Sunday, July 28, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A house that's built on foundation of love

About the essayist

Charlotte Watson Sherman was born and raised in Seattle. She is the author of a children's book, "Eli and the Swamp Man," as well as two novels, "One Dark Body" and "touch."

"I'm really not supposed to do this," the social worker began hesitantly. "But I know you've got those two girls."

For years, we had heard about the overwhelming number of African-American children awaiting adoption. We didn't plan to have any more biological children, but my husband wanted an infusion of testosterone into our female-dominated household. His father had adopted him, so we were happy to be able to handpick a son. And, as an African-American family, we felt a sense of responsibility, and an obligation even, to adopt a black child.

However, by the end of my conversation with the California social worker who had worked with the boy for years, I knew there would be no adoption. As much as we wanted to provide a loving, nurturing home to this child in need of a family, we could not and would not take the risk of exposing our daughters to the possibility of sexual molestation — a tragic remnant of Marvin's hidden history that his social worker felt, in good conscience, she had to reveal to us.

As we realized how close we had come to potentially sacrificing the well-being of the daughters we already had, the more hesitant we became about jumping back into the adoption process. As the years passed, we stopped considering it altogether.

Fourteen years later, I entered the home of a co-worker and was greeted at the front door by a cherub-cheeked, toothy, 2-year-old boy with skin the color of dried pineapple rings. I also met her pecan-colored, 4-going-on-25-year-old daughter with cornrows as long as my shoulder-length dreadlocks. Since my co-worker and her husband are white, I tried not to show my surprise. She had never mentioned that her children are black when she talked about them at work, so I had no forewarning.

Many African-American social workers and others are against interracial adoption as they believe these unions will lead to identity crises for the children. They say white people do not have the tools to prepare their African-American children for the harshness they will face as they navigate their way to adulthood and beyond, easily identifiable inside their brown skin.

As a result of these beliefs, over the years, it became more difficult for whites to adopt black children and now, too many black children continue to languish in foster care rather than get a chance to grow up in a loving, nurturing home.

I thought about what white people can and can't do for black children as I sat across the table from my co-worker, drinking lemonade in her kitchen the size of an enlarged broom closet, as she explained how they had been living in their one-bedroom house, all four of them sleeping in that one bedroom, while her husband built their new house by himself on the property next door.

"I can't wait until we have more room," she said.

"He's building a house by himself?" I asked, incredulous.

"Yes," she replied, almost apologetically. "We don't have a lot of money, and he works, too, so that doesn't leave him a whole lot of time to work on it, but he does the best he can. Plus, he watches the kids while I'm working. We thought we'd have it done by December, but it doesn't look like we're going to make it."

I thought about white people "can't" as I listened and rubbed her son's closely cropped head when he placed it in my lap. I remembered Marvin and all of the other black children's faces I had made invisible in the section of our local newspaper that highlighted children awaiting adoption. I thought about white people "can't" as I looked out of the corner of my eye into that one spare bedroom right next to the kitchen.

I didn't ask her how long this had been their living arrangement or what occurrence in her personal relationships with African Americans had made her willing to accept living with the stigma of a stigmatized group.

How would she explain the curious history of whites and blacks in this country to this boy and girl who look nothing like her? Even if she doesn't see them as black children and only views them with a mother's eyes of love as her children, once they leave the cocoon of their home the world will see their brown skin first. Their teachers will see a black boy; future employers will notice an African-American woman who may or may not be qualified for the job; as her son grows into adulthood, police will take note of a possible criminal suspect or gangbanger.

But as I left the house after her sweet son blew me a kiss, I thought about that one bedroom and glanced at the house her husband was building next door by himself for his interracial family. Like it or not, there will be no getting around the issue of race for this family, but I believe that somehow the foundation of love they are building within their household will prepare their children for the questions and answers that lie ahead.

Write to us: Essay appears in Northwest Life. If you have a piece for consideration, e-mail it to or write Essay., Northwest Life, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111. Please include a daytime phone number plus two or three sentences about who you are. Essays are subject to editing, are limited to 700 words and also appear on


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