It is both under-inclusive and over-broad to say that black children fare better with black parents. Take this extreme example: Shawn is a black infant who needs a home. There are two prospective couples hoping to adopt. First, a white woman and man. She works at the N.A.A.C.P., and he is a jazz musician. They live in Harlem. Or an African-American man and woman. Both of them grew up as the only black people in their communities, and they live in rural Vermont.
Which is the best family for Shawn? To say that the black couple is better because of their race overlooks the potential of the white couple to identify with and understand African-American culture. Likewise, characterizing the black couple as disengaged with African-American culture promotes a sophomoric politics of authenticity that mandates a uniform experience of being black. There is no easy answer.
We need to make room for those unpredictable areas, as my colleague Janis McDonald and I have argued: there should not be a categorical presumption of racial proficiency or incompetence to decide how best to parent a black child. Cultural needs of children can be met by different-race parents who are committed to the best interests of their child. Interracial adoption shouldn’t be such a completely black or white issue. The complexity is not going anywhere, so we should promote and embrace the gray.
In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers published a position statement in favor of preserving black families. We were the first child welfare organization to raise concern about the disproportionate removal of black children from birth families. We recommended that when remaining with birth parents was not a good option, children be placed with relatives. We vocally opposed the practice of many adoption agencies to covertly and overtly screen out black families who sought to become adoptive parents. We spoke out against the unethical treatment of black children and families. Our statement also asserted that children should not remain in institutions or foster homes when adoption could become a reality.
However, this 1972 statement was twisted by critics, who said that black social workers would rather have children remain in foster care than to be adopted by white families. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The National Association of Black Social Workers has been a voice, and in many instances a lone voice, for black family preservation. In 1991, we reaffirmed a continuum of services that later became supported by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Despite my organization’s decades of advocacy for nuanced policy, critics have continued to sensationalize our 1972 position against transracial adoption.
We believe that families considering interracial adoption should be prepared by their agencies to understand the pervasive impact of race on achievement, self-esteem, self-concept and mental health. Adoptive parents of black children should recognize and combat the pervasiveness of institutional and individual racism. They should ensure that black children are connected to appropriate black role models, and are not racially isolated.
The National Association of Black Social Workers fights for the best interests of all black children and black families. We continue to affirm and recommend home-based services, reunification with birth families, kinship care, nondiscriminatory adoption services and – when deemed appropriate – transracial adoption.
Take Race Out of the Equation
Elizabeth Bartholet is the Morris Wasserstein professor of law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Child Advocacy Program.
Since the mid-1990s, United States law has prohibited any effort to keep children within same-race families and prevent transracial adoption. Congress will not go back on this law, the Multiethnic Placement Act.
The racial matching regime outlawed by MEPA was aberrational – inconsistent with our nation’s constitutional and legal tradition making any use of race highly suspect. Racial matching failed to meet the narrow affirmative action exception to that tradition: It hurt rather than helped black children, by locking them into foster care and denying them available nurturing homes.
Congress should not go back on MEPA. There is no evidence that transracial adoption hurts children or communities, nothing that would satisfy the heavy burden of justification required for any use of race to define permissible family formation.
The real issue is whether MEPA should serve as a model for other adoption law, both domestic and international. MEPA is based on the beliefs that children do not belong to their racial groups of origin and that children’s interests are served by placement in the earliest available nurturing permanent homes, regardless of color. Other laws, including the Indian Child Welfare Act, conflict with these principles; American Indian children are treated as resources belonging to Indian tribes.
International laws and policies governing the adoption of unparented children worldwide are similarly inconsistent with MEPA principles, locking children into their nations of origin regardless of whether those nations provide nurturing care. A law pending in Congress, known as Children in Families First, would begin to change this picture, redefining U.S. policy to support international adoption as one of the best options for meeting children’s basic human rights to parenting. This law deserves our support. MEPA should be seen as the model for the adoption of American Indian children and children abroad.
No Time for Identity Politics
Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is the author of “Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches.” He is on Twitter.
The same arguments against transracial adoption have been made before, against interracial marriage. In both cases, the hard social adjustments of living in a racist society are used to suggest that it’s better, for the children, if families are racially segregated, separate but equal. I reject that wrong-headed logic, in both cases.
I hold this view not because I believe we live in a post-racial, “color-blind” society. We don’t. The legacy of racial hatred and bigotry is real, and continues. But the families I’ve known who have parents of one ethnicity and children of another — including many of my fellow evangelical Christians — are among the most aware of this situation, and among the most motivated to work for racial justice and reconciliation.
Minority parents of white children teach their kids that the world outside often, sadly, isn’t as loving and diverse as the one they’ve come to know. White parents of minority children are often diligent to teach their children to take pride in their ethnic heritage, and try to prepare them to combat the evils of the bigotry they will face on the outside. These families learn what really every family ought to learn — how to celebrate differences while also celebrating a common belonging, in love.
Right now there are untold numbers of children tied up in the foster care system, or languishing in orphanages and group homes all over the world. There is no place for racist bigotry or identity politics in solving this crisis. What matters is the welfare of children who need a Mom and a Dad.
Can any of us honestly suggest that it would be better for a child to remain in this bureaucratic limbo than to be a son or daughter to loving parents whose skin is paler or darker than his or her own?
The Racial Biases That Aren’t Examined
Twila L. Perry is a professor of law and the Judge Alexander P. Waugh Sr. scholar at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark.
Race matters in adoption because race matters in America.
The argument that black children should be placed with black families draws fire, while the preference of most white prospective adoptive parents for white children is accommodated without serious question. Shouldn’t a truly colorblind system operate like a lottery, matching all children and parents without regard to race? The obstacle here is the reality that race does matter. How many white couples would be happy to be matched with a black child while they watch a black couple take home a healthy white newborn?
Even black children adopted as a first choice rather than a second choice or a last resort face serious challenges. A recent report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute cites research describing children who are uncomfortable with their appearance and who struggle to achieve a positive racial identity. Some adults who were transracially adopted as babies are now telling their own stories. They often describe loving adoptive parents who were not able to prepare them for the racial issues they would encounter. One of these adoptees, Asher Issacs, has described being raised “by a family that did not appreciate the significance of racial differences and the importance of developing a positive racial identity in a black child.” Another, Rachel Noerdlinger, has written that while “love should be enough, love does not prepare an African American child for the society we live in.”
In the discourse favoring pro-transracial adoption in the context of foster care, black families and especially black mothers are often stereotyped and denigrated, while whites who seek to adopt black children are valorized. The image of a crying black child being torn from the arms of “good” white foster parents to be returned to a “bad” black mother has too often been the weapon of choice of transracial adoption advocates. Promoting this kind of image is easier than confronting the question of how best to help struggling, impoverished families.
Not a Deciding Factor, but Not to Be Ignored
Kevin Noble Maillard, law professor and author
Cultural needs of children can be met by different-race parents who are committed to the best interests of their child.
Consider Black Children and Black Families
J. Toni Oliver, National Association of Black Social Workers
When remaining with birth parents is not a good option, the National Association of Black Social Workers calls for children to be placed with relatives.
Take Race Out of the Equation
Elizabeth Bartholet, professor of law, Harvard
Children should go to the earliest available nurturing permanent homes, regardless of color. But some laws conflict with this goal.
No Time for Identity Politics
Russell Moore, author, "Adopted for Life"
Untold numbers of children are tangled in the foster care system or languish in orphanages and group homes all over the world.
The Racial Biases That Aren’t Examined
Twila L. Perry, Rutgers School of Law
Saying black children should be placed with black families is controversial. But most white prospective adoptive parents prefer white children, which raises few eyebrows.