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Black, White and Gray: Transracial Adoption


The young Lisa Marie Rollins hide caption

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Lisa Marie Rollins, a writer and actor who's fast becoming a leading voice on the subject of transracial adoption, came on our show today and talked about growing up black in a white family in Washington State.

Rollins keeps a blog on the complex experience of being plucked out of one's birth situation and placed in a home where you don't necessarily look like anyone there. She'd like to see the end of adoption as we know it, in which children are separated from their birth parents and only rarely given the chance for reuniting.

Questions? Thoughts? A story to tell? Hit the comments, please.



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Where are the programs I listened to every AM from around the world?

Sent by Linda Wilson | 10:12 AM | 11-7-2007

Being of mixed ethnic background, I can say that it can be difficult, and even living with your biological parents. They cannot understand really what it is like to feel like both and neither, esp. when you are young and so much depends on how people react to you. I also know that adoption can be a wonderful thing. I have several cousins who are adopted, and honestly I think that if a family is willing to be understanding and help a child find out about his or her ethnic makeup for his or herself then I have no idea why it such practices should not be continued. Although I would like to note that all women should be treated equally when informed about adoptions, and that what ever factor involved in "black women are more likely to have their children taken away" should certainly be looked into

Sent by J.K.N.S | 10:44 AM | 11-7-2007

BTW I love getting BPP from 8-10 on Sirius! To have a choice between Diane Rehm and BPP is sublime.
I agree with Lisa Marie's philosophy of adoption. I have one related/adopted child and a transracial niece and nephew. Adoption should be rare but the fact is that social conditions create the need for adoption (poverty, addiction, incarceration, lack of healthcare and education, racism, etc.) to deal with the immediate need to care for a child.

Sent by Judith | 12:05 PM | 11-7-2007

Completely aside from the race issue--which I am not qualified to comment on--I really have to take issue with Lisa Marie about programs available to at-risk pregnant women and mothers.

I live in Idaho, and we're a poor state, yet we have myriad programs for at-risk and low-income mothers. When I worked in the non-profit sector, the most frustrating thing was trying to get these mothers to *use* the programs that could help them--even getting people to sign up for S-CHIP! People were unwilling (we never figured out why) to fill out paperwork--or have us help them fill it out--so their kids could see a dentist. It was extremely frustrating and disheartening. But how do you force people to change their priorities? "I've never seen a dentist, so does my kid need to?" Well, wouldn't it be nice if he had his own teeth past the age of 24?

As for reuniting foster children with their families, it's simply not always a good idea. In the summer of 2001, a study was released that showed that kids fared much better when left in foster care, rather than returned to their parents. Their graduation rates were higher, and I believe their rates of drug use were much, much lower.

In Idaho, there have to be extreme circumstances before children will be removed from a home. Quite frankly, we had few situations where the mother was willing to make the lifestyle changes to create a home that most of us would consider acceptable. When we did, we rejoiced.

I understand that Lisa Marie has some specific issues that she would like addressed, but I would urge her to examine the facts more closely.

Sent by Theresa Renner | 12:45 PM | 11-7-2007

Transracial adoption is not a question of a black, Hispanic, or multiracial children being "better off" with white families. Adoption/foster care happens when a child whose birth parents are not able/willing to care for him/her is placed with a family who can. When my family adopted by younger brother domestically, we were not looking specifically for a nonwhite child; his birth parents chose our family to adopt him, and he happens to be multi racial. Adoption and foster care systems, though certainly not perfect, are far better than leaving children in homes where they are not wanted or cannot be taken care of.

Sent by Rebekah Sims | 3:06 PM | 11-7-2007

I can hear in Ms. Rollins voice the passion and meaning that this cause has for her. I understand and empathize. That said, I urge her and others to remember that foster care and adoption are complex issues layered with root causes that include racism and poverty. These are issues that we as a society are still trying to resolve -- and will be trying to resolve for decades to come. This reality needs to be juxtaposed with the immediate needs of children who are here today. They need safe, permanent, loving homes and they need them as expeditiously as possible. All things being equal, a home in which people look alike and share a similar culture would be best. The reality is that this sometimes does not exist in the time that children need it. Given the choice, I will always vote for a stable, loving home no matter the race if need be. Let us remember that one of the reasons can be the advocate she is today is the stability and love her adoptive provided to her. They gave her the solid base from which she can grow to help others.

I say all of this as a white, gay man who with my Hispanic partner adopted a black child. We love our son and actively promote and encourage his connection to a wide diaspora of the people who surround him -- my white family, my partner's Hispanic family and his black biological family.

Sent by Richard Heyl de Ortiz | 4:07 PM | 11-7-2007

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.

Sent by Mark Riding | 5:45 PM | 11-7-2007

Mark Riding: "you know how those people are". That's _very_ good, thanks for the chuckle!

I am a product of a mixed family adoption (black in a white family). There are several drawbacks to this situation, but _in my experience_ none come close to outweighing the significant advantage that simply having a group of people to call 'family' brings.

Let's not forget this in the rush to find other solutions to this problem--a rush to which I am also committed.

Sent by Edwole Jency-Jones | 10:51 PM | 11-7-2007

I am completely moved by Mr. Riding's story. Having never heard of that situation, I want to commend you- keep up the good work that flows from love. We are white, live in Canada, and our family consists of 2 wonderful black children. One of them is bright, and "hard to quiet" so I can really relate to your struggles. Mostly, however, we are becoming more accepted in our community. My heart goes out to you.

Sent by Catherine Gillanders | 10:04 AM | 11-8-2007

Mark Riding's story really opened my eyes. I am white and like to believe I am not pregiduce, although, after reading his comments, realize I probably am. There seems to be something so engraned in us that is hard to get past. Thank you for sharing your expreience. I hope I would not give you one of those questioning looks that you so often get in public

Sent by Nathan Smiley | 11:59 AM | 11-8-2007

I'm surprised no one has taken the interviewer to task. He misrepresented Lisa Marie Rollins' words. She said that she would like to "see the end of adoption as it is done now," not "the end of adoption" as the interviewer quotes her saying.

Sent by Karen Gibson | 12:03 PM | 11-8-2007

After reading Mr. Riding's story, I was compelled to post my comments. I agree with Mr. Riding were it is now "en vogue" for white people to have their adoptive black children in tow with them, and no one is bothered with the slightest concern that this child might not be with his/her intended family. However, turn the tables by having a white child with a black family, and internal bells and whistles go off inside the minds of white people! You must be the nanny or baby sitting for someone. I remember my mother telling me that when I was an infant, I was very fair and when she was out in public with me, people thought she was my nanny!

My nieces and nephews are bi-racial. When out in public with my siblings and their children and spouses in tow, people give us a double take. Add to the fact that my husband is white, and you see us paired off with our spouses, and white people are confused. What is going on here? Who is with whom? What is surprising is that it happens in this day and age my husband and I get double takes when we are out together. What is really annoying is when we are at a restaurant, the waiter asks if we want separate checks???!

I had to laugh at Mr. Riding's comments regarding his stereotypes and comments about white people. I remember making an off comment regarding whites in front of my nephews, and then caught myself after the words had parted my lips. My nephews joked about it by repeating my comment several times. Luckily, the boys decided not to repeat that comment in front of their mother because "our mom is white!" I think we as blacks need not worry about our comments regarding whites because if we could be a fly on the wall in a white home, we would probably find that whites talk about blacks just as much as blacks discuss whites; including the stereotypical comments. I'm sure it's increased now that Barack Obama is running for president.

I believe that eventually Mr. Riding???s message will reach a broader audience, but it will take time. The reason for that is simple. Blacks have inculturated themselves into white society to a vastly greater extent than whites have inculturated themselves into black society. I don???t mean listening to hip-hop, or Beyonce videos, etc. I mean becoming close friends with blacks and understanding their behaviors and traditions instead of blowing it off to ???that???s the blacks do it.??? That is slowly happening as bi-racial marriages are occurring. As Dr. King once dreamed, about children of all races playing together, we can believe that one day when whites see a white child with a black family; they won???t jump to a negative conclusion brought on by these ???deeply ingrained prejudices that have untold affects on their perceptions and judgments??? as stated by Mr. Riding.

Sent by SAKK | 1:29 PM | 11-8-2007

My issue with adoption and foster care and children being with families of "their race" is that many times there are not enough adoptive and foster families willing or wanting to take children into their homes no matter what race they are. Would you rather children (of all race) stay in homes where they are abused and neglected than find homes where they are safe?

Sent by marcie | 11:14 AM | 11-13-2007

Well first, my best wishes to Mr. Ridley and his family. Second...I believe that we need to rise above the race issue and here is what I mean....the little girl should not be referred to as "the little white girl" and Mr. Ridleys family should not be referred to as "a black family"..she is just a little girl nothing less nothing more and Mr. Ridleys family is just a family nothing less and nothing more they are not a "black family" they are "a family, period" until we can collectivly embrace this attitude race will forevermore be a derisive issue in our culture and we need to grow as a human race to get over such nonsense...all my best to you...sincerly

Sent by David J Piwonski | 5:57 PM | 11-26-2007

I enjoyed the interview with Mark Riding on the Nov 26 show, in particular the discussion about how black people talk about race all the time, and how white people never talk about race. I think there are two main reasons for that (I'm lily white, by the way). One reason is that a lot of white people aren't aware of (or are in denial about) the powerful role that race plays in the social dynamic. Another reason is that white people are afraid that if they talk about race, they will be perceived as being racist. There is this notion among white liberals that if you notice racial differences you are stereotyping, and that is racist, so best not to say anything; the old "love is colorblind" thing. I think this is ultimately harmful--if we can't talk openly about race, how will we ever figure out a solution to racism? Lately I've made a point of bringing up race with my non-white friends and acquaintances and I'm finding that most people don't take offence at my comments and questions, but welcome the dialogue.

Sent by Denise Dennis | 6:18 PM | 11-26-2007

I am terribly excited about the responses to my comments and subsequent BPP interview. I initially wrote in hoping to share my family's experience with racial prejudice with a broader audience. I wanted to get some folks thinking about their own subconscious prejudices and perhaps start a meaningful dialogue. It seems that at least here on this blog that is happening.

To throw in another $.02 I'd like to respond to Mr. Piwonski's assertion that collectively adopting an attitude that ignores race is the way for us to get over the 'nonsense.' I couldn't disagree more. Race is far too integral to shaping everyone's identities to disregard; not a superficial difference like freckles or a funny accent. Because she is white and we are black there are deep and undeniable cultural differences between our family and our little girl; we can't ignore that. We have to find ways to work through racial issues and not simply create ways to work around them.

Sent by Mark Riding | 10:05 PM | 11-26-2007

I can appreciate Mr. Piwonski's response and his "we all bleed red" perspective, though pretty rose-colored. Far more than pigment makes us different - are there not daily reminders that all things are not equal in our society?
Short-story: I once had a teacher-friend assert that when she taught, she didn't see race. How unfair to those children! To claim not see race suggests that either she's delusional in her assertion or that she's not appropriately acknowledging that differences in race and culture play into learning style, personality and behavior - all things that make up the educational experience.

We must acknowledge our differences and devote our efforts to understanding and embracing them.

Sent by -Smittie | 9:55 AM | 11-27-2007

Ok, here we go.....this is indeed good dialogue people very good. MR. riding I apologize for getting your name wrong. So now we are even. I never said we should ignore race, I said we should "rise above it" I dont care that things in the past have been unequal. I do however care very much that things are equal in the now. And as for Mr. Smittie by your definition we are different and thats that, embrace it. I maintain that a black man is a man pure and simple end of story. Stop playing the martyr. I suppose your wearing a "ITS A BLACK THING AND YOU WOULDNT UNDERSTAND" t-shirt. Well I dont want to understand that. I want us all to respect eachother and treat eachother with compassion and human kindness based upon our membership in the human race and not subsections thereof. A Scottish man by the name of Mike Scott says it best when he wrote "When the big me, meets the big you, the things we will do..." and so I big.... big.....sincerly

Sent by David J Piwonski | 9:14 PM | 11-27-2007

I have wondered for some time why international adoptions are so, so expensive. And the costs are misleading, and tend to grow, and then their are extra fees, and more fees, and just when it looks like the adoptive family is at the end of their emotional and financial rope, the adoption clears. I don't know a lot about the intricacies of international adoption, but where exactly does all this money go???

It is one thing to talk about a loving family who wants to adopt a child who needs a home, but it is another thing all together when people are making money off the baby market.

Sent by Jeniffer | 8:21 PM | 11-29-2007

I know you think you know what you're talking about, but you're fooling yourself. I'm embarrassed for you.

Sent by Jeniffer | 8:42 PM | 11-29-2007

First Mr. Piwonski, as simple as my name is people quite frequently get it wrong so no worries. Second I think I and Smittie are saying the same thing and it has little to do with equality. When you say a black family is just a family and nothing more you are suggesting that the family's race and all the heritage and culture that comes with it is insignificant. I love your humanist approach and I too want people to get over prejudiced and racist behaviors but I don't want to have to whitewash or water down the world to get there.

Sent by Mark Riding | 11:34 PM | 11-29-2007

I will only speak for myself now. So I will tell you that I will show love and understanding to anyone that I meet irregardless if they are black, white, red, brown, or yellow or any other such color under the rainbow. I say, that that little girl could not be luckier than if she hit the lotto by having you adopt her Mr. Riding and I wish you all the success this world has to offer you and yours. Even though I dont agree with your approach, the fineness of your character shines through. If i've offended anyone I apologize, this was not my intent. I merely wished to engage in an issue larger than what I tend to deal with. Since my oppinion is so embarrasing I will withdraw...take care of that family Mr. Riding...I know you will!! sincerly David.. p.s. I always knew that the Beatles wrote a song about me I live on a hill.

Sent by David J Piwonski | 11:41 AM | 11-30-2007