What picture comes to mind when you hear transracial adoption or interracial adoption? Chances are good
that it is not the picture to the right. A white couple with a black child draws attention; a black couple with a white child draws lots of attention! As one black dad of a white daughter says, “I’ve never felt more self-consciously black than while holding our little white girl’s hand in public.”
According to the National Survey of Adoptive Parents, 40% of all adoptions in the US are transracial. The percentage has increased significantly since 1994 with the Multiethnic Placement Act prohibited discrimination in adoption based on race. This survey doesn’t break down the race of the parents, but the vast majority in my experience are Caucasian parents adopting Latino, African American, and Asian children. I don’t predict a trend of black couples and singles standing in line for white kids since there remains a disproportionate number (not to be confused with majority) of children of color in need of families in the US. Nonetheless, I think our surprise (and often discomfort) when seeing such families is worth examining.
Most of the cases that I’ve heard of where a white child is adopted by African American parents have come from foster care adoptions where the black family was fostering the child first. They are similar to the case of Mary Riley, a 68 year old African American Georgia widow, who is the mom to three active white boys she adopted from foster care after fostering them for two years. They were 5, 7 and 9 when they came to live with her.
“I didn’t always think about adopting, but when I got these boys I fell in love with them and got attached to them, I couldn’t let them go, and I was afraid they were going to get separated from each other.
Sometimes people stare at us and ask questions, but I accept these boys and they accept us, so I ain’t worried about anybody else. I would adopt two more white boys if they needed me, I’m not looking at the color. They are all God’s children to me.”
Not all black families who adopt outside their race adopt from foster care. Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware and his wife, Taniqua, struggled with infertility and adopted their daughter Marley, a Hispanic newborn, in a private domestic adoption. They were later able to give birth their son DeMarcus, Jr. The Ware’s adoption received mixed reviews from blacks and whites alike. “Do you mean to tell me that the Wares couldn’t have found a little black baby to adopt?” posted one blogger on the Daily Voice, an online African-American newspaper.
Not surprisingly, black parents adopting white children, face similar issues as white parents adopting black children—how to handle race. Mark Riding, a black dad adopting a white daughter, explains.
When the little white girl came to live with us — three years old, doughy face, Irish freckles, and deep red hair — we faced immediate, unanticipated obstacles, many of which were internal. For example, I hadn’t considered how often we talked about white people at home. I hadn’t realized that dinnertime stories were rarely told without referencing the race of the players. I was also oblivious how frequently I used racial stereotypes. We began diligently censoring ourselves. Of course we’ve routinely adjusted our language and behavior for the sake of our white peers, neighbors, bosses and friends, but this little girl lives with us, which requires code switching and code creating at home. …It has required more vigilance than I ever suspected; and I had long considered myself a fairly enlightened person.
Even though transracial adoptions are en vogue, many people (especially white people) are troubled when they see us out together. At the park in our historic Baltimore neighborhood where adopted Asian kids play with their white siblings without a blink, we are greeted with uneasy curiosity. We don’t receive the knowing smile and assumption of family that those other adoptive families enjoy. White park-goers often assume (out loud) that my graying mother-in-law is the girl’s nanny. Given close enough proximity, white people are almost always compelled to question our relationship with her. “So who do we have here” they ask, hardly veiling their anxiety. Even white friends and colleagues from the progressive private school in which I work are clearly disquieted, despite the fact that middle-class white parents with adopted Romanian, Asian or black children are in growing number there. “Oh this must be your little foster child.” A colleague announced loudly outside a kiddie concert held on campus. Our little girl was troubled; her family secret had been publically revealed and she didn’t understand how or why. I was doubly upset because I couldn’t even carp freely about the indirect racial prejudice and insensitivity of this white person when I returned home.
The Ridings also worry about providing their daughter with a strong racial identity. Most of her friends are black, although her school is primarily white. Her mother is concerned that she is uncomfortable identifying people by their race. Her family does what it can by celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and buying Irish chotskies, like a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” T shirt and a mug with her Irish family crest on it. And like most transracial adoptive parents, they wonder if it will be enough.
Is there any reason why black parents shouldn’t adopt white children or babies given that there are more black children in need of homes?