No matter how comfortable white, A-list stars like Madonna and Angelina Jolie look toting their black babies, experts say adoption rates for African-American children still lag far behind those of white children.
As Madonna awaits a Malawi court's decision Friday that would allow her to adopt a second child from the poor African nation, members of the U.S. adoption community debate whether white celebrities who adopt black children help or hurt transracial adoption.
"On the positive side -- and I think it's mainly positive -- maybe they can help normalize this process," said Adam Pertman, executive director for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy group. "If Angelina Jolie and Steven Spielberg and Hugh Jackman did it, it must be OK. And that normalization is good for kids.
"The big negative is this notion of adoption as baby buying and something only people of privilege get to do, that Madonna stepped to the front of the line, and how is Angelina going to raise all these children," Pertman said. "It's this notion of children as trophies. And it's just not true. There is no evidence she's doing anything illegal or unethical. She's simply getting more attention."
Fueling the fire are stories like the one posted on The Huffington Post Web site Monday. The story tracked down the black velour tracksuit Madonna was wearing during her tour of an impoverished school in Malawi and learned it was by designer Chanel and retails for $2,800.
But the attention that's paid to celebrities who adopt transracially diverts attention from the real story facing African-American children and adoption, experts say. There was a small increase in transracial adoptions from 17.2 percent in 1996 to 20.1 percent in 2003, according to a study by the Donaldson Institute.
The study found that African-American children are still disproportionately represented in foster care and remain less likely than children of other racial and ethnic groups to be adopted in a timely fashion. While black children accounted for 15 percent of America's child population, they represented 32 percent of the 510,000 children in foster care in 2006.
In many cases, black children, particularly older ones in foster care, are still viewed as "special-needs" children because they can be more difficult to place with parents, white or black.
As a result, some adoption agencies will subsidize the adoption costs, through state or other funding, to make transracial adoptions less expensive for prospective parents, according to Joan Jaeger, outreach and communications coordinator for the Cradle, an agency outside Chicago that specializes in transracial adoption. It can mean the difference between $13,000 for a black baby and $29,000 for a white one, Jaeger said.
White parents Martina Brockway and Mike Timble say the lower cost was only one factor in adopting their black son, Kayin, through the Cradle. Brockway, who taught English in exclusively black schools before becoming a stay-at-home mom when she became pregnant with their first child Rumeur, now 5, says she knew African-American babies had a greater need for homes. That meant they would also have to wait less time, in their case, nine months, to receive a baby.