April 25th, 2009
12:44 PM ET

What adopting a white girl taught a black family about race in the Obama era

Tony Dokoupil

Several pairs of eyes follow the girl as she pedals around the playground in an affluent suburb of Baltimore. But it isn't the redheaded fourth grader who seems to have moms and dads of the jungle gym nervous on this recent Saturday morning. It's the African-American man—six feet tall, bearded and wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt—watching the girl's every move. Approaching from behind, he grabs the back of her bicycle seat as she wobbles to a stop. "Nice riding," he says, as the fair-skinned girl turns to him, beaming. "Thanks, Daddy," she replies. The onlookers are clearly flummoxed.

As a black father and adopted white daughter, Mark Riding and Katie O'Dea-Smith are a sight at best surprising, and at worst so perplexing that people feel compelled to respond. Like the time at a Pocono Mountains flea market when Riding scolded Katie, attracting so many sharp glares that he and his wife, Terri, 37, and also African-American, thought "we might be lynched." And the time when well-intentioned shoppers followed Mark and Katie out of the mall to make sure she wasn't being kidnapped. Or when would-be heroes come up to Katie in the cereal aisle and ask, "Are you OK?"—even though Terri is standing right there.


soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Terry, TX

    The point of this story is what...what about the parents who have adopted black children...and Rev Sharpton and the NAACP screaming to the high heavens that they are unfit to raise a black child as white parents. I just don't know why this was newsworthy.

    April 27, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  2. Karen

    Why do we have such double standards in life?? I am white my husband brown (India) have just adopted a darker than us child but no one will question. Nor do they question when a fully white family walks out with a black child! They could be up to no good just as much as the black man with a white girl. In actuallity there is more white men that cause harm to little girls that black or brown men do! Color should never be an issue.
    Karen of Sri Lanka

    April 27, 2009 at 5:14 am |
  3. Tammy

    It sounds to me like this is one lucky little girl to have three parents who care so much about her. Love is and should always be colorblind. In the end, all that will matter is that someone took her in and raised her as their own when no one else would. And for the record, in the South, a white child being raised by an African-American woman is no big deal. Most of our nannies were African-American, and mine was and still is my unconditional all those years later. Loving a child has nothing to do with anything but simply loving that child and teaching him or her about that love. I will always be grateful to her for that. Family isn't always about blood relations. It wasn't for me with her. It isn't for this little girl and her real parents.

    April 26, 2009 at 5:16 pm |
  4. Kenneth Githaiga

    It's a step towards the right direction in the ever present and emotional race issue-Obama got elected to become president,and Katie got adopted by black parents...everything is possible if we try...

    April 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm |
  5. mathew

    i see no problem with that at all but it also shows that americans still cant get over race

    April 26, 2009 at 4:43 pm |
  6. Minnie in PDX

    Wow. This really makes you think about our perceptions. Why shouldn't this be normal? That Katie finally found a family that was patient enough to love her through her issues is a miracle. Should it really matter what color the parents are?

    April 26, 2009 at 4:39 pm |
  7. Deb

    This shows how truly racist America is. There are still different & double standards for Caucasians & African American in America. Is it that disturbing for a loving, happy, financially qualified African American Couple to adopt a white or "any" other nationality other than their own? It shouldn't be. White American couples and Gay American couples have been doing it for quite some time now, and it has never raise this many eyebrows. Yes we still have a lot to heal and resolve in America in regard to race relations in America. Madonna, & other celebrities, have been adopting children from other nationalities for a while, and their motives are not questioned. The menacing looks, and the looks of disgust are truly evidence or hatred and racism in America.

    April 26, 2009 at 4:22 pm |