Transracial and International Adoptions: New Trends, But the Same Questions

4 years ago

There's a growing trend in adoption: African-American children who are being adopted by European families. Reading recent stories in mainstream publications about this trend, as well as transracial adoption issues in North America, I see a lot of questions that never seem to get answered: How does race play into adoption decisions, by both potential adoptive parents and the agencies that work with them? Why adopt internationally when there are children available within your home country? Why are Asian and Eastern European children preferred over African-American children in North America? Are African-American children treated better when transracially adopted in European countries?

Credit Image: stevendepolo on Flickr

International Adoptions in North America

I am the product of a domestic adoption. I was born in the same country as my white adoptive parents and placed through a local agency. Everyone else I have met who went through the adoption process in Canada has adopted internationally. The expense of a domestic adoption is high, and compared to adopting children from Asia, the regulations can draw the process out for years. Someone recently told me that it took seven years to go through the domestic adoption process for their daughter, and they still have to pay for social worker visits for the next few years.

But international adoptions are declining in North America. While U.S. and Canadian families often cite China’s “one child” policy and the political conflicts in other countries such as Russia, as reasons to adopt overseas children, stringent new regulations are cutting down on these adoptions. In a series on the decline of international adoptions, CNN reports that China has implemented a number of strict criteria: Potential parents could be rejected based on their medical history, how long they have been married, their income, or even physical deformities. Russia has gone even further. In December 2012, Vladimir Putin signed a law completely banning the adoption of Russian children by American parents.

North Americans Prefer Non-Black Kids?

In a 2010 report by New York University, The London School of Economics, and the California Institute of Technology, North American adoptive parents prefer non-black children, including Latino children, over African-American children. Researchers found that a non-African-American baby is seven times more likely to "attract the interest and attention of potential adoptive parents than an African-American baby," said Leonardo Felli, professor at the London School of Economics. This difference, he added, "is not seen when comparing parents' preferences for Caucasian versus Hispanic babies—a finding that is somewhat surprising, given that the adoptive parents in the sample are all Caucasian.”

Racism and Transnational Adoptions

For decades, The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) have been very vocal about trying to keep African-American children from being adopted transculturally:

Children removed from their home, school, religious environment, physicians, friends, and families are disengaged from their cultural background. They are denied the opportunity for optimal development and functioning.

Even when African-American children are domestically adopted into white households, there’s concern about whether those kids will learn about their culture. Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's family faced ire when it was reported that Romney’s adopted African-American grandson’s name Keiran means “Little Dark One” in Gaelic. Chances are that the Romney family did not do this maliciously, but it was enough to get eyebrows raised.

Other ethnic communities have also expressed concern about retaining an adopted child’s cultural heritage. The Indian Child Welfare Act is perhaps the most far-reaching of the efforts to keep adopted children within their communities. But that law failed to keep four-year-old “Baby Veronica” with her biological father’s Cherokee tribe. Last week, in the most publicized ICWA case, “Baby Veronica" was handed over to the custody of her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

African-American Children 'Cost' Less?

Despite the National Association of Black Social Worker’s goal to keep children within their cultural communities, a ‘sliding scale’ for adoption fees offered in some states may promote transracial adoption. According to a chart published in July on NPR’s Morning Edition website, African-American children cost less to adopt than biracial and Caucasian children. Biracial children with no African-American lineage cost more than biracial children mixed with one African-American parent. According to NPR, the reason for the differences in ‘price’ is to provide an incentive to adopt children who tend to languish in social services:

“(So) the cost is adjusted to provide an incentive for families that might otherwise be locked out of adoption due to cost, as well as "for families who really have to, maybe have a little bit of prodding to think about adopting across racial lines."

A New York Times article about the 2010 adoption study reports that researchers believe adoptive parents “fear dysfunctional social behavior in adopted children and perceive girls as ‘less risky’ than boys in that respect.”

Unfortunately, these pricing decisions reflect the cultural hegemony that exists in North American society. Black children and children from other ethno-cultures are deemed as not as intellectually, emotionally and yes, economically viable as white children. Blogger Kisses Goodnight,  a woman who is considering adoption with her husband, agrees:

”But I am still sad that these babies are lesser. Undesirable. Unwanted. I want them though. We want them. My husband and I want them. I don’t want these babies to be in places they aren’t wanted or accepted or loved. Our agency does not subsidize children. I would rather our mixed race or African-American child be considered as worthy as any other child.”

But she is also very aware of how society will view her and her African-American husband if they do adopt a black child:

“I worry, though. I worry people will think my child doesn’t belong to me. That people will question and judge how a white woman can raise a black child. I even worry people will assume my husband is a stereotype, having a child with someone else other than his wife.

However, Eric Durcholtz, a transcultural adoptee, believes that the issues with ‘prices’ have more to do with control, that people who spend ‘less’ on a child have more desire to mold them, rather than letting them grow as individuals who have been shaped by the genes of a stranger:

”It’s a symptom of a larger issue. The ‘cheapening’ of life and everything in it. When you get something for 50% off, where did the other 50% go? Someone along the way had to sacrifice that 50%. Where did the 50% of my unswitched genes go? Could I switch them myself? What experiences did I need to have to be who I needed to be? What nature intended me to be.

Why Are Families in Holland Adopting American Kids?

In its series on adoptions, CNN reported a rise of African-American children being adopted internationally in Holland, a country with fewer cost, and parental background checks are less stringent than other international adoptions.

Due to U.S law, American biological mothers not only decide on where and who their children will be raised based on economic viability, but also the cultural surroundings. And some mothers, such as one featured in the story, want their biracial child to be adopted in a country they believe will have less potential to experience racial discrimination. CNN reports:

"There's too much prejudice over here. The white people are going to hate him because he's half black, and the majority of black people are going to hate on him because he's half white," said Susan, who is Caucasian. "And then he'll have to do extra things to prove what kind of a Negro he is, and extra things to prove what kind of a honky he is and I don't want that. I did not want that for my kid."

Even her own daughter, then aged 11, said:

"She would never accept that n***** child."

Is It Really Any Better in Europe?

The Netherlands has its own issues with racism. The racist caricature "Zwarte Piet" ("Black Pete") is celebrated every Christmas, and the second most popular movie in the country Only Decent People, has come under fire for reinforcing all sorts of racist stereotypes in the name of critiquing them.

But there may be benefits to European adoptions, too. Whether or not it's true that biracial children might experience less racial discrimination in Europe than in America, I suspect that one of the other motivations is for children to be as far away from their biological family as possible.

Can't We Help Families Stay Together?

As part of CNN’s series, Tarikuwa Lemma writes about her personal experiences with being illegally adopted from Ethiopia to America:

“Our new ‘parents’ changed our names and told us we could no longer speak to each other in our own languages; we were punished if we disobeyed. Eventually, we forgot how to speak our native languages, Amarigna and Wolaytta.

In Lemma’s case, there was corruption within the Ethiopian adoption process, in which organizations were taking advantage of the desire for American families to adopt internationally. She's now 19, has legally won back her name, and is saving to go back to Ethiopia. Lemma commented to CNN:

“(D)epending upon the country, an adoption can cost upwards of $50,000. Imagine what that kind of money could do to help struggling families in developing nations keep their children!”

Despite the concerns about acknowledging the cultural heritage of a child within a transracial or transcultural adoption, high numbers of African-American, Latino, and biracial children are still languishing in the American foster care system who desperately need homes. Whether these kids find homes in their own countries or elsewhere, there is no easy answer to these issues, except to say that all children deserve a loving home and parents who will be able to provide more than the basic necessities of life. These recent reports show that we have a long way to go in eradicating the racial stereotypes that hinder people from adopting domestically and preventing them from being realistic about the challenges of raising transracial adoptees in their homes. Sometimes, love isn’t enough.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Contributing EditorRace & Class

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