Over at It's a Hardknock Teacher's Life, Miss Profe asks whether it's OK for white families to adopt minority children, and wonders what their motivation really is. Go there and read the whole thing, as well as the essay she links to, so that these quotes aren't out of context for you:
I often wonder what they think, what they feel about being a part of a family which isn't really their family. I worry about their identity development. After all, it is all fabricated, made-up, inauthentic.And...
I guess my bottom line questions are: What do children of color from other countries really gain by being adopted by majority parents? And, the question that is rarely asked: What is the real motive of majority parents who adopt children of color from other countries?
First let me say that I'm a middle-class, single, childless, white man. And one who's not just childless by circumstance, but by choice, a decision made a long time ago. My thoughts are, therefore, coloured (uh, sorry) by those facts. That said, I do have opinions on this, and if we only thought about and commented on things directly in line with our lives, we'd be remiss.
The thing that strikes me about this question from the start is how it relates to the more general question of whether it's valid for those in the majority to help or teach or care for those in the minority at all. It's a question to which the answers seem somewhat bipolar, a mixture of “You have it and you should be sharing it,” and “We don't need the white man to come here and tell us how we need ‘help’.” And I understand that. It's very easy to fall into a sort of “some of my best friends are black [or other minority]” pit, and it is often true that those of us who've never wanted for anything think we know how to help, but actually don't.
On the other hand, upper- and middle-class American whites may well have the resources, the skills, the ability to teach, to house, to rear... to help... poorer children (and their families). Why shouldn't we all use that to our collective advantage? If I should decide to teach at a university after I retire, and if I should choose, say, Howard University instead of Johns Hopkins, assuming they'd both want me... would people be saying, “Oh, look, another white man thinks he's gonna change the world.”? I hope not.
That gets us into the motives. I see a few:
There's the desire to do good, to make a difference to someone. Let's not be so cynical as to dismiss this — some people just want to help where they can. For some, the help can come in the form of money. Some can give time and work. Some share their skills. And some share their families, a loving, nurturing environment.
With adoption, there's the desire to have a family when one can't otherwise. It's a fact that healthy white babies are far scarcer than minority babies are, and it's a fact that more babies are available for adoption in some other countries than in the United States. If a white family is willing, even eager to adopt such a baby, does that really call their motives into question?
There's the fact that it makes one feel good to help. That's selfish in a way, but, really, it's part of what's behind all help we give, in any context. Whether we give money or time, whether we teach or adopt or just write a check, we do it in part because we feel good about it. That's normal, and it's valid.
Now, looking specifically at adopting children, I'll say again that it's not something I have direct experience with. But I know quite a few middle-class white families who've adopted foreign or minority children, and I've observed what I don't directly know. I'll talk about two cases here, of two people I used to work with:
The first is a family in the DC area. They have two white sons who were born into the family. They have two adopted daughters, one Asian-American and one African-American. When I knew the family, it was one of the closest, most loving, most normal families I'd known. I never asked why they adopted the girls; I didn't think it mattered. A guess might be that they wanted girls, as well as boys, and chose not to leave it to chance. Whatever the reason, the kids all did well in school and seemed, as far as I could tell, to be well adjusted. I never got the sense that they were ill-treated by their peers.
The second is a family here in New York, who adopted two Colombian babies, a girl and a boy. The parents don't have Hispanic backgrounds but do speak Spanish, and chose the country partly for that reason. They gave the children Spanish names and are making every effort to keep them in touch with their birth culture. They've brought them for visits to their home country. No, they can't raise them as Colombian children, and yes, it's fabricated, or at best partial. But how bad is that, really?
Would these lovely children be better off growing up authentically, in an orphanage in Colombia, or with a poor, struggling family there who can't afford to feed and clothe them? Or are they better off with an affluent and loving family here, despite having a different skin shade than their adoptive parents, and despite not getting the full range of the culture of their heritage? Perhaps they'll encounter differences and challenges because they're obviously “not like their parents”; would they have led a charmed life devoid of challenges, of conflict, of any sort of racism in their home country?
I obviously have no idea what Mr Sissay, in the piece that Miss Profe links to, had to deal with as an Ethiopian boy in England, apparently with parents who were not so loving and nurturing. Not all parents provide the same level of love and care; not all environments are welcoming; not everyone's experience is the same. I'm sad to read of Mr Sissay's experience. I'm sorry he's felt lost and confused.
I wonder, though, whether his experience matches those of most others like him. It's true, as he says, that money isn't everything, but the families I know are offering their adoptive children a great deal more than money. When I look at the families of my former co-workers, and at the other families I know that include adopted foreign or minority children, I can't imagine that those children would feel as Mr Sissay does. They might want to find their birth parents. They might want more exposure to their birth cultures. But I know that even with that, they are where they belong now. I can see that in their happiness.