State rep Alvin Holmes points out racism in Alabama, adoptive parents freak out

Several of my readers have asked me to weigh in on a controversy going down in Alabama. The backstory: African American state representative Alvin Holmes, who is a democrat, was embroiled in a debate about abortion laws. Some republican representatives suggested that adoption could be a better way to reduce abortions, and Holmes responded that it wouldn’t solve this issue because black children are still much less likely to get adopted than white children. He also accused the pro-life representatives of hypocrisy because he believes that they would change their tune were they to discover their daughter was pregnant by a black man. He pointed out that in the year 2000, nearly 40% of white voters in the state of Alabama voted against legalizing interracial marriage. He went on to say:

"I will bring you $100,000 cash tomorrow if you show me a whole bunch of whites that adopted blacks in Alabama. I will go down there and mortgage my house and get it cash in $20 bills and bring it to you in a little briefcase."

Now, what Alvin Holmes said is problematic on so many levels. First of all, he has no idea what Republican lawmakers would do. It’s a pretty bold and personal accusation of hypocrisy and racism, and a wild speculation about his fellow politicians. Second, he doesn’t present facts about transracial adoption, and makes another inflammatory and non-specific speculation that there aren’t white people in Alabama adopting black children. I’m guessing there may be numbers to back up his assertion that there is racial bias in adoption, but he doesn’t present them and instead makes a universal prescription, ignoring that there ARE transracial families in his state. But the most glaring problem, to me, is that he is creating a false equivalency between abortion and adoption. Not all women who consider abortion would choose to place the child if they carried to term. As the Guttmacher Institute has pointed out, promoting adoption is not an effective strategy for reducing abortion rates.

I think Representative Holmes’ statements were incendiary and accusatory. I think he threw in some straw-man arguments. I think he’s guilty of hyperbole and logical fallacies, and dare I say, which I’m usually loathe to say, that the guy even played the race card as he argued his point about abortion. But where I veer from many of the offended parents on this matter? I don’t think he was being racist, nor do I think he was being insulting to adoptive families.

I think looking at context is important here. Holmes was elected to Alabama legislature in 1974, back when George Wallace was governor of the state. Remember that guy? "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" That’s from Wallace’s inauguration speech. Not one of Alabama’s finest moments. No doubt Holmes has witnessed some serious racial strife in his tenure in this state. Also, he is one of the representatives who introduced the bill to legalize interracial marriage in the state . . . hardly the actions of someone opposed to interracial families. He also watched as 40% of his state residents opposed that bill, a mere 14 years ago. Let’s let that sink in a little . . . 14 years ago, 40% of Alabama voters thought that INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE SHOULD BE AGAINST THE LAW.

So, while I don’t like his arguments as they relate to connecting adoption and abortion, I think that Holmes knows a thing or two about the blatant racism of the residents of his state. It’s not offensive that he pointed out racism or racial bias in adoption. It’s not racist to point out racism. And yet, he’s being accused of being a racist by parents who want to illustrate how many adoptive parents are really “colorblind.”

A rally was quickly organized to show Rep. Holmes that there are, in fact, white parents in Alabama who have adopted black children. And while I get the urge to show up and make him eat his words, because they were completely exaggerated, I also think it’s missing his point . . . which is that racial bias in adoption is alive and well. An organizer of the event said that it was “a great representation of parents who adopt without thought of skin color.” Eek! I hope that any parents who have adopted children of color are absolutely considering skin color. Being colorblind is not a virtue. Recognized the unique needs and racial biases that children of color will face is absolutely necessary in transracial adoption, and even more so in a state steeped in racial discord. And honestly? Being outraged that Rep. Holmes called out some of the latent racism in his state feels like misplaced outrage.

State rep Alvin Holmes points out racism in Alabama, adoptive parents freak out

Adoptive father Jeromy Owing said of his remarks:

"After we work on it and work on it to have an elected official that can come in and make those comments and tear down everything that we've worked hard for. It puts a question in their minds of 'Do I belong?' 'Where do I belong?"

I understand that sentiment and that frustration. And yet . . . Rep Holmes is not saying that kids don’t belong. He’s saying that there is a lot of racism against black people in Alabama. And I guarantee his statements won’t be the first time an adopted black child hears about racism in Alabama, not will it be the thing that causes them to question whether or not they belong. Parents should be having these talks with their children.

I feel like this whole controversy is a case of two sides not hearing each other. The angered adoptive parents aren’t hearing that Rep. Holmes is fed up with racism. And Rep. Holmes isn’t hearing that his remarks, whether or not intended to be, were dismissive of adoptive families with black children. After the rally, Holmes doubled down rather than apologizing, telling a local paper, “If anybody says Alvin Holmes is against interracial adoption, they are just as wrong as Adolf Hitler." He also told Montgomery's local radio station:

"The majority of white people in the state of Alabama are against adopting black children and the majority of white people in the state of Alabama are against their daughters having babies by black men and I stand by that comment.”

On the same radio program, adoptive parent Barbara Owings argued that the 2000 vote on interracial marriage had no relation to the issue of white families adopting black children.

I feel like on one side, you’ve got a politician who may be refusing to acknowledge that there ARE a growing number of interracial couples and families in his state, but on the other side you’ve got adoptive parents pretending that a 40% vote against interracial marriage does not have any bearing on race relations or adoption today.

I’m guessing the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I believe there are some wonderful, loving adoptive transracial families in Alabama. I believe there are many good people who live there. And I also believe that a politician who watched a bill to legalize interracial marriage only get a 60% approval vote just over a decade ago has a right to some cynicism. 

I still think he owes some adoptive families an apology for being insensitive. And I wouldn’t mind seeing him pony up that $100,000 he promised and donating it to AdoptUsKids. But I don’t think we need to assume that he’s against us or disparaging transracial families. I think he’s a man who is frustrated by the race relations in his state, and parents raising black kids in Alabama should understand that. Being angry that he pointed out some of the racist views in his state looks a little bit like denial, and that’s no good for anyone, but especially for adopted children of color.


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