Charlize Theron has joined the list of celebrities who have decided that they would make astounding parents to children of African descent. Some argue that Theron’s ethnicity justifies her reasons for doing this. However, let’s not be blind to the ever so present tensions of race relations in South Africa due to the residual effects of colonial rule and apartheid.
Let’s be real, Theron is a white South African, which means she is granted privileges and entitlements that align her more closely with the majority than with the minority in this country. As the media pays more attention to celebrities such as Madonna, Sandra Bullock, and Angelina Jolie , who decide to adopt transracially, I can’t help but to question the intentions and motives behind these adoptions. Are there benefits to these unique unions? Or are adoption agencies and adopting parents overlooking the dynamics of racism and the way that it shapes black and white social and political relations?
Now, many conversations and debates have centered on this topic. For me, it was brought to my attention when Angelina Jolie first adopted Maddox, a child from Cambodia. According to the Policy Director of Children’s Rights, Inc Madelyn Freundlich, “more Americans are adopting foreign-born children than ever before, up from 7,000 in 1990 to 21, 616 in 2003.” Therefore, this phenomenon did not begin with Jolie. “Historically, the vast majority of these adoptions have been and continue to be arranged by white families,” says Freundlich. And ironically, Europe is not listed as a country where the majority of these adoptions take place.
Apparently, the reason for adopting minority or foreign children is the result of high infertility rates, lack of healthy white babies, and long wait times for healthy white babies. Therefore, leaving prospective white couples with no other option but to seek out an ethnic child. Some believe that this is a “win win” situation. The child gets a stable home and the white parents become cultured and more aware of race relations. Some even go as far to believe that transracial adoptions will help put an end to discrimination.
According to Andrew Morrison’s article, Transracial Adoptions: The Pros and Cons and the Parents Perspective, “Proponents of [transracial adoption] declare that TRA helps our society in general because it helps to alleviate societal racism and racial tension. The adopting parents, the adopted children, and the friends and family all quickly learn that Blacks and whites deserve equal treatment. Additionally, societal racism is reduced by added social contact between members of different races.”
When reading this I can’t help but laugh. The fact is, white families have a monopoly on the adoption market due to the passing of The Multiethnic Placement Act (1994) and The Interethnic Placement Act (1997) which eliminates considerations of race, color, and national, origin and by extension, culture, in placement decisions. In addition, strict income and education requirements make it easier for white middle class families to adopt and shuts out potential black families. This sounds like the work of institutional racism and the case of if you have money you can buy anything even a child on the other side of the world.
What is really the motivation behind white families adopting minority/foreign children? Is it to create and build a family? Do they feel that adopting transracially is some sort of social service, an humanitarian act that should be applauded and praised? Or is it a trend? A fetish? A symbol that represents class and elitist values? Perhaps it is the white savior complex rearing its ugly head, literally the white knight, with his traditional American values and beliefs, coming to save minority children from deviant and dysfunctional minority family structures?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then I have some serious concerns. If it is to build a family, why choose a child from a completely different background than your own? Wouldn’t it be easier to forgo the many complicated issues and adopt a child similar to your culture and background? You could be the great parent who keeps your child well informed of their history, culture, and identity but even that will be inadequate. Racism is so deeply rooted in this country’s founding that even if you are a white person who proclaims to be anti-racist, you are still not without your judgments. It would be hard to erase centuries and centuries of historical and societal reinforced stereotypes with one single adoption.
Transracial adoptions that are seen as a humanitarian effort are perfect examples of the savior complex. It also reinforces the dichotomy that white represents all things that are good. Sort of reminds me of the imperialist pursuits of Cecil Rhodes disguised as missionary work, which eventually led to the murder of thousands and thousands of Zulu people in South Africa. “Humanitarian” efforts are rarely about the people who it claims to support and more about the fame and recognition gained (i.e. the Kony 2012 shenanigans that lasted for all of two seconds).
At the end of the day, the needs of the child are what should matter. Yes, a home is better than no home. But a critical and sincere look at race relations, culture and identity development need to be consider as well. In 2012 alone, we have seen the murder of black men increase and widely publicized on media outlets, the degrading characterization of the president and first lady, and let’s not forget the daily encounters of racism and discrimination that we all face as a result of the advantages that some due to their skin color possess. This is the world we live in. The power, race, and class dynamics situated all in one family unit will lead to frustration, confusion, and eventually a desire within the child to know who he is and where he comes from.
As a result, when it comes to adopting Black or minority/foreign children I am fully aligned with the National Association of Black Social Workers who advocate for 1) reunification of children with parents, 2) placing children of African ancestry with relatives or unrelated families of the same race and culture for adoption, 3) addressing the barriers that prevent or discourage persons of African descent from adopting and finally 4) emphasizing that transracial adoption of a [child of African descent] should only be considered after documented evidence of unsuccessful same race placement.