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.