Posted on February 1, 2010

Addressing Interracial Adoption Issues Important

Elaine Jarvik and Lois M. Collins, Mormon Times (Salt Lake City), February 1, 2010


Smith [Tamu Smith, owner of a hair salon in Provo] is a black woman married to a white man. She’s mom to both biological and adopted children, hair dresser and confidant of many black children and their adoptive white parents. And as talk turns to Utahns and their efforts to provide homes to Haitian orphans in the wake of the earthquake, she says she’s glad so many want to help children in need. But it’s naive to think that love for the child alone will erase cultural differences.

“I think people who adopt interracially feel that ‘if I provide a great home and love, if I center them in the gospel of the LDS Church or any church, then this fixes the problem’ and you can trump some of the cultural differences,” she said. “Even in the best of homes, they will eventually look at their parents and say, ‘I’m different.'”

What to do with those differences is the stuff not of chance, but of reflection and hard work, experts say.

“So many adoptees are struggling with what it means to be black,” says University of Utah Ph.D. candidate Darron Smith, who is completing a dissertation on transracial adoptions in Utah and who, with BYU sociology professor Cardell Jacobson, interviewed dozens of black adults who were adopted as children by white families.

Whether they had black or biracial biological parents, as these children in their new white families become teens, some may be unsure where they fit in–the black world or the white world, both or in-between. Some biracial adoptees even report being afraid of blacks. {snip}

White adoptive parents must realize, he says, “that love is not enough.” Tamu Smith wonders who will teach those children “how to be a black adult.” Black children face issues that white parents have never faced, such as racism. The parents must bring the local black community into the child’s life as both mentors and family friends, they agree. For Haitian children, that should mean enlisting Utah’s Haitian community.

Kathy Searle and her husband, who are white, have raised six black and two Colombian children, along with three biological children. Searle, who directs programs for the Adoption Exchange, says ignoring racial difference is a mistake. Only white people have the luxury of thinking you can be color-blind. {snip}

{snip} But a black child will need black adults as well, she notes. {snip}

Because being a successful parent in a transracial adoption is complicated, parents are encouraged to take online classes. The Hague treaty, an agreement on best practices for international adoptions, requires some courses on culture, race and ethnicity for international adoptions.

Embracing black culture means more than “fun, food and festivities, or hanging up pictures of Martin Luther King,” says Darron Smith. The unfortunate reality is that black male children, for example, need to be taught by black adults to put their hands on the steering wheel if they’re pulled over. That’s not a common white experience.

Racism in Utah may be covert, says Suzanne Stott, executive director of the adoption agency Families for Children and the adoptive mother of 11. Expectations in school may be lower for black children, for example.


“I hope in two or three years we don’t have a bunch of these (Haitian) children in the foster care system because parents were unable to manage some of the challenges,” worries Lori Findeis, owner of Children’s Counseling Center in Orem. “We saw that with a lot of the kids from Russia and Ukraine.”

She hopes too, she says, that parents who do adopt don’t demand gratitude: “I came and saved you. You should be grateful.”


White parents with black children have to feel pride in the black culture themselves and know “all kinds of history of African-American people who have done well,” Shannon says. The mindset is “We are an ethnic family,” not “I have adopted an ethnic child.”

Introduce foods and customs and language native to the child, experts agree. Celebrate all cultures and differences. Buy a black doll–and a white one and a Native American one. Talk about differences, but also note similarities between diverse people. Celebrate both.