DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And we are returning this morning to the Race Card Project. This is where NPR's Michele Norris invites people to share their thoughts on race and cultural identity, in just six words. Race is a big and complicated subject, and it's amazing how this exercise cuts straight to the heart of it.
This morning, we're looking at Americans who choose to open their homes, and their hearts, to children who don't look like them.We're going to spend some time today looking at the intersection of race and adoption, and one aspect summed up in these six words: Black babies cost less to adopt. NPR's Michele Norris joins me in the studio. Hey, Michele.
MICHELE NORRIS, BYLINE: Good to be with you, David.
GREENE: So tell me about these six words. They were uncomfortable to say.
NORRIS: Yeah, and they're probably uncomfortable for people to hear. Those six words - black babies cost less to adopt - were an early submission to the Race Card Project. A couple of years ago, they were submitted by a woman in Louisiana. She did not want to chat on the radio, but she spotlighted something that does come up again and again in the Race Card Project - the idea of this shifting fee structure in adoption that's based on the skin color of the child. And to explain this, let me introduce you to a woman in Minnesota who did want to talk on the radio, and this is what she sent in.
CARYN LANTZ: My name is Caryn Lantz, and my six words are: Navigating world as transracial adoptive family. I am the adoptive mother to a beautiful boy who is 2 years old. We adopted him at birth; and he is African-American, and my husband and I are both white.
GREENE: She sounds like such a proud mom. OK, so Caryn Lantz is navigating this world as part of a transracial adoptive family. Michele, did she and her husband intend to adopt across racial lines?
NORRIS: She is proud. Whenever she talks about her little boys, there is a certain music to her voice. And I say boys because we just heard Caryn Lantz talk about her one child. Well, since we did this interview, she and her husband, Chuck, have adopted a second child so that transracial family now includes two white parents and two black little boys.
And I'm always surprised at how much candor people serve up in these stories. She said that she and her husband had tried for years, struggled for years to conceive. They decided that they were willing to adopt across race. Skin color was of no concern to them. What was a concern was once they got into the process, they discovered that there was this sliding scale that was based on skin color. Let's listen to Caryn.
LANTZ: I distinctly remember one day having a phone call with an agency in Florida - in our kitchen - and the social worker that was speaking with us was telling us about these different fee structures that they had, based on the ethnic background of the child. And I remember hearing this and just sort of being dumbfounded that they would sort of segregate, to use a loaded term; segregate these children by ethnic background before they were even in this world.
That's when I started realizing that OK, being a parent to a child of a different ethnic background, this is going to be some work. There's going to be a lot of work on our end, in order to be successful parents and to get our child ready for this world.
GREENE: Well, Michele, she didn't want to use the word segregate, but she did. And it's worth asking you about that. I mean, it sounds like African-American babies, people might not be as willing to adopt them. A lot of them have to wait, and so they're finding ways to move them into homes faster, but actually using a different value. What do people in the world of adoption say about this?
NORRIS: You know, anytime you talk about value and a child, you're in a very uncomfortable space. We talked to people in the world of adoption - agencies, people who work in government, adoptive parents. No one is comfortable about this. And they talked to us about the sliding fee scale, and they admit that it does happen. It is common.
When this happens, it is often for altruistic reasons. They're trying to provide an incentive for families that might otherwise be locked out of adoption process because it's very expensive. And they're trying to provide an incentive for families who really have to - maybe have a little bit of prodding to think about adopting across racial lines. And before people pass judgment and say - you know, families aren't willing to adopt children or are denying black children, you know, there's a lot that goes into that.
We're told by agencies that some families actually want to do it, but they feel like they're not equipped. I had one agency tell me that they were dealing with a family that said, "I would love to adopt a child of color. But I'm not sure that I can live in this neighborhood in Tennessee, and bring this child home."
GREENE: Well, Michele, setting aside the motives for a second, I mean, you say that when you talk about putting a different value on something, it makes everyone uncomfortable. If that's the case, what's being done about this?
NORRIS: More people are starting to talk about it. And we should say that the fees that we're talking about, the costs, cover administrative costs but also the costs associated with taking care of the mother - travel, health care, that kind of thing. And some states, some agencies are looking at a different formula for making adoption more affordable for more families. They're moving toward a sliding scale that's based on income, so lower-income families would pay less.
GREENE: Well, Michele, let me return to this woman we've heard from, Caryn Lantz. What system did she and her husband use to adopt these children?
NORRIS: In the end, they adopted both their boys in a state where they used a sliding scale that was based on income instead of race.
NORRIS: But when they decided to go through the adoption process, they were eager to bring a child into their home. So they also went through the home visit and the application process, and agencies that did use a sliding scale based on skin color or ethnicity. And that took them out of their comfort zone.
LANTZ: We received four phone calls about potential children to be matched with us. Three of those were in states that had this sliding fee. And one was a full African-American child, one was a biracial child, and one was a white child. And when they told me the fees for the white child, I was in a Babies R Us; and I remember having to sit down in the aisle and say to myself, I don't think we can afford to adopt this child if the expectant mother chose us.
NORRIS: Well, what were the fees? What was the differential?
LANTZ: It was going to be around $35,000, with some legal expenses; versus when we got the first phone call about a little girl, a full African-American girl, it was about $18,000.
NORRIS: And there was a biracial child also. Was that a different fee?
LANTZ: Yeah, that was in - I believe in the 24- to $26,000 range.
GREENE: Michele, listening to Caryn Lantz there, I keep thinking about the six words that she uses - navigating world as transracial adoptive family. And we've talked about navigating the world of adoption. I wonder what it's like for her and her husband as they navigate the rest of their world.
NORRIS: Well, there are certain challenges. They live in Minnesota. And when they go out into the community as a blended family, they get stares. And she talked to us about some of those encounters.
LANTZ: My son's getting to an age where I'm starting to get a little bit more concerned about those comments. You know, he can't - he's going to start to pay attention very soon, and I am a little nervous about what we're going to do when he starts to understand why someone approached us at Target and thanked us for saving babies; or when a woman, you know, walks down the aisle of the grocery store and says, what's he mixed with?
You know, I said, well, my son, we adopted him at birth. And, you know, his ethnic background is a little different. And we don't know a whole bunch about it, but he is a beautiful kid, isn't he?
GREENE: That's Caryn Lantz and her six words again, navigating world as transracial adoptive family. And to find out more about her family, you can go to our website, NPR.org. NPR's Michele Norris curates the Race Card Project and Michele, thanks for coming in, as always.
NORRIS: Great to be here.