Monday, January 30, 2012

Am I racist for wanting a white baby?

One of the many things I don’t think people are prepared for when they dream of adopting a baby, is the day they have to sit down and fill out a form full of little boxes and make decisions as to what you will or won’t accept in a child.  You choose everything from age, gender, medical history (not just of the child but of both birth parents), developmental status, and race.  It is an overwhelming task.  When you birth a child, you get what you get.  And though maybe you might want the option of choosing some of these things, the upside is that you don’t have to make those choices.  You feel like you are picking out a new car—I want red, with under 5,000 miles, a V-8 engine, DVD player and it must do 0-60 in 4 seconds.  Check.  Check.  Check.   

But this is a child.  You feel incredibly selfish saying you will not accept a child whose mother’s family had a history of schizophrenia because the risk of the child inheriting it are so great, even though the baby shows no signs.  I will talk about those choices another day, but right now, I want to talk about race.  Such a hot topic, but one you have to face.

I’m sure many of you feel as I did when we first went into the process.  “Love conquers all!”  “I’m not racist…I don’t mind having a child of another race in my family.”  But let’s get real.  Let me back up to one of the first classes we were required to take during the process to acquire our home study so we could even get on the list to adopt (we adopted through San Diego County Adoptions).  It was about transracial adoptions, and it stopped me dead in my tracks.  Two things in that class had a huge impact on me, especially as an all white woman.  John is actually one-fourth Native American, however, he looks very white.  So basically, we’re white.  White, white, white.  And I think it’s important to accept that and be okay with it.  Everyone wants to have a little something else in them these days--I guess it makes us feel a little more exotic!  But frankly, I don’t have anything but whiteness in my family line (at least beyond the yet to be proved, possibly Native American great-grandfather rumor). 


So for the two things in the class that had a huge impact us.  First, we did this experiment.  Here’s how it goes.  We were given a plate of M&M’s and a plate of white mini-marshmallows, and each of us was given a cup.  Each color of M&M corresponded to a race.  I know it’s very general, but for the sake of this experiment, it worked.  Then, our instructor read of a list of relationships.  For each race represented in that relationship, you put one M&M of the corresponding color in your cup.  So, referring to my photograph of the chart, here is an example.  They started with yourself.  Enter one white marshmallow.  Next was your family (your parents and siblings).  Even though there are six people in my family, I only put in one representative candy.  Enter another white marshmallow.  Extended family.  I have one cousin who married a man from Trinidad who is black.  The rest of my extended family is white.  So, I drop in one representative blue M&M and one white, white, white marshmallow.  Coworkers.  White marshmallow, a brown, yellow and red M&M, to represent the races of the people I worked with.  Your boss.  Your church.  Your best friend.  Your circle of closest friends.  Your neighborhood.  The school you went to.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  Marshmallow, marshmallow, an occasional M&M and more marshmallows.  You get the point.  In the end, my cup looked something like this.  Nothing wrong with it, I'm just being honest.

I want to explain the second thing in the class that had a huge impact before I explain the moral to the experiment and to the story.  The second thing was a video we watched of grown adoptee adults.  All all of them were at least part African-American.  They all had been adopted by white parents.  The thing that was so apparent was the struggle and the bitterness most of them felt at not being raised by, or around other African-Americans.  I was really taken aback.  You could feel their pain at having been “the poor black kid saved by the generous white people”.  Some were more bitter than others, but they all struggled with it.  And these were kids who loved and cared about these white parents, but still felt great pain at being raised in a white life—white family, friends, schools, etc. 

Now, I will say this, the video is a little older, and I do think inter-racial families are not only much more common, but much more accepted than they used to be.  However, the point brought up in class after the experiment and the video was this.  Don’t think for a second that “love conquers all”.  It was never said that you should not consider adopting a child of another race.  The point was that you need to be aware that it does matter.  Race matters.  As much as we want to push that we all should love each other no matter what, it’s not just about love....at least not solely about love.  Race is a big part of our identity.  It’s what we see physically when we look in the mirror.  And if you are going to adopt a child not of your race, then perhaps that race should at the very least be represented in your cup of candy.  Even if a child doesn’t see any resemblance when he looks at you, because maybe he is brown and you are white, maybe he should at least be able to see some brown when you go outside in the neighborhood, or to church, or to the grocery store, or to a family reunion.  Kids need to see other people that look like them in some way.  That's what these adult adoptees had missed growing up. They need to know that they are normal--that people that look like them are normal and a part of your circle.  It was  real eye-opener.

But, let’s look at the facts now, and try to see why this is so difficult.  The majority of couples waiting to adopt are Caucasian.  The majority of kids being adopted are not.  The largest percentage of non-white kids up for adoption are African-American.  (These are the statistics for San Diego County, so this may vary a little from state to state, but in my research so far, I’ve found it’s pretty similar everywhere in the U.S.).  The most requested child in San Diego County Adoptions is a newborn white girl, which does not come available very often.  So, you do the math.  Then I ask, is it worse for an African-American child to be placed with all white parents, than to sit in foster care for the rest of her life?  There is an African-American girl up for adoption right now who is fourteen.  She was removed from her home as an infant and has had more than thirty placements.  She has been up for adoption since she was about six, and has still not been placed.  I don’t know all the reasons, but it breaks my heart.  Would it be better for her to now go with an all white family or graduate out of the system with no family? 

We have, on more than one occasion, had white friends say to us “I would love to adopt a little black child….they are the cutest kids!  I think it would be so fun to have a little black child.”  I am not lying.  We have heard this comment numerous times!  Frankly, they are cute.  But these are children, not puppies!  That is not why we should adopt a child. 

Where do we stand?  I don’t know.  We were more open before we got D.  If you look at my post about our failed adoption “The One That Got Away: Memories of a Failed Adoption”, you will see that we took a bi-racial child the first time, mostly because I thought we would have one or two more, and as long as we all looked a little different, then it would be okay—no one child would be singled out.  I never expected to wind up with a child that, aside from the black hair, looks like he could be our biological child.  Now, we are looking to adopt a second child, and we are presented with a dilemma.  If D looked more ethnic in some way, I could see being more open.  We are most likely only going to adopt one more time.  I’m hoping it’s a sibling group, so we can have three children.  But frankly, we aren’t getting any younger, and as long as the process takes, this is our last time through either way.  So, now we have three family members who look very white, and I don’t want one child to feel like odd man out.  I don’t want that one child to be the only one everyone points out and asks if he/she is adopted.  If D had looked different, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but now it’s more complicated.  I’m not saying we won’t adopt a child who doesn’t look white.  I’m just saying we need to be realistic about the needs of the child.  It’s hard to talk this way when you feel it’s just not politically correct.  But it is honest.  And I think it’s better to be honest about what a child will face, then to make him your social experiment.  Am I racist?  Absolutely not.  But, I don’t want to put a child in a position to always be singled out and talked about differently.  I don’t think our children should pay the price for us trying to change people’s perceptions.  That’s just me.  I want to raise a family that changes the world in positive ways.  But, I just don’t want that to be at the expense of one particular child.  Don't let the title of the post fool you--we are still open to a transracial adoption, but he/she has to be the right fit for our family, and we need to be the right fit for that child.  What that is, I don’t know.  But when it happens, we will know, and we will be educated in our choices, and we won't care if someone thinks we are racist for thinking that skin color matters, because in my opinion, it is more racist to assume a child should not care about, or need to identify with his or her race.  To ignore a part of who you are does just as much damage as to make that one thing seem more important than anything else.  There has to be a balance.  I hope we can find that it if the situation arises. I still think about that fourteen year old African-American girl in foster care, and know I could be a good mother to her.  Frankly, the age gap between her and D is the bigger issue, and that's a post for another time. 

P.S.  Maybe this brings up something else I should add to my list of things not to say to people waiting to adopt....I'll have to think about that...  Check out that post.  Open letter to friends and family of someone dealing with infertility, and perhaps looking at adoption as the next step: 7 THINGS NOT TO SAY, in no particular order:

9 comments:

  1. I'm loving your posts! You write what I've been thinking for the past 9 years of adopting & fostering. I need to write more. haha When we first filled out our adoption papers with our now 9 yr old son, we had to, of course, answer all the questions. We decided we'd choose 1/2 of any race if the other 1/2 was Caucasian. My husband & I are both blonde blue eyes so we figured this way the child wouldn't be totally left out. Well when a bmom chose us, baby was going to be 1/2 Hispanic/Caucasian. That's our son. Next child (full) Hispanic..we think. Sadly through fostering we don't get a good history. Of course she's a girl, longing for blonde hair & blue eyes. It wasn't until we got these 2 foster babies that she became more comfortable with her own look. Here's what we have. 2 boys with blue eyes, 2 girls with black hair, brown eyes. Little foster baby looks just like our daughter when she was her age! It's given our 6 yr old a sense of appreciation for her own looks seeing them on a baby. Does that make sense? I think it's important for kids to see someone they look like or who has a similar coloring so they're not alone, even inside the family. However it is a difficult and sensitive topic. I had a lady at Costo look at my daughter and say, "she's a Mexican girl!" Really? could you be more tacky? Luckily (I don't think) my daughter heard. People just assume my husband is Hispanic & comment about how the boys got my blue eyes. Sorry, rambling. But this stuff gets me going. hahaha

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  2. Thanks Mel! I really enjoyed the things you had to say. So interesting that your little girl was finally okay with her look after being around other babies in the family that look more like her. That's a lot of what I was talking about in the post. Yes, it makes total sense! It can be a sensitive topic and I hope we can raise our children to not be super sensitive about it, but also let them know that it is a big part of them and it's okay to want to see other people that look like them. I love hearing it from someone actually in the middle of it all, so thanks so much for sharing. It's really interesting--a lot of comments that were very understanding of the fact that race was an issue and that it definitely played a role came to me via e-mail. Still a touch subject in 2012. It is a changing world and I hope that our kids will have a much easier time growing up in a multi-racial family than our peers did thirty years ago.

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  4. I tell families wanting to adopt that they need to think about their ability to parent a child of another ethnicity or race, and this is different from befriending someone from another ethnicity or race. You will need to teach that child about their culture, style their unique hair, and help them deal with prejudice. You also need to deal with your reaction to others treating your child with prejudice. Not everyone can do this, and you are not a bad person if you cannot. I tell people that I would not be able to handle the latter well enough to be a good example to the child. I think someone admitting to this puts them at ease that I will not think they are a racist for wanting a child the same ethnicity as them.

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  6. Its funny we filled out that paperwork too. We said yes to every race except Native American because we had heard that the tribes could get involved. We said no to Special Needs Parents.. and No to Schitzophrenia. 2 years later we were contacted by my aunt whose daughter was expecting and wanted to place her baby with us through adoption. She was a adult with special needs... the Birth father has schitzophrenia... and we discovered that My cousin and I have a native american family history. We had to get permission to adopt from 4 tribes.
    So in my opinion those little boxes don't matter... when its right... its right.
    By the way my daughter is biracial... African American, caucasion and native american. It doesn't matter she is mine. But I do worry some times if it will matter to her some day. Her cousin, my sisters son is Biracial as well and we hope that helps.

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  7. I just wanted to point out that latino isnt a race. Latinos can be white, indigenous, mixed, black, etc.

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    1. Tha you, Rosa. I did.a little research after reading your comment, and will go back and revise the post. It's how it was labeled in the class, but you're right, and I will make the change soon. Thanks for your input.

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