Monday, December 15, 2008

Racial Hierarchy in the Adoption World

The question was recently brought up on The Albertson's blog on how to respond to the following scenario(copied and pasted from their blog):

"For me, the race question has become very hard to answer. For example, I have many friends who are adopting domestically and internationally. Often they'll say "I'm totally open to most races but I'm not sure about a black baby." Please know that they don't mean any harm. They really don't. As I said, I'm glad they feel safe saying that to me. The problem lies, now, in the fact that my very own son is a "black baby."

We have heard this comment many times before too. I've come to the conclusion that even though these people "mean no harm" the comment does stem from deep seeded racism. Why do they feel more capable of raising a Latino or Asian child than a black child? With either of those ethnic backgrounds the family is going to have a lot of cultural differences that they will need to incorporate into their new lives with their child. Same with adopting a black child. Why do people think it will be more difficult to raise a child with an awareness and pride of their African American or African culture than any other culture? That just proves that they are putting African American and African families in an "other" box, assuming that the lifestyles of those families are vastly different from their own.
If the adoptive family's justification is that they live in a predominantly white neighborhood and don't feel they will be able to adequately expose an AA or African child to their culture, then I think that is an admirable reason and shows that they are truly putting the needs of the child first. Yet I'm these white neighborhoods have a plethora of Asian and Latino families? Asian and Latino children aren't going to feel any less ostracized just because they "blend in" a little better with their lighter skin. They are going to have the same questions about culture and identity and are inevitably going to struggle with being "different" (even if their community loves and accepts them). Ask any adult adoptee and I'm confident that's what you will hear. Adopting a lighter skinned child may be easier for the adoptive family, but not necessarily for the child.
I literally feel sick to my stomach when I hear that stuff. There is a hierarchy in the world of adoption that is clearly based on skin color. Social workers are well aware of the fact that it is easier to place light-skinned children than dark skinned children. Some parents even say they would accept a biracial child but not a child who is 100% black. How sick is that? I agree that adoptive parents need to be honest with their social workers, but I would prefer if they wouldn't sugar coat it by saying that raising an African American child is something they "just can't handle" and acknowledge the racism that is clearly a part of the decision making process.
That comment reminds me of a boy I met last year who said (paraphrased)"I wouldn't date a black girl.Actually, I'd do black girl but I wouldn't marry her."
When I asked why he responded:
"Cuz I don't want my kids to turn out mixed"
I pretty much snapped at that point and he responded:
"I'm not racist! I would marry a Japanese girl or a Mexican girl, just not a black girl"
The boy saw how angry and disgusted I was and told me:
"If you are going to be mad at me you will have to be mad at lots of people because tons of people have the same opinion".
The tragic thing is that he has a point. Lots of people think that way. But that doesn't make it right. Racism is alive and well in this country and it is so important that we ACKNOWLEDGE it. That we humble ourselves enough to admit that we are guilty of it. Racism does not just come from the rednecks in the South. Plenty of "respectable", "Christian", white families have racist viewpoints, it's just that they tend to be masked with pretty language.
Another justification I hear in regards to this issue is that parents do not feel equipped to help their black children deal with the racism they will likely face. Again, this is something that Asian and Latino children are certainly not immune to! But there is a different history in regards to racism against African Americans in the U.S. and there is a good chance that black children will face more intense discrimination than people from other backgrounds. The reality is however, that whether or not you adopt an African or AA child, the racism you are so afraid of still exists in our country. And it's still wrong. If you are not willing to confront it for your potential child, then I'm guessing you are not willing to confront it at all. I think many white people prefer to pretend racism no longer exists. They claim to be "color-blind" and act shocked whenever a racial hate-crime appears on the news. They don't want to acknowledge their white privilege and can't seem to wrap their minds around the question ofwhy so many African Americans continue to struggle when "things are way different these days". Adopting a black child is scary because it would force you to come face-to-face with the racism in your country, your state, your neighborhood, your family, and yourself.
I DO NOT believe that everybody should adopt an African American or African child. On the contrary,I think that these children deserve to be adopted by parents thrilled with the opportunity to parent them, who are committed to providing them with tons of exposure to their culture and lots of mentors and role models of their own race.
What I DO believe is that the racism behind this hierarchy in the adoption world needs to be acknowledged. I feel like that's the first step towards healing and racial reconciliation. Simply acknowledging that despite 'good-intentions', we are guilty of prejudice is hard but so very important. I grew up in a community where white people were the minority. My church was predominantly African American, my soccer team was predominantly Mexican, and my hockey team was a beautiful blend of many cultures. Even in my family there are more people of color than white people. Where I grew up, racial issues were not swept under the rug. We talked about racial injustices all year round(not just on Martin Luther King day)and human rights were discussed and addressed on a regular basis. Yet despite all of that, I will admit that I am not immune to racist or prejudice thoughts. It is something I continue to fight with and grow from. I'm not sure if it's possible to avoid prejudice completely, regardless of what race you are, but we MUST acknowledge it if we hope to change. We CAN change. I believe in change. But it's going to take some work!! This week I am going to challenge myself to address my own prejudices, and I would love it if you would do the same.


emaye said...

Thank you for this post! We're adopting from Ethiopia, and I've been thinking so many of these same thoughts!

Nikki said...

Really great post. I completely agree. Coming from Burlington (pretty much ALL white) it is so great to live in Hamilton now where, like your hockey team growing up, there are people of all races. But still, sometimes when I take the bus with Jodnel (the little boy I volunteer with who is Haitian) I get dirty looks... or sometimes just curious looks. It is the dirty looks that bug me. It is something I will have to learn to ignore though, as my kids will either be Ethiopian or Haitian!
Great post- I enjoyed reading it.

Mandy said...

This such a well written post. Thank you for this...

steffany said...

yay! I'm so excited you left a comment on my blog- I used to read yours a year or so ago-I loved it. I love your dedication and love for your family. Love your heart. I lost your blog a long time ago! Wahoo now I can catch up.

Loved this post. It's one of those topics that get me on my soap box pretty quickly.

Anonymous said...

i found your blog through a friends blogroll and I´m so happy i've followed the link. I'm the portuguese white mother of a wonderful 6 years old girl from Timor, but who happens to be mixed race - i can find some beautiful african traces on her face and now on her hair wich changed a lot in the past 3 years. She's no longer the tiny 2 years old Asian girl I've adopted 4 years ago, she is turning into this african brown beauty, sweeter and sweeter each day. Yesterday I was looking for her in the middle of 350 children all dressed up in red with santa type hats at her school´s x-mas party. and I made a comment about that to a mother standing next to me who replied something like "how come?" meaning how come you dont find her easily, she is different from all other children here (we have to deal with stupid comments on a daily basis)
And the answer is so simple: i cant see my childs colour. i see my child. and she is tiny and was dressed in red. like all the other children there.

kalanejones said...

Great post. I wish more people would be this honest. I think an open dialogue about race would go a long way towards fixing our problems. Unfortunately, so many of us are scared of even approaching the topic for fear of being labeled a racist. Most of the people I interact with think acknowledging someone's race is the same thing as discriminating against them based on their race.

kalanejones said...

Great post. I wish more people would be this honest. I think an open dialogue about race would go a long way towards fixing our problems. Unfortunately, so many of us are scared of even approaching the topic for fear of being labeled a racist. Most of the people I interact with think acknowledging someone's race is the same thing as discriminating against them based on their race.

Ken said...

I must dissent.

You know, I've pretty much gotten used to white people who sneer "why didn't you adopt a REAL AMERICAN kid," I write it off as racism and cultural provincialism, and move on, more committed to equipping my kids -- two adopted from Korea, one from China -- to deal with that sort of thing.

But I'm pretty damned sick of people who think they can spot racism in my heart because of my children's ethnicity.

Until relatively recently, the most powerful and influential African-American social worker group officially termed white adoption of African-Americans as "cultural genocide." Critics of white adoption of African-Americans has lessened somewhat from that -- though not universally -- but there is still a strong sentiment among African-American critics that white people demonstrate arrogance and insensitivity when they assume that they can do an adequate job of raising African-American kids because they have good motives and had a real good friend in college who was black.

I agree with them to this extent: pretending that racial differences don't exist is foolish and a grave disservice to the kids. Adopting a kid of a different ethnicity should involve a commitment to take that kid's birth culture seriously and make it a primary part of the kids' life, AND a rational evaluation of one's capacity to do so.

But some people -- embodied, to be blunt, by your post -- are so certain that they know what is in my heart, so casually dismissive of my ability to assess my own capabilities, that they are prepared to leap to the conclusion that I must be a bigot because I didn't adopt an African-American. So some people think I am a bigot if I do, and some people think I am a bigot if I don't. Hooray! That has the virtue of certainty, I guess.

Somehow, some people -- embodied by your post -- feel secure in thinking I ought not live in the town where I grew up, because that town is perhaps 60% white and 35% Asian. The fact that the local elementary school -- an excellent one -- has about 40% Korean-American and Chinese-American children? Irrelevant, an excuse for my bigotry, apparently. The fact that we have good friends who are both first- and second-generation Chinese-Americans and Korean-Americans, including adult adotpees? More racism. The fact that the community is full of Korean and Chinese restaurants, churches, groceries, and shops, and has various Korean cultural events? Irrelevant. The fact that I've enjoyed Asian art and Asian culture -- taught by my parents -- since my youth? No doubt another reflection of my bigotry.

Apparently, to avoid racism, I should shun those opportunities and move somewhere else with more cultural opportunities for African-Americans. Despite the fact that I have fewer African-American friends than Asian friends, less immersion in the culture, fewer people to fall back on to help me with thorny issues, I ought to give it a try, to conquer my own racism. Will it work out well for the African-American kid I adopt -- ignoring my assessment that I am less able to provide him or her with an adequate cultural experience than an Asian child? Well, I guess we'll see.

You say that you want more open dialogue about race. Fine. Here's openness for you: when people see my choice to adopt Asian children rather than African-American children as a character flaw, why I should I not see that as a probable sign of racial hostility towards Asians?

KelseyChristine said...


I appreciate your contribution to the discussion.
I have to point out though, that I never said everyone who adopts a child who is not black is racist. I was responding specifically ot the comment about families being open to every race BUT black. Like I said, if someone doesn't feel capable of providing their AA or African child with the cultural resources they need then I think that is an admirable reason not to adopt a black child that is clearly putting the needs of the child first. You seem to have an abundance of cultural resources for your Asian children in the community where you live, so adopting from an Asian country was a logical decision that made sense for your family. My response was to familes from predominantly white communities that are open to Latino and Asian children despite the fact that there are just as few families of Latino and Asian backgrounds than black families. I would never make a generalization such as the one you assumed about everyone adopting Asian children being racist. Like I said my response was to a specific comment and a specific viewpoint that IS very prevalent in the adoption community (even if it's not the case in your family) whether you would like to acknowledge it or not.

KelseyChristine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well said- and sadly, dead on accurate.

Ericka said...

Thank you for this post. This is spot on.
My SW and I have discussed this a lot.
Or how about this, when we were beginning our adoption, our SW told me that because we have children in the home, our only chance of adding to our family was the AA program. They 'save' the Caucasion program for families with less than 2 children.
Like the AA choice was a BAD thing, our last resort.
I see it time and time again on the boards that new international adoptive parents are adopting from 'white' or Latino countries.
I think for families who are starting their families via adoption, they (not all) want a child that is as close to their skin color as possible. I'm not sure that they are racist though. Naive, maybe?
But it does concern me when I hear adoptive parents say they are 'color blind.'
Or because a child is Asian or Latino you are 'off the hook' from incorporating that culture into your family life.
YOU CAN'T be. Period.
It doesn't matter where you adopt your child from, you HAVE to respect and nuture that culture - that is, to me, of the true beauty of adoption.

ShannonC said...

Kelsey, I want to applaud you for taking on such a complex topic. I do not know the answer or how to "fix" this issue. Anyone who claims to have it I would challenge and whether it needs "fixing" is still a question. We can certainly make strides.

I'm in the midst of learning and studying this issue alot. And there is one point that no one ever brings up. And that is the positive one of "race" in our "country". The reason I think it is positive.. is because in most/many countrys.. africa & mid east included, it isn't just Race being an issue (although.. yes it is) it is even more devisive along ethnic lines. Also along "color" lines,in some african territories sub-saharan groups are judged against for being too dark. It is an odd and complicated world out there and I'm learning i have truely simplified it here in my own mind, to the point of limiting the truth. It makes me futher ponder and look into the differences in ethnicity, race, or color. Or how about ethnicity, nation, state and country? Big complicated issues. I think for me, I have to learn and do the best I can for the people in my world offering as much love, compassion and generosity. Trying to keep the judging for the big guy!

Duffy Batzer said...

I like that your post talked about these issues without being negative.
My husband and I are currently awaiting an adoption that will in all probability be of a child of AA heritage. We did a lot of research and soul searching before deciding to take on this racial challenge. I still have my worries, our neighborhood and city aren't perfect in the area of diversity, but I am willing to make whatever accommodations we will need to to insure our child has a positive racial outlook.
However, there is one thing that keeps coming up in racial discussions that bothers me. It is the term "black/African American culture". There is no such thing just like there is no overarching white culture or Asian culture or Latino culture, etc. To me it is a term that still makes blacks "others" and lumps them into one group.

The Googeg's said...

Great Post. We live in a small, rural predominantly white town. My family is of many heritages some being African. We ARE different, and that is a fact of life we all acknowledge. We also feel that as people meet us and know us it may just break down some stereotypes.


Anonymous said...

The Seattle weekly called The Stranger did a superb article on trans-racial adoption recently. A lot of the author's thoughts reflected your own. Here it is: Black Kids in White Houses.

KelseyChristine said...

That was a really good article, thanks for sharing!

KelseyChristine said...

That was a really good article, thanks for sharing!

Life in Fitzville said...

We were away all summer, and then I somehow lost track of your blog... so glad I found it again, especially for this post!

And congrats on the new little one in your family!

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