Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Color of Parenting

The color-blind vs. color-conscious debate continues in America. This time its about so called "transracial" adoptions. This from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Minority children in foster care are being ill-served by a federal law that plays down race and culture in adoptions, a report released on Tuesday said.

The report, based on an examination of the law’s impact over a decade, said that minority children adopted into white households face special challenges and that white parents need preparation and training for what might lie ahead.

But it found that social workers and state agencies fear litigation and stiff penalties under the law for even discussing race with adopting couples. As a result, families often do not get the counseling they need. It also found that states have ignored an aspect of the law that requires diligent recruitment of black parents.

The report recommends that the law — the Multiethnic Placement Act, which covers agencies receiving federal dollars and promotes a color-blind approach — be amended to permit agencies to consider race and culture as one of many factors when selecting parents for children from foster care.

The report was issued by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a nonprofit adoption advocacy and research organization based in New York. Several child welfare organizations — including the Child Welfare League of America, the Adoption Exchange Association, the National Association of Black Social Workers, Voice for Adoption and the Foster Care Alumni of America — have endorsed the report.

The report points out that transracial adoption itself does not produce psychological or other social problems in children, but that these children often face major challenges as the only person of color in an all-white environment, trying to cope with being different.

“The idea of being color-blind is great, and we’d all like to get there,” said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Adoption Institute. “But the reality is that we live in a very race-conscious society, and that needs to be addressed. We can’t simply pretend that the problem doesn’t exist and leave it up to the child to cope.”

Many transracial adoptees say they struggle to fit in among their own family members. Shannon Gibney, 33, a writer in Minneapolis who describes herself as biracial, was adopted by a white couple who tried their best by providing things like books by black authors.

“But having books and other things about blacks is no substitute for actual experience,” Ms. Gibney said. “When I had questions about even little things like how to wear my hair, there was no one around to help me with my questions.” (This article is a MUST READ)

I've recently become a fan of the excellent blog "Anti-Racist Parent" which I learned about through Los Angelista (another must read). One of the recent posts involves a white couple who chose to adopt a black baby girl:

"As an adoptee, I had prepared myself for all of the unknowingly hurtful things people can say and do when asking about the adoption. I knew the comments and “looks” would be very frequent since Gracie is obviously a different race the rest of the family. However, quite a few of the reactions and comments dealt mostly with the difference in race than our adoption. There is never a time that I don’t feel more like the parent of a little black daughter then when I’m out and about running errands. I have been called “the babysitter” more times then I can count. I believe that the reaction to verbally address me as “the babysitter” comes more from the idea that people do not like to encounter things that they do not understand then from the fact I’m so young looking. To place me in the babysitter box, it allows them to categorize me without looking further.

I have been stopped numerous times to be consulted on what I should be doing with my daughter’s hair. I personally think her hair looks great and that I do a kick ass job, however it seems that a lot of women feel otherwise. I am constantly stopped, in the middle of the store, and told exactly how I am failing as her hairdresser. I have been given thousands of names of products and devices to make her hair straighter, fuller, grow faster and be more manageable. My daughter is only 18 months old people, give me a break! When I need the help I ask for it and I tend to ask people that I know, not strangers at the store.

Since we adopted Gracie we have seen a dramatic transformation in our family. It’s amazing what holding a sweet infant in your arms can do to some of the deep-rooted racism that is taught and sometimes passed down unknowingly to future generations.

We have a large extended family. There are some who had trouble relating to Gracie or understanding why we would adopt outside of our race. In an attempt to give the impression that they were not bothered by her race, some family members have mentioned physical qualities about her that are stereotypically African American. They say, “she’s going to have a big butt, I can already see it” or “her hair is going to be a problem, what are you going to do?” Some relatives even told us that they would not love Gracie as much as Porter and then tell us it has nothing to do with race." (Read the whole thing here)

For a different twist on the transracial adoption debate I recommend that you read another post from Anti-Racist Parent called "Half-price adoptions: Should we tell our kids?"

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm no fan of color-blind approaches to race. As I've said before God loves color and so do I. On the other hand, I've often said that love of one's physical features (that are racialized in our society) and ethnic/cultural background is transmitted through the heart and not through the skin. Simply having parents and kids with the same skin color does not represent an antidote to internalized racism or guarantee of ethnic pride. I've learned that through bitter personal experience.

For me these articles and posts about transracial adoption actually raise a related but perhaps deeper question: To what degree are parents of any race raising their children in such a way that they will have a healthy love of themselves and the desire and skills to work effectively for racial justice and unity in America? Whites who adopt children of color are an easy target for criticism, but it implies that parents raising kids in more traditional racially homogeneous families are doing just fine relative to this question. If we are honest with ourselves, I think we'll acknowledge that that is a pretty big assumption.

Present and future parents I want to hear from you. What do you think about transracial adoptions? What do you think about parenting with the explicit goal of promoting racial unity and justice?

I'll close with this prayer which has become a favorite of mine as an expectant father:

"O Thou kind Lord! These lovely children are the handiwork of the fingers of Thy might and the wondrous signs of Thy greatness. O God! Protect these children, graciously assist them to be educated and enable them to render service to the world of humanity. O God! These children are pearls, cause them to be nurtured within the shell of Thy loving-kindness.

Thou art the Bountiful, the All-Loving."

- 'Abdu'l-Bahá