What's love got to do with it?

February 21, 1994|By Mona Charen

IMAGINE that you are a 12-year-old black child who has lived her entire childhood in a succession of foster homes and faces almost no prospect of being adopted. Imagine further that you know the statistics -- of the 500,000 children in foster care, half are members of minority groups, yet white children are three times more likely than blacks to be adopted.

You would be excused if you concluded that white racism was sentencing you to an inferior life. It isn't.

Across the country, in case after heart-wrenching case, white parents who attempt to adopt black children are thwarted by a social-work system that places racial purity above other considerations in deciding the fates of children. In Maryland, for example, a white couple with two black children by adoption attempted to adopt a third -- a little girl they had been told had mental disabilities when they took her in as a foster child. When it turned out, after two years of loving care, that the child was not disabled after all, social workers removed the child and gave her to a black couple who had not been interested in her before.

In Pennsylvania, the Derzacks, a white couple with several children, some white, some black, some adopted, one biological, is attempting to adopt a black toddler they have raised almost from birth.

When the county social workers learned of the Derzacks' desire to adopt the child, they moved the biological mother out of prison and into drug rehabilitation and attempted to place the child with her. The case is now in litigation.

The common practice of consigning children to endless foster care rather than permit them to be adopted by parents of another race began with a 1972 broadside by the National Association of Black Social Workers branding transracial adoption "cultural genocide." Many blacks, at the time and since, including a majority of the membership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, disagreed, but as the New Republic magazine put it, the "intimidation worked on a pool of largely white, liberal social workers." The number of transracial adoptions, which had been rising, dropped dramatically.

The position of the NABSW and its sympathizers, among them the Children's Defense Fund (unofficially), the North American Counsel on Adoptable Children, Homes for Black Children, the American Bar Association (unofficially), the leadership of the NAACP, Adoptive Families of America, the Child Welfare League and others, is that because our society is so thoroughly racist, only black parents can adequately arm a black child to enter the combat zone that is American society.

In fact, the research on transracially adopted children shows that they have an extremely healthy racial identity (determined by, among other things, a test using white and black dolls) and furthermore that they feel strong bonds to both the white and black communities.

The social science data is hardly necessary. Here are white couples hoping, praying and litigating to adopt black children (a large percentage of whom, by the way, qualify as "special needs" children), while so-called child welfare advocates are barring the door, claiming that because whites are irredeemably racist, this must not be permitted.

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, is outraged by this and introduced legislation to make it illegal for states or agencies that receive federal funding to take race into account (the one laudable occasion when Senator Metzenbaum sees the folly of group-based social policy). That bill has since been modified beyond recognition by a coalition that includes -- curiously -- some conservatives like Indiana's Sen. Dan Coats.

One understands why liberals like Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. Christopher Dodd might be swayed, as they were, by arguments from the NABSW, but conservatives like Mr. Coats are a mystery.

A child is not the property of any clan or group and surely ought not to be punished to further anyone's ideological agenda. The existence of white parents eager to adopt black children is evidence of progress in race relations, not the reverse.

But for a 12-year-old little girl waiting for a real home, that's not the point either. She needs love and security, and the first couple on the waiting list who can provide those should be permitted to.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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