cultural racism) and religious (religious racism) position ( Cea D’Ancona, Valles & Eseverri, 2014, p. 16-17 ). In addition to this meanings, the new racism has also been labeled as symbolic ( Kinder & Sears, 1981 ), modern ( McConahay, 1983 ), aversive ( Dovidio & Gaertner, 2000 ) or subtle ( Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995 ) racism. In the catalog of new racisms, our interest is focused on the so-called “color-blind racism” that, like the others, is institutionalized, not overt, and without apparent racial practices ( Bonilla-Silva, 1999 ).

Bonilla-Silva, Lewis and Embrick (2004) propose that the framework of the racial ideology paradigm replace the individualist one of the prejudice paradigm, since this traditional approach is not able to connect racial beliefs with the power dynamics underlying the dominant racial ideology. The peculiarity of color-blind racism is that the ideology that sustains it denies the current racial inequalities in society, allowing the white population to maintain its privileged position without appearing racist ( Bonilla-Silva, Lewis & Embrick, 2004 ; Bonilla-Silva, 1999 ).

Bonilla-Silva (2003, p. 68-70) and Bonilla-Silva, Lewis and Embrick (2004, p. 560) have identified the social representations that are used to explain and justify (dominant race) or challenge (race or subordinate races) the racial status quo: the extension of abstract liberalism (“I am in favor of equal opportunities for all, so I oppose affirmative action”); the naturalization of racial affairs (“Racial segregation is natural...”); the biologization of culture (“Mexicans are poor because they lack the motivation to succeed”); and the minimization of racism (“Discrimination is over”).

Color-blind racism is an analytical framework used in the study of interracial adoptive families3 ( Hübinette & Tigervall, 2009 ; Kubo, 2010 ; Lee, Grotevant, Hellersted & Gunnar, 2006 ; Lee, 2003 ; Park, 2012 ; Richardson, 2011 ; Samuels, 2009 ; Sweeney, 2013 ). In this context, it is associated with the theoretical concept of “racial awareness,” defined as the level of awareness and knowledge that adoptive parents have about how race and ethnicity operates in people's lives.

Racial awareness is one of the central dimensions of the theoretical model that addresses cultural and racial socialization in interracial families ( Vonk, 2001 ; Lee, 2003 ; Massatti, Vonk & Gregoire, 2004 ). This is presented as a process in which parents develop strategies that allow them to manage ethnic and racial differences, as well as transmit to their children the cultural values and beliefs of their country of birth in order to acquire skills and abilities to “navigate” in a racist society ( Massatti, Vonk & Gregoire, 2004 ; Lee, 2003 ; Lee et al., 2006 ; Richardson, 2011 ; Samuels, 2009 ; Song & Lee, 2009 ; Twine, 2004 ; Vonk, 2001 ).

According to the research conducted on interracial adoptive families, color-blind racism is considered as a determining factor in their socialization strategies and educational models. Interracial families with a high color-blind racial attitude (they are aware of the advantages and prejudices of racism and the presence of discrimination in society) teach their children both their cultural heritage (enculturation) and coping tools in racist and discriminatory situations (racialization). However, those with a low color-blind racial attitude (they are not aware of the impact on their daily lives of racial differences and racism) not only develop socialization models based on cultural assimilation, but reproduce color-blind racism ( Lee et al., 2006 ; Lee, 2003 ).

In the context of this theoretical mix, we ask ourselves the following research questions: Do people identified as less racist and supportive of immigration share sociodemographic profile with those interracial adoptive families? Does “mutual knowledge” allow adoptive families and the general population to reverse prejudices and stereotypes towards people of different race, ethnicity or culture? Does interracial adoption transform parents' understanding of how racism works and facilitate the development of a critical perspective to analyze race? And in what way do they reproduce color-blind racism?


The answers to the questions posed are found in the secondary analyzes carried out in the studies on the Evolution of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in Spain (2012) and Discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin (2011). The methodological strategy includes, in turn, the primary analysis of the data recorded in section VII of the survey Adoptive families and their lifestyles (2012),4 dedicated to issues associated with interracial families. The three demographic studies offer data regarding the attitude and opinion that the Spanish population, ethnic minorities residing in Spain and Spanish families who adopted their children from abroad offer about immigration, which is used empirically to obtain indicators of racism and xenophobia. Next, each of the three sources used is described.

About the Survey “Adoptive Families and their Lifestyles”

The primary data used in the study come from the survey Adoptive families and their lifestyles (FAMADOP). This is the first and only survey conducted in Spain that explores adoptive families; a type of family for which the sociological approach is incipient. In 2012, FAMADOP surveyed 230 parents with a child adopted from abroad in their family unit. Its recruitment was carried out through a non-probabilistic sampling selected through the Internet; field work was done in the third quarter of 2012.

The sociodemographic profile of the sample does not differ from that identified in other countries ( Rodríguez & González, 2014, p. 168-169 ; Rodríguez & Jareño, 2015, p. 219- 222 ): mostly married population, with higher education and occupations of high social prestige, positioned on the political left, without religious identification and defenders of the postmodern family values system. Regarding the sociodemographic characteristics of adopted children, it should be noted that the median age was 7 years, 60% are girls, the average number of years of cohabitation is 5 years and adoptions came in 54% from Asia, 21% from Africa, 13% from Europe and 12% from South America.

Report on the Evolution of Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Spain

The report on the Evolution of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in Spain [2013 Report] is part of a series that begun in 2008. It was promoted and published by the Spanish Observatory of Racism and Xenophobia (OBERAXE by its Spanish initials).5 The 2013 report's main objective ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014 ) is to analyze the VI survey of Attitudes towards immigration, which is also part of the second period of surveys on immigration and racism carried out by the Center for Sociological Research (CIS by its Spanish initials) in 2007.6

The VI survey of Attitudes towards Immigration (nº 2.967), which field work was carried out from October 30 to November 18, 2012, shares the sample design of the CIS studies, allowing longitudinal trend analysis: it is national, it is aimed at the Spanish population of both genders from the age of 18, it is carried out via personal interview (face to face) at the home of randomly selected people following a multi-stage sample design, stratified by conglomerates with selection of the last sampling units (individuals) by random routes, gender and age quotas, and with a sample size of 2,464 people.

“Study on Discrimination Based on Racial or Ethnic Origin: Perception of Potential Victims”

The Study on discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin: perception of potential victims has the main objective of analyzing sociologically the perception of different ethnic minorities in regards of the unequal treatment experienced. The study takes the results from the survey conducted in 2011 by the Council for the promotion of equal treatment and non-discrimination of people because of their racial or ethnic origin.

This survey includes Recommendation n°4 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) that contains policy suggestions regarding national surveys on the experience and perception of discrimination and racism from the perspective of victims. The survey was first applied in 2010 as a pilot study. The study has a certain experimental nature for two reasons: first, the questionnaire applied is the only tool that measures levels of discrimination in Spain from the perspective of ethnic minorities; secondly, the 2011 sample had a greater scope in absolute and territorial terms, as well as in ethnic groups surveyed ( Suso & González, 2012, p. 7-8 ).

he survey has the participation of a representative sample of people from the main ethnic minorities living in Spain (865 people). The sample is stratified into eight population groups according to their origin: Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan, Maghreb, Asian, Andean, Gypsy, Spanish, Afro-Latin or Afro-Caribbean and the Indo-Pakistani.

The Analysis

In this article, we present the analysis of the ten indicators that are usually included in the demographic studies carried out in Spain to measure the attitude towards immigration, racism and xenophobia. On the one hand, the three components that Brigham (1971) determines in the measurement of attitudes are grouped by theoretical proximity and, on the other, there are three of the ten explanatory dimensions that Cea D’Ancona (2004, p. 30-31) identified as latent in the attitude towards immigration and that outline the context that triggers racial awareness among interracial adoptive parents.

The first component, the affective one, is installed in the “sociability with immigrants” dimension and measures the feelings or emotions generated by immigration from the three classic indicators of social distance. The analysis focuses on the approach to racial and ethnic prejudice. This is a classic topic in the social sciences, and which Allport (1968, p. 24) presented as “an antipathy that relies on an imperfect and inflexible generalization.” In turn, the indicators offer the opportunity to discover the value given to cultural diversity, which is an especially relevant dimension in the racial and ethnic socialization process faced by interracial adoptive families.

The second component, the cognitive one, is related to the “negative stereotypes of immigration” dimension, and it measures the stereotyped social representation that causes rejection of the foreign population. The three selected indicators examine the stereotypes that, according to Brigham (1971, p. 31) , are “generalizations about an ethnic group, regarding an attribution of features that are considered unjustified by an observer”. Their analysis is especially pertinent since they feed the racist speeches in circulation; they also act as externalization factors of racism and xenophobia and bring us closer to the level of awareness that adoptive parents have in relation to their racial and ethnic context.

Finally, the behavioral component is located in the “ethnic discrimination or otherness” dimension in school and work. The four selected indicators measure this subjective experience in situations of racial or ethnic discrimination. This brings us closer to the study of one of the theoretical dimensions of the racial and cultural socialization process in interracial adoptive families: the racial awareness or perception that people have about how race, ethnicity, language and racial status operates in their lives and in the lives of others ( Vonk, 2001, p. 249 ).


Prejudices and Stereotypes of Adoptive Families Against Immigration

The opinions that Spanish adoptive families show regarding immigration in the affective (liking) and cognitive (beliefs) components are shown in Table 1 . On the one hand, they are organized around six classic indicators in the measurement of sociability with the immigrant population (prejudices) and, on the other, the symbolic representation of the immigrant population (stereotypes). The analysis of these indicators acquires additional relevance in the particular context of adoptive families, since it connects with two key concepts in the study of color-blind racism; that is, multicultural awareness and social and racial context awareness.

Table 1. Prejudices-Stereotypes Regarding Immigration, Multicultural Awareness and Racial and Social Context Awareness: Adoptive Families (%)  

Prejudices: sociability with immigrants and multicultural awareness % Collective stereotypes and racial and social context awareness %
(1) How much would you mind if your children shared the same class with immigrant children?    (4) In general terms, do you think that immigration in our country is...?​  
Nothing 79.1 Very positive - positive 73.9
(2) What most affects the treatment given to immigrants in Spain?​   (5) When you hear the word ‘immigration’, what is the first thing that comes through your mind?  
Economic position 48.7 Need for work 25.7
Nationality 15.7 Foreigners 23
Culture 14.3 Poverty/Inequality 17.4
Skin color 7.4 Empathy and solidarity 9.6
Other 7    
(3) Your child is likely to come from a country with a different culture, language and customs. In your opinion, the child must learn the culture and customs:​   (6) How would you say that Spaniards generally treat immigrants? ​  
Both from their home country and  the host country 83.5 Distrust 53
Contempt 22.6
Those of the host country and those   Indifference 8.3
of their home country that do not 2.6 Normal (same as Spaniards) 6.1
disturb the rest of Spaniards   Kindly 5.2
First the Spanish and secondly those   Aggressively 0.9
of their home country 6.1    
n= 230 n= 230

Source: Own elaboration based on the FAMADOP survey data (2012).

The first indicator measures the sociability or social distance between adoptive families and the immigrant population by means of the level of acceptance generated by sharing the school environment. When raised under a hypothetical assumption, it is necessary to investigate the subtle forms of prejudice towards immigrants or ethnic minorities. The data suggest a general acceptance towards the coexistence of a native-immigrant population in school, since 79.1% of the adoptive parents “will not mind” that their children share a classroom with those of immigrants.

As an interracial family, the families that adopted their children from abroad would be expected to maintain greater social closeness and, consequently, direct knowledge of the immigrant population. This has traditionally been considered as an explanatory factor of the rates of racism and xenophobia, since research has indicated that greater social proximity favors receptive contexts towards the immigrant population and contributes to reversing prejudiced attitudes towards this group ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014, p. 260- 269 ).

The second indicator contemplates the imaginary of adoptive families in relation to the prejudices that determine the treatment of immigrants. Almost the majority of adoptive parents (48.7%) believe that the treatment given to the immigrant population is determined by their economic standing. This assessment illustrates how adoptive families are closer to the “economic immigrant” stereotype and connects with social discourses that establish a hierarchy depending on the country of origin. Thus, in the Spanish collective imaginary, the term “immigrant” is reserved for people from developing countries, while the term “foreigner” is linked to European citizens (with the exception of Eastern Europe) ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014, p. 250 ).

It is necessary to highlight that the race stigma par excellence (skin color) was indicated only by 7.4% of adoptive families as one of the characteristics that conditions the treatment given to the immigrant population. This marginal assessment is particularly interesting in the context of the theoretical framework of “color-blind racism” among interracial adoptive families since, as noted, its non-consideration is interpreted as a sign of low “racial awareness”; that is, ignorance of how race and ethnicity operate in people's lives.

The response pattern of the third indicator, which generally seeks to assess acceptance of the cultural diversity model by proposing three strategies for managing culture and customs among the immigrant population, reinforces the social representation established in the preceding indicator. Thus, adoptive parents who do not consider the nationality (15.7%) or culture (14.3%) of the immigrant group as a cause of differential treatment are extremely receptive to cultural diversity. The fact that 83.5% of parents declare that their children from abroad should learn both the culture and customs of their home country and the Spanish ones, places them in the defense of cultural pluralism and multicultural integration models.

The stereotype of immigration (cognitive component) reflects the stereotyped social representation that adoptive families have regarding the immigrant population and that may be the origin of their social rejection. The fourth indicator specifically explores the impact that the collective imaginary assigns to immigration, either as a source of development or conflict. As shown in Table 1 , adoptive parents mostly attribute a positive impact to immigration, which is valued by 73.9%.

The fifth indicator includes a classic question in attitude surveys regarding the immigrant population. On the one hand, it is sought to project the stereotype that is had and that, according to its nuance, can lead to a racial and ethnic prejudice and, on the other, to base racist and xenophobic behaviors. Among the adoptive families the word “immigration” is associated with the need for work (25.7%), foreigners (23%), povertyinequality (17.4%) and feelings of empathy and solidarity (9.6%). Of the four mentions, only one (foreigners) has neutral connotations, which makes adoptive families mostly establish (52.7%) a positive symbolic image of immigration.

The sixth indicator brings us closer to the social representation of the way in which outgroups interact. Its result reflects that the opinion of the adoptive parents, regarding the treatment given by the Spanish population to the immigrant, is negative: more than half (53%) think that the attitude that regulates relations with the immigrant population is contempt and for almost a third (22.6%) it is distrust. This last indicator breaks the positive image that adoptive families offer regarding immigration in the previous indicators. It is possible that it reflects the distance that separates perceptions and opinions from behaviors in a topic associated with social desirability. This is due to the fact that in their capacity as interracial adoptive families, they may have greater experiential knowledge of the questioned aspect, since they have been able to live racist and xenophobic episodes.

Prejudices And Stereotypes Of The Spanish Population Against Immigration

Table 2 contains the set of indicators contemplated in the preceding section with the purpose of evaluating the prejudice (sociability) and stereotypes (social representations) that the Spanish population expresses on immigrants. Following Moser and Kalton (1972, p. 43) , in this section we analyze again the findings of the OBERAXE report from a different point of view than the original. That is, the data from the survey on racism and xenophobia in Spain (2012) can also be read as indicators of the level of perception that the population has on how race and ethnicity operate in society (racial awareness) and their attitude towards color-blind racism (multicultural awareness).

Table 2. Prejudices-Stereotypes Regarding Immigration and Multicultural Awareness and Social and Racial Context Awareness: Spanish Population (%)  

Prejudices: sociability with immigrants and multicultural awareness % Collective stereotypes and racial and social context awareness  %
Would you agree to take your child to a school where there are many children of immigrants?​   In general terms, do you think that immigration in our country is...?  
I would  59.8 Very positive - positive 39.6
What most affects the treatment given to immigrants in Spain?    When you hear the word ‘immigration’, what is the first thing that comes through your mind?  
Economic standing 19.6 Need for work  19.4
Nationality 24 Foreigners 11.4
Culture 26.4 Poverty/Inequality 14.3
Skin color 10.4 Empathy and solidarity 10.3
Other 2.7
Often immigrants who come have a culture, language and customs different from Spanish ones. In your opinion they must learn the culture and customs:​   How would you say that Spaniards generally treat immigrants?​  
Both from their home country and the host country 36.9 Distrust 34.9
Those of the host country and those of   Contempt 8.3
their home country that do not disturb 50.1 Indifference 7.3
the rest of Spaniards    Normal (same as Spaniards) 26.1
First the Spanish and secondly those of   Kindly 17.4
their home country 10.3 Kindly 0.6
n= 2 464 n= 2 464

Source: Own elaboration based on the report data of the VI survey Attitudes towards immigration (2012) (Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014).

Regarding the level of tolerance (social distance) that the Spanish population expresses at the possibility of their children sharing classrooms with immigrant children, just over half (59.8%) would accept this assumption. It must be taken into account that in the Spanish survey this hypothetical situation is formulated in conjunction with eight other possible types of interactions. From this perspective, the reading of the data shown by the indicator assumes a new nuance, since the argument of agreeing to take their child to an educational center with a high presence of immigrant children is in the penultimate place among the eight types of relationships presented, just above “renting an apartment to an immigrant” ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014, p. 259 ).

In the imaginary of the Spanish population (second indicator), culture (26.4%) and nationality (24%) are the elements that condition the way in which we interact with the immigrant population. These values are linked to the prejudices established in the last Eurobarometer on discrimination in Europe in which 63% of the Spanish population indicated that ethnic discrimination was the most widespread ( TNS Opinion & Social, 2015, p. 1 ). Both studies abound in the idea of “racism without races” of contemporary societies. In new racism, racial prejudices are fueled by cultural differences and not by biological differences, as in traditional racism ( Balibar, 1991 ). In fact, only 10.4% of the Spanish population considers that “skin color” influences the interaction with immigrants.

The third indicator, which analyzes the preference between different models of social integration, clarifies the meaning that Spanish society gives to “culture” and “nationality” in everyday interaction. The clear preference of the Spanish population for the immigrant collective to only conserve those foreign cultural aspects and customs that “do not disturb the rest of the Spaniards” (50.1%), emphasizes the negative meaning that these elements assume in the social imaginary. The Spanish population is committed to a model of assimilationist integration in which immigrants must adapt to the culture and customs of their host society and ignore the elements that make them “different.” In line with this and in a context in which cultural difference is not recognized, immigration is devalued (fourth indicator): 39.6% of the Spanish population recognizes the positive impact that immigration can have on the country.

The fifth indicator explores the social representations that the term immigration spontaneously generates among the Spanish population. Of the four most evoked associations, we can infer that the collective imaginary projects a positive image of immigration, given that three of them contain a positive value: need for work (19.4%), poverty-inequality (14.3%) and feeling of empathy and solidarity (10.3%). From the analysis of the trend shown by this indicator, Cea D’Ancona and Valles (2014, p. 175-178) have concluded that 2012 marked a turning point because, contrary to expectations, the positive demonstrative support exceeded the aggregate of the neutral and negative.

The sixth and final indicator brings us closer to the social representation of the way in which outgroups interact. In 2012 the Spanish population defined the treatment of the immigrant population in a dual way. Although 51.1% linked the relational component with negative feelings of distrust (34.9%), contempt (8.3%), indifference (7.3%) and aggressiveness (0.6%), 43.5% described the treatment given to the immigrant population in positive terms: according to 26.1% of the respondents, they are treated the same as the Spaniards, and 26.1% considered that the treatment was based on kindness. This indicator, like the previous one, has evolved positively since 2008, despite the context of the economic crisis in which the study was conducted and which does not usually contribute in the sense indicated ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014, p. 249 ).

As the specialized literature has established, it is likely that this unexpected social representation around the treatment given by Spanish natives to immigrants is influenced by the social desirability bias in the responses. A new look at the data of the survey of attitudes of the Spanish population towards immigration (2012), from the framework of color-blind racism, would further explore this thesis, since the consideration of a treatment based on normality and kindness cannot be used when, in general, “cultural identity signs that may disturb other Spaniards are not tolerated.

Externalization and Perception of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination

This last section includes indicators of the behavioral component that measures subjective experience in situations of racial or ethnic discrimination. In turn, the indicators presented allow us to explore the concept of racial awareness in Spain. This is one of the theoretical dimensions of the racial and cultural socialization process of interracial families, which Vonk (2001) expresses itself as the perception that people have about how race, ethnicity, language and racial status operate in their lives and in the lives of others. Particularly, Table 3 connects with a central theme in the study of racism: the research of the factors that trigger discriminatory behaviors.

Table 3. Explanatory Factors in the Perception of Discriminatory Treatment Perceived by Ethnic Groups (%)  

  Physical Cultural practices Religious beliefs, Other
  features and or customs clothing  
  skin color      
69.1 44.2 22.1 6.3
n= 285 285 285 285

Source: Own elaboration based on the report data from the Study on discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin (Suso & González, 2012).

In the survey conducted on ethnic minorities living in Spain ( Suso & González, 2012 ), 32.9% (285 of the respondents) said they had directly experienced or witnessed a discriminatory situation in the last 12 months. The factors that triggered a differential treatment indicate a tendency contrary to the perceptions that both adoptive parents and the general population employ (see Tables 1 and 2 ): while the groups that participate in the hegemonic racial and ethnic model did not contemplate “skin color” as a factor that influenced the treatment of the immigrant population, the ethnic minorities interviewed perceived it that way.

These results support the thesis that demographic surveys underestimate this factor due to their social disapproval ( Cea D’Ancona, 2004 ; Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014 ). As noted, from the academy it has been underlined that in advanced societies, in which equality is one of their core values, there has been a withdrawal from the traditional forms of racism and xenophobia, specifically from those that are framed in biological differences.

It is interesting to note that the results of the aforementioned report also confirm that the intensity in the perception of discrimination is reduced among groups with less marked phenotypic differences compared to the Spanish population ( Suso & González, 2012, p. 47 ). This same assessment coincides with the gradient of preferences, affiliations and phobias that the Spanish population manifests towards immigrant groups, in terms of how much they approximate western ethnic traits ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014, p. 143 ).

Table 4 presents the assessment that adoptive parents make about whether racial or ethnic differences of their adopted children would explain situations of discrimination. Their perception becomes relevant due to their equidistant social position to the group that represents the dominant race and culture (that they are part of) and the groups (to which their children will be socially ascribed) that will be racialized by their physical characteristics.

Table 4. Perception of Discrimination in Interracial Adoptive Families (%)  

The race or ethnicity of Perception of Perception that the
your children would discrimination suffered origin of
explain their fights or by your child at schoola discrimination
anger at school, park ...   suffered at school is
    their race or ethnicityb
Yes 26.1 30.9 84.5b
No 230 230 71

Source: Own elaboration based on FAMADOP survey data (2012).

aQuestion that measures on a scale of five the intensity in the perception of discrimination suffered by their children in school, where 1 was “nothing” and 5 “a lot.” The value shown is the aggregate of the answers in options 2, 3, 4 and 5.

bQuestion only answered by those who stated that their child had experienced some level of discrimination (answers in options 2, 3, 4 and 5).

Demographic data shows that 26.1% of adoptive parents consider race or ethnicity to be the factor that triggers fights or anger in their children in contexts of interaction. Specifically, when inquiring about the possibility of having experienced discrimination in the school environment, 30.9% of the families surveyed assume it was so. The majority (84%) consider that discrimination is caused by the race or ethnicity of their children. These data approximate the impressions expressed by ethnic minorities: in general terms, one out of three people who are part of an ethnic minority or whose life experience is similar (interracial family) would have experienced racial or ethnic discrimination.

Finally, one would expect that adoptive parents would recognize the benefits and disadvantages of being part of the dominant race; that is, that they show a high racial conscience ( Vonk, 2001, p. 249-250 ) because some of those who recognize that their children have been discriminated against at school attribute this situation to their race or ethnicity. However, despite the fact that 46.7% of ethnic minorities recognized that the work environment is the area in which they perceive discrimination the most, based on racial or ethnic origin ( Suso & González, 2012, p. 113 ), only 27.4% of adoptive parents considered that “the skin color or characteristic features of another country or culture that is not Spanish” would be a problem for their child when accessing a job. Spanish adoptive families are the group that least perceives that their children will suffer discrimination when accessing a job. This may be because they consider such stage a distant one, but it can also be because they do not perceive the racialization that occurs in the workforce ( Pajares, 1999, p. 244 ).


The spaces of academic hybridization and theoretical mixture described favor the updating of the old persistent debates in the field of migration through its link with the controversies that introduce international adoptions as a sociodemographic phenomenon. The unavoidable starting point to examine each of them is necessarily used to answer the first of the research questions raised: Do Spanish people identified as less racist and supportive of immigration share sociodemographic profile with Spanish interracial adoptive families?

The analysis carried out shows how both aggregates have a high level of similarity in such a way that the sociodemographic characteristics that determine a more positive attitude towards international adoption ( Rodríguez & González, 2014, p. 169 ) are, at the same time, those that define the population with a “tolerant” attitude towards immigration ( Cea D’Ancona & Valles, 2014, p. 312 ): high education and occupational status, good personal economic standing and ideologically on the political left.

The second research question asked introduces us to one of Allport’s pioneering (1968) contributions to the study of racial prejudice. It states that “mutual ignorance” is one of the elements that explains the generation and permanence of racial and ethnic prejudices and stereotypes. The contrasted data suggest that, in fact, rejection decreases when there is greater social proximity to the immigrant population.

Thus, although most of the Spanish population would accept that their children share schooling space with immigrant children, their acceptance among adoptive parents is almost generalized. In the field of prejudice, the most significant difference is that, while in the Spanish population the interaction between natives and foreigners would be conditioned by cultural differences, in adoptive families the interaction with foreign groups would be determined by prejudice and stereotype of the “economic immigrant.”

This different level of perception allows us to give way to the third of the research questions raised: Does interracial adoption transform parents' understanding of how racism works and facilitates the development of a critical perspective to analyze race? Answering this question leads us to explore the presence of this “new racism” in Spanish society and allows us to pick up a classic theme in the empirical inquiry on the social distance between social groups and integration through the study of “mixed couples” ( Merton, 1941 ), which is now updated with the analysis of interracial adoptive families and their link to prejudices and the racial hierarchy system of our society.

From this point of view, it should be noted that although the general population considers that the treatment of the immigrant collective (26.4%) and adoptive families (48.7%) depends on cultural and economic inequalities, respectively, ethnic groups in Spain consider that phenotypic differences (skin color) are what would explain perceived discrimination (69.1%). These results show a shared element between the different types of “new racism” or, as Balibar (1991, p. 37) states, “racism without races,” which is ideologically based on the racial prejudices of cultural differences and not on biological ones, even though the stigmas of the race are still prominent in their social construction.

Secondly, the perception of discrimination attributed to race or ethnicity is similar among the adoptive parents (26.1% think that this is the reason why their children get angry at their friends) and ethnic minorities surveyed (32.9% said they experienced discrimination). These percentages may a priori seem low, but they conform to the low intensity racism that Cea D’Ancona, Valles and Esverri (2014, p. 37-38) have identified for the Spanish case. In addition, they would be anchored in verbal rejection, the most subtle level of the rejection gradient enunciated by Allport (1968) .

Now, within the theoretical frame of racial and cultural socialization, which is also the third aspect that we want to highlight, it is not enough to be aware that society is racist, the theoretical construct of racial awareness also lets us know how ethnic and racial stratification can operate in different areas of people's lives; that is, having racial awareness implies keeping in mind what Vonk (2001, p. 250) calls the “white benefits,” these being the social advantages that those who are part of the hegemonic race and ethnic group have without perceiving them as such.

From this perspective, the differences between adoptive parents and ethnic minorities are noticeable: while the latter are aware of the racialization of the workforce (46.7% state that due to their racial or ethnic origin, they suffer discrimination when they have a job), adoptive parents do not perceive that the race or ethnicity of their children will be decisive in their labor insertion (27.4%). This is indicative of their low color-blind racism index.

It is interesting to interpret this finding in the light of the economic immigrant stereotype that adoptive parents have regarding the foreign population. This fact, together with the fact that the adoptive families interviewed were economically stable and, consequently, did not compete for resources with the immigrant population, since they shared a high level of education that gave them greater confidence in their ability to transfer their economic status and professional success to their children ( Samuels 2009, p. 87 ; Ishizawa, Kenney, Kubo & Stevens, 2006, p. 1216-1217 ), leads them to minimize the impact of race on their future lives.

These results reveal a remarkable difference between the racial and ethnic socialization process described and the one found between mixed couples. The whiteness studies show that white women related to black men reflect on their knowledge about race and racism and understand the privileges they have for being white ( Richardson, 2011 ).

Thus, the cultural and racial resocialization that they receive from their partners of a different race or ethnic minority allows their children to have a space for “racial literacy” at home, which prepares them to understand and face the challenges of a racist society ( Twine, 2004 ). However, when interraciality occurs through filiation and not by alliance, this space does not take place at home.

The data for the Spanish case would be in line with the racial and cultural socialization process described by Richardson (2011) for North American interracial adoptive families, in which it was identified that parents do not have a critical lens for color-blind racism. This lack will have a negative impact on their adopted interracial children. They will have to “navigate” in a society that they recognize as racialized without the cognitive resources and skills that will help them face the contexts of social interaction, in which they will receive the discriminatory treatment that society offers to members of ethnic-racial minorities due to their phenotypic differences ( Lee, 2003 ).

The findings presented have allowed us to immerse ourselves in a scientific topic unexplored in Spain, such as the attitudes of adoptive families towards immigration and racism. This line of inquiry allows contrasting and updating classical debates in the sociology of migration that, in turn, provide insight into the process of cultural and racial socialization of families. Although these contributions are relevant, they still must be placed within the limitations inherent to research.

More research is needed to test the findings obtained. This challenge must be addressed by critically questioning the theoretical framework that supports it, since the research we rely on today regarding the cultural and racial socialization of interracial adoptive families comes from countries with a long history and much experience, in both migration and adoption (United States, United Kingdom or Sweden). The uniqueness with which both phenomena are covered in Spain imposes caution in the assumption of theoretical postulates.

Finally, this research follows behind that which explores in between the spaces created by academic hybridization. These approaches generate the additional possibility of pointing out milestones for the migratory political and academic agenda. These should not be neglected in a global society in which the flow of people moving transnationally is one of its defining elements; one in which the rejection of immigration rises in parallel to its increase, and in which political parties and leaders emerge upholding racist and xenophobic discourses that blame immigration for social problems.


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2The global increase estimated by Selman for the period 1998-2004 was based on international adoption figures recorded by the 17 main countries of destination, namely: United States, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Australia, Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland.

3In the study of adoption, the adjectives “international” and “transnational” are usually applied interchangeably. While the former is used when a demographic approach prevails, the latter is used when racial, ethnic or cultural dimensions of the phenomenon are emphasized. At the same time, the terms “transracial” or “interracial” adoptive family are used to refer to families in which parents establish ties of kinship with children of different racial and/or ethnic origin.

4The survey was conducted within the framework of the project ‘The (baby) boom of international adoptions in Spain: A sociological research on adoptive families and their lifestyles’ (I+D+I-2008-2011), funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of Spain.

5The OBERAXE is a public entity that is currently attached to the Secretary General for Immigration and Emigration (Ministry of Labor, Migrations and Social Security).

6The CIS pioneered specific surveys to measure racism and xenophobia in Spain. There are two periods in the complete series of these surveys that can be accessed online since they are registered in the CIS database. The first reaches five surveys conducted between 1990 and 1996, and the second, eight surveys conducted between 2007 and 2015. The reports by OBERAXE start with the II survey of Attitudes towards immigration (2008, nº 2.731).

Received: October 08, 2017; Accepted: February 28, 2018

Translator: Fernando Llanas

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