White Kid, Black Family: Transracial Adoption

A few days back, we heard from Lisa Marie Rollins, a black woman raised in a white family. Her story drew this response below from Mark Riding, a black man whose family is adopting a white kid. In coming days, we'll look to talk some more Riding and his family. For now, we'll bring his comment up and look for yours. He writes:

The timing of this NPR story is serendipitous for me. I have long been struggling with my family's in-process transracial adoption, but for almost opposing reasons to those in this story — we're a black family attempting to adopt a little white girl.

I live in Baltimore infamous for its blighted "Chocolate City" status as well as for its distinct up-South racial polarization. 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. Headline News wouldn't care about some missing spring break girl if she wasn't er...blonde. America loves blonde girls. 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.

My wife, like her mother, has little tolerance for strangers' nosiness and gives purposely inelaborate answers; she is our little girl, period. Conversely, until quite recently I have accepted us as an oddity and have readily explained as soon as the little girl bounces out of ear shot. I'm certain only some of that has been empathetic; the rest was to assuage my own peculiar feelings. I have never felt as self-consciously black as when I hold our little white girl's hand in public. However, after several white people have asked me, "and there was no one else in her family that could take her!" my leaf has turned. Now when asked I try to reply plainly, tapering my repugnance with irony: Nah, you know how those families are." With due emphasis placed on the term those.

She officially lives a few blocks away with my mother-in-law but I mention that for the purposes of accuracy only. We operate as a single family in two houses and she spends countless evenings, weekends, and every vacation with my wife and our two kids (who adore her). For the last nine months or so the family has been going through a particularly scrutinous adoption process. It's sadly ironic. We're all securely middle class professionals; my mother-in-law owns a small adult care facility, my wife's an executive, I'm a career educator. The family took her in despite a history of passive aggressive fecal smearing and after twelve unsuccessful foster homes. My mother-in-law is compassionate to a fault and despite her busy life couldn't bear considering a small child living so unstably. She's been with us for five years. We've loved her openly and genuinely and despite the complications she brings to our lives.

She's a bright, opinionated, eager to please, and difficult to quiet eight year old. She is a challenge to parent but it's mostly because smart and precocious children are challenging to parent and less about anything else; though none of the other factors makes our lives any easier.

I'm writing this because I am compelled for this story to reach a broader audience. Overwhelmingly, the evidence suggests that many if not most white people, no matter how liberal or tolerant they think they are have deeply ingrained prejudices that have untold affects on their perceptions and judgments and in the case of my family a little white girl.

Comments

 

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We all use racial stereotypes no matter who we are or how hard we try not to. Its ingrained in our culture.

We are in the process of adopting our second child either from Guatemala (wish us lots of luck) or domestically and either way we will most likely be welcoming a child or a different race into our Caucasian home.

All the research in the world can not prepare us for what is in store but your insight is valuable.

I blogged your story here. http://achildchosen.com

Sent by Marcie | 11:08 AM | 11-13-2007

more power to ya! and don't always assume the worst. sometimes people look akward not because they dissaprove but because they are amazed and speechless. they are on your side. thansk for teaching us.

Sent by Laura Tabor-Huerta | 9:49 AM | 11-14-2007

I am so proud of people that fight to tear down racial prejudice. This is a free country and adoption is a beautiful practice. Best of luck!

Laura Williams
http://www.theperfectchoicecenter.com

Sent by Laura Williams | 1:09 PM | 11-14-2007

Personally, I am deeply moved by the beauty of your family as you describe it. As one who has also adopted, I think that we can easily be pragmatic in saying that all adoptions require an extra measure of adaptation, interracial and intercultural adoptions even more so. I truly believe that if our culture had a proper value for the importance of children having a loving mother and father, the issue of race and color would be so diminished that it would fade into oblivion.

For the record, I am Caucasian. There was a time in my life that I attended an all black church. Although I can concur with you that there is a lot of conversation about white people and other races, I never felt anything other then the deepest of love and respect from anyone in the church. In fact, by the end of the time that I attended there, it appeared that no one even noticed that our skin was a different color because out hearts were knit together.

I am so totally sure that the love that you show this girl will be an anchor for her throughout her life. And if "white people" cannot accept that kind of over arching love that reaches out ???blind??? to color and race, then they are the ones with the problems. As for me I hope that one day our paths cross and I get the opportunity to get to know your family.

Sent by Mark Andre | 4:02 PM | 11-14-2007

I was quite moved by this very unique story, however not so much surprised by the reactions of white folks towards a black family trying to adopt a white child. What is it about people of color adopting a white child that makes white folks feel so uncomfortable? One word, white privilege. Whites of course are the only qualified race to adopt a child of color in order to raise his/her status (i'm speaking facetiously of course). Surely we can also compare this to the myth of the threat of the black man taking our white women. One thing I think that also needs to be discussed is the idea of children as possession and who has the right to own, surely not people of color in the eyes of some white people. For the record, I am a transracially adopted Korean activist living in Europe.

Sent by kate hers | 5:46 AM | 1-8-2008

I am a half-Asian (half white) adoptee who was adopted by (Asian) parents of color. Once while traveling in the South my parents were accused of kidnapping me. They faced a lot of "startled" reactions by people who saw us together.

Sent by Susan | 12:30 PM | 1-8-2008

What an amazing story. You know, I had never thought of this scenario before. Not because it is not possible, but only because I haven't seen it. I think it is wonderful. There are stereotypes, yes. I am an adoptive Mama of a chinese-born child. I imagine the comments made to me (in front of my child) are Nothing compared to those that this family faces. I commend you for being "family" regardless of anyone's opinion. Sitting here mulling it over, it must be so difficult. No one is going to assume a white child is part of a black family. But why not?! Why do we care about color? I think it is amazing and a journey that I'm sure has changed your lives (hopefully) for the better. I feel that any time we can open our hearts, even a tiny bit, to something others balk at, we are blessed beyond measure.

Blessings,
Melissa

Sent by Melissa | 9:19 AM | 1-10-2008

This Caucasion says Bravo to you and your amazing family! Loved (and applaud) your story.

Sent by Kathryn Bracht | 3:48 PM | 1-19-2008

I was adopted in the early 70's before interracial adoption became "en vogue" and I sort of understand where you are coming from, but from the opposite direction. My mom & dad never mentioned race to me and I never faced it until I went to school. It is because of the love of my family that I was able to deal with the prejudice that was put upon me. Bravo to you, and stay strong and vigilant.

Sent by Gina | 11:31 AM | 2-2-2008

I'm white and my parents are black. It was harder, when I was younger and the other kids would ask me lots of stupid questions, like why I was white. When I got my first sunburn, my parents didn't know what to do. And, people stare- a lot. But, I think it has made me a well-rounded person, able to see both sides. I mostly have white friends and dress white and listen to white music, but that was my preferance.

Sent by Christy | 10:25 PM | 2-2-2008

Your story brought tears to my eyes. Every child deserves to have good parents, and your little girl has found hers. As the white mother of two biological and two transracialy adopted children we are used to being on public display. There are times this is exhausting. Your family knows this first hand. You have our heart felt support and prayers as you add this precious child to your family.

Sent by Andee | 8:42 PM | 2-15-2008

if white people are so intollerant of difference then are you in the spirit of preserving the child's original culture, going to teach her to be intollerant? or perhaps are you willing to accept that black people can pre-judge white people too? has it not occurred to you that the reactions you view negatively are in fact pure curiosity? it is a relatively new phenomenon for black families to adopt white children after all. should we continue historical prejudices-of course not but neither should we discount the fact that prejudice is not the exclusive domain of white people.

Sent by annmarie | 8:39 AM | 4-19-2008

Well it's about time I find this story. You and people like you are making life better for all of us. I'm so tired of the negativity and the prejudice against black people, that we are incapable of responsibly raising a white child makes this entire experience almost taboo in society. Thank you, and I hope many more white children are adopted by black families. Maybe this will, with many other things that we are subconciously trained not to see(like more interracial marriges between black women and white or asian men) break us open from our confined racial mentality and allow us to live more fulfilling lives.

Sent by David VeLar | 4:52 PM | 4-22-2008

I found this article because I was goggling "black parents raising white children". I am a black single mother raising my foster soon to be adopted white daughter. She too is red haired and freckle faced. I have faced the same inner and outer questions as the above family. I am glad to hear that I am not the only oddity out here.

Sent by a | 9:35 PM | 5-29-2008

Great story.I am a black women married to a white man.We arelooking to adopt a white child.Your story give me hope.
May God bless you

Sent by carrie | 12:27 PM | 6-2-2008

My husband and I are entering into this journey ourselves. We are trying to adopt a hispanic/native am. girl. We are fortunate to live in a diverse area, where you cannot tell what the race of some folks are. I am African-American/White and my husband is African-American, and when we first saw the little girl that we want to adopt, we did not hesitate! My husband is a Baltimore native as well. However we are now living in the Western US. Thank you for your story.

Sent by Jolynn | 11:24 PM | 6-3-2008

Thanks for sharing your story. My family, African American, are going to provide respite care for a 4.5 year old Caucasian boy. We talked to our children and they know that we are all God's children and that everyone desires a family and desire to be loved. We have had 2 other placements and children are children no matter their race. Thanks for sharing your story and I know you and your family will be fine with your new addition.

Sent by K. Lisa | 11:29 AM | 6-19-2008

God doesn't care what color we are, its the heart that he is concerned about. Adoption is such a blessing and God is its author. May God bless and keep you and your family!

Sent by TS | 3:11 AM | 6-25-2008

Mark Riding, I wish I could meet you! My family is going through a similar situation. We are a foster family that is in the LONG scrutinizing process of adopting our foster son. I have had to remind my husband to censor his conversations with others, not only about Whites and Blacks but Jewish and Asian people as well, because my siblings have married and have children with people of those cultures too. We deal with weird comments from the public all the time. At this time our son is only 2 years old, but soon he will wonder what is going on. I wish there was a place for parents like us to share our unique experiences. Thanks for speaking out!

Sent by Julia Chalker | 8:08 PM | 7-17-2008

I salute you Mark Riding. You and your family, especially your mother in-law, are my heroes. This may be a tough row to hoe sometimes but the love will come back to you many times over and God will shine on you. :)

Sent by chris delfino | 11:22 PM | 7-28-2008