THOSE who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. That expression often springs to mind when racial issues arise. At one point, many states had “one drop of blood” laws to allow discrimination against black Americans or those of mixed race. Seeing those laws struck down was a proud day in our history.
Yet the obsession with race that led to “one drop” laws remains with us, often in reverse form. The case of “Baby Veronica” is just the latest example. A South Carolina couple adopted the girl from an Oklahoma mother in 2009, but the child was taken from her adoptive parents in late 2011 to live with her birth father.
The biological father claimed the toddler under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which is intended to keep American Indian children with their tribes.
Proponents believe a child can't develop a strong racial or cultural identity if the child's adoptive parents aren't of the same race. The goal may have some merit, but the end result in this case was to tear a child away from the one family she's known and loved all her life. And the justification wasn't so much paternity as the race of the biological father.
States once focused on placing all children with families of similar ethnic background. Those policies weren't enacted out of malice, but the real-world application meant some children were much more difficult to place with a family. Federal law was changed in the 1990s to make interracial adoption easier, although the Indian Child Welfare Act remains in place for that subset of children.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that Oklahoma had the third-highest adoption rate among the 50 states in 2008, with 101.85 adoptions per 100,000 adults. Yet even with Oklahomans' willingness to adopt and our state's proud American Indian heritage, the Indian Child Welfare Act likely creates roadblocks to putting a child in a loving home.
As of the end of June, there were 2,077 children in state custody available for adoption. Of that total, 358 were American Indian, about 17 percent.
But just 8.9 percent of the Oklahoma population is American Indian, according to the Census Bureau, meaning a disproportionate number of children awaiting adoption must place their hope on finding parents from a relatively small sliver of the adult population. Sadly, having that “one drop of blood” could make the difference between adoption and remaining adrift in the system.
The Cherokee Nation has intervened in the “Baby Veronica” case to defend the federal law. The nation's desire to maintain tribal ties and identity is understandable in light of its history and past treatment. But we think there's a bigger picture being missed in this debate.
To our benefit, the United States is a melting pot; many racial barriers are being obliterated in the process. The days when an Oklahoma family tree was bleached white from top to bottom are long gone. That's why adoptive parents' skin tone or genetics shouldn't matter. Those distinctions are becoming history.
Only one cultural identity should be stressed in the adoption process — placing a child in a culture of family love and support.