Several things this past week have collided together relating to a similar theme. This weekend, I spoke at an agency's pre-adoptive parent training as part of a panel of adult transracial adoptees. I also want to point you to this post by Heart, Mind and Seoul and the discussion I am part of at Resist Racism.
Paula at Heart, Mind and Seoul writes,
I've been told countless times throughout my life how lucky I am, as an Asian, to have been born the "best alternative" to being white. I've heard the following said to me, in one combination or another, on numerous occasions: "Your people are hard working. Your people are good at math. Your people are automatically assumed to be smarter than anyone else in the room. Your people have an incredibly strong work ethic. Your women are exotic and desirable. Your people are industrious. Your people know when to keep their mouths shut. Your people are agreeable and get along with everyone. Your people are the next best thing to being white; just thank your lucky stars that you weren't born black. If you can't be white, being Asian is definitely the next best thing."
"Racism is racism is racism is racism. Those who proclaim to want nothing to do with one or two select races, but in the next breath will proudly announce that they won't mind if an Asian family happens to move next door or if an Asian guy happens to work in the next cube over, is no one I want to be acquainted with. On two different occasions when I shared the news of the impending adoption of our son from Korea, I was told twice in so many words, "Oh, I could never adopt. But if I had to and I couldn't get a white baby, I'd definitely pick an Asian one - there's just not as much baggage or trouble with the Asians." Sadly enough, I know these people actually meant this as a genuine compliment towards me and my perceived ability to assimilate into total and complete "whiteness". [bolded words my emphasis]
At Resist Racism, Durgamom wrote, "This is why when I hear the same old tired excuse from white adoptive parents that they feel comfortable adopting an Asian child but not a Black child, I feel a lot of compassion for that Asian child and immense relief for that Black child."
My first response to this comment was complete agreement, and I added that I read this on home studies on almost a daily basis. Resistance then asked me how these statements and beliefs are handled by the social workers.
"In my experience, some good social workers do try and address this. But, remember that the adoptive parents at private agencies are the clients, not the children. My public agency can push harder to explore this statement because our “clients” are the children in foster care.
However, we are limited because of MEPA and IEPA laws. That means, legally, we can’t disapprove a home study because of these kinds of blatant or hidden statements expressed by potential adoptive parents. We can try to inform pap’s but ultimately our hands are tied.
I often read home studies that say “biracial but not African American.” To me, this could mean a number of things all on a continuum of problematic reasoning. Maybe the parents think biracial kids will be more accepted in their small, white towns. Maybe they think they won’t have to address African American racism or culture if the kids are only “1/2″ black. Or maybe they have outright bias against African Americans and they know this about themselves.
However, it is difficult for a lot of pap’s to recognize that children who are biracial, API, Latino or Native American all have the same needs to be affirmed, represented and supported as full-on African American kids. Whether it’s skin color or perceived potential racism, racism exists and needs to be addressed."
I am not exaggerating when I say that I come across home studies on almost a daily basis that outright state their preference for "Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic" and leave out African American. The sentiment that is most often shared in the home study (which is actually quite rare that it is stated in the home study at all) is that the prospective parent feels the community they live in [read: small town] would not be supportive of an African American child. Often, it's stated as, "We'd have no problem with it, but we know our community may not be as welcoming."
I never have a problem with prospective adoptive parents who specify they are looking for a child that is the same racial make-up as they. At least they are being honest. But I have trouble with the "preference for Caucasian; but would be open to __________ (fill in the blank). I would despair at putting a child of color into a home that really wanted a white child but felt desperate or coerced into filling in the blank after the semicolon.
I also find it problematic when prospective adoptive parents say they could take "biracial" children but not African American. As if a biracial child won't have the same experiences of being the recipient of racism as an African American child.
So what is a social worker to do when we come across these kinds of statements on a home study? It is difficult. For myself, I always find those statements as a red flag that needs to be addressed with the home study worker. I know that some agencies (and we place with prospective parents from other agencies, not just our own) have poor training regarding culture, race and diversity issues and some have good trainings. When I read such statements for "prefer Caucasian but is open to _______ " or "Biracial but not African American," I have to investigate what that means. I depend on the home study worker's honesty here. My responsibility to the children I serve is to place them in a home that will meet ALL their needs. Not just their physical needs for a parent - their self-esteem and racial identity are important aspects of their development that need the utmost care and consideration as anything else.
I recently read a home study of a single white parent, submitted for one of the youth on my caseload, who stated a preference for an African American child. When I asked a home study worker about this home study, I was told the prospective adoptive parent walked into the agency and said they wanted a "scrawny Black girl."
"Does this applicant want a charity case?!?" I asked in disbelief and the response was "Yes." I'm glad I asked this home study worker about this applicant; but merely looking at the approved home study narrative, I wouldn't have known. I just know that when I get a red flag about the stated racial preference on the home study, I need to investigate further.
If the home study worker feels that the prospective parents can address the concerns related to the above stated comments, then I'm open to hearing more. Biracial, Asian and Latino children are not "the other white meat." Prospective adoptive parents must understand that. My fear is that having this belief that it's easier to adopt anything-but-Black means their community or their family has not addressed the realities of racism and need to do some more work interrogating what that means. I don't want a child's racial realities to be overlooked, minimized or ignored. Paula's post is a living, breathing example of this.
Last night, some friends and I watched several documentaries about transracial adoption, including Passing Through, Calcutta Calling and Outside Looking In. One theme that came through loud and clear - most of the adoptive parents were unaware of the racism that these individuals faced as children in their white-majority communities and families. None of these individuals felt they could tell their parents about their experiences of racism. The families - all of them loving and caring and supportive - with their "I don't see ______ as Black/Asian/South East Indian, they're just my child" mentality created an environment of invisibility for their kids and the result was they felt their experiences of racism were invalidated or ignored.
In Outside Looking In, there was one scene that was especially memorable to me. During a training on transracial adoption, the trainers asked the families if they'd done their "homework." That homework was for each family to have gone into a community of color and spend time there, as the minority. That could be attending a church service, shopping in the local businesses, etc. None of the families had done their homework.
The trainer said, "It's only one experience. I'm asking you to do one time what your child will be doing every day in your home and community."
And the room was silent.