Adoption and racism.

[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.

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3 Responses to “Adoption and racism.”


  1. 1 joy21 August 9, 2007 at 6:10 am

    Really good post, one of those that is valuable to read but hard to respond to, because this is the real stuff, the tender meat.

    I think of it more as colonialism and classism, racism is surely present in a lot of adoptions, but I think it is a secondary, shit and what am I trying to say, racism is systemic in adption where the classism is more idiopathic.

    Okay it makes sense in my head anyway. No, I have just changed my mind, it is conjoined with racism, there is this tacit belief that whitey really does know best.

    It is just one of those things, yes we will buy a flag, and maybe a ‘Guatlings Parking Only ‘ sign to hang over the bed, but really the adoptees will appreciate all the electronica our culture has to offer and the knick knacks will satisfy the desire for connection.

    The thing is I don’t think even most people in adoption have any clue what it does to the adoptee, even adoptees who are supposedly ‘out of the fog’ like I said 4 months ago to my natural mom, ‘I think I could pass for German’ I am part German, but I forget, I don’t identify. I was raised by Scandinavians, and it just goes on, like my little wide feet, my amom has really narrow feet, just so much weirdness, and I was very well matched, my amom and I are the exact same height even.

    This is a long comment but that is okay because it counts for three, because people should comment on this a lot, and I know they are afraid to.

  2. 2 iBastard August 9, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Really good comments, all three of them! 😉

    I should probably mention that the Adoption Apparel Translator is currently being rerun at Racialicious and I won’t be around to respond to comments, so anyone who is interested can probably find a good discussion of race and adoption brewing there presently.

  3. 3 Mary August 10, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    My aparents made sure to get the “right” race by adopting from Germany twice. “We got those two from Germany and her (me) from Texas” wonder what race that makes me.
    Mary


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