Black Family, White Child: Another View on Transracial Adoption Mark Riding's African-American family is adopting a white girl in Baltimore. Riding first told his story on the BPP blog.
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Black Family, White Child: Another View on Transracial Adoption

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Black Family, White Child: Another View on Transracial Adoption

Black Family, White Child: Another View on Transracial Adoption

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We did a story about Transracial adoption from the perspective of a person of color adopted into a white family. And our guest, although she loves her adoptive parents, wasn't entirely sure Transracial adoptions are always positive. We put the issue up on our (unintelligible) blog for discussion and one person who posted a personal story caught our eye.

The comment was written by an African-American man who's bringing a little white girl into his family. Here is some of what he wrote.

(Reading) Even though Transracial adoptions are in 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 a knowing smile and assumption of a family that those other adoptive families a joy. White park goes 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.

Our guest is that poster, Mark Riding, a school administrator who lives in Baltimore.

Hi, Mark.

Mr. MARK RIDING (School Administrator, Baltimore): Hello.

STEWART: So that's a very interesting description of the average day on the playground. Do you ever get frustrated when you notice what you - how you're being observed?

Mr. RIDING: It is - it depends on the day, I think. It sometimes is more frustrating than others. Other times, it's happened so frequently that you kind of become jaded to it but it depends on my level of tolerance for the day whether I can deal with it or not.

STEWART: Mark, tell us how this little girl came to be in your family.

Mr. RIDING: Well, 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 8.

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 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 our family, she's been a foster child for five years, she, you know, really kind of 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 terms to adoption. The race conversation 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 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 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: Well, actually, little before three, and not quite four.

STEWART: So now that you're in the adoption process and she's a little bit older, had 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 doesn't understand why someone would say that she was a foster and how they'd they know, and things like that.


Mr. RIDING: And so we did have a conversation about race that day because we had to kind of premise that, well, it's obviously we don't look the same, and so people are often curious about that. So that's about the only kind of conversations we've had.

STEWART: How do you plan to navigate this 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 - 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 in perspective, and we try to just stay as happy as possible as a family and - in that way, hoping that we can defray or diffuse some of this tension that she's going to be feeling.

STEWART: Do you know any other families who are in a similar situation?

Mr. RIDING: Yes, actually, I do. Her sister, her biological sister, is with -is fostered with a good friend of our family who's also an African-American family.

STEWART: It's interesting, I think, in African-American families - speaking from my own experience. I'm married to some 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 talk 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 someone 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 and talking in code. But as she's so young at this point, we just don't even know what effects it's having on her, so we try to limit the race conversations as much as possible.

STEWART: I was reading some comments from a adoption forum where some teenagers who are in transracial adoptions spoke out. And of them wrote just something that's very, very sweet. This person wrote: Despite being a pear, a grew up as an apple. Today, everything about me is apple, except my looks, for which I'm constantly reminded by the stares of passerby that, inaudibly, but I was asked why is there a pear in the apple tree?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIDING: That's good. I imagine that it's exactly how our little girl feels. She goes to our church and our church is, you know, 99.9 percent African-American and it's an old-fashioned Baptist Church about the singing and drum playing and so forth. She goes to our family functions. She goes on vacations with us. And so, she really is always the pear in the apple tree.

STEWART: Well, Mark Riding, school administrator from Baltimore. Wish you and your family a lot of luck.

Mr. RIDING: Well, thank you.

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