When Mom Doesn't Look Like the Kids African-American children have long outnumbered white children waiting to be adopted. A new study finds that some efforts to bridge this gap are failing. Dorothy Bode, a white mother of six black children, offers advice on trans-racial adoption.

When Mom Doesn't Look Like the Kids

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This is Day to Day I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. It's hard for black children in foster care to be adopted, a lot harder than for white children or other minority children. A law enacted back in 1994, it's called the Multiethnic Placement Act. It was supposed to make it easier for white parents to adopt black children.

CHADWICK: But that has not happened. According to a new study from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute few black children are being adopted by whites or blacks. And among the ones who are adopted by white parents many suffer psychologically, with racial identity issues.

BRAND: Dorothy Bode is a white woman who adopted six black children, she blogs about her experience as a trans-racial adoptive mother on the site of Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency. Dorothy Bode welcome to the program.

DOROTHY BODE: Thank you.

BRAND: Why did you decide to adopt children of a different race than you?

BODE: I was raised in an adoptive family. We had a pretty broad understanding of family. And when we opened our home to begin adoption we were open to children of any race and we were chosen by an African-American mom to parent her child. So that's how we got started.

BRAND: And then you kept going?

BODE: And then it just kept happening.


BRAND: And the study released yesterday, one of the conclusions of it was that a lot of white parents who adopt black children are not really well prepared to confront issues of race and identity. And a lot of the black children suffer psychologically from that, from having issues about racial identity and discrimination. And that they are not adequately prepared to deal with that in the larger community. How do you prepare yourself or how did you prepare yourself and how do you deal with these issues?

BODE: As a family we had to make such pretty significant life changes. We moved from a white suburb to the inner city. So we see people who are African-American and every nationality, every day. And we interact and we've really experienced racism, not personally because I'm white but the indirect racism that's subtle and is really pervasive in America still. And now I have to help my children to understand that that's not personal, that's a larger societal problem.

BRAND: How old are your children?

BODE: My oldest biological is almost 12 and my oldest adopted is 8.

BRAND: And you have three biological children?

BODE: Yes, we do.

BRAND: You live in downtown Minneapolis? So what do you say to your adopted children? What do you say to them when they're faced with issues of discrimination?

BODE: So far what they've had to deal with is more juvenile nastiness and some careless comments by adults. But we do identify it as a historical issue - just the various things that have come historically, from slavery on. We're very open and talk about it. We studied that period of history pretty intensely of slavery and what's happened since then so that our children all understand black and white how wrong it is to treat people differently because of their color and real it is how it happens. And that we take our responsibility seriously in connecting you to the larger African-American culture.

BRAND: How do you do that? How do you connect your children to the larger African-American culture?

BODE: Well our church has three African-American or bi-racial pastors who are involved in activities that are going on multi-culturally. And especially within the African-American and the Cherokee Indians, which are the represented populations in our family. We had to come into an environment where it wasn't all white for them.

BRAND: How has it changed you? You said you moved from the white suburbs to the inner city. How have you changed?

BODE: I'm a different person. I had - you know I'm not the latte drinking MBA in Woodberry, which is a fancy suburb anymore. I'm the mom the city going, yeah, here, let's all pick our girls hair in the front yard now.


BRAND: Yeah.

BODE: Look, I can't believe this is me, it's so bizarre.


BODE: And it's good. And moving to the city and becoming the mom to black children. I realize that color is important and race is important. So now our family is color conscious much as the study was reporting. Saying that we are different, we are special, we are unique and each person has particular value.

BRAND: So instead of glossing over the differences and saying they don't exist, you celebrate them. You say yeah, we are different and let's talk about that.

BODE: Yeah and right now we're looking into adopting number ten and beginning the paperwork on that. And it's fun to hear the children voting. Do we want another chocolate one or a vanilla one or what kind of baby, maybe one that's both. Talking about it is a natural, healthy discussion. Just like a boy or girl or - and since we are open, we say well, it will depend on who chooses us and what God's plan is.

BRAND: Some listeners might react with a little bit of surprise to what you just said.

BODE: Yep.


BODE: Some people do not like the term black. Some people do not like the term African-American. And some people don't like the term vanilla or chocolate or even having the discussion. The hard part is most of those people are not living in it. They aren't a trans-racial family and the reactions are emotional not logical. Children at the age of four begin differentiating - you're a boy, I'm a girl. You're heavier, I'm lighter, I'm taller, you're shorter. I'm black, you're white. It's part of the concrete processing as we develop, and we've had to develop ways to talk about it that are normal and that's how our family's chosen to do it.

BRAND: Despite this law being enacted back in the mid 1990s that was supposed to make it easier for people to adopt African-American children that hasn't happened. What do you think needs to be done? How could more black children be adopted and be adopted quicker?

BODE: The second part of that act that talked about actively recruiting African-American families. That hasn't happened yet. I think that is a huge, huge part of getting more African-American kids adopted out of foster care.

BRAND: Your experience, not withstanding, do you think it could be better - is generally better to have the same race with the same race? In other words black parents adopting black children and white parents adopting white children?

BODE: I think the reality in America is we are still a race-based society. If all things are equal and there's a black parent and a white parent willing to adopt a child, that they should be placed with the family they look the most like because it eliminates one level of that child's adoptive angst. They'll always have a feeling in their heart they're adopted and wasn't I good enough and all those adoption issues. But being able to pass in our society as a biological child versus forced to be an adoptive one everyday of your life, I think that is a blessing to a child, if, other things are equal.

BRAND: We've been speaking about the challenges of trans-racial adoptions with Dorothy Bode. She's a white woman who has adopted six black children and is in the process of adopting a seventh. Dorothy Bode thank you very much.

BODE: Thank you.

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