Friday, December 17, 2010


At our office Christmas party, an African American colleague unexpectedly asked me the question I dread: What made you decide to adopt an African American child?

It was uncomfortable in a number of ways, not least of which because she has never met my kid, and I never referenced his ethnicity, so it came out of the blue and it indicated to me that the composition of my family had been the topic of some discussion outside of my earshot. We had been chatting about the high cost of groceries and I had mentioned the vast quantity of juice that T consumes every week when she popped the question.

Of course it also made me blush because there really is no right answer to that question. The short answer is: Because we "clicked" and he felt we were the right parents for him. One could also explain (and I do believe I babbled on about it) that there simply are not enough willing parents to adopt older children who want a permanent family, so successful matches are often a bit idiosyncratic. In fact, T. attended adoption fairs and searched for an adoptive match for two years before we met. But that sounds apologetic - as if he would have been better off with an African American family but we were his only option. I don't think he feels that way and we don't either--like any family, we like to feel we are a match made in heaven, not a compromise wrought by a bureaucracy.

Of course there are complexities we can't begin to address adequately when this topic comes up. There is a painful history in Los Angeles regarding the way the child welfare bureaucracy demonstrated prejudice in removing African American children from families at various times. There are also strong feelings amongst some African American people that white parents may be unable to properly teach African American children about how to navigate racism and prejudice. And there are many people, white, Black and other, who question whether white parents can properly convey the richness of African American history to Black adopted children. All of that is fair.

My awareness of and sensitivity to that history caused me to babble on and on in a most awkward manner. I mentioned how, with a younger child, I would have worried about my ability to help him fully connect to the richness of African American identity, but given his age, what really happened is that he arrived with a very full and multi-dimensional Black identity of his own. He just assumes that we support that identity and even share it. We do talk about race and racism on a regular basis at our house. We are not naive as parents - when he was, for example, assumed entirely without cause to be illiterate by a white teacher this semester, we did not hesitate to call the school and ask them to address the obvious stereotyping going on in that classroom. And of course, we felt confident that, because of our own personal histories and relationships, our parenting would not be compromised by unconscious racism or stereotypes hiding in our own unconscious.

And yet, any attempt to explain that I think we're doing an okay job sounds a little...defensive.

I think next time, when someone asks me "why did you decide to adopt an African American child?" I might just say "because we loved him."


GB's Mom said...

That is the best answer ever!

Kate said...

I have spent most of the afternoon and all evening reading every one of your blog posts. Your journey to adopt and parent T has been so inspiring and helpful. I have felt drawn to adopt since I was a teenager, and now that I'm in my 30s, Hubby and I are talking about it more seriously. I have read many horror stories about fostering and adopting teens on other blogs and forums, and I believe your more balanced approach has been so much more instructive and valuable, giving me a better feel for the real highs and lows. Thank you for sharing the process to date, and I hope you will continue to do so for the indefinite future.

Anonymous said...

Good answer, good answer!!! And the only one needed. Thank you for sharing.

-A Faithful Blog Reader and Admirer

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