Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Perkins and Transracial Adoption
I had the awesome opportunity of hearing Dr. John Perkins speak on Sunday night. Even though this was the second time I had listened to him speak and have heard him referenced millions of times, I didn't realize just how incredible he was until I did a little research. Dr. John Perkins is a civil rights activist and is a leader in community development across the nation. He is an international speaker, focusing on issues such as racial reconciliation and indigenous leadership development. He has written nine books (Which have been under my nose on my mom's bookshelf for years and I'm just now beginning to read them!) and has served on the Board of Directors for organizations such as World Vision and Prison Fellowship.
When someone asked him during the question and answer time what his thoughts were about white families adopting black children my heart skipped a beat, I sucked in my breath and I anxiously began to anticipate his response. My mind was racing--here was someone with a deep understanding of issues of race, inequality, black identity, and the best ways to strengthen a community...in fact, he is pretty much an expert in those areas. What if he condemns transracial adoption?
It began with "I believe everyone has the capacity to love". He then commented that assuming a white family is incapable of raising a black child is like saying that he as a black man is incapable of raising a white child--and that was something Perkins would not accept. He said that in some ways it was almost reverse racism. He mentioned how Obama was raised in a white household--and look how he turned out! At the same time Perkins did not embrace the ideology of "Love is enough". He was very clear that white families raising black children are in need of a lot of education.
I thought his response was beautiful. I agree whole-heartedly with both of his main points, that EVERYONE has the capacity to love, but that that love must be accompanied by education and awareness.
Another question asked during the evening that I think is relevant for many adoptive families was:
"What is the best way for people with affluent backgrounds to serve low-income communities?"
The structure of adoption revolves around the under-privileged, poverty stricken, non-affluent families transferring parental rights to affluent families. Of course there are always exceptions, but this is the general "rule". Many AP's are later drawn to respond to the needs of their children's first communities (whether that means Ethiopia or inner-city America) and are unsure how to do it.
Perkins made the point that one of the most powerful things you can do is to "live among them".
Many people do weekend service projects with their church, international week-long missions trips, or make the long commute into the city to volunteer, but while those efforts are valuable in some ways they also contribute to the image of the "white savior" coming in to solve other people's problems (often people of other races) and trying to teach them their "superior" life style. I'm assuming that's not anybody's intention, but it is an unfortunate consequence. Living in the same area tends to level the playing field a little bit. It allows you to build lasting, genuine relationships. I can tell it means something to the kids I work with in Dinomights when they ask me where I live and we find out we are within walking distance of each other. We run in to each other all over the place...at the park, at the corner-store, wherever...Not to mention I think the inner-city is just way more fun than other places :)
If the community you are trying to serve is in Ethiopia for example it is probably not very likely that you are going to live there. In that case I think it is important to be intentional about supporting organizations with Ethiopian leadership rather than American leadership (again, trying to get rid of the "Americans to the Rescue" mentality)
Perkins' main requirements for serving low income communities were:
There is so much more that Perkins covered that I would love to share but I have already written a ton and I feel like people aren't really looking for a five point essay when they visit a blog :) All in all it was a very insightful evening and I left feeling very encouraged!