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The Color of Love

It's an unusual image: Caucasian parents with African-American children. But this category of transracial adoptions-which now accounts for 20 percent of all public adoptions-is changing the face and heart of America. How difficult a situation is this to handle in our country, with its history of racism? "As long as families know how to nourish their child's identity and ethnicity, the child will develop strong self-esteem," says Sandra Ripberger of Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children in New York City. Other groups loudly protest these placements. "Teaching children about culture, heritage, and racism can only be done by people who understand firsthand," says Rudolph Smith, president of the National Association of Black Social Workers, headquartered in Detroit. Judge for yourself as you listen to the following stories from moms and dads who have embraced the challenge.

Doria J. Lavagnino is a journalist in New York City.

The Welch Family

After two unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization, Anne Welch, the COO of an Internet start-up in Connecticut, and her husband, Ed, the CFO of a digital printing firm in Manhattan, adopted their first biracial child, Faith, now 5. Three months later, the couple learned that another biracial infant needed a home, and he, too, joined the family; named Sean, he's also 5. They adopted their youngest child, 9-month-old Christian, both because they wanted another child and because he is Faith's full brother (the birth parents gave him up as well).

What were your thoughts before taking this step?

"By adopting transracially, we chose to be different," says Anne. "Looking back, I was on such a high to finally be able to mother a child. Yet I also knew that as a parent of a minority child, there would be race issues I'd have to handle. I don't know what it's like to be discriminated against, and I don't want to see anyone hurt my kids."

How did your families react?

"Anne was nervous about what her family would think-she's from a conservative Irish background," says Ed. "I remember her mother's initial reaction when told that our child would be half-black and half-white: 'You are creating a difficult path for yourself.' But she's just as affectionate with our kids as with her other grandchildren."

Do you celebrate their ethnicity?

"I point out black role models," says Ed. "After Serena Williams won a tennis tournament, I showed Faith a newspaper picture, and she said, 'Look, she has black skin just like me.'"

The Drier Family

Eric and Diana Drier wanted to adopt a child of color from the start. "Race was never an issue for us," says Eric, a neurobiologist in New York. "We wanted to become parents," adds Diana, an elementary-school science teacher. In 1993, the couple adopted Nathaniel, now 8, and, three years later, Gillian, now 5. Both are African-American. "We are more the same than different," says Diana. "Overwhelmingly, our community has accepted our family."

Do strangers ever think Nathaniel and Gillian aren't your children?

"One morning, my husband and I were walking on the Princeton campus, and Nathaniel was ahead of us," says Diana. "A woman came up to me and said, 'That little boy has been on his own for so long, and his mother is no place to be found. Should we call security?' 'He's mine,' I responded. It's an unusual situation, and people don't catch on quickly."

How do you address your children's questions about their race?

"Sometimes, Nathaniel says he wishes he were white. And I say, 'We don't get to choose our skin or eye color,'" says Diana. "So far, it seems like a surface concern, not a deep anguish. I tell Gillian that I wish my hair were more like hers. Whenever she sees me using a curling iron and rollers, I explain, 'I'm trying to make my hair curly!'

"Once, while visiting my in-laws in Minnesota, we went to a huge community pool, and everyone there was white," explains Diana. "Nathaniel said, 'Mommy, I wish you were the same color as me.' I thought we were going to embark on a discussion about race. He added, 'Then I would be able to find you at this pool.' I realized that I blended in with all the other white, blonde people."

How has adopting transracially changed your view of the world?

"I went to Princeton for my graduate degree in molecular biology," says Eric. "I started to notice that there are very few black people in pure science: The faculty members and graduate students were white, while many of the janitors and the dishwashers were black. I worry about what kind of message that will send to my children when they see that none of Daddy's co-workers are black."

The Easley Family

Cindy Easley and her husband, Michael, a senior pastor in Virginia, always wanted to raise four children. But after their biological daughter, Hanna, was born in 1984, they were unable to conceive again. So the couple adopted three kids: Jessie, 11, Devin, 6, and Sarah, 5. Half-siblings Devin and Sarah (at right) share the same white birth mother, while Devin has an African-American birth father.

How has your biracial son adjusted to having three white siblings?

"When Devin was in pre-K, his teacher brought it to our attention, very gently, that our son didn't know he was black," says Cindy. "A social worker reassured us that our scenario was common," adds Michael. "Young children don't differentiate themselves from their families, we were told, so Devin thought he looked like us. One night, I got out books with pictures of kids of different races. Devin thought he looked like the blonde, blue-eyed boy. I then explained: 'Your mommy was white, and your daddy was African-American. So you have the best of both worlds. You're biracial.' Devin smiled, but he was caught off guard. It was something he didn't know."

Are your friends supportive?

"We asked them, 'Would you let your child date our African-American son?'" says Cindy. "There were some couples who hesitated. We also asked our African-American friends what we needed to know about their culture to raise a biracial child. One close African-American friend joked with Michael and said, 'Why? Are you planning to feed your son chitlins and gravy?' He wanted us to see the absurdity of our question."

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