Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Color-Conscious Adoption

CNN has a neat article up on the request by several major adoption-advocacy groups for the US to adopt more "color-conscious" policies regarding adoption. The current "color-blind" approach, which prohibits race play any consideration in deciding who the ultimate adoptive parents are, and also prohibits any special training for parents who are undergoing a trans-racial adoption, was designed to help reduce the inequality by which Black children languished in foster care for far longer than their White peers. The agencies want at least some consideration to be made encouraging same-race adoption (not a rule, just a preference), and, more importantly in my view, want to enact special training for parents adopting a child of another race.

A few years ago, I was at a meeting at the Black Student Union at Carleton where this precise issue was discussed. In fact, one of the students' parents worked at an adoption organization that specifically grappled with the issues of trans-racial adoption, and was very clear that it poses special problems under which parents might need a helping hand. One illustrative example, precisely because it is so mundane, has to do with hair-washing. The student mentioned that Black hair doesn't need to be washed everyday -- in fact, to do so is bad for the hair. Most people in the room (who were Black) nodded knowingly, but I was surprised -- it simply never occurred to me that hair-washing regimes would differ for straight versus kinky hair. And then he continued, as if he was talking about some exotic people, "apparently, White people need to wash there hair everyday," and now it was the Black students who looked surprised. It's no knock on any of us -- when's the last time you've thought to ask someone about how often they wash their hair? -- but it does illustrate the fact that there are things even well-meaning, engaged parents might need to be told with regards to trans-racial adoption.

The bigger problem particularly for White parents adopting Black children is getting them prepared to handle their child facing racism. Most Whites underestimate the amount of racism in the world, but having a Black child offers a rude awakening on that score. Knowing how to respond and give support to the child is absolutely essential, and is not something that necessarily comes naturally to White folks who do not experience racism daily.

All that being said, I recognize that there are dangers in raising screening requirements and onerous training burdens, and these shouldn't be overlooked. I merely want to raise the fact that these topics aren't as simple as we'd like, and problematize this lovely, idealistic notion that color-blind policy solves all ills.


PG said...

Requiring training is the obvious solution, and I'm saddened but not entirely surprised that the government's idea of "color-blindness" is so backwards as to assume that there not areas where black children are physically different from whites (e.g., sickle-cell screening) and others where they are treated differently in society. I doubt that the training can be much more of a burden than what parents who want to adopt already go through. At least training is not intrusive.

If my parents had adopted a redheaded white kid, they would have needed a constant reminder that while the brown folks wandered freely under the sun, the adopted kid was going to need lots of sunscreen. Sure, they'd remember ever after the first disastrous sunburn, but why not avoid that by ensuring that people of different races do recall the few physical differences between themselves?

(David, don't feel bad -- the ignorance among Whites of Black hair is widespread. I had a very intelligent (albeit conservative and male, so he didn't spend much time thinking about race or about hair) person question how I could be so sure that Michelle Obama and Condi Rice straightened their hair.)

David Schraub said...

I wasn't upset -- in fact, I liked the inversion that made me realize that not everything about Whiteness is naturally known to everyone (Whites wash their hair daily? How odd!).

My favorite example of this was a Sports Illustrated article I read about a college b-ball player from (I think) inner-city Newark who went to (I think) Seton Hall. He said he was adjusting well, particularly to knowing so many White people. "Now when a White comic tells a joke, I can laugh. I get it, it's funny."

Anonymous said...

Requiring training for *all* parents (and potential parents) might be a better idea and not just about physical differences.

Of course there's always the hope that parents, facing an unfamiliar situation with their child, might ask someone about the situation. You know, light a candle rather than stumbling around in the dark. Single parents with opposite gender children might have a few questions, for example.

The far bigger issue is how do parents discuss race and racism, sex and sexism, and so on with children.

Since many parents don't have a clear understanding of these 'isms' and may or may not be comfortable discussing them then required training might be helpful to all.

Even to people who think that 'all white people' wash their hair everyday... :)