When the boys in my comprehensive school met me they labelled me “Paki”. They never asked me where I was from and never discovered that I am half Sri Lankan Tamil, a quarter Irish and a quarter Assamese Indian. They were not color blind – they saw my colour and judged me on that and that alone. My sense of humour, my academic gifts, my personality, my character didn’t even get a look in. I was rejected because I didn’t fit their acceptable ethnic criteria.
When my wife and I applied to be adoptive parents ten years ago we faced similar discrimination. On the initial inquiry phone call we were asked about our ethnic make up. We were told that we would be suitable adoptive parents only to a child who had a similar British, Irish, Indian and Sri-Lankan mix. Since there were none in the borough they politely turned us down. The system did not look at any of our parenting abilities, or whether we were practically and emotionally able to provide a loving home to a child. We were rejected because of colour.
There are currently 4000 children waiting to be adopted in the UK. Many of these have been waiting for their whole lives for a loving and secure home. But it continues to be suggested that blinded by colour, we should disqualify parents who want to love and care for some of our nations most vulnerable and needy children.
The Prime Minister rightly recognises that it is better to give a child a safe and loving home than leave them waiting indefinitely for an exact ethnic match. This stance does not reduce the importance of ethnicity and identity, but affirms the fact that acceptance trumps colour.
Currently thousands of children are losing their childhoods, losing their abilities to form meaningful attachments and losing the chance for education. Our prison system is being filled up with young people who have been spat out the other end of the care system. We urgently need to recruit more adoptive carers (not to mention the 8000 place hole in the fostering system) from across the ethnic spectrum. We will not be able to match each child according to their ethnic background but that should not mean we have to leave these children without loving parents. What these children need are parents who will love them unconditionally to the best of their ability.
My wife and I are now both adoptive parents and foster parents with a wonderfully multicultural family. Our family get-togethers celebrate our cultural heritages from India, the Caribbean, Malaysia and North Africa. Respectful of cultural backgrounds, we have fostered across religious borders, and we have cared for a child with disabilities that many in society would reject.
In Britain today we no long judge people by the colour of their skin. And it’s no longer taboo or even unusual to marry inter-racially. Surely it’s high time we found children loving homes regardless of the parents’ ethnic background?