May 16, 2018

AS CROSS-RACIAL ADOPTIONS BECOME COMMONPLACE, HANDWRINGING SEEMS TO HAVE INCREASED: We’ve come a fur piece since the 1980s, when the President of the National Association of Black Social Workers declared at a Senate hearing, “We view the placement of Black children in white homes as a hostile act against our community. It’s a blatant form of racial and cultural genocide.” Congress didn’t buy the argument. Noting that Black children had been languishing in foster care, because adoption agencies were hesitant to allow white families to adopt them, it first passed the Howard Metzenbaum Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 and then it strengthened that Act with Inter-Ethnic Placement Provisions of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996. These statutes essentially prohibited federally funded adoption agencies from discriminating on the basis of race.

These days, cross-racial adoptions happen frequently. But I’ve started noticing more and more and still more worrying about possible downside consequences. What happens to a child when nobody in his family looks like him? Won’t it be traumatic? I guess that view is just one more sign of the times.  As race becomes less important, people worry about it more.

A generation ago they used to laugh about adoption agencies of the generation preceding, which had gone out of their way to match the hair and eye color and adopting parents and children. This was thought to be excessive. Now the worriers seem to have come full circle.   This is not to say that adopted children don’t have thoughts about their origins.  But this would be so no matter who adopts them, and the way to handle it will differ enormously from child to child.  I would put the current attention the issue is getting in the category of “first world problems.”

By the way, as recently as 2003, Randall Kennedy wrote that his experience with the National Association of Black Social Workers was that its members hadn’t changed their minds.  They did change their rhetoric.