The rights and wrongs of transracial adoption are in the news in the U.K. again, as the coalition government has proudly pronounced that race should not be a bar in adoption and that too many dual-heritage children are "languishing" in the British care system. The new government is giving British social workers a hard time here, claiming that too many are politically correct and are denying dual-heritage children the chance of a loving family life through adoption.
Our system, with its many checks and balances, is clearly a little different from the American system, where celebrities like Madonna seem to face few bars in adopting children from abroad and where inter-country adoption is easier than in the U.K.
I wasn't surprised to be asked to comment on this again, by the BBC and others, as there aren't that many transracial adoptees around on this side of the water who do talk about their experiences. In fact, I think I can count us on one hand. I haven't changed my mind much about trans-racial adoption since I first started writing and making films about it 15 years ago. I can say, confidently, that it worked for me. But I caution against extrapolating some universal truth from that. It certainly doesn't work for everybody, and it does have its pitfalls.
When I visited my birth father in Iran a few years ago, I was struck by the fact that at last I looked like everybody else -- for the first time in my life. But I was baffled by the fact that I couldn't speak the language. Conversely, when I go to rural areas in Britain, I feel completely at home, yet I look completely out of place -- and yes, I do get asked where I'm from, and no, the answer "London" doesn't cut much ice). I drink Earl Grey tea, eat pies and pasties whenever I can and love rice pudding and my mum's roast dinner. No wonder that people like me suffer from what's known as "genealogical bewilderment!"
I feel sorry for the kids and the adoptive parents in all this, but I would counsel caution for anyone contemplating transracial adoption. This isn't because I'm against it, but I'm aware that it costs everybody something, even when it works.
Adoptive parents are supposed to be super-parents. They are supposed to love their new kids with abandon, but they are also expected to let them go. I was supported with great love by my parents, who encouraged me to go to Iran and "find myself." They looked after my children so that I could spend time meeting my birth parents. There can't be any greater parental love than that.
I came back, grateful for their love and understanding, but it was very clear that I knew more about myself as a result of seeing my birth country. So race and culture do mean something, in my view. You need to know where you come from so you can get going with the rest of your life. Denying the importance of this -- as the new coalition government seems bent on doing -- isn't going to make this very human need go away.
So is love enough, as American social workers used to say? Yes, absolutely, love is enough -- but don't expect that it comes without pain.
Follow Katharine Quarmby on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@katharineq