Welcome to the third Race Matters a column with tips, featuring the beautiful Christine Pride. Today the reader asks about the adoption …
In college, I decided whether to adopt children if I ever had children, and luckily I have a partner who supports me. However, over the years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the child protection system and how a disproportionate amount of BIPOC children are being removed from their homes. I wondered if it was at all to adopt and if we adopt whether it is wrong to adopt a BIPOC child. We are both white and I have learned that BIPOC children growing up in homes with white parents often experience the racial trauma of their adoptive family. I know that in order to adopt a child of another race, we would have to be repatriated towards our community to make sure they grow up with friends, leaders, teachers and hairdressers who are their same race. We should see how we have meaningful relationships with non-white people. Yet, despite all our efforts, I am not sure if this would still be appropriate. At the same time, the rate of BIPOC children in foster care is higher, so is it correct to choose a white child instead of a BIPOC child? Is it right not to adopt it because I know the system is faulty, even though there are still children who are stuck in the system and need a home? Should my goal be to fight to change the child welfare system so that families have stronger protection – instead of adoption? I understand that these are difficult questions without easy answers, but any insight would be very grateful to you.
There are few more personal or deeper questions than whether or not and how to have children, so I wanted to acknowledge that fact to begin with and to approach your thoughtful question with a lot of humility afterwards. There is also no decision that calls for greater judgment or control, especially when you deviate from the “traditional” path. I speak like someone who is a “child without a choice”, a phrase I don’t particularly like, but the job ends.
Although I do not personally approach your question as a mother, I have a relevant perspective in that my parents decided to become foster parents while I was in high school and officially adopted my younger sister from foster care while I was in college. From my personal experience, I understand that foster care and adoption are noble, complex and challenging efforts. And like everything, adding race to a combination increases complexity.
Although, theoretically, it should be simple, right? If a child needs a home, what race actually matters?
If a white parent offers a black or brown child all the security, care, and attention of a loving parent, isn’t that enough, especially imagining the horrible alternatives the child might have to wait for? But of course, in practice it is not far simple, as you confirm in your letter.
You already recognize the most dangerous trap – believing that a colorblind approach is enough, “love is enough” and naively assuming that a child will not have a different experience in the White House than in the Black House. Admittedly, this way of thinking often grows out of the best of intentions, but nonetheless, it can be confusing – and harmful – for a child to grow up in a world where skin color will have concrete (and sometimes painful) implications but are none of the tools or support. or even just a basic acknowledgment of that fact. The result is the kind of trauma and harm you refer to in your letter, and what is yes, there are a lot of children with interracial adoption.
One of the most important things my black parents did for my siblings and me was to prepare us for sailing a world in which we would be able to consider ourselves inferior, stereotypical, or worse. In addition to the basic demands of parenthood, they had the added burden of building our self-esteem, despite relentlessly insidious messages that Black children like us are not as beautiful, smart, or capable. They had to maintain constant vigilance as I went to school, to play dates, traveled, etc., to make sure I was as emotionally and physically protected as possible from the ever-present scum of racism. And they showed me through hard-earned wisdom, their examples, and a constant supply of family heritage and knowledge of what resistance, resilience, and racial pride look like.
All of this represents an intense additional burden that white parents have the luxury of avoiding. Not if you have a black child. You will also not benefit from a personal experience or shared perspective that you will rely on to help your child cope with the unique challenges of blacks in America. You will need to find some way to convey support and understanding effectively and credibly without having an innate connection of shared experience. It is a difficult abyss, but not insurmountable. You are already a step ahead in that your very skepticism tells me that you understand how serious, important and difficult this endeavor is and how much intention and effort it will take. You are aware that you will have to have Blacks in your child’s life, not as tokens or figures, but as true and meaningful relationships.
It will also need huge amounts of education, intent and responsibility. But even more than that will require openness. It is necessary to recognize your own humility and provide the child with a platform to share experiences without diminishing or diminishing them. You have to constantly strive to go beyond your own experience and see the world through a different perspective: your child’s – even when that perspective is uncomfortable or painful or unbearable.
Ultimately, the very personal choice of whether as a white woman you can and should be a mother to a Black Child is a matter of searching for the soul. My goal was to initiate some vital considerations during this process and I recommend that you seek personal stories, wisdom, and additional advice directly from adoptive parents and their children.
While working at Simon and Schuster, I had the great privilege of procuring and editing Surviving the White View journalist and cultural critic Rebecca Carroll, who found herself on the shelves this month, and who the Boston Globe describes as “generous, intimate, searching and intimidating, her story dug from its core and delivered with zeal and clarity.” In this eerie memoir, Rebecca records her experience as a black child growing up in a completely white family and community. And when I say “all white”, I’m not exaggerating – she didn’t see her first brunette until she was six.
Needless to say, Rebecca is well prepared to speak on this topic from a deeply personal and hard-earned experience, so let’s hear her too.
Tips two for one special this month!
The part of your question that stood out the most to me was this: “Should my goal be to fight to change the child protection system so that families have stronger protection – instead of adoption?”
Because here’s the thing, if these two ideas in your mind are mutually exclusive, then you may not be ready to adopt a BIPOC child. Being the white parent of a black child or any the child in general, should always include the struggle to change the wildly unjust welfare system of children. The stakes are certainly higher when your adopted child or potentially adopted child is among the demographic categories most disproportionately affected.
The other thing, however, is that shaping a “goal” to fight “instead of adoption” makes parenting feel like a bracket here. In my parenting, parenting is not about setting goals, though is much about the struggle – for justice, empathy, security and clarity, in your family and the world around us. Goal setting in this context seems transactional, when what your child needs is connected and family storytelling.
I find this transactional part very common among white adopters of black children – consider diversity and inclusion programs that apply to parenting: find a dance teacher or hairdresser (hire a black man), check, find a black doll (token project Month of Black History), check, hang poster Serene Williams (ambitious picture of Our Greatest Blacks), check.
As Christine said, if you adopt the Black Child, “you will have to find some way to convey support and understanding effectively and credibly, without having an innate bond of shared experience.” Christine may be more optimistic than me that this is not an insurmountable abyss. Because given how long it took white America to even begin to fully comprehend the deadly depths and relentless consequences of systemic racism, and with the advantage of its own experience as a Black Adopted Child of two very loving and smart white adopters who didn’t do it. there is no viable blueprint for overcoming this abyss.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t create it – or work in collaboration with other adopters and adoptees (mostly the latter) to figure out how to do it the right way. My advice would be to guide with the heart as much as with the brain. Love how much you learn and integrate that learning into how you love. Don’t read Sula by Tony Morrison because you should “as a parent of the Black Child,” but because she is brilliant and insightful and exists outside of the White Look. Don’t follow Black Twitter because you should be the parent of a Black Child, but because it will make you more culturally knowledgeable and racially aware. And so on. You can read all the books “How to be anti-racist”, but the real information you need for effective parenting of a black child is and has existed since we arrived here. We create and share culture, tell stories and have been involved in music and art since ancient times. Don’t just observe or co-opt it, internalize it in a way that changes your mind … not just about race or parenthood or Blackness, but about everything at its core.
Thoughts? Feel free to email Christine with any questions or feedback to [email protected] Thank you!
Christine Pride is a writer, book editor and content consultant. Her debut novel, We are not like them, written with Jo Piazza, Atria will publish in the fall of 2021. He lives in Harlem, New York. She also wrote the post Cup of Jo Five things I want to say to my white friends. Feel free to email her your questions at [email protected] or connect with her on Instagram @cpride.
(Photo: Christine Han for Cup of Jo.)