NPR story: “White Kid, Black Family: Transracial Adoption”

A fascinating response to an NPR story

A few days back, we heard from Lisa Marie Rollins, a black woman raised in a white family. Her story drew this response below from Mark Riding, a black man whose family is adopting a white kid. In coming days, we’ll look to talk some more Riding and his family. For now, we’ll bring his comment up and look for yours. He writes:

The timing of this NPR story is serendipitous for me. I have long been struggling with my family’s in-process transracial adoption, but for almost opposing reasons to those in this story — we’re a black family attempting to adopt a little white girl.

I live in Baltimore infamous for its blighted "Chocolate City" status as well as for its distinct up-South racial polarization. When the little white girl came to live with us — three years old, doughy face, Irish freckles, and deep red hair — we faced immediate, unanticipated obstacles, many of which were internal. For example, I hadn’t considered how often we talked about white people at home. I hadn’t realized that dinnertime stories were rarely told without referencing the race of the players. I was also oblivious how frequently I used racial stereotypes. We began diligently censoring ourselves. Of course we’ve routinely adjusted our language and behavior for the sake of our white peers, neighbors, bosses and friends, but this little girl lives with us, which requires code switching and code creating at home. Headline News wouldn’t care about some missing spring break girl if she wasn’t er…blonde. America loves blonde girls. It has required more vigilance than I ever suspected; and I had long considered myself a fairly enlightened person.

Even though transracial adoptions are en vogue, many people (especially white people) are troubled when they see us out together. At the park in our historic Baltimore neighborhood where adopted Asian kids play with their white siblings without a blink, we are greeted with uneasy curiosity. We don’t receive the knowing smile and assumption of family that those other adoptive families enjoy. White park-goers often assume (out loud) that my graying mother-in-law is the girl’s nanny. Given close enough proximity, white people are almost always compelled to question our relationship with her. "So who do we have here" they ask, hardly veiling their anxiety. Even white friends and colleagues from the progressive private school in which I work are clearly disquieted, despite the fact that middle-class white parents with adopted Romanian, Asian or black children are in growing number there. "Oh this must be your little foster child." A colleague announced loudly outside a kiddie concert held on campus. Our little girl was troubled; her family secret had been publically revealed and she didn’t understand how or why. I was doubly upset because I couldn’t even carp freely about the indirect racial prejudice and insensitivity of this white person when I returned home.

My wife, like her mother, has little tolerance for strangers’ nosiness and gives purposely inelaborate answers; she is our little girl, period. Conversely, until quite recently I have accepted us as an oddity and have readily explained as soon as the little girl bounces out of ear shot. I’m certain only some of that has been empathetic; the rest was to assuage my own peculiar feelings. I have never felt as self-consciously black as when I hold our little white girl’s hand in public. However, after several white people have asked me, "and there was no one else in her family that could take her!" my leaf has turned. Now when asked I try to reply plainly, tapering my repugnance with irony: Nah, you know how those families are." With due emphasis placed on the term those.

You can read the rest of the letter here.

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One thought on “NPR story: “White Kid, Black Family: Transracial Adoption”

  1. What a thought-provoking article and situation! I wish I could say I wouldn’t be facing many of the same discomforts white people in the article did–another chance to really scrape out the under-belly of my racism. He also brings up the interesting discussions of “white-bashing” that does little to heal the(enormous)rift between the races. I wonder if this family will always be dealing with beign an “oddity.”

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