Adoption and African American Children

Via Negrophile.

When my partner and I talked about starting a family, we had a lot of choices to make. We chose adoption for a number of reasons. Artificial insemination is rather expensive, and neither of us felt a strong need to have a biological connection to our child. We chose domestic adoption, also, in part because of the high cost of international adoption, and also because we both had the sentiment that there were kids here in the U.S. in need of homes. Finally, we decided that—being an interacial couple—we would adopt an African American or biracial child. What we discovered along the way is that the adoption costs were less and the waiting period shorter because while there’s no shortage of African American children waiting to be adopted, there’s a great shortage of American families willing to adopt them.

Americans pay as much as $35,000 to adopt white or Chinese infants. But many African American children like Gabriel have difficulty finding permanent U.S. families at any price. Since the early 1990s, several hundred have found homes — with white parents — in Canada.

The irony of one of the world’s wealthiest nations exporting its own children has not gone unnoticed. For many, it raises questions about identity, race and the tangled legacy of American slavery.

Margaret Fleming, director of a Chicago agency called Adoption-Link that specializes in African American adoptions, has placed 70 black children with white Canadians since 1993.

“There is no shortage of American families willing to adopt,” she said. “There is a shortage of American families willing to adopt these kids.”

There is an “adoption hierarchy,” Fleming said, that is impossible to overlook. “Blond, blue-eyed girls are at the top and African American boys are at the bottom,” said Fleming, who is the white mother to five adopted African American children.

I have to admit I was uncomfortably aware of the “adoption hierarchy” throughout our proccess of learning the various ways that many gay men went about adopting their children. There were lot’s of stories of people going to Asian, South American, and Eastern European countries to adopt eir children. Yet, as an African American male, I couldn’t help but consider how much it seemed African American kids—boys particularly—were just not wanted. Still, I only ever heard one couple say out loud that they would not adopt an African American child, giving the reason that they didn’t feel equipped to help that child deal with racism. (Mind you, these are gay men who have dealt with prejudice and discrimination their entire lives. Ironically, one of the reasons our son’s birthmother chose us is because, in her words, we had “overcome prejudice and discrmination,” by the simple act of being out gay couple seeking to adopt a child.) It’s one of those subjects that’s difficult to talk about, because it’s so personal; as personal as the basis on which one chooses a life partner. And the reasons for making that choice can be myriad. Still, I can’t help but wonder to what degree racial prejudices play in the trend towards American families not adopting African American children.

Adoption officials suggest additional reasons for adopting overseas. Evelyn Lamb, director of development for the Boys and Girls Aid Society of Oregon, said that international adoption can seem “tidier” than domestic adoption.

Adoptive parents can “fantasize,” she said, about the circumstances that led a birth mother to place her baby for adoption elsewhere. Here, she said, blame is often levied on birth mothers for “lifestyle choices.”
Part of that blame, at least in the case of some black birth mothers, stems from the negative stereotype fostered by media reports in the late 1980s and early 1990s of the so-called “crack babies,” infants who were exposed to crack cocaine during pregnancy. Many predicted that babies born to mothers who had smoked crack during pregnancy would suffer irreversible brain damage.

But research has disproved that. Claire Coles, a developmental psychologist who directs the Fetal Alcohol Center at Emory University in Atlanta, has studied the effects of drugs in pregnancy for 20 years. Generally, she said, cocaine does not affect growth or cognition, but may result in a “vulnerability” in some children in dealing with stress.

The false assumptions about crack deepened white America’s reluctance to adopt black children, adoption officials say. “The myth persisted,” Coles said.

I’ll never forget one moment right after bringing our son home; one that opened my eyes to the precptions my son might encounter as an adopted African American child. He was just a month old, and as new parents were were anxious to connect with other parents with young children. My partner had learned of a couple of babysitting coops that were starting up, and we decided it would be a good idea to get involved in one. We went to a social event, a brunch for a now-defunct babysitting coop in one of D.C’s somewhat “yuppie” neighborhoods. We met some other new parents, including the hosts, and introduced ourselves and our son. Of couse, our family stood out. We were the only gay couple there. Our son and I were the only people of color there. I took notice of it, but didn’t make much of it.

Naturally, people were curious to hear the story of our son’s adoption, and we didn’t mind telling it. But there was one moment that seemed a bit odd.

As we were telling the story of how we came to adopt our son, the man we were speaking with—a civil rights attorney, and new father, as it turns out—interjected with the statement, “Y’know, you guys are really doing soceity a favor.”

A minute later he asked us if we knew what the birthmother did for a living.

I got a quizzical look on my face, and glanced at the hubby to see if he knew what in hell this guy was talking about, because I was starting to feel vaguely offended, but thinking that I must have been misunderstanding something.

I didn’t misunderstand for long, because the guy kept talking. As we were trying to figure out what he was getting at, he launched into a bit of a diatribe about “crack babies” and all the problems with them. I think I was in shock, standing there holding my son, with my mouth hanging open. In seconds I realized what was going on. This guy took one look at us, a gay couple, and one look at our son, an African American boy, and immediately assumed that he must be a crack baby. ([sarcasm] because no one in their right mind would give us a healthy white baby, like his, and because black children are routinely born addicted to something.[/sarcasm])

Words failed me. I stood there silently, wishing I’d had a pot of hot coffee (or better yet, hot grease) within arms reach. Fortunately, the hubby piped up and informed the man that our son wasn’t born addicted to anything, and that in the process of deciding what we did and didn’t want, we decided that we wanted an infant whose birthmother had not engaged in drug or alcohol use during the pregnancy, and that’s what we got. (This was, in part, due to the fact that the hubby works every day with kids who do have these issues, and didn’t want to face them at home too.)

We left soon thereafter, and upon debriefing realized we’d both had the same thought while talking to this jerk.

It troubles me to look at our son and know that many other people might not have wanted him as much as we did. And it troubles me to know that many the first thing many people are going to see when they look at him are the assumptions they project upon him because of his race. Still, I know from from experience a few thing about how to handle that second problem, both as an African American male and as a gay man. I know I’ll do whatever I can to equip my son to deal with the prejudices of the society in which he’ll grow up.

Indeed, many say it helped lead to the notion that foreign-born children are seen as somehow “better risks” than American-born ones.

“By going overseas a lot of people have convinced themselves that they’re getting ‘different’ children,” said Deborah Aronson, executive director of Heritage Adoption Services in Portland. Heritage has facilitated several hundred international adoptions, including placing some U.S.-born children in Canada and Great Britain.

“Somehow they think that getting a ‘special-needs’ child from Eastern Europe is less ‘special-needs’ than the ‘special-needs’ child born in the state they live in,” said Aronson, who is the adoptive mother of two African American adolescents. “It’s just not true.”

The notion of “supply and demand” among human beings is a discomfiting one, adoption officials say, but it is a reality. Since the development of the birth control pill and the legalization of abortion, fewer American infants have been placed for adoption.

National statistics on the number of adoptable infants, or their races, are impossible to come by because the United States has no central adoption authority, said Tom Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, a nonprofit organization in Alexandria, Va. But black infants and children, he said, “are generally more difficult to place.”

The United States has not yet ratified the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which would, among other things, more strictly regulate the process of intercountry adoptions.

I know some gay couples and single gay men have adopted abroad because it can be easier to adopt from some countries as a single man (and do a second parent adoption back in the states, for a partner), and others who have adopted from abroad because it was easier to do so as at their age (on the assumption that domestic adoption tends to favor younger parents). Still, I have to admit that it causes me to smile a bit more when we run into another couple—gay, straight, black, white, or interacial&mash;who’ve adopted an African American child. I guess it’s because I know that at least a few more people have stopped buying into some of the assumptions about adopting African American children. Not enough, perhaps, to give homes to all those who need them, but at least it’s a start.

Even as transracial adoptions from Asia and Latin America increase, African American children make up 40 percent of the children in the U.S. foster care system, Atwood said. In the United States, blacks account for 13 percent of the population.

It’s a shame that people can’t see past their prejudices even when it comes to children.

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13 Responses to Adoption and African American Children

  1. Joan says:

    That guy was clearly more obnoxious than the old lady that yelled at me for having my onesie wearing 5 month old in the frozen food isle in teh middle of August! (because clearly most healthy babies will catch pneumonia while mom grabs a bag of frozen peas!) I am glad you didn’t bother with that co-op anymore! There are plenty of people who love and support you and your family that you don’t need to waste time with people like that.

    I am sure Parker will struggle with his identity as he gets older, everyone does. But I hope he can see clearly how much he was (and is) wanted and cherished. There’s no way Parker could have been an accident in your life! That’s more than I can say about my own birth!

  2. shannon says:

    Thanks so much for a great post. We’re both white and Adoption-Link of Illinois is our agency! I don’t want to leap to conclusions about the choices others have made about adoption, but I am puzzled that couples would be willing to take children who’ve lived in orphanages for the first year of their lives (say, in Russia, for example) over newborns in the U.S.

    There is a pretty dominant myth out there among white people that “They” don’t give Black babies to white parents. But that’s no longer legally true, even if some social workers have same-race placement preferences. I also hear lesbians say that pregnancy with health insurance is cheaper than adoption, but our adoption will cost about the same as three months’ of donor sperm inseminations (not covered by insurance) would have cost.

    So I think a lot of times, what “people” (white people) mean is WHITE babies cost more to adopt than pregnancy. There’s also the fears people have about domestic adoption or open adoption, I suppose, but as a student and teacher of race issues in the U.S. I still think racism underlies most of these vague concerns floating around about adoption.

    Our agency (exclusively placing African American/biracial babies) is one of the few in our area that explicitly welcomes same-sex couples and prospective parents over 45. And on the drug-addicted, “special needs” note, my partner also remembers that in the eighties, when she lived in Colorado, there was a ban against glbt adoption UNLESS the baby was HIV positive. Another twist to the sick, sad story.

  3. trey says:

    An excellent post Terrance, as always you have brought up some extremely wise points.

    We had met our own number of people with false assumptions based on race and met an adoptive couple or two who didn’t want to adopt ‘black’ children because of racial (concious or otherwise) reasons…

    but I can give you another reason some white families might not adopt black children, at least from the concerns voiced by families we know (white adoptive parents of black children) and our own concerns before we adopted (realized to some extent to be true)…

    the disapproval, rancor and sometimes outright hatred of some in the black community directed at our family. Before we adopted, we were ‘warned’ by a African American friend that the greatest disapproval we’d get would be frome the AA community. Another friend (white) who adopted two African American girls told us a story of sitting in a cafe and having a black woman come up to her and start _screaming_ at her about how could she dare think she could raise a black child!

    there was the time in the grocery store where a young black man (25-30?) asked his friends (about a dozen times loudly) “What is a black baby doing with a white man.. that’s what I’d like to know!” or the elderly AA woman on the street who sneared at us and said under her breath “Damn white people”…all we were doing were walking down the street holding our daughter’s hands.

    Granted, the positive experiences with the African AMerican community have FAR outweighed the negative, by a huge margin.. (an incredible housemate, a wonderfully eccentric elderly neighbor, the woman who almost wanted to adopt US she was so friendly when she found out we adopted emma, etc, etc, etc, etc)

    but I think prospective white couples hear a lot of the difficult stories and think twice.

    If a white couple came to us and asked us what we think.. we’d say be aware that they’ll be ‘issues’ they should consider.. but YES.. by all means!!

  4. Terrance says:

    Y’ know, that brings to mind some experiences we’ve had that I didn’t think to mention in my initial post, particularly when it comes to negative reactions from people in African American communities.

    The hubby and I are an interacial couple. He’s white. I’m African American. We’re an out, gay interacial couple, and as such have garnered a few strongly negative reactions from individual African Americans. The interesting thing is that in all of those cases, the anger hostility was directed at me, and not my husband. I have my own theories as to why this is, but basically I sense it stems from some sort of sense that I’ve “betrayed the race” somehow.

    When we go out as a family, 99.9% of the time we’ve had no problems. In fact the last time I remember having a problem was when Parker was less than a year old, and we were going somewhere on the Metro. A group of young African American girls saw us, a black man and a white man obviously caring for a black infant, figured out the equation for themselves, made a few snide remarks in range of our hearing, and giggled amonst themselves. I was angry, and held my tongue despite a strong desire to let them know that I would at least make sure my son didn’t grow up as ignorant as they appeared to be, and that it was a shame whoever raised them had neglected to do the same.

    There was at least one other occasion that I missed, but my husband caught, when we were doing our grocery shopping at the Giant near our house, which has a mostly African American clientele. The hubby, who was tending to Parker while I unloaded the grocery car, overheard someone behind him muttering about “Parker and his white daddy.”

    When I’m out with Parker by myself, people simply assume he’s biologically mine. I don’t know what reactions my hubby gets when he’s out with Parker by himself, but I guess that he must get at least as many double takes as we do when we’re out as a family. Fortunately, incidents like those above have been rare for us thus far.

    And if people wonder why we think we can raise a black child, I’d simply tell them that the woman who gave birth to him thought we would do the best job of it. Who are they to question her judgement?

  5. You must be aware, too, in connection with whites adopting black children that sometimes there is hostility from the social agencies, no? Thus, there is some (a bit mitigating) other dimension to who adopts whom.

  6. Milenka says:

    You don’t know me, but I wandered over here via a link from “Daddy, Papa & Me” just now. My husband and I are both white, and we are adopting an African-American infant domestically. What led us to that decision? Well, first off, my husband is still too young to meet the minimum age requirement for Infernational adoption. Plus, the cost of IA is really an eye-opener when we see numbers like $25k floating around. So it made sense to go through an agency here in Michigan, and that’s the choice we made. All we want is a child, and that’s what we told our contact at the agency we chose. Just a child with no major health problems. Come to find out, the agency is desperate for people willing to adopt African-American infants and actually charges around $5k less for a completed African-American adoption than they do for a Caucasian adoption. Huh? We were confused, especially when we were told that they have over 100 families waiting for a Caucasian infant and only 4 waiting for an African American infant. Four? At this point we were shocked, a bit disgusted, and insanely happy that we would have our child (Our Child! Black, White, Red, Green or Purple, we don’t care!) sooner due to the decisions that these other 100+ couples had made. I cannot say that I’m not sometimes afraid that I will fail my child because I would fear that no matter what. I never want my child to feel badly that we chose to raise him/her, and I just hope that a lifetime of love and care will be enough.

  7. Ivy Cawley says:

    I love your site!!
    Please join my webring!!
    Pretty please?
    Anti-Racism Alliance at .
    Although we are on opposite sides of some equations (frinstance, adoption… I’m a bmom), your views parallel mine closely and you’ve got lots of valuable information on your site.
    Keep fighting the good fight!
    Sincerely, ~ Ives

  8. Kelly K says:

    Wow… what wonderful posts and what a fabulous blog site! I’m excited to hear that there is a (hopefully) growing movement of people who realize that they don’t have to adopt internationally, since there are so many American babies who need homes.

    With that said, I’d love some advice. My husband (born in India, raised in New Jersey) and I (caucasian woman, raised in California) are eager to adopt, and an African American male newborn is our vast preference, for all of the reasons that have been so eloquently outlined above. I’m wondering where we should start. I’ve done some research about adoption in Washington state (we’re in Seattle, and plan to be here indefinitely), and it’s incredibly mazy, and seemingly incredilbly expensive.

    Anyway, cost aside, how would you all recommend we go about beginning our journey? We love the idea of adopting more than one child of any race; since the hubby’s Indian and I’m white, we already don’t look like each other… we figure we’ll have a family where everyone is physically unique. We are also committed to an open adoption, if possible. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  9. jennir says:

    i think it’s great that u adopted. i personally feel that the idea of ‘having a child from the womb is much better’ is overrated. there are too many abandoned babies in this world. why conceive more children to love, when there are millions waiting to be loved? it doesnt matter what race they are, they are children waiting to be loved. that’s all that matters. i’m so glad to know that u adopted and love Parker.

  10. AMG says:

    I SO agree with your insights on African American (AA) adoptions. I am a straight, white, adoptive mother of the best kid we adopted 3 1/2 years ago–and he is African American. His first word was “truck” too. We almost had the same incident happen about a month after our son came home! Ignorant woman had the nerve to ask if he was a crack baby…and I had to really search myself, “Would she have asked that if her were white?” Hmmmmm….no! I coulda decked her, but I had my kid in a Snugli in front of me.

    Anyway, I wanted to give you a bummer update. We are working on our next adoption. Just finished the homestudy last weekend! woo HOO! And my caseworker calls me this last Monday–the cold hard facts are this…because of the Morning After Pill (MAP), babies are not nearly as available as they were even a couple of years ago. Because the Morning After Pill is made so readily available in public health clinics (low income, minorities are the target)–the children are not available. He cited a recent study done in the state of Alabama where a very direct correlation was shown between the availability of the MAP, the adoptions rate has dropped dramatically. His words were “The faucet is drying up” I apologize, I don’t have the name of the study–my head was swimming at this! He said he has checked with all of his adoption referrals all over the nation that he networks with–minority adoption costs are going to start going up and the waiting periods are going to get longer. I was crying! Several of his referrals were from the DC area, and some southern states. Our son was born in Texas. We live in Oregon, kind of a live and let live kind of state. We were prepared to fly anywhere for the next munchkin.

    Anyway, what to do now? We are now looking at adopting a child from Haiti (don’t ask me where I’m going to get the courage to make that trip!), just because honestly, we don’t have the cash to pay for a domestic adoption, given the prices he was giving us. I’ll tell you what, the paperwork requirements for an international adoption is making me grow a whole new set of gray hair!
    Nothing like starting that process all over again. Thought I would give you an update from my end of the universe on what is coming down the pike for adoption. AND, also, adopting from Haiti is actually very inexpensive. They want to get their kids out of there. I do feel good knowing that truly, if we get a child from Haiti, we are saving it’s life. But I am sick at hearing these latest stats for domestic trends. Please let me know if you know anything different in your aread–I have a homestudy and will travel!

    AND–if you have any connections for minority adoptions in your area–hello! I am here! Send them to me!
    West coastener.

  11. janet james says:

    plz i want to adopt african child ,and i dont know how to do it am in U.S.A,so plz show me how to do that .
    hope to hear from u soon ,bye

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  13. Debo says:

    Thank you for sharing so well your experience! My husband and I (white & married 16 years) are adoptive parents of three great kids and have experienced alot of the same things you mention. Our oldest two are girls, white, adopted privately as newborn because that is how things worked out, we were open to the first baby the Lord placed in our arms. Our son is black (Kenyan/American) and we found his birthparents by chance online. They chose us & we continue to see them a few times a year. We even had our JUDGE ask at our placement hearing for our son "why did we decide to adopt a black child now….?" As if because we already had two white children we were now "settling" or something! I was so upset. I just told him we took the child that we were offered each time, no questions asked and were happy to be so blessed, as would be any parents.  We have also experienced  blacks who have voiced their disapproval from day one as well. When meeting our son at the hospital the black nurse who brought him to us remarked "Well there goes another one, lost to his culture." We were so excited to hold our son, we let it go without comment. We have also had many whites assume that our son was a foster baby, or was born to a drug user , and even that his adoption costs must have been so much less. Truth be told our girls were both born to drug addicted mothers, or son to a healthy  mother & non user. Our son’s adoption costs also were more than both of our girls adoptions combined.
    As far as being suitable parents for a black child, well maybe we are not ideal, but we are what he got. We know we must be more aware of the subtlety of racism in our world (oh YES it is still alive  and sometimes we white folk do not see it coming). We need to learn to be alert, to know how to respond, and model this for our son as well as afford him opportunites to see other wonderful people who resemble him doing the same. All our best to your family, you are not alone!

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