Racism and Adoption

The NPR article “Six Words: Black Babies Cost Less to Adopt” is one of the most shocking things I’ve read recently (and that is saying a lot). If you want a bleak portrait of contemporary racism in America, look no further.

[Adoptive parent Caryn] Lantz says she remembers a phone call with an adoption agency social worker. “And [she] was telling us about these different fee structures that they had based on the ethnic background of the child. And … they also had, sort of a different track for adoptive parents.”

Moving through the process would be quicker if the family was open to adopting an African-American (not biracial) child, the social worker explained to her. “And that is because they have children of color waiting,” Lantz says. Adopting biracial, Latino, Asian or Caucasian children could be a slower process, she was told, because there were more parents waiting for them.

“And I remember hearing this and just sort of being dumbfounded that they would sort of segregate — to use a loaded term — segregate these children by ethnic background before they were even in this world,” Lantz says. “That’s when I started realizing that, OK, being a parent to a child of a different ethnic background — this is gonna be some work. There’s going to be a lot of work on our end in order to be successful parents and to get our child ready for this world.”

The Race Card Project spoke with social workers, adoption agencies and adoptive parents about adoption costs based on ethnicity. We discovered that this is not widely talked about, but it is common.

10 thoughts on “Racism and Adoption

  1. You want adoptive parents not to care about an adopted child’s skin colour. Yet you acknowledge that there is much racism in society — so that sadly, even if adoptive parents didn’t care about their child’s skin colour, other (racist) people would care about it. So if adoptive parents care about something much more important, namely how well their adoptive child gets treated in an admittedly racist society, they have to take account of the child’s skin colour.

    I hope you can see a sort of contradiction here. On the one hand adoptive parents shouldn’t care about skin colour. On the other hand, if they want their adopted child not to be discriminated against by the rest of society, then they have to take account of skin colour.

    By taking account of skin colour, would-be adoptive parents unintentionally affect market forces, with the result that it ends up as “cheaper” or “more expensive” to adopt a child with this or that skin colour. This might reflect the combination of awareness of the fact of racism and a laudable concern for a child’s welfare, rather than racism on their own part.

    Racism is much more complicated than a simplistic “awareness of race”. We would do well to define it more carefully as “willingness to disregard interests because of race”.

  2. A hard topic. I was raised in foster care. Race, color and religion don’t concern a poor homeless child. Giving hope and love to a child is what good people do.

  3. I do not understand Jeremy Bowman’s comment, “On the other hand, if they want their adopted child not to be discriminated against by the rest of society, then they have to take account of skin colour.”

    No parent wants their child to be discriminated against, but how are they supposed to prevent discrimination by “taking account of skin colour?” What does “to take account” mean? These actual already-living children with these skins of whatever color already exist. They will encounter whatever discrimination society does or doesn’t support whether one adopts them or not. So how does an adoptive parent go about “taking account” of that child’s skin colour, and how does doing so prevent social discrimination?

  4. If I live in a place where people have racist attitudes — and I’m sorry to say there are still plenty of them — the race of the child I adopt will have a traumatic and possibly damaging effect on her life in school, relations with other children, other parents, etc. In short, her entire childhood is put at risk being a hate figure.

    So unless I’m rich enough to choose a new country, city, neighbourhood, etc., I have to take account of those horrible attitudes of hate. So I have to take account of — i.e. be aware of, make decisions informed by, etc. — her race. It’s an honest fact of life that doesn’t me a racist. I’m just someone who cares about the welfare of any child I adopt.

  5. The trouble with an adoption lottery is that I’m sure some of the folks looking to adopt children are themselves racists. It would be a disaster, to say the least, to place a black child with a racist white couple.

  6. There may be more going on here than just naked racism. Are more black babies put up for adoption compared to other races? Are fewer black couples looking to adopt? I don’t think it’s racist for couples to have a first preference for a baby of the same race. They may feel more able to raise a baby of the same race as themselves and they may not want it to be starkly obvious their child is adopted. And though “black babies cost less” to adopt, I bet they have a significantly better chance than any disabled child.

    I am hesitant to vilify any couple who is willing to adopt a child because they have preferences, when so many couples are unwilling, and go through significant pain, risk and money to have a biological child, even to the point of hiring surrogates. And, the adoption process is fraught with risk and tremendous expense. Ask the Capobiancos.

  7. I suggest that describing a person’s behavior or a pattern of behavior as racist doesn’t vilify anybody, any more than describing a well-intentioned person’s behavior as sexist or ableist vilifies. We should let go of associating a correct assessment of problematically racially biased behavior with personal malice or badness. I mean, I agree with Merry that the reasons are complex, but that doesn’t obviate the racism of reinscribing the desirability of whiteness and having children that “look like” oneself, i.e., white.

    Adoption is everything Merry describes, yes: risky, expensive, and laborious, taking years in many cases. And adopting parents in the USA (I’m not informed of other countries’ practices) are explicitly asked if they’d consider a child of a different skin color as well as asked if they’d consider a disabled child. The vast majority of applicants say no to a disabled child at the outset, and Merry’s right, not as nigh-total a percentage say no to a child of a different color. The results still demonstrate a pattern of reinforcement of desirable “sorts”.

  8. This is the most bizarre conversation I’ve read on FP. I am a white adoptive parent of two black kids (in the US), and it is incredible to me that there are people reading FP who imagine that a white person’s adopting black kids wouldn’t require daily attention to race, that it wouldn’t challenge one’s entire world and change one’s relationships with family, neighbors, strangers one meets in passing, teachers, doctors, the state. [Comment edited by mods.] And although love is certainly necessary for being a good parent, it is definitely not sufficient. I’m totally in favor of transracial adoption, but it definitely isn’t for everyone, and people who naively take it on can do real damage.

  9. Just to be clear, in posting this story I didn’t want to suggest that adoptive parents should somehow take a ‘colorblind’ view (whatever that is) and that unless they do they are racist. As Sally and Beta rightly point out, not paying attention to race in adoption isn’t being anti-racist, it’s just being naive and unprepared. The fact that black children cost less to adopt it, to my mind, evidence of, and in a way tragically symptomatic of, the widespread structural, institutionalized, systematic racism in our society.

Comments are closed.