Transracial Adoptions: A ‘Feel Good’ Act or No ‘Big Deal’?

Jessica Ravitz, CNN, March 6, 2010

“White people adopt black kids to make themselves feel good . . . A black child needs black parents to raise it.” “Maybe she adopted one because the blacks in the community wouldn’t step forward and adopt?” “What’s the big deal? If no white person ever adopted a black child, they’d be saying why don’t white people adopt black children.” “Who cares what race they are? A woman got a child, a child got a mother . . . it’s BEAUTIFUL!!! And yes I am black . . . if it matters.”

These impassioned comments and thousands more poured in earlier this week when CNN published a story on the stirred-up debate surrounding Sandra Bullock’s recent adoption. {snip}

So when it comes to transracial adoptions in this country, where are we?

Stacey Bush is the white child of a black mother whose adoption sparked controversy and whose attitude forces people to think about the issue differently.

Stacey wouldn’t change a thing about her life, which is saying a lot for a young woman who spent her early childhood being neglected and bounced through the foster-care system. That was before a drawn-out legal case ended in 1998, allowing a single black woman, Regina Bush–the only mother Stacey had ever loved–to become her forever mom.

The Michigan lawsuit was filed when a county agency cited concerns about “cultural issues” in an attempt to keep the pair apart. Regina Bush’s adoption of Stacey’s biracial half-sister had already been completed, without challenge, and Bush says she wanted to keep the girls together. {snip}

{snip}

“People are sometimes startled. ‘She’s white, but she doesn’t seem white,'” she says with a laugh. “I can relate to everyone. I like being exposed to everything. . . . Seeing me, hearing me–it doesn’t matter what color you’re raised just as long as someone loves you.”

Forty percent of children adopted domestically and internationally by Americans are a different race or culture from their adoptive parents, according to a 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents, the most recent study of its kind conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Legislation passed by Congress in 1994 and 1996 prohibits agencies getting federal help from discriminating against would-be parents based on race or national origin.

{snip}

“In the old days, meaning the ’70s and ’80s, there was this notion that these parents need to be colorblind. This sounds wonderful, but by being colorblind you’re denying they’re of a different race and culture,” Johnson says. “Families that are successful are those that acknowledge race. . . . It’s not a curse. It’s not an impossible feat. They just need to work harder to give a child a sense of self-identity.”

{snip}

Seventy-three percent of official adoptions–including those arranged through foster care, private domestic arrangements and internationally–are done by whites, according to the 2007 survey of adoptive parents. But that doesn’t account for informal arrangements, when relatives take in other family members’ children, which is much more common in the black community, says Toni Oliver, vice-president elect of the National Association of Black Social Workers. She says the black community takes in “more children than the whole foster care system does,” although Johnson [Chuck Johnson, acting chief executive of the National Council for Adoption] adds that often these arrangements don’t have the safeguards and protections legal adoptions provide.

{snip}

“But love is not enough,” said Simon [Rita Simon, author of “Adoption, Race & Identity: From Infancy to Young Adulthood”], a professor of justice and public policy at American University in Washington. “You really have to make some changes in your life if you adopt a child of another race.”

In the case of a white parent adopting a black child, that might mean living in an integrated neighborhood, having pictures in the home of black heroes, seeking out other families in similar situations, attending a black church and finding role models or godparents who are black. The same need to integrate a child’s culture applies across the board, whether parents are adopting from Asia, Central America or elsewhere.

{snip}

Bill Barry and his wife, Joan Jacobson, adopted two boys as newborns. Willie, 17, is biracial and Alex, 15, is black. Race never mattered to the white couple when they set out to adopt, after it became clear they wouldn’t be able to bear children on their own.

“We simply wanted a healthy newborn,” Barry says. “We didn’t care about race, didn’t care about sex, and we knew we wanted them locally.”

{snip}

That may be true, but the National Association of Black Social Workers has long argued for keeping black children in black homes. About 40 years ago, the association released a four-page position paper on transracial adoption in which it went so far as to call such adoptions “genocide”–and that word choice has dogged the organization ever since.

{snip}

The preference, Oliver [Toni Oliver, National Association of Black Social Workers] says, remains that kids be placed in same-race households whenever possible. And if it isn’t possible, or if a birth parent selects an adoptive family of a different race, then those adopting must be educated to understand “the impact of race and racism on the country, their family and the child in particular,” she says.

“There is a negative impact that children and families are going to experience based on race,” she says. “The idea that race doesn’t matter is not true. We would like it to be true, but it’s not.”

{snip}

Regina [Bush, the adoptive mother of Stacey Bush] says she got attacks from both sides.

“White babies were a precious commodity. ‘Blacks can’t take care of white children,'” she remembers hearing. “And blacks were outraged” because there are so many black children in the system who need homes, and “they didn’t understand why a black woman wouldn’t adopt one of her own.”

{snip}

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