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 curious...do 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.