Transracial adoption: seeing beyond race

Editor’s note: This op-ed was written in conjunction with Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger’s series and podcast, called “The Wait,” about her family’s experiences with infertility and Baltimore’s foster care and adoption systems. Read the series here.

When my husband and I decided to adopt more than a quarter century ago, all we wanted was a healthy newborn. We didn’t care about gender or race. But the Maryland Department of Social Services and the National Association of Black Social Workers did; they opposed white people like us adopting African American children.

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We live in Baltimore City, where most of the infants available for adoption are black. Yet a state government social worker told us that Maryland’s public social service agency (DSS) would not help us with a transracial adoption. This was before Congress passed the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act in 1994, prohibiting child welfare agencies from discriminating against prospective parents based on race. The DSS rejection meant we had to turn to a private adoption agency.

We adopted two baby boys, two years apart. Willie, who is multi-racial, is now 26. Alex, who is black, is 24.

At the time of our decision to adopt children of another race, I sought advice that would guide us as parents. I found a few articles with views from adult adoptees of color who grew up in white families. The adoptees were raised in largely white communities, with few people of the same race. They felt isolated and disconnected. One young man said his parents’ misguided lessons to him — that the world was “color blind” — only made it more difficult to share painful incidents of racism.

We took those experiences as a cautionary warning: We never took racism lightly and have always kept our children in a community where people looked like them. We knew Baltimore City was the right place for our family. We sent our boys to city public schools, where they were the majority race, and they fit right in. Baltimore City is also home to many types of families: children being raised up by same sex parents, single parents, grandparents, god parents, aunts and uncles.

I remember one incident when Alex was in kindergarten. One particular girl was so fond of Alex that the teacher asked her, “Why do you like Alex so much?”

“Because Alex’s parents are white,” she answered. “And I have two daddies.”

At the age of 5, the girl understood the commonalities of our families.

The very existence of our transracial family has allowed us to speak to our boys about race and racism in an open, frank manner. When one of them was studying the Jim Crow era, all we needed to say was that we could not have been a family during that time of segregation.

Most of our parenting experiences have nothing to do with race; like any family we have celebrated the milestones and struggled through the difficulties of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.

But we have learned what it is to be the parent of a young black man in Baltimore City. We know the heart stopping feeling of hearing that our son has been stopped by police driving while black. One day I found two police officers at our door from a team investigating car thefts. They asked if one of our cars was missing. They had seen a young black man driving it, though the tags were registered to an older man. They did not use the word “white” in describing my husband, but I knew where they were coming from. I immediately told them my son is black and had permission to drive the car. They were polite, but I could tell they were surprised.

So, here we are, more than 26 years after adopting our sons. Should we have taken the advice of DSS and the Black Social Worker’s Association and never adopted them?

I will let Alex answer that question.

“Having white parents never affected me,” he said. “It allowed me to have a diverse group of friends and allowed me not to see them by their race, but for who they are.”

Joan Jacobson (joanhjacobson@hotmail.com) is a former Sun reporter.

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