Mainstreaming the Adoption of Brown Children

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Last week a Cheerios commercial starring a Canadian couple, Andre and Jonathan, and their daughter Raphaëlle  made the rounds and there were quite a few strong feelings about it from some folks in the adoption community.

I encourage you to read the blogs by Red Thread Broken and Frank Ligtvoet as they both brought up issues related to ignoring first/bio families and dismissing the loss that adoptees feel. I’m glad that people are bringing this issue to our minds and continuing to remind us that adoption is not something to be taken lightly.

But something else was bothering me about this commercial.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and even now, I find it hard (uncomfortable) to accurately articulate  it.

The mainstream version of adoption is one where white people adopt brown children.

I would like to understand what is so compelling about that narrative that it continues to be the storyline for commercials and movies.  If the couple had adopted a white toddler, would people think this story was as cute?  What if it was a black couple with the same adorable little girl?  Would the commercial have went as viral?

The reality is 49% of adopted children are White (non-Hispanic origin).  About 16% are Black (non-Hispanic) and 10% Asian.   According to the census data, ~24% of adopted children were of different race than the householder. Adopted Children and Stepchildren Report: 2010

So less than 1/3 of adoptions are actually transracial/transcultural but yet, this story seems privileged in the adoption narrative.  It makes me wonder if there is more of a reason for this than just the public interest in seeing stories about color-blind love.   What impact might this have for those involved in the adoption process from expectant mothers, potential adoptive parents, recruiting adoption agencies, social/placement workers, etc?

*shrug* More thoughts to come as I continue to mull this over in my mind.

By the way, here’s another commercial that I saw last week that also got the wheels turning.

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6 thoughts on “Mainstreaming the Adoption of Brown Children

  1. Adoption has always been perceived by the general public as the ultimate good deed someone does, they saved that poor child, why the grateful and lucky aspect persists. Add white parents adopting black children and it becomes the ultimate white saviour mentality display – that’s my gut feeling and I freely admit that I’m very cynical about motives. Black parents adopting white children – no, it wouldn’t go viral for the same reason, and if it did it would be for the opposite reason and wouldn’t be pretty in most cases.

    I’m still not sure how I feel about transracial adoption – I always come back to the fact that the child will forever be outed as adopted, no matter how okay I am with being adopted, and despite the fact that my family was obviously not bio just from looking at us closely – to the casual observer at the park or mall – no, we weren’t obvious as an adoptive family. Then you add on the cultural differences and privilege, and I think transracial adoptees have a huge added layer of challenges that I never had – despite having grown up in the era of we are blank slates, and no recognition of losses. And I know that it’s good for children to have families, I just think it adds even more challenges, and it shouldn’t be the default solution, or easy way to get children adopted, instead of working to find the right home for that child…

    No idea if that made sense or offended…

  2. My feelings on the commercial are evolving. I love that Cheerios has included many different kinds of families in their latest add campaign. Love that. But I am also increasingly sensitive about “Here we go again, brown and black folks” not being included in the adoption narrative, and well should even adoption themes be used in an add campaign. I don’t know, but you know that our families could’ve/would’ve been just as cute.

    I think Tao hits the nail on the head about the savior mentality wrapped up in adoption stories and well, frankly in this country, in those stories people like you and me aren’t the saviors, we’re the saved. It annoys me. On multiple levels. I’m neither; and I prefer to think of Hope as a survivor. Yeah, I’m going to have to ponder this more.

  3. I resonate with your thoughts ABM. To be perfectly honest as a transracial adopter I’m not sure how I feel about transracial adoption. For my kids with special needs I think finding parents who had some skills or experience with those needs was probably more important than whether or not our races matched.

    In other situations I’m very uncomfortable with the fact that, particularly in the case of newborns, white first moms have a pile of home studies to choose from vs. black first moms who are generally given the one home study of someone, usually white, who is either actively searching for a black baby or open to that possibility. That just should not be.

  4. I totally agree with the savior mentality. I feel like with transracial adoption when an African American child is being adopted by someone white its looked at as they are saving this poor child but if it were someone black it would be looks at totally differently by whites and other blacks; the question would be “you couldn’t find a black baby to adopt?” A few weeks ago I was waiting in the lobby at my Dr. office and a African American woman and her adult daughter came in with a baby, I noticed at the door a woman stopped them at the door to comment on the baby and wanted to know who the baby belonged to! I heard the mother say that he was her foster child. She was pretty nice about it and I didn’t really think too much about it until she sat down and took the baby out of the carrier; the baby was white. The foster mom didn’t seem offended, I’m sure she has encountered questions before, but I was offended for her. If the roles were reversed if the foster mom had been white and the baby black would the exchange have been the same?

  5. Thank you all for engaging. Voicing any criticism of transracial adoption seems like something to do at your own peril. It sometimes feels like there can only be two choices: leave minority children in the foster care system or wholeheartedly embrace transracial adoption – after all, these children just need someone to love them.

    This dichotomy of options leaves little room to discuss how racial and social economic inequalities help to create/feed the system that has so many brown children available for adoption. Let’s not forget that there is money involved in this which adversely impacts the actors in this system. There are a whole host of white families that are interested in adopting children that look like them and an overabundance of brown children in the system. Normalizing and even socially prioritizing transracial adoption helps to address this misalignment.

  6. I think there are definitely multiple layers here. Will you consider one simple one? A conspicuous adoption allows people to talk about adoption more readily. The fact that it’s an adoptive family is obvious. And well, the white parent black child, although less common than same-race adoption, is the most common transracial adoption. So maybe that’s one reason why the narrative is often white parents black child.

    I know, for example from personal experience, that many same-race adoptive families don’t want to talk about adoption publicly. And they don’t have to. Strangers don’t come up and ask intrusive questions about adoption because they don’t assume adoption when they see a family that “matches.” The fact that my family and others that fit this “mainstream” narrative of adoption are so conspicuous makes us easy targets for all the public adoption discussions.

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