Pearl Buck, “I Am the Better Woman for Having My Two Black Children,” 1972

Source: Courtesy of Pearl S. Buck International

Pearl Buck with a Welcome House child

This personal reflection by Pearl Buck about her own experience with transracial and transnational adoptions expresses her lifelong commitment to intercultural understanding and belief that it was possible for love and common humanity to overcome racial and national prejudice. The story is especially interesting, however, because it was published at a time of enormous controversy over the adoption of black children by white parents. For a view quite different than Buck’s, see the statement opposing such adoptions by the National Association of Black Social Workers.

My husband and I thought our family of five adopted children was complete when she first came to us. Her birth mother was a girl in a small town in Germany. Her father was an American soldier who was killed. He was black. The German mother said his black child was despised in her town and had no future there. She begged his university president in Washington to find the father’s family.

I was a trustee of the university. We tried to find the family, but they had disappeared without trace. What then should we do with the child? From experience we knew that the little black children from Germany had difficulty adjusting to black mothers.

The president looked at me. “Would you. . .”

“Of course I will,” I said. “We’d love to have another child.”

I lived in a white community. But I knew it would make no difference to me or to my husband that this child was black, and since it made no difference to us, it should make no difference to our white children. If it did, I wanted to know it and see to it that attitudes were changed. If there were wrong attitudes in the school or community, I would see to that, too. If the basic love was in the home, the child would be fortified enough to be a survivor. . . .

She arrived at our house on Thanksgiving Day—five years old, bone-thin, weighing only 35 pounds, speaking only German. She had been airsick, she was unwashed, she was terrified, but she did not cry. Later, years later, she told me her German mother had simply put her on the plane without telling her where she was going. She had promised to return in a minute, but had never come back.

That plucky little thing, so alone, those enormous haunted eyes! Tears come to my eyes now when I think of her that day. I took her in my arms and held her. Her heart was beating so hard that it shook her small, emaciated frame. . . .

She was our child. When my husband died, she was my child. I am glad he lived long enough to share in her adoption. The ceremony was a double one. I asked the judge to ask her, too, to adopt us. She was then old enough to understand. It was a beautiful and sacred little ceremony, just the four of us in his private chambers. It sealed our love.

The years passed. She went to public school, developed a strong personality, fearless, independent, sometimes difficult. She had to be rid of all fear before she gave up lying as a protection. The result today is a strong, outspoken, fearless woman with a mind of her own. And yet love, our love, has helped her to try to understand other people. She understands both black people and white. She is in the deepest, truest sense a bridge between two peoples, to both of whom she belongs by birth. . . .

In China, I was the wrong color, for my skin was white instead of brown, my eyes were blue instead of black, and my hair was light instead of dark. I taught my children to feel sorry for people who made rude or nasty remarks about such differences. . . .

Adopting a black child into my white family has taught me much I could not otherwise have known. Although I have many black friends and read many books by black writers, I rejoice that I have had the deep experience of being mother to a black child. I have seen her grow to womanhood in my house and go from it to her own home, a happy bride and wife. It has been a rich experience and it continues to be. It has brought me into the whole world. . . .

“Mommy, please find me a little sister.” It was a natural request at a time when the older children were growing up and off to college.

Being always in touch with the children of American servicemen and Asian women in Asia—those piteous lonely children whom no country claims—I found in a Japanese orphanage a little seven-year-old girl and brought her home with me. She, too, was of a black father. She, too, I adopted. At first she spoke only Japanese, but her lively mind soon discovered English.

How my two brown children enlivened our household! . . .

Let me say here that the attitude of adoptive parents is most important. If the parents are doubtful, if they are not strong enough, secure enough in themselves to accept children of a race different from their own, they should not adopt such children. My black children knew and know that color means nothing to me. Whatever they might meet outside they could cope with because at home there was only love and acceptance. . . .

In sum, should white people adopt homeless black children? My answer is yes, if they feel the same love for a black child as for a white one. . . .

I would not have missed the interesting experience of adopting children of races different than my own. They have taught me much. They have stretched my mind and heart. They have brought me, through love, into kinship with peoples different from my own conservative, proud, white ancestry. I am the better woman, the wiser human being, for having my two black children. And I hope and believe they are the better, too, and the more understanding of me and my people because of their white adoptive parents.

At least I know that there is no hate in them. No, there is no hate in them at all.

Source: Pearl Buck, “I Am the Better Woman for Having My Two Black Children,” Today's Health, January 1972, 21-22, 64.
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