It's Time Maryland Stopped Frowning on Whites Adopting Black Children

November 13, 1994|By BILL BARRY

My wife and I, both white, have adopted two children of color: Our son, Willie, now 27 months old, is a mixed-race boy from Washington, D.C., and our new addition, Alexander, is a black infant from Arlington, Va.

Because of our experiences with state and city social services officials, I followed the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act's slow movement through Congress. The recently enacted legislation, sponsored by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, prohibits child welfare agencies from discriminating against prospective parents solely on the basis of race, color or national origin.

Several years ago, it became clear we would not be able to have biological children. When I attended an adoption workshop in Baltimore, which rarely has healthy white infants available for adoption, the social worker told me that the state would not help us make a transracial adoption.

'Cultural genocide'

The social worker explained that the state's position on transracial adoptions had been molded by the National Association of Black Social Workers, a group that says adoptions of black youngsters by whites is tantamount to "cultural genocide."

We expected to travel to the ends of the earth, to Central America or even to China, to adopt a healthy infant.

Instead, we turned to an expensive, private adoption agency. Through this agency, we completed two transracial adoptions in a period of less than two years.

It has been a wonderful experience, so I support any political changes that will make transracial adoptions easier. I also wish that the tax dollars we pay to finance the city's Department of Social Services could have been used to our benefit. When I discuss transracial adoption, however, I hate to feel like a spokesman for white backlash, suddenly complaining that, as whites, we are being discriminated against.

The black social workers' position has a firm historical basis, which grew in response to centuries of racism.

While I respect the position of the Black Social Workers Association and others who oppose transracial adoption -- I think they are wrong. Based on our experience, I believe it can be a positive situation for the children, the adoptive parents and the community.

Senator Metzenbaum estimates that about 450,000 children are now in foster care nationwide, and it is hoped that the legislation will make it easier for them to be adopted.

Loophole in legislation

But the newly enacted legislation has language that may undermine its original intent.

The new language creates a loophole by allowing public agencies to consider the "cultural or racial identity needs" of the child, and the prospective adoptive parents' ability to meet them. Consequently, I wonder if Maryland Social Services officials will use the loophole to discourage transracial adoptions.

I also wonder if it will broaden the outlook of private agencies which specialize in matching white parents with white infants because racism is apparent in these placements.

Several years ago, we attended adoption classes with an organization called Families Adopting Children Everywhere (FACE), which supports transracial adoptions. A white doctor in our class solicited a private adoption by passing around cards which said: "White Infant Only." If she adopted a child of color, her "parents just wouldn't understand," she said.

A pretty pathetic excuse, I thought, but I also notice that the crisis in eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union is proving to be a windfall for adoptive parents, and for adoption agencies, because there is suddenly a steady supply of white -- repeat, WHITE -- infants and older orphans. We have not noticed any particular change in our relations with our white friends, but our -- transracial adoptions put us into an exciting universe.

We are making new friends, who have become families of the world by adopting children from other nations. To help their adoptive children maintain their racial or ethnic identities, the parents recognize national heroes, holidays, food, music and traditions from the childrens' native lands.

In the past three years, moreover, I have had conversations with a number of black social workers in Baltimore, and none of them expressed any objections to our adoptions.

Several strongly oppose the official policy, believing as we do that a child is a child and a home is a home.

Racial policy unchanged

At the same time, the policy of the department has not changed. We have continued on a Social Services Department list of families in Baltimore who are interested in adoption, and we recently received notification of a group home study session.

I wrote back that we had just adopted another infant, using a private agency and a private home study. After several weeks, I was contacted by the Department of Social Services, whose staff person was courteous but surprised that a transracial adoption actually happened.

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