This post is a continuation of “Race Issues In Adoption: An Interview With AdoptiveBlackMom.”
In part one, AdoptiveBlackMom and I discuss some of the more common questions that surround race and adoption, specifically those issues surrounding transracial adoption. In this second part of the interview, our focus shifts more toward general issues relating to race and culture in America. I hope you’ll take the time to read the following and that it inspires you to examine your own beliefs about race as well as your actions in day-to-day life. Enjoy!
Though it’s eased up a bit here in the last couple years, there’s been a big push among Evangelical congregations in the United States to adopt with a special focus on international adoptions from African and Asian nations. What are your thoughts on the racial issues here, when only 6% of evangelicals are black and 2% Asian? How can congregations and adoptive parents avoid the “white savior complex”?
Ok, let me preface my comments with some disclaimers. I’m Christian, but definitely not an Evangelical and I’ve actually got lots of bones to pick with organized religion in general, so all of that colors my perspective on religion and the adoption metaphor that is often used in religion. It’s also probably going to be hard to answer this question without straight up sounding like a heathen. Lol.
I am always intrigued that folks feel the need to adopt internationally when there are so many children in the foster care system here who desperately need homes, but I get it that people feel drawn to international adoption in ways that I wasn’t, so…yeah. The “orphan” narrative plays well with Christianity’s “adoption” narrative and motif; I believe that folks genuinely believe they are “saving” children and many children are being saved.
That said, the lack of diversity coupled with going into often countries that are not dominated or identified as “Christian” countries to adopt seems to be more about proselytizing to black and brown countries around the world than rather than the children in need of adoption.
If there is so little diversity within that community, and if the community really believes that God is also colorblind (despite clearly and deliberately creating a wide range of melanin intensities), what concerns me is the tacit absolution of having to do any work around race on behalf of their non-white children. There are few racial mirrors in the main thing that occupies and shapes their lives; there’s little appreciation for a culture that may not be primarily shaped by a non-Judeo-Christian belief system. The saving isn’t just from an orphanage but from a non-Christian life, and I’ve got a problem with that, personally. My faith has never been threatened by someone who believes differently than me.
What folks don’t realize is that the result of that tacit absolution is a lot of loss – even more loss than previously thought for these children. I’m not suggesting that staying in an orphanage is better at all, but I am saying the savior motivation doesn’t seem to translate into having and engaging in real conversations about race, culture, and adoption. It’s like all that saving doesn’t think about saving culture or racial identity. I don’t think a God who bothered to create folks in a range of hues with distinct languages and cultures would then advocate just tossing it all out when a child is adopted–that’s like God saying, “Oh, race and culture? My bad! JK! Just ignore all that!” That’s not how I believe the Holy Homeboy rolls.
I’m all for real orphans being adopted into loving homes, but it’s not ok to just pretend like their culture isn’t important or that you don’t have a responsibility to make sure that they see folks like them or that you don’t need to have conversations about how race shapes identity or perception. I wish I saw more of these kinds of discussions across Christianity in general, but I really don’t seem to hear that area of discussion raised among my fellow adoptive parents who identify as evangelicals.
When I started attending conferences for parents raising children with trauma histories, I noticed the vast, vast, vast majority of parents attending these conferences are white. Is there a low rate of non-white adoptive parents? Or do other issues lead to the low minority participation in these conferences?
We do adopt and I think that adoption is culturally a big part of the Black experience, but certainly outside of formal channels. It’s never been a big deal for families to send a child to “stay with” another family member in my experience. I think there is a lot of kinship adoption; there’s a lot of foster parenting as well.I think that adoption is culturally a big part of the Black experience, but certainly outside of formal channels.Click To Tweet
I think we are seeing an increase in the number of black families who are adopting both infants as well as older children now. I know at my agency the number of single Black professional women who are pursuing adoption seems to be significant, but that’s just my own anecdotal sense.
Some communities are just really insular. Why would you invite the state to come in and evaluate you? Our societal pattern suggests that this notion rarely ends well for people of color. There is a lot of distrust, fear of judgment, I think. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of evidence that black and brown folks can be judged in ways that are radically different than our white counterparts for the same behaviors.
With respect to the conferences, there are many barriers. Sometimes there are limited resources to go to these conferences (registration fees, taking time off from work, possible travel). Even just hearing about them all can be challenging. It’s not a lack of interest, but really a lack of knowledge about these kinds of opportunities. I’m really active in the adoption community, and I don’t have a good handle on the availability of conferences.
Then there are the larger issues. I think that we underestimate the emotional and physical toll that it takes to just walk around in brown and black skin sometimes; trauma related behaviors are hard to explain. The scars are invisible, but the behaviors are not. Our children are already often unconsciously judged by their skin color; add wacky public behavior to the mix and I don’t think that people realize how dangerous that can quickly become in a shoot first, ask questions later environment. For some of us, the fear is real, and there is a lot of evidence that it is a justifiable fear.
So, you then want me to go into a very white space to share very painful things about my children with complete strangers talking about research that also does not take into account what these issues look like in a racialized context?
Frankly, I have better things to do with my time.
Sure, the resources are helpful, but when my daughter’s trauma meltdown happens at the grocery store, I need to triage both the trauma and the racialized reaction to her trauma. These are not skills addressed at those meetings–not the ones I’ve attended anyway. Gosh, there’s hardly even any diversity among the speakers!
And it burns my bridge how few people and parents of color are asked about raising black and brown kids—but if I had a nickel for every time I saw a white person asked to speak on the topics… Sigh. I’ve made myself available to a number of groups in the last year, but no one calls; it’s not a priority or even a passing interest. These conferences are not built with inclusion in mind.
Soooo, for now, I’ll just keep saying I’m “busy” on Saturday.
White parents adopting black children anticipate a learning curve when it comes to things like caring for a black child’s hair and skin, and most probably prepare themselves for unwelcome interactions while out with their kids in public. What other issues might white parents fail to anticipate in raising black children?
Let me preface my comments by acknowledging that I know these parents love their children. I know they want to do right by them. I also know that many create these families with little to no *real* preparation for what the needs of that child are. Certainly there is the desire to learn about superficial things like hair and skin, but, much respect, even the question is parent-centered: How to prepare themselves for unwanted interactions.
Let’s reframe this and talk about how to protect the children from racists who pop off in public. One of the things that I find really irritating is the unwillingness to be blunt and call a thing a thing. Yes, I know that folks get in a tizzy about the terms racist and racism and resist the urge to use those terms and call racists out. Let me be perfectly clear–folks who believe that people of color are “less than” white folks in any way are racist.Let’s reframe this and talk about how to protect the children from racists who pop off in public.Click To Tweet
If folks believe that white people are just better, they are white supremacists, also known as racist. Call it what it is. There are not gradations to this thing; there are not. If you intend to raise a child of color, no one, especially that child, has time for your pussyfooting around about vocabulary or trying to give racists a pass. This is serious stuff here and your child’s future may very well depend on it. Call a thing a thing and do it boldly, unapologetically. I guarantee you, that you will quickly find out who your allies are. Oh, and your child will thank you for always being in their corner.
Parents need to understand social constructs like privilege; they need to familiarize themselves with research about the school to prison pipeline; they need to understand what it means to have an underdeveloped racial identity in a racialized society. Parents need to understand how to wield their privilege for the benefit of their children. Folks need to understand and be able to talk about institutionalized and systemic racism and the insidious impact it has in terms of housing, school funding, curriculum, religion, and retail.
I tell my daughter that I am her “ride or die.” I will ride to the ends of the earth for her, and she knows that if any racist comes for her I will rain hot fire down on them the likes of which they’ve never known. It’s like that; that’s my standard. Folks should ask themselves is that their standard, and if it’s not, why?
Here are some of the things I’ve written about as a mom as I raise my black daughter, Hope:
Living While Black / Thoughts on Racial Identity Development / What Would They Say About Us / Black Exceptions / Traffic Stop Protocol / Thoughts on Hope and Tamir / Thoughts on Charleston / Thoughts on McKinney / A Sad Mystery
I know that adoptive parents tend to be empathetic; I challenge transracial parents to stretch that empathy to understand that for people of color, our lived experience can be very different. That’s real and there are plenty of resources available to help you understand why. Your POC friends can help you understand, but let’s be clear, you need to go do this work for yourself and for your family.
What can be done to open the eyes of those white adoptive parents who “don’t see race” to issues like white privilege or systemic racism in America?
This is a tough question. My snarky response is, “Am I clear? You *do* see me, right?”
My good friends and I talk about race a lot. They know that I need to talk about it; they know it’s a huge part of my identity and thus my life experience. It shapes the way I look at the world. It took my pals a while to get comfortable hearing and engaging me on this topic, but they do because they care about me. They know I need a safe space to talk about this stuff and to emote when tragedy strikes.
I challenge white adoptive parents to ask themselves if they are that space for their children?
Talking about race and racism isn’t a bad thing. I’ve been accused of being racist for even bringing it up; I think that’s a testament to just how uneducated people are–talking about these things with the goal of learning is called discourse. I also hear parents say that they are advancing colorblindness to end racism.
As we say in the South, bless their hearts.
No, that doesn’t end racism. Colorblindness pretends race and racism don’t exist at all. Even when the intent is noble, the truth is, the notion of colorblindness, beyond a medical condition, is just silly. For folks who believe that we live in a post-racial society, please show me the evidence? Furthermore, show me the evidence that colorblind parenting reduces racism in any way? I can show you lots of articles about how it puts kids of color in danger–both physical and emotional danger.Even when the intent is noble, the truth is, the notion of colorblindness, beyond a medical condition, is just silly.Click To Tweet
The long and short of it is: I don’t know what can be done when folks aren’t willing to believe people whose lived experiences are wholly different than theirs. I really don’t know; I just pray that they don’t come to the realization as the result of a tragic episode. It makes me sad and angry because I genuinely believe that parents want to love and protect their children. I don’t get why understanding race and culture play an important part of parenting is so difficult for some people.
Furthermore, how are you raising your white children to be allies to your children of color? What are you teaching them? What are you mirroring for them?
And before anyone gets their knickers in a bunch–yes, I know that “not all” white folks approach parenting this way.
But if you can’t say amen, then say ouch.
Finally, do you have any suggested reading or media for anyone who is interested in learning more about race issues in America or transracial adoption?
In February of this year Mimi and I did an episode of Add Water and Stir on Black History Month. We included a list of my favorite “Edutainment” films along with some AfAm reading lists: Celebrating Black History Month.
I would also recommend movies like 13th on Netflix, which explore the aftermath of the the 13th Amendment. Ta-nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me is a good read as is most of his work in The Atlantic. Just about everything from James Baldwin, who was marvelous at offering impressions of Blackness in America. People also need to read about Cesar Chavez, follow folks on Twitter like Tim Wise, Dr. Adrienne Keene and Matika Wilbur. Like pages like “The Christian Left” on FB; just expand their exposure and be willing to be open and listen. They won’t always like what they see or hear; often folks are angry, but it’s important to understand why the anger persists. It’s not just about Blackness, but native peoples, LatinX folks and Asian Americans as well.
Finally, if folks don’t believe us (“us” being black and brown folks), check out an oldie, but goodie, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Published in 1960, Griffin, a white man, went undercover as a black man, in the South during Jim Crow and wrote about the experience. If you don’t believe us (which burns my house to the ground because of the privilege it takes not to believe us), at least believe him. There are versions with some additional commentary from Griffin in 1976 on progress since then.
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