[This post has been revised. I published the previous version by accident when I meant to save it as a draft. Sorry about that.]
I have been reading Outsiders Within lately and it has gotten me thinking a lot about the inherent racism that exists in adoption, even same-race adoptions like my own. It’s pretty easy to spot the racism in international adoption practices, especially in the way some adoptive parents go out of their way to inform onlookers that their non-white children are adopted. I guess the stigma of interracial relationships outweighs the stigma of infertility, at least for some people, and that really bothers me because I think they are perpetuating that stigma by putting signs all over their children stating that they are adopted. I’ve made jokes about this before, but it struck me after reading a particularly clueless comment over on the Resist Racism blog that some people may need this sort of thing spelled out for them.
But even “same race” adoptions are built on racist assumptions. How can there even be such a thing as “same race” adoptions unless there is some kind of social consensus about what constitutes race and what features are necessary to pass for a particular race? I think the key here is passing or at least being close, and I think this can also be seen in international adoption, where adoptive parents balance the skin color of children against the affordability of adoption from a particular country. I’ve also made jokes about this, too, but it was apparent from some of the comments that using humor for cultural criticism can fly over the heads of some people.
What is a “white” baby, except a baby that everyone who sees it will agree is white? I wonder how many adopted “white” babies would not be considered white if they’d been raised by their natural families within their natural families’ cultures and given names from those cultures. I wonder how many adoptive parents who claim to love their children also unknowingly look down upon their children’s people. Of course, there are plenty who knowingly do it, too.
Do white prospective adoptive parents seeking same race adoptions ever try to be more specific than just “white”? Do any of them ever specify nations of origin, or broader groups such as Celtic or Germanic or Slavic? Is it more important to them that their children pass for white, or pass for theirs? Is it more important that they fit a desired social category, or that they share their parents’ heritage? Or is it just that they recognize (perhaps unconsciously) that transracial adoptions are problematic in a racist society?
I don’t think any serious, thorough discussion of adoption, even domestic same-race adoption, can occur without a discussion of race and racism. As if adoption wasn’t enough of a mess already.