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John Ridley

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White Parents, Black Kids, Tough Love

Posted: 05/30/08 06:17 PM ET

This week comes word that some child welfare groups are calling for changes in federal transracial adoption laws; that the so-called colorblind adoption system mandated in the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 can do more harm than good to black kids adopted from foster care by white parents. A study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found that while "transracial adoption in itself does not produce psychological or social maladjustment problems in children," these children and their families face "a range of challenges, and the manner in which parents handle them facilitates or hinders children's development." Among the changes to the MEPA lobbied for is one to a provision that bars prospective white parents from undergoing any race-oriented training unique from that any other prospective parent would receive.

Perhaps the single most important thing for a child is to be with a loving supportive family. And all things being equal any child of any race should be placed with any qualified parents without restriction or special conditions.

But all things are not always equal.

I would never advocate prohibiting transracial adoptions. Black kids in foster care already have a significantly harder time finding homes than children of other races. But in the case of white parents/black children, the MEPA provision against race-oriented training's gotta go.

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, different from being white, being of color means one's race is a constant. 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.

No doubt the policy baring 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.