Monday, June 02, 2008

Anglos raising kids...of a different color

marjorie says...

Many of you may have noticed the recent media reports about a challenge to federal guidelines regarding transracial adoption. Many advocates want to change a current "color blind" approach to adoptions mandated in the 1994 Multiethnic Placement Act to a "color conscious" approach. According to the Washington Post report:

Because the law forbids discussion of race during the adoption process, it prevents social workers from preparing white parents for the challenge of raising black children in a largely white environment, said the report, titled "Finding Families for African American Children: The Role of Race and Law in Adoption From Foster Care." It cited studies showing that dark-complexioned children in white homes tend to struggle with identity issues related to skin color, self-esteem and discrimination that their new parents are often not equipped to handle.

"To say that we need to be colorblind is an arguable notion," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, which commissioned the study. "It's a wonderful notion in a perfect world. But most of us would agree that we're not there yet."

"Color consciousness does not mean you're going to do race-matching with kids," Pertman said. But "if you're white and you're adopting a black kid, maybe you could use a little coaching on that issue as you help your kid grow up. The law says you can't be trained to do that. Are we giving parents the optimal tools to succeed in bringing up their families?"

I came across a commentary today that explained why its important to not approach transracial adoption as though race doesn't matter. In fact, NPR's John Ridley explains in plainer language than most I've read as to why race is a factor, not just in these adoption cases but for people of color as they negotiate a white world in general...

White folks, no matter how well-meaning or open-minded, have no true idea what it's like to be black in America. That's not a slam against white people or an accusation of latent bigotry. But the fact is that we all live in an Anglo-dominated society. From the moment we switch on the morning happy-chat shows until we fade to the stale jokes of the late-nite laughers, our news, our information, our assessments, are delivered through the filter of Anglo perspective. Be it liberal or conservative, it's still monochromatic. People of color grow up steeped in "white" culture. The reverse is not true. And, no, listening to hip-hop on the way to work does not count as immersion. Most whites will never know, experience or fully understand the myriad of preconceptions or gentle indignities that people of color have to deal with near daily. And that's prior to getting hit with full-on bigotry. Being of color in America by no means amounts to a constant barrage of negativity. However, unlike being white, being of color means one's race is a constant issue. How to handle it is an experience that is best learned practically, passed from a parent who's lived it to a child who's living it. It is not an experience gained merely by watching the boxed set of Eyes on the Prize (though you should watch it anyway). Short of that, some actual training would be useful. Anyone who believes otherwise is just displaying arrogance.

I would think, at the very least, trained and qualified parents of black children could be established as mentors. This would also help the adoptive parents build a "go to" support group for when their children do have questions and issues.

No doubt the policy barring the training was born of some kind of political correctness. But like most political correctness, it's Pollyanish.

Parents who engage in transracial adoptions are clearly committed, brave and, above all, loving. They should be fully prepared as well.

To me, this analysis makes total sense, but I'm often amazed by people who don't budge from their belief that "race doesn't matter" -- that love is all you need. I know a fair number of white women with black children, and there's an enormous amount of love in those relationships. But like Ridley points out, there are certain things white folks have no way of being able to translate for a child from an intrinsic place. But we can learn how to be engaged in the conversation with the children in our lives in a way that they know they can rely on the adults closest to them to understand and not dismiss their experiences based in race. Frankly, I think a little training in these matters for people deliberately deciding to have children of another race would be greatly beneficial.

Beyond the topic of adoption, Ridley explains pretty well why white folks in this country shouldn't assume they know everything there is to know about black folks...that in fact, maybe the bulk of us are ignorant fools when it comes to how other cultural groups live, particularly regarding church. Maybe you can tell where I'm going with this. Well, when I get over my shock (I still get shocked...) over the fact that Obama had to quit his very large, very well-established and well-regarded African American church in order to run for President...I'll write about it here.