Family Almanac

Cross-Racial Adoption: You Need to Anticipate the Worst

By Marguerite Kelly
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 9, 2008

Q. My husband and I are white, in our late 30s and infertile, so we are trying to adopt an infant.

We were stumped, however, when our lawyer here in South Carolina asked us which races of children we would be willing to adopt. At first we said we'd be willing to adopt a child of any race, but "African American" began to raise concerns for both of us.

We've heard that it's bad for an African American child to be adopted by a white family, but is this true? My husband thinks this wouldn't be a problem if we adopted a child from Africa, but I've heard that the color of the child's skin matters much more than his birthplace.

We are genuinely torn. Should we refuse to adopt an African American child because some people might look down on her or because some of the research warns us against interracial adoptions? My heart does not want to accept these reasons if God intends for us to form this kind of family.

A.God tells us to do good, but He leaves the details to us even when we're planning something as monumental as a cross-racial adoption.

While the situation today is better than that of 50 years ago, your child is bound to face some ignorance and bigotry from whites and perhaps from some African Americans, too, whether she was born in Africa or 100 miles down the road.

You can protect her from much of it, but only if you do your homework before you commit. Now is the time to talk with some white parents in South Carolina who have already adopted African American children to find out what it has been like for them and especially for their children. They'll also tell you how they handle comments from adults and children, which resources are the best -- in and out of the state -- and how adoption has changed their lives.

The child you adopt will change your lives, too, because you'll quickly fall in love with her, as parents always do. From then on, a passionate, tigerlike fury will spring up in you if anyone rejects her, mocks her or says mean things about her.

Will you be strong enough to defend her if they do? Can you do it without embarrassing her? And if you can't, will you be flexible enough to move to an integrated city neighborhood, where people will accept her more easily, or even move to another state?

Will you build your own support group and find your own resources before you adopt, so you won't feel so alone later on, and will you see that she always has a few role models who look like her, so she won't feel so alone?

If you can say yes to those questions, you probably can handle a cross-racial adoption. But before you sign on for one, you and your husband should analyze your motives to make sure that you are adopting a baby because you want to experience one of the great joys of life, and not because God might want you to adopt or because you're in the rescuing business.

All you can give this child is love, which may not seem like enough sometimes, unless you realize that adopted children have more issues than children who aren't adopted.

No matter how well you rear your child and how much you love her and she loves you, she will look in the mirror one day and ask herself, "Who am I? Where do I belong?" She will probably put these wonderings into words in her preteens or her adolescence -- when teenagers are driven to define themselves -- or she may wait until she's under some big stress many years from now. In either case, just sympathize and be supportive, but don't blame yourself for her questions and her doubts.

You'll find much more information in the excellent Adoptive Families magazine ($25 a year) and in "Dim Sum, Bagels, and Grits" by Myra Alperson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15). This book is written for multicultural families and packed with information, good advice and a splendid line that all adoptive parents should engrave on their hearts: "Blood is thicker than water -- but love is thicker than blood."

Questions? Send them toadvice@margueritekelly.comor to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.

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