The NY Times ran an article on a recent report opposing what it called “transracial adoption.” The report called for a revision of the Multiethnic Placement Act that allows placement agencies and workers to consider “race” and culture when making adoption placement decisions. The premise is that children adopted by parents from other ethnic groups will face identity and other problems later in life.
(In 1904, the Mexican-American family shown here adopted white orphans from New York through the Catholic church in their Arizona mining town. These families conformed to religious, but not to racial matching. Armed white vigilantes removed the children and placed them in white Protestant families instead. Transracial adoptions might occur when children of color were inadvertently placed with white parents, but the reverse was unthinkable and intolerable.)
Of course, there are two sides to the issue and a rather interesting history. And as Christians, we need helpful responses that centers this issue in the gospel.
But the most fundamental problem with the report’s recommendation is its assumption that “race” exists. The report assumes that personal identity should be tied to skin color, that there are biological determinants of individual and group self-understanding. Further, it supposes that “transracial adoption” aggravates this biology–identity connection because the adoptive parents are unprepared or insensitive to cultural identity.
Several brief reactions.
1. I’ve yet to meet a parent adopting “transracially” that is not quite concerned about the cultural identity of the children they adopt. They may not feel competent to handle everything that comes up, but they are quite aware and sensitive in my experience.
2. According to every major report and study I’ve read (I spent about 3 years working on child welfare reform at a think tank that specializes in it and has a special project focused on racial disparities in the system), black children are disproportionately more likely to be removed from their birth parents, to remain in the child welfare system longer (especially boys), to not be adopted, to suffer significantly poorer educational, social and economic outcomes than any other group of children in the system. Native Americans come close. Viewed purely from a child outcome perspective, the report amounts to leaving more of the children meant to served in the worst possible situation for them. In other words, it’s far better that black children grow up in homes with loving adoptive parents from some other ethnic group and wrestle with cultural identity questions than be assured of their “blackness” while locked parentless inside a system that almost certainly dooms them to future failure. Black children are not any more psychologically hurt by adoption than they are by years of neglect in an adoption agency.
3. Also conveniently not mentioned is the fact that almost all people in general, and black people in particular, have some kind of identity crisis during their lives. The social psychological work on “Racial Identity Attitudes” is really quite well-established and from a social science perspective reliable measurement. That theory and research shows quite clearly that African Americans move through four stages/phases of personal and group identity. Pre-encounter is a period where “race” or ethnic identity is not really thought about much at all. It may also be somewhat anti-black in attitude, thinking of all things black as inferior. Encounter is a period where, usually through some event or series of events, a person is forced to think about “race” and identity. It’s a period of some dissonance and conflict. Immersion/Emersion is a phase where typically African Americans immerse themselves in a newly “discovered” black identity (think Afrocentric and black nationalist) and reject all things “white”. This goes on until a new identity emerges wherein positive attitudes toward blackness are solidified. Finally, there is Integration, a period where a person is able to integrate positive black identity with positive appropriation of ideas, values, etc. from other racial backgrounds. That’s research conducted on a bunch of average joes who grew up with their biological parents, not kids adopted “transracially.” Identity conflicts and questions are a part of what it means to grow up and figure out who you are. It’s not a function of transracial adoption.
If “race” does not exist, if there is nothing intrinsically meaningful about skin color, if all people are descended from Adam and Eve and God has made us from one blood (Acts 17:26), then a worldview and public policy predicated upon “race” as an objective reality–on skin color as the primary determinant of personal and group identity–is insane. It opts for an illusion over what God says is true–we are one human family.
I like Russ’ gospel emphasis. As Christians, we’re laboring to see everyone “hid in Christ” where there is neither Jew nor Greek. But even before we come to the gospel and the one new man created in Christ’s flesh on the cross, there must be adequate recognition of the one old man, descended from our first parents. Until we see and apply the truth that we are one in Adam, we will continue to have public policy and to make personal decisions that have no connection with reality. TV pundits will continue to ask why Barack gets the black votes and rural West Virginians go for Hillary. And worse, blacks and rural West Virginians will continue to think that’s what it means to be black and a rural white and that the lives and interests of the two should never meet. I long for a better future.