Mark Riding's Trans-Racial Adoption
ALISON STEWART, host:
Another of our favorite guests came from our blog. Back in the early days of the show, we did a couple of stories about transracial adoption. We started from the perspective of a young woman of color who was adopted by a white family, and her not-always-positive experience sparked a big discussion on the blog about race and family. And one of the blog comments was particularly striking. It was written by Mark Riding. He's an African-American man, a school administrator, living in Baltimore, and he is trying to bring a little white girl into his family. He wrote about the challenges of raising a child with a different skin color. Mark agreed to talk about it on the show. I asked him how the little girl came into his life in the first place.
(Soundbite of reverse playback)
(Soundbite of NPR's The Bryant Park Project, November 26, 2007)
Mr. MARK RIDING (Transracial Adoptive Parent, Baltimore, Maryland): My mother in law is a saint, and she has, for many, many years, taken in foster children. And this little girl came to us five years ago, as a foster child, and that's pretty much how she came to us.
STEWART: How old is she now?
Mr. RIDING: She is eight.
STEWART: And where are you in the adoption process?
Mr. RIDING: We are headlong into the process, although it has been far more scrutinous than the last adoption process that the family went through.
STEWART: And why is that?
Mr. RIDING: Well, only one person has been brave enough to say it out loud, but the - it is because we are a black family and she is a little white girl. And I think it really is causing some concerns amongst the people who are at the adoption agency.
STEWART: When it came time to decide if we're going to adopt this girl into your family - she's been a foster child for five years, she really, you know, was part of your family, it sounds like, anyway - was the discussion - did the discussion of race happen between you and your mother in law?
Mr. RIDING: No, not when it came to her adoption. The race controversy came up when we first took her in five years ago. But in all honesty, it was a very brief conversation. We had a conversation as she was on her way up the steps.
STEWART: And what was the conversation like?
Mr. RIDING: The conversation was, like, I didn't tell you, but the little girl we're taking in is a little white girl, and that was pretty much the extent of the conversation. And so, we all had to immediately adjust ourselves to thinking about how to be sure not to make it a difficult place for her to be.
STEWART: How many homes has this little girl been in?
Mr. RIDING: She was in 12 homes before she came to us.
STEWART: Twelve homes before the age of...?
Mr. RIDING: She was in - from the age of three to four, she was in 12 homes.
STEWART: My goodness.
Mr. RIDING: Actually, a little bit before three, and not quite four.
STEWART: So now that you're in the adoption process, and she's a little bit older, have you had the race conversation with her? Has it come up? You know how sometimes kids will just let that one loose at the most inopportune moments?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. RIDING: There's been no real conversation. She has, numerous times since we've had her, been uncomfortable about race, and she's shown that discomfort. Recently, we had another one of those incidents, and she was upset because a friend of mine introduced her as, oh, this must be your little foster sister. And that really hurt her feelings, because she didn't understand why someone would say that she was a foster and how they'd know and things like that.
Mr. RIDING: And so, we did have a conversation about race that day, because we had to, kind of, preface that, well, it's obvious that we don't look the same, and so people are often curious about that. So, that's about the only kind of conversation we've had.
STEWART: How do you plan to navigate these kind of encounters with people? Because they're going to continue to happen.
Mr. RIDING: They certainly are going to continue to happen. The best we can - all we can do is try to be thoughtful, and make sure that she is not more affected than she has to be. Certainly she's going to be affected. She's not going to not notice these things. But we try to put it in perspective, and we try to just stay as happy as possible as a family, in that way, hoping that we can defray or diffuse some of this tension that she's going to be feeling.
STEWART: It's interesting. I think an African-American family, speaking from my own experience - I'm married to someone of a different race, and he often remarks about how - in our family, we talk about race. In black families, you talk about race a lot, as opposed to, you know, he's a Jewish guy from St. Louis.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: And I think it's been a little bit of an education for him on that front. Do you think you'll speak about race very frankly in front of your daughter?
Mr. RIDING: No, we don't, at all. And in fact, that was one of our biggest challenges. I had no idea how much I talked about race. As a black family, I just don't - you don't have a dinner conversation without asking who the players were, when you're talking about something that happened at work that day. And I had no idea how much we actually talked about race, until she came to our house and we were more conscious of it. So, I think, as she gets older, I'll try, we'll try, to make it more of an honest house. We don't want it to be obvious that we're kind of shading things or talking in code. But as she's so young, at this point we don't even know what effects it's having on her. So, we're trying to limit the race conversations as much as possible.
STEWART: That was my conversation with one of our favorite BPP guests, school administrator, Mark Riding, a few months ago. Our editor, Tricia McKinney, checked in with Mark to get an update, and he sent this along. He says his family is about a year into the adoption process and the status remains pending. This is from his email. I'm going to quote it.
Quote, "Call it the willful sloth of bureaucracy, we'd be lying if we claimed we're shocked. We're not new to being black, and we've come to expect certain things, and we've resolved that we're not in any big hurry. It's kind of like being in a common-law marriage. The differences will mainly be on paper. Our family still gets curious looks and occasional comments, but I've noticed that those incidents rarely hit it - the family grapevine - anymore. And our little girl seems, as always, more concerned about her American Girl doll, organizing our insufficient recycling, and a budding crush on Zac Efron, than complex race relations. I'm anticipating that her middle-school self-discovery phase will be newsworthy. It's too bad that BPP won't be around in five years to follow that up."