When Michael and Rebecca made the decision to adopt, they were heartbroken to learn parents willing to adopt a child of a different race were few and far between.
But making the decision to consider interracial adoption — adopting a child of a different race — requires cultural research, living a life of diversity, making sure a child’s heritage is nurtured and realizing the dynamic of the family is now multi-cultural.
It can be challenging and interracial, also known as transracial, adoption is not for every family. But for Michael and Rebecca, their daughter Olivia was worth it.
“We also didn’t limit God. If we had not decided that, we would have missed out on the blessing of having Olivia,” who is biracial, Michael said. “She’s a delight every day, she keeps us laughing.”
Antje Harris, director of Catholic Adoption Services, a licensed nonprofit agency through Catholic Charities of Arkansas, said the nonprofit is open to interracial adoption, but is also looking for black families willing to adopt.
“We don’t have a lot of placements, that’s just the reality. Teen pregnancy is down and more teens are parenting children, more grandparents are helping to raise the child. And for a variety of reasons there are fewer children available for adoption,” she said.
To adopt a black or biracial child, Harris said there are several factors to consider, including having diverse relatives and friends, if the family is willing to adopt another child of a different race down the road and where the adoptive family lives. The agency looks for areas that are more metropolitan or open to diversity, particularly college cities.
“There are certain areas that transracial adoption wouldn’t be accepted very well. And sometimes the families say to us, ‘Well, we’d be OK with it, but my dad wouldn’t or our community wouldn’t.’ We do this with a tremendous amount of thought and care,” Harris said. “We would be honest with them if we thought their community was perhaps not a very welcoming community or if they were in a small town and that was going to be the only black child in the school or one of two.”
With any adoption, parents need to understand that this will be “their child. It’s not their transracial child; this is the child of their heart.”
Melanie and Eric moved in 2008 to a small Iowa city, with a population that’s grown to about 60,000 people while also growing in diversity. They have two Caucasian sons and in 2015, they adopted HopeAnn, who will be 2 years old in late November. HopeAnn is biracial and her birthmother was a client at Jericho Way, a day resource center for the homeless in Little Rock. The couple has always been open to interracial adoption, as Melanie grew up with two adopted sisters from Costa Rica.
“We weren’t just looking that our immediate family would be open to a child of color, but to our larger community. Will there be other people to look up to that would match them in skin color?” she said.
While the couple has a diverse group of friends, the couple made sure their nondenominational Christian church had black role models for their daughter.
“It was more fear and insecurity on my part. Are they going to judge me or look down on me or think I’m not a good enough to be a mom to her?” Melanie said. “It took some courage to step out and be a part of their community,” but she has been welcomed with “joy.”
Community support can also be fostered within a family. Rebecca and Michael, who lived in Arkansas but now live in another state, created a picture book for Olivia that included photos of her birth mother, Alex, who is black, and the adoption process. The families meet about once a year.
“We don’t want her to be ashamed of it. We started reading it to her as a baby and still read it to her today. We want her to know the steps involved and (to be) proud that she’s adopted,” Rebecca said of Olivia.
Children often look up to their parents, but for white parents, it’s important that their black or biracial child also have ethnic role models in their lives.
“So I think historically when people would adopt children of another race, some families still do it, there’s this kind of ‘love sees no color’ kind of thing, which is really damaging. It basically ignores the identity of the child,” said Susan, whose name has been changed to protect the privacy of her family.
She and her husband, who live in central Arkansas, adopted two black sons.
“Our whole process is to recognize they are African American and to create a world where they see people who look like them all the time.”
Adoptive families said they’ve purchased books that depict black people and toys and dolls that celebrate African American culture.
When President Barack Obama was elected, Susan said, “we played that up, ‘he looks like you,’” she said. They take their sons to a black pediatrician, seek out a black Santa Claus at Christmas time, put up a black nativity scene and attend the annual Juneteenth commemoration, which recognizes the end of slavery in the U.S., put on by the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock.
“Hair is actually a big deal,” said Hannah Allen, 26, who is biracial and was adopted by white parents as a baby. “I know it can sound trivial, but I’m pretty passionate about hair,” as her mother made some hair missteps when she was a child.
“Just being knowledgeable about hairstyles and being connected with an African American community,” that can point parents in the right direction is key.
It’s exactly the kind of help Rebecca and Michael sought.
“We took some online classes on home hair care, braiding and met with black hairstylists,” Rebecca said.
Even though each family is unique, they share the confusing stares in grocery stores, the nosy questions and the fears of how society will treat their children.
“I remember when she was first born and we’d go out and people would just exclaim how beautiful she was. A lot of times, obviously she is beautiful, I felt like it was people were uncomfortable because she doesn’t look like the rest of her family and had a lot of questions, but were afraid to ask,” Melanie said of HopeAnn.
Rebecca said she has learned how to navigate the sometimes “hateful stares” and ignorant comments, like asking if Olivia is “hers,” because “Olivia is watching and listening and I don’t want her to get the wrong self-worth from those reactions.”
It’s a lesson Hannah Allen learned the hard way while in eighth grade. Her family created a loving environment, but in school, a white girl pointed out how she was different.
“I got very insecure and did not want to talk about it at all,” she said.
It wasn’t until she served as a summer camp counselor in high school that opened her eyes to God’s love.
“I just feel I encountered the Lord in Jesus. He spoke to me a lot about being his child and being beautiful and worthy.”
Protecting a child is often written into a parent’s DNA, but most can’t be shielded from society. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 917 hate groups operating in the United States. Of those, there are 130 groups of the Ku Klux Klan and 99 Neo-Nazi groups.
“All of the things you see in the news right now … frankly it scares me to death for the future,” Susan said, regarding her black sons. She pointed to police profiling and brutality, discrepancies in school discipline between black and white students and a court system that punishes black people more harshly.
The Washington Post reported in a 2016 article that 13 percent of the U.S. population is black but make up 24 percent of fatal police shootings, compared with white people, who make up 62 percent of the population but are only 49 percent of those shot and killed. This means black people are 2.5 times as likely as white people to be killed by a police officer.
“You just know from the research it’s the reality,” Susan said. “… I’ve seen other white adoptive moms talk about this. When we’re out and together as a family in some ways they adopt white privilege,” but when they are alone, they will be treated differently, she added.
Alex, 26, who attends college in North Carolina, is the birth mother of Olivia, the adoptive daughter of Rebecca and Michael.
“I think with this day and age they need to make sure their children know, ‘Yeah, your white friends can do this, but you can’t because there are situations you can be hurt,’” Alex said, adding that the child needs to “be OK with being black because sometimes it’s really hard to be OK with it just because you’re not treated the same. Definitely find positive role models, maybe someone they can talk to, to share these similar experiences; branch out and have different kinds of friends.”
Even though the challenges are real, Melanie said it’s important to be open and informed before choosing to adopt any child, but particularly a child of a different race.
“It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There’s a lot of beauty and a lot of love and it takes that positive outlook to make it work … but you can’t go into it completely blindsided either,” she said, adding their faith in God helps guide their decisions. “… Our common belief in Christ is what transcends all the dividing issues. God is for family.”
Note: To protect their privacy, families asked that their last names not be printed. All families interviewed for this story adopted a child through Catholic Adoption Services in Little Rock.
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