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Black Dad, White Daughter

In "Raising Katie," Newsweek explores the life of an average family in Baltimore. To the outside observer, though, the family is not average. Guardians Mark and Terri Riding are African-American. Fourth grader Katie O'Dea Smith is white.

The transracial family endures stares, rude comments and glares. Well-meaning folks have followed them around the mall and out of stores, checking to make sure Katie hasn't been kidnapped. And Katie, herself, faces challenges at her primarily white school: "They'll ignore me or yell at me because I have a black family," she tells Newsweek.

Transracial adoptions have been the topic of much research and discussion. Last year, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute recommended that race and ethnicity be allowed to be considered when placing a child with an adoptive family and when considering a child's best interest. Race was removed as a factor in adoptions by the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 and the Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption Provisions of 1996.

Reader reaction, as you'd imagine, runs along a spectrum of support for the family to questioning why they chose to adopt a white girl versus many black children in need of a home. Both the story and the comments raise questions about how we view multi-racial families.

Wrote veewat in the story comments:

"As the parent of an adopted child who is not of my race I can say that we are as a people (and I mean those of all races) not programmed at the most basic level to simply slide by a picture that doesn't fit ancient patterns. To say this is racist is true, it is racism in it's most basic form. It is not, however, as laden with baggage as we might presume -- this has less to do with American history as it does with choosing to break a pattern and learning to live with the path we choose. This family would have been very naive indeed if they had not anticipated the unusual responses to their family dynamic. My husband and I chose to adopt a child who needed love, support, nurturing, and a future. We stepped out of our comfort zone and helped in a very small way to move the way of the world forward into a more integrated understanding of what makes a community, a family, a picture. But to expect that a million years of racial division to disappear simply because of our good intentions, is unrealistic. The family will do well when they focus on the small strides they make together in society, and the giant strides they make within their family."

Adds Gracieblu:

My husband and I are white and we adopted a black child 6 months ago. Not once have we had to deal with the suspicious gazes (curious, yes, but not suspicious) this couple experiences all the time. Transracial adoption may not be the perfect answer, but this is not a perfect world and it gets children into families and that is important. Plus, I think parents who adopt transracially are uniquely motivated to end racism because they want their children to grow up in a better world. I know I do.

Some believe the issues this family faces is tied to a combination of gender and race, in particular, the fact the the father is a black man:

"Frankly, if this were a story about a black woman holding the hand of a little white girl, no one would blink an eye. The problem is people see a black man holding the hand of a little white girl, and they are uncomfortable, because whites still cling to the myth of the unstable, angry, violent black man, strung out on crack, committing crimes for drug money."

Keeping today's comments thoughtful and appropriate, do we societally and in our daily lives still see race when we are interacting with transracial families? As African American Dad asks in his blog on the article, "Does race yet again play a bigger role in our lives than we are willing to admit?"

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 28, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships
Previous: The Two Words That Can Drive A Parent Crazy: 'What If' | Next: A Kid's-Eye View on Talking to Us

Comments


"Does race yet again play a bigger role in our lives than we are willing to admit?"


No brainer - yes.

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 28, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

This could be a minefield of outrageous posts today.

I know many people that were willing to adopt a child of any race but were denied because they were white, so they ended up adopting overseas. From what I understand this is pretty common. How does this practice improve race relations?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 28, 2009 7:55 AM | Report abuse

all

Posted by: foamgnome | April 28, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

As an adoptive mom of 2 children of different races than my own, I can say that it's been a mixed bag of reaction to my family -- when outside of the Washington, DC area, there are a lot more negative reactions or comments or even ignorant comments than closer to home. (And this has happened to an even greater extent when we've lived overseas.) That's not to say that my children still don't experience racism at home, but the reactions are not nearly as shocked or surprised. I believe it's because this area is so multi-cultural. Nevertheless, I try very hard to make sure that my children have an easier time of it by ensuring that they go to schools that feature more children who look like them, that they participate in activities that include other children that look like them. Creating a multi-cultural family entails just that -- you must incorporate the other culture.

I must comment on the first quote of the article -- I cannot look at my children's face without seeing my own. It's as if they came from me -- and there is nothing more I could wish for than to have had them biologically . . . so I'm puzzled at that reaction, that race is so part of that person's life that they can't get beyond it, even with their own child.

While race is necessary to think of *because* of our society, it is certainly not necessarily part of our DNA.

Posted by: jrh310 | April 28, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Sorry about the above post I was testing the sign in thing.

Anyway, all things being equal it is probably best that children be placed with parents of the same race, religion, and cultural heritage. But let's be realistic, we don't live in an ideal world. And a loving stable home is better than foster care or an orphanage.

When I think about transracial adoption, I have to admit, I think about it in another direction. White families adopting non white children. Often white families adopting Asian children (particularly girls) or hispanic or black children. It is the first time I have heard of a case of black family adopting a white child.

The article explains why a white family did not step up to the plate and adopt Katie. She seemed to have had some emotional problems. Thank God for this family that did adopt her. She has good chance of being a productive member of society now.

The one thing that strikes me as really odd is that she still doesn't have a traditional family. The deal with Phyllis Smith and the Riders also seems atypical. It seems as if this kid is still bounced around two homes. Still it is better than foster care and she seems to be able to deal with the two family split. I guess not much different than divorced families sharing custody.

I hope transracial adoption is a step in the right direction. I would hate to see it eliminated based on other people's prejudices. Leave these families alone and let them be just normal families who love one another.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 28, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

I guess I have a slightly different take. I am bi-racial and if my parents had waited for society to catch up, my family would not exist. My skin color was different from both of my parents. And now that I have kids, My children do not have my same skin color, I am darker. There are days when someone asks me who I am in relation to my children but usually those are folks who aren't paying attention. I think that children need love and attention and a family structure ( note I believe successful balanced families come in all different colors, sizes and stuctures). If this child and this family works well together --that's great! It is not their problem that the rest of society is still dealing with their own prejudices.
It is important for the parents to be open with their children about societal prejudice and help children learn what is acceptable behavior and what is simply discrimination and how to deal with it.

I hope that the next generation of children will be even more accepting of differences. I would be absolutely opposed to any attempt to legislate that adoptive families should all be matching in skin color. That in my opinion is looking for a solution in the wrong place.

Posted by: soleil2000 | April 28, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Love knows no color...

Posted by: Krazijoe | April 28, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it obvious that class and culture as well as biological race is in the picture here?

When a white family adopts a black or brown or overseas child, the white majority automatically assumes that this is a move upwards, socio-economically, for the child. "This child is being rescued from poverty and Otherness, and being assimilated, becoming more mainstream, more 'real American,' more like 'us.'" The image of a white child being taken into an African-American family deeply jars that stereotype.

Posted by: herzliebster | April 28, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Adoption is not about solving societal woes but about starting a family. I am the adoptive parent of a biracial child. My wife and I were not concerned about race at all. We have had inquiries about our son but nothing negative.

The thing that people forget when discussing placement of a child in adoption is that there are far more white families looking to adopt than people of color. Non-white children spend far more time in foster care as a result. If adoptions were limited to same race parents many more children would remain in the "system" which helps neither the child nor society.

Race can be a factor in adoptions just not the only one.

Posted by: hickman11 | April 28, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The answer is simply, "yes." As Caucasian parents of an Asian daughter, we constantly get comments that bring up those issues -- both about race and adoption. Love may know no color, as one commenter says, but our society still does.

When strangers stop turning to us in a restaurant and asking, loudly and rudely, "Is she adopted?" (which I am assuming they wouldn't if we were all the same race) and people stop asking me if I'm the sitter, than we'll be moving forward.

http://punditmom1.blogspot.com

Posted by: PunditMom | April 28, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

@foamgnome

The "two-family split" is a very common strategy in many cultures, including African-American culture and urban immigrant cultures in the US. It's not so much a "split" as a collaborative parenting endeavor spread over several households. Children (and sometimes adults as well) are passed around among several households depending on work schedules and any number of other factors. Children experience their aunts, uncles, grandparents, and much-older siblings as co-parents along with their actual parents. They experience their cousins, nieces and nephews, and younger aunts and uncles as siblings. It's healthy and adaptive, though different from the stereotyped nuclear family.

It's quite different from children being passed between the two parents' households in the aftermath of divorce, because there is (usually, anyway) no serious conflict or jealousy or sense of loss involved in the fact that the child gets passed around.

Also, other members of the extended family may also float: auntie may be living with grandma this month, but last month she was living with us. And so on.

Posted by: herzliebster | April 28, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

"...do we societally and in our daily lives still see race when we are interacting with transracial families?"

I would offer that what we see is difference. What we see is a family that clearly did not grow as a function of biological propagation. And that is difference makes our family an acute minority.

When preparing for our transracial adoption, I came across the term "Conspicuous Families" and that is exactly what we are. I doubt that if my son shared my complexion that anyone would assume anything other than biological relationship. As it is we fairly shout that our family is different.

It takes a while for some people to process - it jar's their preconception, but our experience is that once understood it's all good.

I see it in my son's classmates asking me the pointed question "Are you D_____'s Daddy" as try to understand how we can look so different and still be Father and Son.

As we discuss adoption please keep in mind while familiar in popular culture, is relatively rare (2.5% of children) and of that minority 17% are transracialy adopted.

http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/002683.html


Posted by: DDad | April 28, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

herzliebster : Thanks Herz. I never knew that. It is weird. You can grow up in the US and really know nothing about other people.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 28, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

In DC, I would see this as a non-issue. There are so many multi-ethnic families that even a stark difference in skin color would garner little more than a passing double-take.

In rural America where diversity isn't as pronounced, this might be an issue. So was segregation. Taking a position that you won't do something because it wasn't done before is not the way you want to live.

Neither racist nor diversity based agendas are important. The only thing that matters is the well being of the child.

Being raised by black parents isn't going to turn white skin into black skin.

Being raised by homosexual parents isn't going to turn a heterosexual into a homosexual.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | April 28, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

"Racist" is a made-up word people throw when their arguments and positions make no sense and they either can't, or won't, accept the FACTS. Just like "liberal", "conservative" etc. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. They are NOT entitled to their own FACTS.

Posted by: PercyKution | April 28, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

"The "two-family split" is a very common strategy in many cultures, including African-American culture and urban immigrant cultures in the US."

Don't leave out rural communities (including whites). I grew up with an "extended" family which was more like an "immediate" family. Heck, my aunt even stepped up and raised her exhusband's son (the one he fathered while still married to her) when no one else cared to. When she passed away, I lost my "second mom".

My "brothers and sisters" have since scattered along the east coast, and I have a hard time imagining raising a child without immediate access to this larger family.

Posted by: writinron | April 28, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

writin: actually this off topic idea ties in with yesterday's blog post. It seems our society has taken to the notion that two parents raise a child, and everyone else is an onlooker...which has hardly been the case throughout history and shouldn't be the case now.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 28, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Caucasion wife married to Asian dad, daughter looks more Asian. At airport stranger came up to mom and daughter and asked, "Where did you get your baby?" Mom replies, "From my uterus." Stunned silence. I love it!

Posted by: ABQ33 | April 28, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

When a white family adopts a black or brown or overseas child, the white majority automatically assumes that this is a move upwards, socio-economically, for the child. "This child is being rescued from poverty and Otherness, and being assimilated, becoming more mainstream, more 'real American,' more like 'us.'" The image of a white child being taken into an African-American family deeply jars that stereotype.

Posted by: herzliebster
==============================

I agree that it does jar the stereotype.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | April 28, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I married a Hispanic man that has relatively light skin. He could pass for 'American'. I am clearly not Hispanic with blonde hair and blue eyes. His children are darker than he is and look typically Hispanic.

If my husband and I are out and about(without the children) in what I would consider to be white DC, we barely get a second look. Place the two of us in Hispanic DC (like the Global Foods in Manassas or a restaurant catering to Hispanics) and we get stared at. I would have to say the stares are not even nice stares. It never would have dawned on me that our biracial rel. would get more negative reactions from Hispanics than whites.

I spend quite a bit of time being out and about with just the children so my husband is not there to give context to the difference in our looks. Sometimes I have both and sometimes just one. Not a single comment has been made about our relationship, difference in skin colour or anything else. I have not even felt like I have gotten stares. I have been moderately surprised that I haven't gotten a single solitary question about our relationship. As a family, we are rarely in heavily Hispanic populated areas so I don't have any comparison to what that experience felt like as a biracial couple.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 28, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

"It seems our society has taken to the notion that two parents raise a child..."

C'mon Atlmom, everybody knows it takes a village to raise a child!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 28, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

A well-meaning policy intended to ensure colorblindness appears to be backfiring. According to a study published last year by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, transracial parents are often ill equipped to raise children who are themselves unprepared for the world's racial realities.

======================================

Guess Barack Obama's grandparents shouldn't have raised him.

ridiculous.

Posted by: ProfessorWrightBSU | April 28, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

okay, whacky... i meant..ONLY two parents. As if you decided to do it - we'll just leave you to that. That's why people are so cranky, tired, and sleepy. Cause you need help to raise kids (and it raises BETTER KIDS). My grandmother was around all the time, my aunt and uncle helped out, etc. Not the same as when my parents grew up in apartments with EVERYONE they were related to living there, but something.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 28, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

This is a very interesting topic for me today. It hits home. I’ve written before when something similar was being discussed either here or on On Balance., I cannot remember which. I have three granddaughters from my son’s biracial marriage. One of the girls is adopted because they couldn’t get pregnant and then they did. She is biracial, but happens to be more brown than not. I have been out alone pushing a stroller with her and her baby sister and have been questioned, in front of them, as to whether they are sisters. I have also been out with my son and daughter-in-law with the girls and a couple of their cousins. We have gotten many strange looks and actually had one woman say to me “I’ve got to see what that baby looks like.” I happened to be standing off to the side holding the sleeping baby. She did indeed come up to me and peer into her face. Unbelievable! We all live in Maryland, just outside of DC, where I agree our family dynamics shouldn’t be an unusual sight. My son has told me many times that he’s been questioned when he is alone with his girls and he is extremely fair. The comment about love being color blind is right on the mark though. I just wish more people would think before they speak, especially in front of little ones.

Posted by: HVStewart | April 28, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

When a child is precluded from being adopted by whites for racial reasons, that is called diversity and sensitivity, when it is done to minorities that is called institutional racism. Let's call it what it is HYPOCRISY. Children can be loved by all people, regardless of race.

Posted by: pwaa | April 28, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Seems to me that it would just be easier to put white kids in white homes and black kids in black homes. Not that one can't love another when the skin color is different but why make it harder on the kid just to be politically correct?

Posted by: sunflower571 | April 29, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Seems to me that it would just be easier to put white kids in white homes and black kids in black homes. Not that one can't love another when the skin color is different but why make it harder on the kid just to be politically correct?

Posted by: sunflower571 | April 29, 2009 8:23 AM
===========
As this article just illustrated, it takes more than race and common culture to raise an adopted child. Children are orphaned for many reasons and just about all of them are tragic and traumatic, particularly for the ones who are old enough to remember being orphaned. It takes truly gifted and insightful parents to give these kids the emotional support and stable home environment they need.

So, child placement professionals match competency to deal with these issues before they even begin to consider race and culture.

And maybe I'm naive, but I think if you can raise a child to be emotionally strong and secure, he or she will have the tools to deal with anything, including racism.

I agree with Professor Wright. We've got some living proof in the Oval Office.

Posted by: mdreader01 | April 30, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

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