Foreigners Vie to Adopt Black U.S. Babies

ByABC News

OTTAWA, March 5, 2005 — -- When Allison Darke goes out in public with her adoptive son, Ethan, people notice certain things.

"They notice he's a baby and cute," she said. "They think my husband is black."

Ethan was born to black parents in Chicago, but will spend most of his life growing up with Darke and her second husband, Earl Stroud, a white couple living in the Canadian capital.

The State Department says the number of Americans adopting babies from overseas has more than doubled in the last 10 years, with couples often citing a dearth of American babies.

But there are plenty of American babies who need homes -- African-American babies. And more and more of those children are finding homes abroad, especially in Canada, according to people who work in the U.S. adoption field.

"I just don't understand why American couples go to China and Romania and places like that," Stroud said, "when they have kids in their own back yards."

For Stroud and Darke, Ethan is the shining light at the end of a long tunnel of hope. Darke had two children from her first marriage, but she and Stroud wanted to have a child together. They had tried to conceive and then to adopt a child, at first without success.

Then came Ethan. Darke has been with him since the day he was born. She was with his biological mother when she gave birth.

"It's incredible," she said. "It's no different than if it was your own. It's all the same joy, all the same love, all the same desires and dreams and wishes right from the beginning. It's just instant -- the bond is just instant. And then there's the bond that you have with the woman as she goes through a very painful experience, a very joyous but also a very sad moment for her, because now it's the beginning of an end."

Margaret Fleming, who runs Adoption Link, a service in Chicago specializing in placing African-American babies, said the group in recent years has placed Ethan and more than 700 children -- many of them with overseas families in Germany, Switzerland, England and Canada.

For every Caucasian child in the United States, there are at least 200 families in line, waiting two to three times as long as they would if they adopted a black baby, according to Adoption Link.

"At the very top of the adoption hierarchy are white, blue-eyed, blond-haired girls," Fleming said. "And unfortunately, at the very bottom of the hierarchy are African-American boys."

Fleming not only places black children, she has adopted five herself. But there are stigmas involved.

Arranging transracial adoptions was made more difficult in 1972, Fleming said, when the National Association of Black Social Workers declared placing black children with white families a form of "cultural genocide."

"I think the power of that statement has decreased markedly only of late," Fleming said. "We've had some families tell us, 'I didn't know I could adopt a black child.' "

But there seems to be more than lack of awareness on the part of some prospective white American parents.

"A main reason a lot of times is racism, frankly," said Michelle Hughes, an adoption attorney who, as head of Bridge Communications, counsels parents adopting across racial lines. "Parents will actually say, 'I'll take anything but an African-American child.'

"The truth of the matter is that a lot of the other countries are perhaps not as racist," she said. "And you have white parents [from other countries] coming here to get black kids on a regular basis."

All sides of the adoption equation see that fact as an opportunity. The hope that her biological son would grow up in a less-prejudiced society was one of the reasons Ethan's birth mother picked the family in Canada.

Darke said her son's race won't make any difference in how she rears him.

"Regardless of whether Ethan is black or white, you need to keep your doors open," she said. "You need to put out a smorgasbord of opportunity and allow them to choose. And it has nothing to do with his skin color, and that's just the way you have to raise them, period."

The rest of the family doesn't see it as an issue.

"For me personally, it didn't bother me at all," said Sara, Darke's teenage daughter. "I don't look at him and think that he's black."

But some suggest that might be taking things a bit too far.

"People who think that love is color blind, that race won't be an issue, are naive," Hughes said.

Phil Bertelsen -- a black filmmaker in New York who grew up in a loving, multiracial New Jersey family -- said his upbringing almost created a cocoon of protection from the reality of race in the world around him. He began examining that issue in his film called "Outside Looking In," about transracial adoption and the impact it had on his sense of cultural identity.

"It was a challenge facing the discord outside the home," Bertelsen said, "when all you had experienced was something else."

While progressive-minded adoptive parents may be well intentioned in the idea that race doesn't matter, Bertelsen said, being completely color blind can be dangerous and damaging.

"That difference is worth acknowledging and not ignoring," he said, "because when you ignore my race or my ethnicity, you are essentially taking away a part of who I am."

Ethan's parents said they are trying to read the books, take the courses and build a community including black friends and an environment that will allow their son to have a conversation about race as soon as he is ready.

"He is one day going to realize by our hands being together," she said. "I'm holding his hand walking down the street and he's going to know."

"We'll just have to take it as it comes," Stroud said.

Reporter Hari Sreenivasan and producer Nils Kongshaug originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Feb. 27, 2005, and for ABC News Now.

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