In 1996, I was a white woman with no plans to marry, living in a small Hill Country town. I wanted to be a mother and started looking into adoption. I didn’t know that in 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers called transracial adoption “cultural genocide.” In 1972, I was a schoolgirl. I’d watched the civil rights movement on TV, and it seemed like a battle black people fought with manners while white people fought with clubs and fire hoses.It's very me-centered, isn't it? Not much recognition of what her daughter will face for the rest of her life . . . . Because it will be more than "just talk" for her.
If I reconsider the national mood then, I realize only a hundred years had passed since white people bought and sold black people, babies included, a hundred violent years for anyone assuming that the rights and protections promised by the Reconstruction Amendments—but revoked by Jim Crow laws—still applied. Miscegenation laws had only just been overturned in 1967. Angry suburbanites still protested desegregation. It was too soon for interracial anything, so agencies didn’t do transracial adoptions, not even after 1994, when the Metzenbaum Act was passed to address the fact that children of color were overrepresented in the child welfare system. It was amended in 1996, making the denial of placement because of race unambiguously illegal.
I made my first calls to adoption agencies that year. Staff members asked warily if I’d be open to transracial adoption. Most staff members were white. During one call, when I said yes, the receptionist snapped: “Do you know what transracial means?” Her tone gave me pause. “I think so,” I said, parsing syllables, “adoption across races.” She said, “The child will be black!” Black was a whole other category of transracial, apparently. I ended up with an agency whose values seemed like my values: Its staff members didn’t tense up discussing race. I filled out paperwork. I underwent hours of training. No one told me the law had just changed. A happy accident, I think now, in that I didn’t see I’d be countering unsolicited conversations about race—conversations unearthing curiosity, uneasiness, and idealized visions of the future—for the rest of my life.
3 months ago