For the entirety of its existence, America has struggled with issues surrounding race. Though we now legally prohibit discriminatory legal, housing and employment practices on paper, in practice we have a long, long, looooonnnng way to go in melting our society into one cohesive pot of citizens who enjoy equal opportunities and rights.
My hope for the new year is that our nation undergoes some sort of “come to Jesus moment” over the racial issues that run through our collective veins (but I’m honestly not at all hopeful that we’ll achieve this under our current president-elect and the fire his racist rhetoric has stoked inside the hearts of his followers).
When I started attending trauma parent conferences, I noticed the overwhelming whiteness of the crowd in most events I’ve attended.
Then I noticed that most blogs I follow are written by white parents of non-white children.
Without exposure to non-white voices, we can’t fully understand race issues in adoption. The voices of white parents who have adopted children who belong to a racial or ethnic minority group are important to be sure. Such parents have a vested interest in learning all they can about the racial issues in our country and by sharing their perspectives, they shed light on the problems that still exist. But articles written by white parents can’t share the lived experiences of those who do not belong to the dominant racial group.
A few months ago, I found the website Adoptive Black Mom (“Educator, Researcher, Blogger, Full Time Smarty-pants”). Using the pseudonym “AdoptiveBlackMom,” the author shares her incredibly poignant thoughts on trauma parenting, adoption, and racial issues in America. I love reading her stuff, so a few weeks ago I asked her to do an interview covering the subject of race and adoption. She enthusiastically agreed to answer my questions (!!!).
She had a lot to say about the topic, so I’ve broken up the interview into two different posts. Below you’ll find part one of the interview. Enjoy!
Tell me about your adoption experience.
Well, in terms of the technical aspects of adoption, ie the paperwork and hoop-jumping, my experience was great. I was very nervous and under an enormous amount of stress at the time because I had just begun working on my dissertation for my doctorate. I managed to get the paperwork in and get my Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) classes done in about 2-3 months or so after getting started.
I was so nervous at the start of the homestudy–I was defending my prospectus around the same time and was a bit of a wreck. I cried for about the first half hour and thought I threw the whole thing. After my homestudy was finalized, I started the search and two weeks in, I received a profile about Hope, who would eventually become my daughter. She was the very first profile sent to me, which is pretty rare to adopt on the first profile in the search.
All in all, from the very first meeting with my agency to Hope’s placement, it was 380 days.
As a single, African-American woman, did you face any difficulties during the adoption process?
I was deliberate in choosing an agency and a program within the agency that would meet my needs as an African-American single woman who would be parenting an older adoptee alone. The agency marketed to people like me; the staff were very diverse. Their practices met the ethical standards I thought were important, and I never felt like an “outsider” trying to adopt.
My agency met me where I was and respected me for who I am. I chose well and I’m glad I did since I hear horror stories sometimes about being single and trying to adopt. Actually, I would say that at my agency, if you are African-American, whether coupled or single, the wait doesn’t seem to be as long if you are waiting for an older child.
I also live in an area with a high percentage of educated Black folks who are doing well financially, and I think that helps with agency options in this region.
If prospective black parents find they’re struggling to adopt, do you know of any programs operating currently that could help them achieve their goal of adoption?
Programs? No, unfortunately I don’t.
I encourage prospective parents to be blunt and picky in the agency selection process. Who works there? What kind of relationships with communities do they have? Are the only black and brown folks around birth mothers and fathers? How are they treated? Do they have many referrals to other families of color who have adopted with them? Will they vouch for the agency? I would say dig in hard and determine if they will do right by you and all parties involved.
On the podcast I co-host, Add Water and Stir, we did a show with a young African American couple who adopted in 2016. Yava talks a bit about how they went about their selection process and I think that it would be good listen for folks who are interested. Team Java’s Story is the name of the episode.
According to the 2015 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS), black children make up approximately 24% of the foster care population while white children comprise approximately 43%. In other words, black children are overrepresented in foster care populations. What are your thoughts on these numbers?
Oh, dear, where do I start. I was a lobbyist for the first 10 years of my career, and I often tell people that if this country (the United States) really believed in families and children we would spend our money very differently than we do.
Black and brown families are at higher risk for losing our children to the child welfare system than our white counterparts. It’s not because our parenting is bad or comparably worse than our white counterparts; it’s because the system often characterizes the behaviors of black and brown people very differently. When our young children walk to and from school alone for a mile or so, we black and brown folks are neglectful; when our white counterparts do it, it’s called “free range parenting.”
Some reading this might be thinking, “Really?”
Yeah, really. There are numerous articles about this.
Some of our families are in tough economic spots with more limited access to employment, health care and education. People make mistakes, and I don’t feel that we, as a society, do enough to really invest in family preservation. I’m not talking about folks who physically and emotionally abuse children, but a lot of cases are opened for things that can be resolved with additional resources, some emotional support and a few parenting classes. We are quick to break up black and brown families here…but frankly, historically, that’s nothing new for the US.We are quick to break up black and brown families here...but frankly, historically, that’s nothing new for the US.Click To Tweet
If we honestly believe that people of color cannot parent our children or that the historical vestiges of racism do not still shape the way in which we live and parent, we are fooling ourselves.
In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) published its position on transracial adoption: that a child should be placed with parents of a different racial/ethnic group only after all efforts have been made to place them with parents of the same racial/ethnic group. The agency maintains this position today.
What do you think of this position? Should race matter in the adoption process?
I do think that there is some validity to the position statement, but I ultimately believe that all children need homes. We have to work with the homes we have as we recruit more people of color to foster and adopt children.
I don’t think it’s a question as simple as should race matter in adoption; I think a better question is “Are prospective parents willing to raise healthy, well-adjusted children who understand race, understand their heritage, who feel safe talking about their experiences as a person of a different race with their parents?” So many prospective parents go into a transracial placement/adoptive situation thinking that race doesn’t matter or worse that they will be and encourage “colorblindness.” This isn’t ok. It’s really not.
Children recognize phenotypical difference at a very early age, and research shows that adults actually treat children differently based on those differences, which include race. The evidence is clear that racial discrimination happens in preschool! PRESCHOOL!!!
To ignore race means you send your child to school having made the express decision to close your eyes to the possibility of unconscious or implicit bias, or worse explicit bias, against your child. It also means when your child has the words to finally be able to talk about their lived experience in a racialized world as a person of color, you have already made it clear that that is not a conversation you are open to having. That is a parenting fail of epic magnitude. To not be prepared or be willing to get prepared to deal with the realities of the world outside of your white-bubble of a home is neglectful. I feel very strongly about that, and while I really try not to judge other parents, ohhhh, I’m judging on this point.To not be prepared or be willing to get prepared to deal with the realities of the world outside of your white-bubble of a home is neglectful.Click To Tweet
I see many families in support groups online like Transracial Adoption Perspectives trying to figure this thing out, but in other online spaces looking for adoption support, I feel very “othered” when questions about race, racism, and transracial adoption come up. Some white parents can be very defensive and absurdly fragile. I’ve been called rude, aggressive and other things just for pointing out that race might be socially constructed, but it’s a life-shaping construction for those of us with more melanin.
It’s hard to be a black woman raised by my birth parents and feel that pushback about my lived experience from folks who actually asked about my lived experience! It’s just crazy! Imagine what it must be like for an adoptee who didn’t necessarily have parents who were sensitized to what this life is like in this skin?
I believe that NABSW created the position statement and have double downed on it for nearly 40 years because it is clear that many white parents of non-white children are unwilling to do this kind of work. They are unwilling to shoulder the burden of having very difficult conversations about racial privilege, the effects of racism and how that affects their adopted children.
When you look at it through this lens, the NABSW policy statement doesn’t seem so angry or out of step… It is a statement about making sure that these children are getting what they really need, holistically, from their would-be parents. It is a child-focused statement on adoption and foster care, and shouldn’t adoption and foster care always be child focused?
I, along with Mimi Robinson of the blog MimiRobinsonOnline, host a podcast called Add Water and Stir, which focuses on promoting foster care and adoption in communities of color and raising healthy, well-adjusted black and brown children. We’ve been trying to get someone on the show from NABSW for nearly a year to talk about their position statement on transracial adoption with no success. Maybe someone will see this (hey, hit us up at email@example.com).
Thanks for reading Part One of this interview – Check out Part Two here!
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