Trans-racial Adoptions Break Barriers, Warm Hearts

March 12, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

Joe and Dawn Butler didn't plan to make a racial statement when they brought their baby home.

The Millersville couple, who adopted a bi-racial baby girl three years ago, simply wanted a second child.

But when they adopted across racial lines, the Butlers joined an increasing number of white families going against traditionally accepted social-work norms.

For decades, trans-racial adoptions -- historically illegal in this country -- have been frowned on by the black community, says Ezra Griffith, a Yale University School of Medicine psychiatry professor.

Social workers opposed trans-racial adoptions for a variety of reasons, including the argument that adoption by parents of another race harms a child's identity and self-esteem, Griffith said in a phone interview.

However, the psychiatrist, who lectured recently at the University of Maryland Medical Center, argues that the objections don't hold up under serious analysis.

"It's absolute garbage to say (trans-racial) adoptions are not in the interestof the child," Griffith says, pointing out that 40 percent of the babies up for adoption today are black.

These days, many white couples, often in their 30s and 40s, are choosing to adopt a bi-racial child or a child of another race, says Phyllis Lee, director of Bethany Christian Services in Crofton.

In Anne Arundel County, couples who have adopted across racial lines -- dubbed Rainbow families -- say the challenges are more than worth it.


The Butlers' home is overlaid with miracles. For this couple in their 30s, the biggest wonder is the presence of their 3-year-old adopted daughter, a bi-racial child with big brown eyes, tumbling black curls and creamy honey skin.

On a recent evening, Lisa -- looking sprightly in a pink jumper -- played in the living room with Amy, the Butler's 12-year-old, whileher parents described how she came into their family.

When the couple found they couldn't have any more children, they turned to Bethany, a national Christian adoption agency. But the list for white infants was so long, the agency wasn't even taking names.

The Butlers were asked if they'd consider adopting a bi-racial child, says Dawn,relaxing on the sofa in their lace-curtained living room.

"The needs appealed to us, and also there was no waiting list," she says.

Six months after completing the home study, a preparatory process required by the state and the agency, the couple brought home their baby.

As her parents talk, Lisa removes her mother's shoes and steps into them, laughs at herself and tries to walk around the living room.

"Bethany gave us a questionnaire to fill out that made you thinkabout what was involved," says Dawn, helping Lisa into the rocker with her big sister. The questionnaire probed for racial prejudice and reminded parents they might face negative reactions.

"We felt comfortable with (the adoption). It just seemed natural," says Dawn.

The decision was confirmed the night the three tried to think of a name for the baby.

"We just couldn't come up with a girl's name. Onenight, I said, 'How about Lisa?' " remembers Dawn. "We all got quiet. It felt right."

A few days later, she learned that Lisa was the name the foster mother also had chosen for the baby.

"I got goose bumps, it seemed so special," Dawn says.

Three days before the final payment was due in the adoption process, someone left an envelope,marked "For Baby," at the door. Inside was $75, which helped the family complete payment in the $3,500 process.

"We never found out who it was," says Dawn. "We saved the envelope and put it in Lisa's baby book."

The Butlers have encountered small hurdles -- day-care mothers assuming that Lisa couldn't be Dawn's child, Amy's friends seeing her sister's picture and saying, 'She doesn't look anything like you.' "

But mostly, people react to the youngest Butler by saying, " 'She's so pretty,' " says Dawn. "Maybe when she is older we'll havemore problems, but children just have a way of melting hearts."

Says Joe Butler, "She's my daughter. It shouldn't matter whether the child is bi-racial or white or what. You want children, and you give them a home and love them."


But while the Rainbow families uniformly call their children the biggest blessings of their lives, adoption -- especially across racial lines -- isn't without hardship.

Griffith says studies show that black children adopted into white families do not develop more problems than other adopted children.

That doesn't mean trans-racial adoptions don't pose unusual difficulties for both parents and children, however.

"We kind of expected remarks from strangers," says Meg Smith of Pasadena (not her real name). When people accosted her in the supermarket to demand, "Where did you get those kids?" and "Do you know those kids following you are black?" she wasn't completely startled.

But she and her husband weren't prepared for resentment to come from their adopted son.

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