When I saw the photo of Academy Award-winning actress Sandra Bullock holding her newly adopted son, my first reaction was how cute the baby is. Then I cringed.
The baby is African-American.
Bullock is white.
I held my breath waiting for the slings and arrows to be hurled at Bullock by blacks and whites alike.
Nothing, or at least not much, happened.
Nearly 22 years ago, before my husband, my daughter and I took our first hesitant steps toward enlarging our family, we were recruited by a group hoping to increase the number of black people wanting to adopt.
There weren't enough black families for the growing number of black foster children looking for permanent homes.
The National Association of Black Social Workers had sounded the alarm. Although black children languished in foster care far longer than white children and, even though there were far more white families seeking to adopt than there were white children, the association pushed same-race adoption for black children. Their position was one part of their "Preserving African American Families" paper published in 1994.
The idea wasn't new. Native Americans had successfully pushed for the same thing.
All of that flashed in my mind when I saw the cover of People.
With so little public backlash, I wondered whether we as a society had come to embrace the idea of white families adopting black babies. After all, several celebrities had done that, including the highly publicized adoptions of African children by Madonna, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But before them, there were transracial adoptions by Michelle Pfeiffer, Tom Cruise, and Steven Spielberg, who adopted black and biracial children.
Have we changed?
Ryce Hatchett, a retired social worker who had facilitated the adoption of our son, said yes, sort of.
"We are changing," he said.
When he worked in the state adoption program, Hatchett said, he took pride in educating the families who came to him exploring transracial adoption.
"I wanted them to know they were changing their families," he said. "They were changing their extended families, their friends and their neighbors. If those people were not on board, then eventually the child would feel that. They needed to know they were making a bold move on behalf of this child."
The child might date someone who doesn't look like the parents, marry someone who doesn't look like them and have children with someone who doesn't look like them. If that occurred, Hatchett said, then the ethnicity of the people bearing the family name might change for generations to come.
"If they were already in a lifestyle that was inclusive of diversity and being around people who would make this child feel normal, then that is one thing," Hatchett said. "If you fail to take steps to be inclusive and have this child see people who look like him or her, then that is another."
That is the stance that the NABSW has. Although its preference is still same-race, same-culture adoptions, the association told CNN recently that if that isn't possible, adoptive families should be educated about the impact of racism for the family and the child.
"I'm not opposed to trans racial adoptions," Hatchett said. But, he said, there has to be a concerted effort on the part of the adopting families to expose the child to the culture he or she was born into.
"We are not hearing anything negative," he said of the Bullock adoption, "because it is becoming more acceptable to see that.
"God bless that," he said. "We wouldn't want to live like the 1950s in 2010. We want our children's children to live better lives."
Amen. We don't need a color-blind society. We need one in which different races and cultures are acknowledged and accepted. Race does matter. It just shouldn't matter negatively.
A measure of how far we have come might better be the lack of criticism of a black family adopting a white child.
So on this Mother's Day, know that Bullock appears to love her son and that she had no problem accepting his race. I celebrate that.
Happy Mother's Day, Sandra.