Altruistic adoption?
April 14, 2006 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Should a white couple adopt a black baby?

I know that most of the babies that need adopting in the U.S. are African American. Assume that a white couple is looking to adopt a baby for altuistic (for lack of a better word) reasons rather than because one of the two is unable to have children. Would the "right" thing to do be to a adopt an African American child, or would being raised by white parents be detrimental to the child in the long run?

To clarify, this question is hypothetical. I'm not personally considering having or adopting children any time soon if at all.
posted by Crushinator to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine is a black man raised by white parents. He doesn't seem any worse for the wear.

or would being raised by white parents be detrimental to the child in the long run?

Probably far less so that being a ward of the state, but i think that could be said about pretty much any adopted child, color of parents not withstanding.

i'd say go for it. The world needs more mixing at all levels.
posted by quin at 3:50 PM on April 14, 2006

I know a white couple with two adopted black kids. They're a happy bunch.
posted by phrontist at 3:57 PM on April 14, 2006

I saw something on a Dateline/20/20 type show about a lot of white families in Canada adopted African American children from the U.S. and it all being a-okay.
posted by k8t at 3:58 PM on April 14, 2006

Adaptions are carefully handled affairs (usually) and most prospective parents are vetted to ensure a healthy, stable environment for the child. I'd say that no child with parents who want him/her and a stable home life could go to far wrong. Every member of such a mixed-color family will probably develop a good, realistic outlook on racial issues and benefit from the experience.
posted by chudmonkey at 3:59 PM on April 14, 2006

Go for it. Just make sure they understand that people from all walks of life can be incredibly ig-nant at times.
Any child raised with love, guidence, education, support and cultural knowledge should do jes' fine...IMHO.
posted by black8 at 4:01 PM on April 14, 2006

For the record, as a student of genetics I don't acknowledge the concept of race, and I used the phrase "racial issues" when I should have written "issues of ethnicity". I also spelt "too" wrong. Sorry.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:04 PM on April 14, 2006

The hypothetical couple is worried about the wrong altruistic challenge. The right one to worry about isn't race of the adopted child, it's infant vs. older child.

A white couple determined to adopt a baby really shouldn't feel any altruistic duty to adopt an African American one. Someone who flies to China to adopt a girl isn't leaving an adoptable African American child lingering in an orphanage -- black babies who are free for adoption are sufficiently sought after to assure them a home. The converse isn't necessarily true of the Chinese baby girls, many of whom will linger in orphanages if not adopted.

(Most of the black children who are free for adoption are older than infants -- while many of them came into the foster care system as babies, it takes years to terminate parental rights even of the most manifestly unfit parents.)
posted by MattD at 4:38 PM on April 14, 2006

I grew up with at least three friends who were black kids adopted by white families, and they are all fine folks. There was more angst over one set of parents divorcing than over the distinctions in skin color within the families.
posted by mwhybark at 4:40 PM on April 14, 2006

I know a single white woman who adopted a female black infant; they're both terrific people, and are really happy.
posted by davejay at 4:49 PM on April 14, 2006

I work for child Welfare. New York tries as much as possible to keep kids with foster / adoptive parents of the same cultural background. But we have plenty of black foster families who adopt white kids and Hispanic kids, Hispanic families who adopt black and white kids. They do great. It's not a big deal. I don't work with many white foster parents in the districts I'm assigned to, so I can't speak to that. Overall cultural consistency and traditions are important, but it's more important for kids to have a loving home with parents who will nurture them. It's more important for a sibling group to not be split up. These are bigger factors.

If you're talking about altruism and kids who are most in need of adoption, I would argue that the bigger concern is that the most at-risk kids in foster care are frequently born addicted to drugs, have a terminal illness, are handicapped or mentally retarded and may have behavioral / emotional problems for the rest of their lives that will be challenging to predict and deal with. This goes for any race. Potential parents need to be able to cope with that.

Anyway I don't think there's a "right" thing to do, but adopting a child from a different race than your own is not inherently "wrong." Unless they're Native American, in which case there are strict federal regulations about adoption within the tribe.
posted by Marnie at 4:54 PM on April 14, 2006

My (white) aunt and uncle adopted black twins. I don't know if was for altruistic reasons. They got on well, but there was a point in their mid-teens when the conflict between their middle class white background clashed with their feelings of difference. I think it got nasty for a couple of years.

It seemed to be the old problem that adoptive parents face, but magnified due to the physical obviousness of non blood-relation. And, like most adopted families, they got over it. Think they're pretty happy now.

But your question seems to imply that black is a proxy for disadvantaged. It's not. If hypothetical adopter wants to do good, then adopt the child in most need. Black / white / whatever.

So (in a long winded answer to the question), adopt the child who is in most need of parents. Most kids up for adoption fit that description.
posted by TrashyRambo at 5:01 PM on April 14, 2006

I can add another element to this issue. I know two Gay couples that have adopted children of other races. And guess what! They rule. Adopting kids is cool as long as you have the means and willingness to treat them as your own. Kids need to feel connected and a part of their families. Race and color don't seem to count for much in that regard.
posted by snsranch at 5:12 PM on April 14, 2006

My wife and I adopted a black, infant girl. We are both white as is an older daughter. There was a lot of explaining to do to total strangers who would walk up and ask how it was that a black child was part of a white family. It always afforded us an opportunity to point out that this was a choice we wanted. Despite this, an "ugly duckling" syndrome set in by age 3 and she became troubled and troublesome.

One day, while on vacation in Monterey, it came to a head. Incessant whining: "I'm cold"; answer, "Me too"; "I'm hungry", answer, "Me too, let's find something to eat"; and finally a showdown. Sitting in the middle of an intersection, refusing to budge, she announced, "My feet hurt and I'm not walking any more!!!", to which I answered, "So are mine, we've walked a lot and its no wonder we are tired". She looked up after some thought about this and asked, "Does that mean that white people feel the same as black people?"

I took her arm in my hand and with a fingernail of my other hand gently scratched a white line in her skin. I pointed at it and said, "Look. I scratched a little bit of skin off and underneath we are both the same color. You saw all the white people on the beach trying to get a tan. You come with a tan." Her entire attitude changed from that point on.

From this I concluded that racial differences play out in very personal ways and have profound effects when they do. Sometimes there is an opportunity to address them to good effect and sometimes there is not.

Our daughter grew up in a white home in a white neighborhood. She is culturally white. Our circle of friends were very multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and so differences were interesting and fun.

We moved away from the large city, with its diversity, into a small, totally white town. Our daughter was the only black child in the school. She found herself being something of a cultural bridge. The kids and teachers could relate to her readily and she happened to be a star athlete, which made that process easier. Over the years, some black families moved in to town and those children found that they were accepted within the community, even though they were truly black. The only "strangeness" was between our daughter and the newcomers, who had a little difficulty with the cultural "whiteness". Glad to say, it all settled down, as kids have a natural talent for getting along.

She has grown into a remarkably strong, resourceful woman, now raising her own child. She has a huge coterie of friends all over the world, with whom she maintains regular contact. She is unusually aware of what is going on around her, a sensitivity which I ascribe to always being "different". This shows up in her writing and her art.

As much as the experience has had profound effects on her which she has turned to her advantage, it has also had similar effects on my wife, other daughter and me. We discovered how easy it is to ascribe simple traits and preferences to race when they are simply personal differences. We count ourselves fortunate to have had the chance to correct this propensity in ourselves and to help others do so as well. We have had a front row seat to witnessing how racism operates and the subtle shapes it can take. We also have had the satisfaction of helping others work through it and find their own comfort.

In conclusion, I would not have missed this experience for the world. We are all so much more for having lived it. I strongly believe that the racial/ethnic/cultural issues are miniscule compared to the power of the sharing of genuine love and respect. If you can love a child without condition you will instinctively give it all it needs to grow and flourish to the fullest of its potential.
posted by RMALCOLM at 7:26 PM on April 14, 2006 [10 favorites]

It seemed to be the old problem that adoptive parents face, but magnified due to the physical obviousness of non blood-relation.

Possibly balanced by the lack of "the baby is too young to understand, so when/how do we tell our child that he/she's adopted" problem.

But to Crushinator, a healthier attitude on the parent's part is "i want to raise a child, I'm adopting and its not my blood anyway, so it doesn't need to look like me necessarily" rather than "white people should adopt black kids on principle" stance. (Yes, I'm overstating your question a bit.)
posted by desuetude at 7:58 PM on April 14, 2006

Where I grew up (16 years ago now) the only black person in the town was a classmate of mine who was adopted by (obviously) white parents. I imagine he had trials I never saw but in general we seemed happy, well-adjusted and well liked. Frankly, I'd be more worried about someone who decides to adopt for "altruistic" reasons. People should adopt because they want a child. Googling interracial adoption, this Salon story seems to pretty much nail your scenario, though the conclusions so far seem iffy (and the people narrating just irritate the bejeezus out of me).
posted by nanojath at 10:25 PM on April 14, 2006

I'mma gonna plug my friend's blog: Afrindiemum.

a) Because she rocks. b) Because she writes passionately, insightfully about this subject (sometimes for publication).
posted by Skwirl at 4:21 AM on April 15, 2006

I can't imagine how it'd be better to spend your youth as a ward of the state than with adoptive parents of a different race.
posted by willpie at 6:30 AM on April 15, 2006

I had a somewhat length thread on interracial adoption a while back. (Got a tad heated at points), but there was some thoughts on black/white adoption by some people, as well as the white parents/asian adoptee phenomenon too.
posted by jare2003 at 10:11 AM on April 15, 2006

As a black person I think it's fine as long as the parents are willing to be culturally aware. But I think the same goes for black and white as it does for white/asian or whatever what have you.
posted by heartquake at 10:45 AM on April 15, 2006

My sister and I are half black and were adopted by white parents, and we had a wonderful, happy childhood. Of course questions from other people and stares in public happened, but there was so much love and understanding from our parents that it never was a problem.

Culturally, I could be considered "white", (if there is such a thing as culturally white) I was called an "oreo" and asked "Why do you talk white?" pretty often, especially in elementary school. It never bothered me that much, but I still don't have too much of a "cultural identity". In general, I had a much different view of race than my peers. Some people had dark skin and some people had light skin, but that was no different than having different colored eyes.

As long as the parents are loving and treat the children as their own, I say ADOPT! The more blurring of artificial racial boundaries, the better.
posted by mayfly wake at 12:12 PM on April 15, 2006

This is a wonderfully heartening thread and makes me feel better about humanity, something that MeFi threads rarely do. I want to especially thank RMALCOLM, whose story is detailed enough to make me want more. You and/or your daughter should write a book!
posted by languagehat at 4:08 PM on April 15, 2006

I'm half african, and rased almost entirely by my white mother. It was fine. Whatever situation the kid grows up in, he'll consider that 'normal'.
posted by delmoi at 5:16 PM on April 15, 2006

My (white) aunt and uncle adopted black twins. I don't know if was for altruistic reasons. They got on well, but there was a point in their mid-teens when the conflict between their middle class white background clashed with their feelings of difference. I think it got nasty for a couple of years.

Exactly the same situation in a family I know - the three adopted children definitely had a lot of trouble, partly because they lived in a 100% white area, and the fact that they were black was basically ignored by their adoptive parents, except when it came to renaming them with 'whiter' names (even though they were children rather than babies when adopted) and definitely giving them the impression that they were lucky to be with a white family. At least one of the kids is no longer on speaking terms with his adoptive parents, and spent a long time searching for his birth parents. (I suppose this says more about the mistakes made in that family, or the lack of support they received, than the general issue at hand, though.)

Lovely story, RMALCOLM, by the way.
posted by jack_mo at 9:51 AM on April 16, 2006

My ex girlfriend grew up with two adopted black kids. And according to her, the main problems they had (this in midwestern OH) was the (overt and not so overt) racism against her parents!
posted by Arthur Dent at 10:26 AM on April 16, 2006

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