US frowns on mixed family

RAINBOW FAMILY: Stacey Bush next to her mom, Regina, and her black brothers and sister. © UNknown.
RAINBOW FAMILY: Stacey Bush next to her mom, Regina, and her black brothers and sister. © UNknown.

Francis Donnelly

Francis Donnelly

MICHIGAN - When teen Stacey Bush isn't making the honours roll, she's at one of two jobs, or tutoring sixth-graders, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, or supervising kids at a Boys and Girls Club.

She feels like she has something to prove, and a lot of people to prove it to.

In a 1997 case that drew national attention, a US state agency tried to prevent Stacey from being adopted because of "cultural issues". She is white and her adoptive mom is black.

The adoption was approved and, for the past decade, Stacey has prospered in her new home. She has accomplished things once doubted by nay-sayers even as she witnessed discrimination from a rare view - as a white adopted by a black.

"I thought I was alone, that nobody would care for me," she says about life before the adoption. "If I saw somebody like me, it would break my heart."

The adoption of whites by blacks is rare and controversial.

Of 11000 adoptions in Michigan from 2001 to 2005 only 78 were blacks adopting whites. During that time, 677 whites adopted blacks.

The National Association of Black Social Workers, which has opposed biracial adoptions for 35 years, once likened it to "cultural genocide" and said it was important for children to grow up in their own cultures.

"Culture is the bridge that links the present with the past and the past with the future," according to the Washington group's policy statement on bi-racial adoption.

"[Culture] is a person's values, beliefs, learnings, practices and understandings."

But Stacey, 18, says she hasn't been hampered by cultural differences. Rather, she has blossomed.

She recently won awards for community service, finished second in the state of Michigan for the Boys and Girls Clubs youth of the year, won several college scholarships and plans to attend Central Michigan University.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint says Stacey is a role model because she doesn't allow the controversy surrounding her adoption to stop her.

"She looked at the challenges as stepping stones," says Mark Serra, the group's development director. "It's just amazing to see how she handles herself."

In her short life, Stacey has known all types of parents - biological, foster and adopted.

But, until Regina Bush came along, those mothers and fathers represented a litany of abuse, neglect and rejection, according to the Bush's and state records.

Her biological mother, who was schizophrenic and moved from home to home, roamed the streets with her children in a shopping cart. She scoured trash containers and collected bottles along highways to turn in for their deposits.

"She was crazy, but I know she loved me," Stacey says.

Her mom lost contact with the rest of her family.

The state took control of the children when Stacey was six and she flitted in and out of foster homes. She was a hyper-child who was hard to control.

Bush, who was in the process of adopting Stacey's biracial stepsister, decided to adopt Stacey to keep them together.

"You're talking about a child who has been through it all," Bush says.

"Everything you can imagine happening to a kid has happened to her."

Bush had to file a federal lawsuit before receiving the state's blessing to adopt Stacey, but not before undergoing a battery of tests.

She took psychological exams and a social worker visited her home for 10 hours to watch her interact with her children.

She was asked whether she would prepare food differently for Stacey and whether she would take a class to learn how to wash a white person's hair.

"Why would I prepare food differently?" she asked, "All my children love hamburgers and French fries."

Bush, 46, a welfare eligibility specialist with the state, is a single mom of eight. Two are biological and the others are adopted.

Bill Johnson, superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute, which oversees state adoptions, says his agency was concerned about more than race in Bush's case.

She was a single parent with a full-time job and was taking care of five children.

He says the state weighs many factors in placing a child in a home, including race, stability of the home and the willingness of the parent.

"We try to match as best we can a child with a family that is consistent with that child's background so the child is comfortable," he says.

As for Stacey, who had moved through so many different homes before finding the welcoming arms of Bush, she didn't care that the colour of those arms were different from her own.

In a lifetime of tumult, it was the best change she had ever experienced.

But the rest of society wasn't as colour-blind. The family drew looks and comments when they went out in public.

At a supermarket, a customer asked Stacey why she was about to get into a car full of blacks - her mom and siblings.

At school, classmates asked why she spoke and acted black. They called her a black girl in a white person's body.

Instead of being hampered by a lifetime of difficulty, she used it to spur herself on. She wanted to prove wrong all the people who had given up on her.

"I want to show people I'm successful," she says. "Not money successful, but love, strength, happiness successful."

For this she credits her mom, a tough disciplinarian who teaches her children to stand up for themselves.

Stacey wants to help children whose lives were as difficult as her own. Towards that end, she wants to be a teacher. - New York Times