Professor Marlene Fine Publishes "The Interracial Adoption Option"

August 13, 2013

Marlene Fine Fern Johnson

Professor Marlene Fine and spouse Fern L. Johnson tell the story of adopting their two sons.

Professor Marlene Fine and spouse Fern L. Johnson have co-written The Interracial Adoption Option, which was published this month by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

"The book is the personal story [of adopting our sons] but it's not an autobiographical book," Fine said. The book is meant to help parents who are thinking about the decision to adopt a child of a different race.

"It's really the book we wish we'd had when we were going through the process," Fine said. Fine and Johnson adopted two African American boys when they were one month and fourth months old. Their sons are now in their twenties.

Fine and Johnson first looked internationally, but found that as an unmarried, lesbian couple, their options in the late 1980's were limited. Korean adoption laws required that adoptive parents be married, and adoption laws in the Philippines required that the parents be married and Catholic. They also started the adoption process through an agency, though they had to search as two single women instead of as a couple.

At the time, Fine and Johnson also decided that they would respect the stance of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW), who were strongly opposed to the adoption of African American kids by whites. But at an adoption group session attended by Fern, a white social worker had just adopted an African American infant, and presented to the group. She asked them to think about domestic interracial adoption, and to consider the number of black children that were still in foster care.

The next morning, the couple decided to amend their applications to prefer an African American or mixed-race child in the United States. They were able to bring their sons home six months later.

"Once you decide to adopt a child from another race, your identity as a white person changes. You're now part of an interracial family," Fine says. "The most difficult piece is something that pervades everything you do - and that's dealing with race in the United States."

When Fine put on a pair of jeans and carried her infant son with her to pick up his new social security card, she couldn't approached the counter without being judged. "Oh," the woman said before Fine could speak. "You want your welfare check?"

"Even when things were not racially motivated, it feels like it is," Fine says, speaking of a beach vacation that started with a misunderstanding about the rental. "It permeates everything you do."

The Interracial Adoption Option was a project that Fine and Johnson mulled over for a long time, but as more of their friends chose to adopt and began asking them questions about their experiences, Fine says they, "finally decided we were serious about this."

Over the last three years, the book has been constant dinner conversation. "We really enjoyed writing this book, and that's a different experience for me," Fine says. "My academic writing is like pulling teeth...this was fun."

Ultimately, Fine says it's been an "incredible, joyous journey for us, and hopefully for our children also."