How Will Michael Jackson's 'White' Kids Get Along in a Black Family?

Racial stereotypes could cloud the futures of Michael Jackson's children.

ByABC News
July 9, 2009, 3:57 AM

July 9, 2009 — -- It's the moment from Michael Jackson's memorial service that people are still talking about: daughter Paris-Michael, surrounded by her aunts and uncles, took the stage and proclaimed her daddy the "best father you could ever imagine."

In the coming months and years, 11-year-old Paris and her two brothers, Prince I, 12, and Prince II, 7, will have many adjustments to make without their famous father -- not the least of which may be growing up in a family in which their fair skin will noticeably set them apart.

Since Jackson's death, the children have been staying with their grandmother, Katherine Jackson, at her Encino, Calif., estate. A judge granted her temporary custody, and she has filed to become the children's permanent guardian.

There's nothing unusual about black families taking in their kin. Historically, they have often done so, but when the children look more white than black, eyebrows -- and stereotypes -- get raised.

Even with trans-racial adoptions on the rise, it's still far more common to see white parents with adopted Asian or black children than the reverse. Steve Martin made a joke out of being adopted by black parents in the movie "The Jerk," but all kidding aside, it's still extremely rare for black parents to adopt a non-black child.

"It's much less of a two-way street," said Robert O'Connor, an assistant professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn., who studies trans-racial adoptions.

Adoptions of infants domestically and abroad remains an "overwhelmingly a white phenomenon," said Adam Pertman, executive director for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy group.

Though blacks have often informally helped raise their relatives -- the "it takes a village" model -- only in recent years have they begun to formally adopt and, mostly through the foster care system, where blacks are disproportionately represented, Pertman added.

"It's rare for someone black to say, 'I want to adopt someone white,' because there are a lot of black kids in the system," Pertman said.

Because of that rarity, white children of black parents can face a unique set of challenges.