There are certain moments when sharing pieces of information can elicit much more than a response and, for me, telling people that I was working on a piece about transracial adoptions was a series of such moments.
One co-worker told me about the challenges and internal struggles she and her family went through when deciding to adopt. Another said he was adopted and told me about his personal journey in finding out about his birth parents and the impact it has had on the relationships with the parents who have raised him. These aren't the type of conversations that flow freely in newsrooms.
When some of my friends heard I was working on this piece, their curiosity was piqued by the race factor. The topic quickly started a debate about the state of racism in the United States vs. other countries, and the cultural identity dilemmas that transracial adoptees could face. These conversations are ones that members of the adoption community are still having, some quietly, some loudly.
Our piece focused on a few of the elements that enable transracial adoptions in the United States and examined the situation of black babies from the United States being adopted in countries like Canada or Germany.
Transracial adoption basically means parents of one race or ethnicity adopting children of another race or ethnicity.
My producer, Nils Kongshaug, and I visited a white family in Canada who had just successfully adopted Ethan, a beautiful, bouncing baby boy in every sense of the phrase. We sat down with Phil Bertelsen, an African-American filmmaker who had grown up an adopted child in a white family, and talked about the unanswered questions that forced him to make a film about the subject.
Contributing to the story were representatives from adoption link , an agency in Chicago that specializes in placing black children into adopted families, and Bridge Communications, a firm that helps prepare prospective parents for the transracial adoption process.
There are several different factors that have created the reality of black children being placed overseas with white families and, in no particular order, they are: The dearth of black families in the United States in line to adopt; the fears adoptive parents of other races have that they won't be able to bear the challenges of raising a black child; ignorance or racism; wishes of the birth mothers that their children be raised in a less-prejudiced society than the United States; and the demand created by overseas parents who are looking to adopt and find a supply of black babies in the United States.
Watching Bertelsen's film, "Outside Looking In," is a good primer to the layers of complexity involved in these adoptions. On the one hand, there is the idealism of loving, prospective parents for whom race truly might not matter when they adopt a child. On the other hand, there is also something to be said for giving children a sense of their own cultural heritage and preparing them for a world where race is still an issue.
In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers called the idea of placing black babies into white families "cultural genocide." Though it hasn't made pronouncements as strongly since, the group still thinks it's a good idea to keep black children with black families. A recent law made it a crime to consider race as a factor when it comes to adoption and that's one of the reasons children of all races in the United States are available to prospective parents of all races.
There are several great online resources if you want to learn more about transracial adoption. They include:
About.com on race relations: http://racerelations.about.com/cs/raceandadoption/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children & Families: http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/f_trans.cfm
Statement from NABSW on transracial adoptions: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adoption/archive/NabswTRA.htm
About.com on NABSW's statement: http://racerelations.about.com/library/weekly/aa121700a.htm
Interracial Voice: http://www.webcom.com/~intvoice/point19.html
African American Adoptions Online: http://www.africanamericanadoptionsonline.com/