Think Adopting Children of Color Makes You Woke? It Doesn’t


White people have been adopting children of color for decades, using infertility, religion, or unacknowledged white saviorism to explain their choice. An entire adoption industry supports itself on white people’s desire to parent — which is not in of itself a bad thing — but only recently did anyone consider transracial adoption’s ramifications.

Scouring the internet reveals some of these white parents trying to do right by their transracially adopted kids. This isn’t directed at them. In fact, I’m friends with many of those rockstar white parents and they’re doing adoption right. But this right here is a direct message to white people who think adopting yellow, brown, and black children somehow enwokens™ them to the needs of people of color.

Guess what?

It doesn’t.

If you haven’t lived a life besieged by racial otherness, yet allowed yourself to be Becky’d into what motherhood should be, you shouldn’t be adopting a non-white kid.

Because being not white in this country means you bear battle scars inflicted from unwelcome stares, taunts, violence, and microaggressions — but survived. It means you’ve absorbed hate’s poisonous venom and let it refine your values and identity so you’re not weakened by bitterness but empowered with resilience. You do this so you can make this world your own and when your children are born, you can show them how to not let bigotry consume them.

If you’re white, you don’t do that.

If you’re white, you’ve likely been raised by white people who also have never been othered based on race, hair texture, eye shape, ass size, language, cuisine, or nose width.

Adopting a child of color isn’t only about love. It isn’t about commiserating with other white moms of black kids over hair weaves. It isn’t about giggling while learning how to apply makeup to monolids.

Transracial adoption is about knowing a good home and a loving family aren’t enough. Kids of color need connections with people who resemble them and not just a few token times a year at culture camp. They need adults who’ve been called a chink and told to go back to their own country and asked to stop barbecuing in public places because those are the people who’ve experienced their reality.

If you’ve only ever tweeted your concern about these things, then you’re still just a witness to it, not a victim. You can be compassionate, but you will never know what it means to that community. You might have that one black friend or studied in Singapore, but you still don’t know.

Why?

Because you won’t be able to tell your child how to handle it when someone pulls their eyes down into slants and “ching chang chongs” them. In fact, you may have actually done this yourself or witnessed it and never spoke up, so you definitely can’t help.

You won’t be able to help your child understand what it means to have a “foreign-looking” name on a job application and then find out you’re rejected because your name looked too Muslim.

You won’t be able to provide actionable advice when your child comes home and tells you all the Asian kids at school congregate together but they don’t allow him in because he isn’t Asian enough.

And you may send your kid to fancy classes to learn their “native language” but when they come home and speak nothing but English and eat tuna casserole instead of Spam fried rice they’re still missing out.

Read about people of color all you want. Embrace Toni Morrison and read “The Root.” March for #BlackLivesMatter and protest white supremacy. All of that’s excellent and we need your support. But adopting a child of color and parenting a child of color are two completely different things. All the adoption agency’s education and parenting classes and “This Is Us” binge-watching marathons won’t make you a better parent.

Look… studying and writing about adoption and advocating for children are my things. I’m aware of the statistics of children of color in care versus white children and I’m equally aware that children of color are far less expensive to adopt than whites — more on that another day. Use your privilege and the money you’re spending on adoption fees (upwards of $40,000, I know) to support disenfranchised non-white kids and their families, so they won’t suffer the loss of their racial identities on top of being born underprivileged. Fix the system so it’s less prohibitive to POC adoptions or better yet, figure out how to solve the “so many non-white kids are sitting in foster care and taken by CPS” problem.

The white adoptive parents doing it right by their children of color acknowledge their privilege, admit they won’t be able to fully relate to their child, and constantly engage. They engage — deeply — with their child’s ethnic community. They talk to other adult adoptees who don’t just spin happy endings for rainbow families, and most of all, they know transracial adoption means love can’t transcend the loss of racial identity.

Sunny J. Reed is a New Jersey-based writer. Her main body of work focuses on transracial adoption, race relations, and the American family. In addition to contributing to Intercountry Adoptee Voices and Dear Adoption, Sunny uses creative nonfiction as a way to reach a wider audience. Her first flash memoir (‘the lucky ones’) was published in Tilde: A Literary Journal. Her second piece (‘playground ghost’) is featured in Parhelion Literary Magazine. She is currently at work on a literary memoir. Follow Sunny on Twitter and Facebook.

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