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January 24, 2005

Around Again on Racism and Adoption

In response to my post earlier today, Michael Triplett has endeavored to explain why his race-related opinions with respect to adoption are not racist — at least not in a bad way. I'm with him right up to here:

So, if it is "racist" to assert we should not create barriers for African Americans to adopt and that African American children would benefit from being raised by parents who have the same cultural experience, then I guess I am a racist.

The term of art, here, is "cultural experience." Contrary to the phrase's implications, culture is a learned thing; we are born into, not with, a culture. At least when we're talking about babies, therefore, the adoptees are cultureless, and one would expect them for the most part to share the "cultural experience" of their parents no matter the color of their skin. Used by those who think they've got the dark Other's best interests in mind, however, "cultural experience" is simply an empty term meant to make "race" mean more than the superficial collection of physical attributes that it ought to be. It's that indefinable something that once justified segregation. It's racism.

Now, I've already admitted that I don't have a problem with adoptive parents' seeking children with whom they share a maximum of physical attributes. Similarity increases the ease with which parents and children can see themselves in each other; it probably postpones difficult questions until the children are older; and, yes, among a species prone to notice differences and enlist generalities, it ensures a similarity of experience.

All of this only means that appearance, including race, ought to be a factor available for consideration (most especially from the parents-to-be). Triplett, however, places this consideration not just above the central family characteristic of marriage, but so far above it that a preference for married adoptive parents counts as a barrier to racial allocation.

This is where broad differences of worldview come into play. Failing to hold marriage up in the case of adoption diminishes the overall cultural preference for it. Without going in search of statistics, it seems reasonable to suggest that married couples are more likely to adopt — especially to adopt for the right reasons. If that is so, then not giving preference to married couples contributes to a dismissive view of marriage among blacks and, therefore, decreases the number of them looking to adopt.

Furthermore, intending "to attract African American parents," Triplett reinforces the "cultural experience" that leads to the disproportion of black children available for adoption. With this same aversion to creating "barriers" playing out in every aspect of American life, the very people who most need social guidance toward better lives are left loose to continue making poor decisions.

Just to head off an obvious objection, a word on Triplett's and my differing emphases for the relevance of "experience." In Triplett's usage, "cultural experience" refers to a "cultural and race background" — background being something from the past, handed-down baggage that one must carry as a defining quality. In my usage, "similarity of experience" refers to the present, most palpably in others' reactions to a given person; for example, a father and his visually similar adopted child will have comparable interactions with the same stranger.

In the former view, the origin of the difference — in some sense, "the blame" — resides intrinsically in the individual. In the latter view, it resides in the mutable attitudes of third parties. Perhaps it's a subtle distinction, but it makes a significant difference in how our society will move toward the future, and it makes a profound difference in how parents will raise their children and address shared and unshared experiences.

Posted by Justin Katz at January 24, 2005 9:08 PM
Marriage & Family

As a white guy with a black adopted daughter from foster care, I say right on. We were willing to take in a little girl who was born with cocain in her system. She was the product of a woman who sold herself for a little rock. A lot of people stay very clear of these kids in adoption. We said let God decide what our future holds, and so far he has blessed us immensely through this little girl.

Studies do show that it is best if there is someone else who looks like the kid in the house. We are hoping to adopt our little girls baby sister that was born under similar circumstances.

Posted by: GkBoy at January 24, 2005 9:41 PM