Thursday, February 18, 2010

Transracial adoption: a two-way street?

I was recently asked by a friend what my thoughts were on the adoption trends of white families adopting "cute" Asian kids. My friend wondered why we don't see more of the opposite: Asian families adopting white kids, or Black families adopting white kids.

Because my friend posed the question, I thought my email response would make for an interesting blog post. Reader's Caveat: I acknowledge that my response is anecdotal and my theories are not founded in thorough research. If you're still interested then, by all means, read on!:

Oh, boy.  You've really asked the million-dollar question! I could go on and on about this...but I'll try to keep it relatively brief.
I've seen the article you referenced (a black family who adopts a white child)...and have not seen any other since. I do know of one blogger, atlasien, who writes about her experiences at Upside-Down Adoption because she self-identifies as an Asian "hapa" and adopted a non-Asian child.
Yes, the "trend" of whites adopting Asians (particularly Chinese and Korean) is probably the most common international adoption trend I've seen. There are SO many bloggers who prove this theory (see my Similar Blogs links).  Unfortunately, I've never done a study on why this is.  However, if you're really interested as to the "why", I'm sure that the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute would have some answers. They are a great research institute.
Anecdotally, here are my thoughts:
I don't see many Japanese adopting white children because the closer they are to their Asian roots (meaning: if they have traditional Japanese families), the more stigmatized "adoption" is.  They keep adoptions in Japan very hush-hush. When I lived in Japan, I stopped sharing with Japanese people about my adoption openly because it put them in a awkward position - they didn't know how to comprehend it. It also exposed them to a side of me that is very personal (which is not common for Japanese people to be so open with a private matter).
I think that China has set up a situation for abandoning girls (due to their one-child law and the socially-desirable child is a boy).  That's why we see many Chinese girls being adopted by families here in the States.  A similar situation happened in Korea, as women have out-of-wedlock pregnancies which are just now (slowly) becoming accepted by society...
On a larger scale in the U.S., the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 and Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEP) of 1996 attempted to provide equity in adoption for African American children because they saw the large number of black kids available for adoption and found a shortage of willing same-race families to place them in. The "color blind" interpretations of MEPA-IEP actually restricted agencies from providing post-adoption support for transracially-adopted kids.  Look at the Evan B. Donaldson Institute's website for their recent statement in 2008 about how this didn't quite accomplish what the government intended.

Since this letter was written, I have since found an earlier article about Mark Riding found here in 2007 and a reference to another family in an archived Detroit News article here. But, even I have to admit, this black family-white child topic is hard to find.

I did find one interesting comment on Yahoo! Answers in response to the question, "Has a black family ever adopted a white child?". Check out Julie J's answer which takes into account the supply/demand in adoption.

I would love to hear your thoughts: why is transracial adoption not more of a two-way street? What do you think about seeing these new, "blended" families in your neighborhoods? Would they be well received?


atlasien said...

I saw your mention! There's not many of us, that's why I called my blog Upside-Down Adoption! Over the years of blogging, however, one or two other Asians who have adopted non-Asian kids have emailed me or commented.

Yes, supply and demand is the major factor. I'm not going to pretend there's not commodification of children in adoption. It's a sad reality. The question is not that complicated one to answer. White people have more power and money to adopt.

On a global scale, there's a large "supply" of Asian children for adoption. On a national scale, very few Asian-American children end up in the foster care system or placed for private adoption, so the situation is totally reversed. Factors behind this include lower birth rates, and lower rates of Christianity-based adoption ideology.

So if you're an Asian-American parent and you don't adopt internationally, it's very unlikely that you WON'T have a transracial adoption, and at the very least, you'll probably have a transcultural one. That's how I ended up transracially. As a Japanese-American, Adoption from Japan was a remote possibility, but it just wasn't feasible. And I have ethical issues with Chinese adoption, plus we would have tons of transcultural issues, so it's not like that would be "easier".

I think there's a long history of people of color adopting transracially, it's just small, informal and way, way under the radar. Take Scott Fujita's family, for example.

A family I know adopted a sibling group of three through the same agency. They are both African-American and have one bio daughter, and all have deep brown skin color. The sibling group are much lighter, and includes a set of fraternal twins... and one of the twins looks black and the other looks white. It's just the way the genetic dice rolled: one twin has pale skin, curly blond hair and blue eyes, and his brother has light brown skin, black curly hair and brown eyes. Are they a transracial family? Maybe not, but they've definitely got some complicated stuff going on.

There would be a huge amount of social pressure against African-Americans purposefully setting out to adopt non-black children -- especially white children -- and it would probably be viewed by many as an expression of self-hatred and a depreciation of black children. But when it comes to relative adoption, informal adoption, adoption of a foster child... the same judgment isn't there, because the motive is a lot more personal and individual and there are already ties there.

I recently got into an argument in which a (black) blogger was excoriating two black adoptive parents for adopting what looked like a white baby. My argument was, how is it even possible to know that the baby is white? A lot of babies look white when they're born but get socially identified as black later on in life.

My family confuses the hell out of some older people but mostly we get along just fine. We don't live in a majority white area, though.

JBH said...


Thanks for your comment! Hope you didn't mind the shout-out!

And thanks for shedding more light on the subject. I know my friend will appreciate it.

malinda said...

Interesting subject! There was a hispanic couple in our travel group in 2005 when I was adopting Maya. They would get such surprised comments along the why-would-you-adopt-from-China variety by white couples in our travel group -- it didn't seem to occur to them that they were essentially saying, "Why are you adopting from China when you could so easily "settle" for a hispanic child that we would never adopt?!" I also know a woman originally from India who adopted from China -- she got lots of "why aren't you adopting from India" questions.