The new report out on transracial adoption breaks little new ground as far as I'm concerned. Of course "love is not enough;" of course white people adopting outside their race need to learn a lot in order to do it well.
I realize the point of the report is to call the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 into question. That law supposedly made it illegal to even bring race up in foster and/or adoption proceedings from the homestudy to post-placement visits.
But I ask you, if you are in a transracially adoptive family, did this happen? Race was a constant factor in our pre and post-adoption discussions with social workers and agencies (and not just the agency through which we adopted that specializes in African American children). Every match or placement we were offered came with a racial description of the child or child-to-be and we were required to think about race in both the foster license training we did for our home study agency and the pre-adoption paperwork required by our placement agency (which required extra paperwork from prospective white parents).
Perhaps much of this race talk was illegal, but it happened nonetheless. So in spite of the anecdotes I've seen in various newspaper articles on the topic, I don't think foster children who've been turned away at the door by white foster parents who weren't told in advance that the children were Black are all that common.
Still, I'd be fine with a change to the law that removed the supposed gag on adoption and foster professionals to discuss race and/or banned them from requiring training for cross-race placements.
I am also not opposed to stepping up "recruitment" efforts for Black families to foster and adopt, but guess what? Black families already foster and adopt in far, far higher numbers than white families (and I don't mean white families with transracial placements, I mean all fostering and adoption by white families). Randall Kennedy quotes a mid-nineties statistic that in Cook County, IL (where my children were born), 88% of the children in foster care were Black while only about 33% of the county's residents were Black.* In other words, the Black communities in places like Cook County are already strapped in caring for these children. The problem is not, as Elizabeth Bartholet claims: that Black people are just too poor to adopt Black children.
Something else is going on.
But even though I'm incredibly ambivalent about the origins of the 1994 law, I don't think a return to strict race-matching would be wise. It didn't work well when it was in place, and as of this moment, too many kids need families to limit their options that way. I am not sure how things would be for the babies my agency places if strict race-matching were required by law. I think it's reasonable to assume a lot of the babies the agency places would wind up in foster care.
Which brings me to the question we ought to be asking. What are all these Black children doing available for adoption and/or in need of foster care in the first place?
Arguments for and against transracial adoption are just a waste of time and energy, spent on the wrong end of the problem. Sure, white people can be good parents to Black children. Well of course they can. Some could probably use quite a bit of training first and for those that don't need it, it won't kill them to jump through the hoops anyway (and they may need it more than they think). But where we ought to be focusing our research and energy for change is in the area of family preservation.
I haven't seen a single article about this report that bothers to quote Dorothy Roberts, whose work in this area in unrivaled. Roberts' books, Killing the Black Body and Shattered Bonds: the Color of Child Welfare, addresses the systemic ways that racism reigns in decisions about who is a fit or unfit parent and where the children of the poor belong. Roberts finds evidence that Black children end up in foster care far more often than white children in the exact same circumstances and that frequently "neglect" is really about poverty. This lines up perfectly with Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton's Welfare Reform Act. Remember when Newt suggested the children of women on welfare be removed and placed in orphanages? Instead, there was a push to remove them to middle-class white families, and the MEPA was passed as part of "welfare reform." But those white families didn't step up in significant numbers to take in those Black children anyway. Instead a few healthy newborns came into a few families (like ours).
No, throngs of white people have not swarmed the city halls demanding to adopt Black children from foster care.** Very few have done so (as Dorothy Roberts details). And plenty of white prospective adopters still check every box but "Black" on the forms their agencies give them, asking what kind of baby they'd be willing to adopt. There are still babies (I know a few, but will respect their families' privacy) who were left unadopted for months, even as healthy newborns, while those throngs of prospective adopters wait an extra year or two for their white (or anything-but-Black) babies.
So the competency of white people to raise Black children is a small issue, involving small numbers of families. (The competency of white people adopting "anything but" babies is probably a far bigger problem, since they seem to think that those "other" races are No Big Deal.) It's a small enough problem to be addressed successfully with increased training and support.
There are many issues that arise from being of identifiable African heritage in our society, and as many of those as possible should be taught. But perhaps the most important thing white prospective adopters should learn, is that they will need to be open to continuing to learn. Most race matters in this country are not easy to teach in a short class. When it comes to subtler issues (foodways, manners, sexuality, style, the meaning of education and money, the real influence of history on daily life for Black Americans, etc.) the kind of racial reductionism taught in one of the trainings we took is silly at best and underwrites white supremacy at worst, by propagating the idea that Black people are A) a different species from other races and B) all the same.
So any increased education should be of high quality, should be ongoing and should address more than the surface issues (we do not need more of the dumb stuff Cole and I had to do. It hurt more than it helped). In fact, Dorothy Roberts should be required reading for every white adoptive (or would-be) adoptive parent of a Black child in the United States. Ironically, one of the most important things white parents of Black children need to understand is the racism that put their children in their arms. To parent a Black child, you must look that racism square in the face, see that you have profited incalculably from it and swear to fight it with all your strength for the rest of your life; to do everything in your power to create a world in which a child such as yours would never again need to end up in arms such as yours.
And on a personal note...
This report comes at an interesting time for our family, given Roberts' location in Chicago and given the presence of two agencies there specializing in adoptions that usually end up being transracial.
A few of you have known for a while that the LilySea Clan has been planning a Summer '08 move. What most of you few probably don't know is that the place we are moving to is not the place we thought we were moving to from last fall through, oh, about a month ago. We are still moving, though. We are moving to Chicago.
For various reasons the Plan A move started to look like the wrong move at this time, and Chicago started to look like the right one. And so we are keeping our current jobs and shifting the household to the city, from whence Cole will do a bit of overnight commuting as necessary for work.
We have been looking at ways to get the family to an urban center for some time. This has always been our intention partly because we think it will make being an interracial family easier and partly because we love cities and partly because we want to home school and there are so many great opportunities in cities for various home school projects and adventures.
Chicago is the right city for us right now, because it is easier to reach by our out-town family members and cheaper to live in that the Plan A city and because our daughters' mothers and their families live there, so it will make open adoption easier too.
And hey, did you know that along with Houston and L.A., Chicago is one of the top three most gay-parent-populous cities in the country?*** Me neither, but cool!
So for the next several weeks we will be doing a good deal of driving back and forth and condo-hunting (it's a great condo-buyers' market in Chicago these days) and eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, moving the crew cityward.
All you readers in the area, drop me an email. Let's talk play dates!
*Interracial Intimacies, Pantheon 2003, p. 403.
** You know who (among transracial adopters) is doing this? In my anecdotal experience, gay white men (especially, but not exclusively, single ones). It is one of the very few routes to parenthood they have. Of the gay dads I know (white and Black, but most are white), all are adoptive parents and about half are foster-adoptive parents to older children. In one case, a couple said they would take a two-child sibling group with an age range of 2 to 6. They ended up taking (and are now the adoptive dads to) a three-child sibling group with an age range (at placement) of 2 to 12.
*** According to page five of this report.
Update For more on what I think we should be doing to prepare transracial adopters, see this post.