Why Not Adopt a Black Child?
by Deesha Philyaw
“We have many clients seeking to adopt, but none of them are waiting for a Black child.” The woman’s voice on the phone was at once unsettling, moving, and life-changing. A caseworker at a local Christian adoption agency, she had received a call from a Black mother in a neighboring county who had just given birth and sought to place her daughter, Marissa*, for adoption. The agency of course had a long list of White couples waiting to adopt White newborns, and some who would consider adopting a biracial child. But none of their existing clients were open to adopting a Black child. So the caseworker had thought of my then-husband Mike and me: a Black couple experiencing secondary infertility that had come into the agency a month earlier to gather some information about adoption. Would we consider adopting this little girl?
I remember the caseworker’s words sometimes when I see White parents and their Asian or Latino children, families who appear to have been brought together by international adoption. Or when I read about African adoptions by American celebrities, all high drama, with whispers of preferential treatment and duped birth parents. Even speculation that a pop princess might adopt internationally is grist for the tabloid rumor mill.
With all due respect, I’ve wondered, Why? Why are White Americans traveling abroad, wrangling with foreign bureaucracies, and spending the equivalent of college tuitions to adopt Chinese or Russian children, when there are children in this country in need of adoptive families?
Why, for every White child available for adoption in the U.S., are there at least 200 families waiting two to three times as long as they would if they adopted a Black baby, leaving thousands of Black children to grow older, and therefore “less desirable”, in foster care?
The first answer that came to my mind was also the ugliest: racism. What distinguished a Black American child from a Guatemalan or Korean child but skin color and this country’s troublesome racial landscape?
However, I know first-hand that there is another distinction: the sometimes-uncertain process to terminate parental rights and the prospect of a birth parent changing her mind. Two days before we were due to bring her into our family, Marissa’s birthmother decided against placement. This scenario is less of a concern, or a non-issue altogether, in other countries.
But anyway, who was I to question or judge someone else’s motivations? After all, I had considered my own limitations and preferences before adopting. Already an at-home mom of a “spirited” preschooler, I wondered about the impact of a second child, particularly an infant or an older child with special needs, on my embryonic freelance writing aspirations. While we didn’t rule out the possibility of adopting in the future, we had decided to table the discussion indefinitely.
Then the agency called, and all my prior objections and concerns about adoption faded; they now seemed minor and selfish in the face of an actual child. Not a cute picture among hundreds of cute pictures and short, broken life stories trapped behind clear plastic in a photo album, but a real, live baby that needed us. After Marissa’s mother changed her mind, the agency placed our profile on its national online database. Within 24 hours, three Black expectant mothers/couples expressed interest in communicating with us.
A couple of months later, Thanksgiving 2003, we gave thanks for our daughter who had been born a few weeks earlier. Nearly five years later [Note: I wrote this article several years ago--dp], I still marvel at the chain of events that brought my youngest daughter into our lives, and at the reason we got that call from the adoption agency in the first place: Nobody was waiting to adopt a Black baby.
While the decision to adopt is a personal one, it is not made in a vacuum. It is possible to respect individual choices while also examining the larger social, political, and cultural context in which those choices are made. So, I decided to pose the question to adoptive parents: “Why not adopt a Black child?”