Not everyone is happy to see celebrities traveling abroad to adopt a black child. "I don't want to say they shouldn't," adoptive parent Brockway said. "Children everywhere need a home, but we do have a large number of children who are in foster care, and a lot of them are African-Americans."
Child advocacy group Save the Children recently criticized Madonna for adopting from a Malawi orphanage out of concern that her actions would encourage other poor parents to abandon their children in hopes that they would be adopted.
Actress Joely Fisher considered adopting an African baby when she traveled to Mozambique in July for the charity, but changed her mind. "Once I was there, I felt the people I met wanted me to help them sustain their lives in their own country," she told People magazine.
So when she returned home, she began the process of a private adoption and ultimately adopted a black girl, Olivia Luna.
She told the magazine she is unfazed by her daughter's different race. "I had no preference; I felt we belonged together," she said.
Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute believes every child, no matter from what country, deserves a home. "We should not be pitting children against each other," he said. "And where do we get off telling people how they should form their families? The question should be how do we set up policies and practices that enable all of these children to get homes?"
Some policy changes under the Clinton administration have had a significant impact on transracial adoptions, Pertman said. One was to limit the time children would be in temporary care before becoming eligible for adoption and another was to tie financial incentives states receive to how many kids were placed in permanent homes.
Then Congress passed the Multiethnic Placement Act in 1994, which essentially mandated color-blindness in adoptions. Pertman said it has not worked to significantly decrease the number of black kids in foster care, despite the slight increase in transracial adoptions.
Part of the reason is that white parents still need to be trained in how to raise black children, everything from how to do their hair to how to talk to them about racism.
"The problem is we don't live in a colorblind society," said Pertman, who supports changing the law. "Race is still an issue. You enable parents to do a better job when you're color conscious."
Robert O'Connor, an African-American who was adopted by white parents and now studies transracial adoptions as an assistant professor of social work at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn., agreed.
"It's very important to believe in biculturalism versus assimilation," said O'Connor, who grew up on a rural farm and a suburb in Minnesota where he and his brother were the only black people in town. "Parents need to make sure their homes represent not just their culture but the child's culture, and it can't be what I refer to as 'cultural tourism.' The family needs to see themselves as a family of color as opposed to a white family that adopted a child of color."