It's Time to Remove All Barriers To Adoption Across Racial Lines

What counts is the commitment of the parent and the need of the child

ON Aug. 13, 1984, a little girl with dark brown skin and sad brown eyes was carried off a Southwest Airlines flight in Dallas. She was 4 years old and weighed 12 pounds. Very few people had expected her to live long enough to reach Dallas from the Nicaraguan refugee camp in Honduras where she had been found. The child, though, was a survivor. She was determined to live. A white woman who had watched her televised arrival asked to adopt her. While it was to be a private adoption, attempts were first made to find black, black/Hispanic, or Nicaraguan adoptive parents. But no one expressed interest in a child who was fragile, older, and had special needs, except for the white woman who had almost instantly developed a strong rapport with her. The adoption was approved. Was it wrong for that woman to adopt a brown child? Is transracial adoption wrong in today's society? I think not. The philosophy of the National Association of Black Social Workers is that it is the right of every child to find a permanent home with a family of the same race. This has brought about a decrease of 90 percent in the adoption of black children, according to the Rev. Paul Engel in an address to the North American Council on Adoptive Children. By the late 1980s, lawsuits were being filed claiming that minority children were denied equal protection under the law because placements were delayed while same-race families were sought. The belief of many black social workers was that a white parent, no matter how skilled or loving, could not avoid doing irreparable harm to the self-esteem of a black child. Love erases differences For many of us who have adopted black or brown children, our love for them transcends color, handicap, or national origin. We believe in the humanistic message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that one day people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. We are anxious to help our sons and daughters be proud of their black or brown heritage, so we seek to change environments in order to create positive attitudes. Many of us choose to live in integrated areas so our children will have same-race, as well as white, friends. We buy black or brown dolls along with white ones and point out positive black and brown role models. Our children's books have sensitive stories and appropriate pictures. We create opportunities for our children to feel safe and comfortable and to acknowledge and respect their blackness or brownness. We seek to help them believe in themselves and their ability to contribute positively to the world, despite its craziness as regards color. In the 1980s, Ruth McRoy, associate professor of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas, Austin, did a study of children adopted transracially and those placed with parents of their own race. She found no difference in overall self-esteem between the two groups of children, so long as special efforts were made by white adoptive parents to make environmental changes conducive to their child's positive racial development. Despite this and similar surveys, black children still languish in foster homes for years while white families who want them are turned away. Where is the right of children to have a home and parents who love them? Who is thinking of the need of a child to feel wanted? It is unconscionable to let black children sit in foster homes year after year while white foster siblings are adopted. Court after court has said this is a violation of minority children's rights, yet the practice continues. The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 makes it illegal to deny transracial adoptions, yet many social workers find ways to get around the law instead of finding families, black or white, who are committed to black children and to helping them achieve a positive identity. They do this despite findings that more than 500,000 children are in foster homes, and that the majority of them are black or have special needs. We need laws so that children do not become the victims of adult politics and ideology. ''Children do not have the luxury of time that adults do,'' says Bobbie Kerr, former president of the Dallas chapter of the Council on Adoptable Children and a mother of three transracial children. The rewards for parents At some point, all parents who have adopted transracially are asked the same insidious question: ''Would you do it again?'' Lanthan Camblin and Joel Milgram, both professors of education at the University of Cincinnati and both transracial adoptive parents, answered that question in a 1982 article in the magazine Social Work. Their words speak for all of us who have remained strong and committed to our children: ''Of course we would. Our parental feelings are stronger and more central in our lives than the problems we face in this society. We have received more from our children than we have given, and it is not our families who are missing out.'' Would I do it again? When that little, sad-eyed, dark brown girl was carried off the Southwest Airlines flight in 1984, I didn't stop to make my decision on the basis of her color, or think I might be kept from adopting her because I was white. She was mine before I even met her, and I was hers the moment she saw me and crawled into my lap, refusing to leave. ''You two look like you belong together,'' I was told by the official handling the adoption selection. Within two weeks I brought her home as my daughter. As a parent, I had the joy of watching sad eyes become filled with laughter, hopelessness become hope, failure become success, emptiness and fear become filled with love and a positive self-image. Those are human values, not related to any color. She brought more to my life than I could ever have brought to hers. Would I do it again? In a minute!

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