Can White Families Ethically Adopt Children of Other Races and Nationalities?
Laurel Reed | On 24, Sep 2013
Forty percent of children adopted domestically and internationally by Americans are a different race or culture from their adoptive parents.
Adoption can be a beautiful, loving act that can enrich the lives of both the adoptive parents and their adopted child. However, the fact remains that we do not live in a post-racial society, and children that are a different ethnicity from their adoptive parents may encounter racism and a lack of appreciation for their heritage and culture.
An article published in the Journal of Black Studies states, “Most [transracial adoptees] are adopted by middle-class or upper-class Whites who rear their adopted children in predominantly White neighborhoods and communities…while racism is typically concrete and central in the lives of the [transracial adoptees], it is usually not in the lives of the White adoptive parents”. Sadly, this fact means that an adopted child not only struggles to understand his or her own identity as a person of color, but also when the child encounters racism, he or she will most likely be unprepared to deal with it due to lack of parental explanation or understanding about the unfortunate prevalence of racism.
Some studies have actually found that transracial adoption can negatively impact the child’s development. Colleen Butler-Sweet in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies finds, “transracial adoptees confusion over ethnic identity has been associated with behavioral problems and psychological distress”.
The racism that will exist in a transracial adoptee’s life often begins before he or she is even born. In the United States, black children are often much less expensive to adopt than white children because not only are more black children waiting to be adopted, but also because more potential adoptive parents are waiting for non-black children.
International adoptions are also not free from scrutiny. Several countries have enacted stricter guidelines regarding Western adoptions due to concerns about corruption, for example, destitute people being offered large sums of money to give their child or children up for adoption. In 2008, Vietnam placed a moratorium (that has since been lifted) on U.S. adoptions. The U.S. embassy in Vietnam stated, “While there are legitimate orphans in Vietnam, the corruption in the adoption process has become so widespread that [the embassy] believes that there is fraud in the overwhelming majority of cases of infants offered for international adoption.”
Infamously, Madonna has made the news in recent years due to taking her adoptive Malawian child, David, from the country without respecting the nation’s adoption laws, which state that the adoptive parent must reside in the country for at least 18 months. In fact, a Malawian court blocked Madonna’s initial efforts to adopt her second Malawian child, Chifundo James, or Mercy, as Madonna has named her. Mercy’s maternal grandmother only agreed to the adoption after Madonna promised she would bring the girl back to visit Malawi every two years.
While Americans may not realize it, international and domestic transracial adoption deserves much more of our analysis and reflection. Opening one’s home to a child from a different culture or race can be a wonderful opportunity for both the parent and adoptee; ideally, both the parent and child will learn about each other’s cultures and integrate traditions from both. Unfortunately, the focus in many transracial adoptions seems to be assimilation, not integration.
To help avoid lifestyles and situations that can be harmful to a transracial adoptee, the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parent Association put together a tremendously helpful booklet that includes a set of questions potential adoptive parents should ask themselves before engaging in a transracial adoption:
•How many friends do you have of another race or culture?
•What types of things do you seek to know about other cultures?
•Do you attend multi-cultural events and celebrations?
•What do you know about specialized skin and hair care for children of color?
•Have you incorporated other races and cultures into your home life?
•Are the schools in your area diverse with children of many cultures?
•What cultures are represented in your church?
•How do your extended family members view people of different races?
As President and CEO of National Council for AdoptionChuck Johnson said, “Families that are successful are those that acknowledge race. … It’s not a curse. It’s not an impossible feat. They just need to work harder to give a child a sense of self-identity.” Potential adoptive parents and we as a society desperately need to reflect on what it means to adopt transracially, and how we can truly give these children the loving, inclusive, and diverse upbringing that they deserve.
Written by Laurel Reed
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