Dominic Lawson: The Racism Of Our Adoption Rules

It is exactly the sort of dead-end ideology which still holds white social workers in thrall. Almost half a century ago, a friend of mine was the subject of what was then seen as a risky experiment.

A black baby, she was adopted by a white couple. They lived in a remote rural area and, my friend now relates, “I thought I was the only black person in the whole of England”. She also encountered racism even from those who were trying to offer praise. “It’s amazing what you are achieving almost straight out of the jungle,” one teacher informed her.

Suffice it to say that her childhood experiences as the subject of a transracial adoption were far from an unalloyed delight. On the other hand, my friend is now one of the leading practitioners in a highly lucrative profession and a formidably self-confident person. She is also the proud mother of mixed-race children.

Yet, according to the ideology that grips so many social workers at our adoption agencies, my friend is an example of something which must be avoided at all costs. She has lost touch with her “ethnic cultural identity” – why else would she have decided to marry a white man? For all the appearance of enviable personal and professional fulfilment, they would argue, she is in fact not a “whole person”.

This is nonsense, of course; but it is very influential nonsense. Yesterday, the shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove – who was himself an adopted child – attempted to bring the vexed issue of transracial adoption back into public debate. Mr Gove pointed out that, despite the efforts of Paul Boateng during the early years of the Blair administration, more recent New Labour measures, notably the Adoption and Children Act of 2002 – have once again given official encouragement to social services departments with a visceral disapproval of the aspiration of parents to adopt children of a different race.

This attitude does not just lead apparently left-wing public servants to propound views which are a bizarre echo of theories of racial integrity and identity given legal force in Apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany under the Nuremberg laws of 1935; it also tends to act against the best interests of the children they are charged with protecting.

The greater reluctance on the part of black couples to adopt, combined with the race-based adoption policies of many agencies, have meant that black children are left in the care of local authorities for much longer than white children. Look at the official figures measuring the length of time it takes for children to be found a permanent family home even after it has been determined that adoption is in their best interests: only 7 per cent of white children were still in care after more than three years had passed, whereas more than 27 per cent of black children were left in this ghastly emotional limbo.

The authorities responsible for this state of affairs know perfectly well that if they were to adopt a more relaxed attitude to transracial adoptions that this glaring disparity would be greatly reduced; but they believe that it is not enough for white would-be parents to demonstrate that they could provide a loving home for a black child. They assert that such people, purely by virtue of the colour of their skin, just won’t be able to understand the”culture” which apparently is an inalienable right of racial inheritance – and, allegedly, no amount of love and support can compensate for this intangible loss.

In the US – despite the fact that the notion of black culture is much more highly politicised there than it is in the UK – the state is now explicitly hostile to the delaying of adoptions on racial grounds. In 1996, President Clinton passed into law the Multi-ethnic Placement Act and the Removal of Barriers to Inter-ethnic Adoption Provisions.

Bill Clinton did not lack an empathy with African-American voters – he relied on them, in fact. So it was striking that he felt able to ignore the views of organisations such as the National Association of Black Social Workers, which had declared: “Only a black family can transmit the emotional and sensitive subtleties of perception and reaction essential for a black child’s survival in a racist society … we repudiate the fallacious and fantasied reasoning of some that whites adopting black children will alter that basic character.”

This is exactly the sort of dead-end ideology – one that sees victimhood as a blessing rather than a curse – which still holds many white British social workers in thrall. It is pseudo-Marxist, in the sense that it puts the non-white population on the historic pedestal formerly occupied by a plaster version of the white working class (who were ungrateful enough to refuse the role such theories had allotted them).

Perhaps the counter-view was best put by Professor Randall Kennedy, author of Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity And Adoption. Kennedy, himself an African-American, wrote in 1994: “Racial matching reinforces racialism. It strengthens the baleful notion that race is destiny. It buttresses the notion that people of different racial backgrounds really are different in some moral, unbridgeable, permanent sense. It affirms the notion that race should be a cage to which people are assigned at birth and from which people should not be allowed to wander.”

The election to the presidency of Barack Obama has been widely hailed as a startling refutation of the notion of African-Americans as perpetual victims of an irredeemably racist white majority. Yet Obama’s triumph might prove even more threatening to those who had proclaimed themselves the true defenders of minority rights, as it is to any Americans who refused to vote for him purely because of the colour of his skin: how much political traction remains in appeals based on the exploitation of prejudice, when the most powerful person in the nation, the elected head of state, is a man such as Barack Obama?

President-elect Obama is in fact the living embodiment of a more modern attitude which transcends race altogether, as he described in his memoir, Dreams From My Father: A Story Of Race And Inheritance. How strange it is that his vivid genetic inheritance is one which many on the left in this country see as a curse to be avoided, rather than an example to be emulated.