“Are you a hegro? I a hegro too. . . . Are you a hegro?” My mother loves to
recount the story of how, as a three year old, I used this innocent, mis­
pronounced question to interrogate the garbagemen as I furiously raced
my Big Wheel up and down the driveway of our rather large house on
Park Avenue, a beautiful tree-lined street in an all-white neighborhood in
Yakima, Washington. It was 1969. The Vietnam War was raging in South-
east Asia, and the brutal murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Medgar Evers, and Bobby and John F. Kennedy hung like a pall over a
nation coming to grips with new formulations, relations, and understand-
ings of race, culture, and power. As members of the Red Power move-
ment occupied Alcatraz and took up armed resistance in South Dakota,
members of the Black Power movement occupied San Francisco State
University, demanding that black studies be incorporated into the cur-
riculum. Yet even militant leaders could do little to abate the flood of so-
called race riots that decimated black communities from Los Angeles to
Washington, D.C., and no one could bring back the college students shot
dead at Kent State and Jackson State.
My father was a pastor of an all-white Lutheran Church, and my
mother was an instructor in the still-experimental Head Start program.
Busy preaching, teaching, and raising three kids, my parents had little
time to be involved in any organized movement. As good white liberals,
however, they wanted to contribute something, get involved, and try to
make a difference. My parents believed that adopting a child might be one
way to make a small but important difference during the turbulent 1960s.
Initially, they wanted to adopt an American Indian child from the nearby
Yakama Reservation, but, as the story goes, some of my parents’ black
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