The other “white” meat

Several things this past week have collided together relating to a similar theme. This weekend, I spoke at an agency’s pre-adoptive parent training as part of a panel of adult transracial adoptees. I also want to point you to this post by Heart, Mind and Seoul and the discussion I am part of at Resist Racism.

Paula at Heart, Mind and Seoul writes,

I’ve been told countless times throughout my life how lucky I am, as an Asian, to have been born the "best alternative" to being white.  I’ve heard the following said to me, in one combination or another, on numerous occasions: "Your people are hard working.  Your people are good at math.  Your people are automatically assumed to be smarter than anyone else in the room.  Your people have an incredibly strong work ethic.  Your women are exotic and desirable.  Your people are industrious.  Your people know when to keep their mouths shut.  Your people are agreeable and get along with everyone.  Your people are the next best thing to being white; just thank your lucky stars that you weren’t born black.  If you can’t be white, being Asian is definitely the next best thing."

"Racism is racism is racism is racism.  Those who proclaim to want nothing to do with one or two select races, but in the next breath will proudly announce that they won’t mind if an Asian family happens to move next door or if an Asian guy happens to work in the next cube over, is no one I want to be acquainted with.  On two different occasions when I shared the news of the impending adoption of our son from Korea, I was told twice in so many words, "Oh, I could never adopt.  But if I had to and I couldn’t get a white baby, I’d definitely pick an Asian one – there’s just not as much baggage or trouble with the Asians."  Sadly enough, I know these people actually meant this as a genuine compliment towards me and my perceived ability to assimilate into total and complete "whiteness". [bolded words my emphasis]

At Resist Racism, Durgamom wrote, "This is why when I hear the same old tired excuse from white adoptive parents that they feel comfortable adopting an Asian child but not a Black child, I feel a lot of compassion for that Asian child and immense relief for that Black child."

My first response to this comment was complete agreement, and I added that I read this on home studies on almost a daily basis. Resistance then asked me how these statements and beliefs are handled by the social workers.

My response:

"In my experience, some good social workers do try and address this. But, remember that the adoptive parents at private agencies are the clients, not the children. My public agency can push harder to explore this statement because our “clients” are the children in foster care.

However, we are limited because of MEPA and IEPA laws. That means, legally, we can’t disapprove a home study because of these kinds of blatant or hidden statements expressed by potential adoptive parents. We can try to inform pap’s but ultimately our hands are tied.

I often read home studies that say “biracial but not African American.” To me, this could mean a number of things all on a continuum of problematic reasoning. Maybe the parents think biracial kids will be more accepted in their small, white towns. Maybe they think they won’t have to address African American racism or culture if the kids are only “1/2″ black. Or maybe they have outright bias against African Americans and they know this about themselves.

However, it is difficult for a lot of pap’s to recognize that children who are biracial, API, Latino or Native American all have the same needs to be affirmed, represented and supported as full-on African American kids. Whether it’s skin color or perceived potential racism, racism exists and needs to be addressed."

I am not exaggerating when I say that I come across home studies on almost a daily basis that outright state their preference for "Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic" and leave out African American. The sentiment that is most often shared in the home study (which is actually quite rare that it is stated in the home study at all) is that the prospective parent feels the community they live in [read: small town] would not be supportive of an African American child. Often, it’s stated as, "We’d have no problem with it, but we know our community may not be as welcoming."

I never have a problem with prospective adoptive parents who specify they are looking for a child that is the same racial make-up as they. At least they are being honest. But I have trouble with the "preference for Caucasian; but would be open to __________ (fill in the blank). I would despair at putting a child of color into a home that really wanted a white child but felt desperate or coerced into filling in the blank after the semicolon.

I also find it problematic when prospective adoptive parents say they could take "biracial" children but not African American. As if a biracial child won’t have the same experiences of being the recipient of racism as an African American child.

So what is a social worker to do when we come across these kinds of statements on a home study? It is difficult. For myself, I always find those statements as a red flag that needs to be addressed with the home study worker. I know that some agencies (and we place with prospective parents from other agencies, not just our own) have poor training regarding culture, race and diversity issues and some have good trainings. When I read such statements for "prefer Caucasian but is open to _______ " or "Biracial but not African American," I have to investigate what that means. I depend on the home study worker’s honesty here. My responsibility to the children I serve is to place them in a home that will meet ALL their needs. Not just their physical needs for a parent – their self-esteem and racial identity are important aspects of their development that need the utmost care and consideration as anything else.

I recently read a home study of a single white parent, submitted for one of the youth on my caseload, who stated a preference for an African American child. When I asked a home study worker about this home study, I was told the prospective adoptive parent walked into the agency and said they wanted a "scrawny Black girl."

"Does this applicant want a charity case?!?" I asked in disbelief and the response was "Yes." I’m glad I asked this home study worker about this applicant; but merely looking at the approved home study narrative, I wouldn’t have known. I just know that when I get a red flag about the stated racial preference on the home study, I need to investigate further.

If the home study worker feels that the prospective parents can address the concerns related to the above stated comments, then I’m open to hearing more. Biracial, Asian and Latino children are not "the other white meat." Prospective adoptive parents must understand that. My fear is that having this belief that it’s easier to adopt anything-but-Black means their community or their family has not addressed the realities of racism and need to do some more work interrogating what that means. I don’t want a child’s racial realities to be overlooked, minimized or ignored. Paula’s post is a living, breathing example of this.

Last night, some friends and I watched several documentaries about transracial adoption, including Passing Through, Calcutta Calling and Outside Looking In. One theme that came through loud and clear – most of the adoptive parents were unaware of the racism that these individuals faced as children in their white-majority communities and families. None of these individuals felt they could tell their parents about their experiences of racism. The families – all of them loving and caring and supportive – with their "I don’t see ______ as Black/Asian/South East Indian, they’re just my child" mentality created an environment of invisibility for their kids and the result was they felt their experiences of racism were invalidated or ignored.

In Outside Looking In, there was one scene that was especially memorable to me. During a training on transracial adoption, the trainers asked the families if they’d done their "homework." That homework was for each family to have gone into a community of color and spend time there, as the minority. That could be attending a church service, shopping in the local businesses, etc. None of the families had done their homework.

The trainer said, "It’s only one experience. I’m asking you to do one time what your child will be doing every day in your home and community."

And the room was silent.

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8 thoughts on “The other “white” meat

  1. That is racism. It’s certainly going to take a lot of work from us parents to battle this mindset. No possible way to keep ignoring it, we only do our children and ourselves a disservice.

  2. JR, I’m wondering what you think of a comment I read elsewhere. A black woman (raised by white APs I believe) said that she thinks white Americans are looking to Ethiopia for more acceptable black kid-that white Americans perceive Ethiopians as being better than other black children (like maybe those in the US).
    Is that a kind of colorism on the part of the commenter? Or on the part of the parents? It’s a particularly dubious claim, I think, because Ethiopians do have a range of skin tones, many very dark. And parents certainly cannot request a skin tone or turn down a referral because of skin tone. But Ethiopians often do have features that may appear more European to some people. And because there is a lot of misunderstanding in the US about Ethiopia (many Americans can only think of famine and starvation when they think of Ethiopian).
    But I do hear a lot of APs talk about how beautiful Ethiopians are. Of course, a lot of people say this, a lot of people of color too.
    Before I ramble too much: your thoughts, if you have a minute. Thanks.

  3. Hi,
    As a parent that adopted internationally after exploring domestic foster care adoption, I wanted to address the issue of adopting children of color from abroad while children of color are in foster care in the US. We adoptive parents get slammed alot especially by a variety of African-American TV news panelist because we adopt from Asia, Latin America, or Africa while US children are in foster care. They attribute all kinds of racism to us based on “shades” of color.
    The real reason is that international children are AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION, while US foster kids still have parents whose parental rights have not been terminated. Thus, you can not adopt them. You can be their foster parent and then after a few years if their birthparents are still abusive/addicted, etc. their parental rights MAY be terminated and maybe then you are allowed to adopt them. But, as a person who dealt with years of the rollercoaster of infertility treatment, the last thing you want is the rollercoaster of dealing with unfit birthparents trying and failing to get their act together. Additionally, since by definition, these children come from severely abusive or neglectful homes, you have a lot of issues to deal with on that front.
    Our daughter Emma is a wonderful child and the light of our lives. She is from China and has olive/tan skin, but that is really irrelevant to our feelings for her. We were able to adopt her at 13 months old. Prior to that, she was with a excellent and loving foster family in China who helped to shape her into the intelligent and loving child she is today. She did spend her first 2 months in an orphanage (but it was a better one) and then went into foster care. So, she has not been abused or neglected and has the ability to form loving attachments with her caregivers and parents. So, for us, the reason we went with international adoption is that there are young children who are legally available for adoption, not something that is true of the US foster care system. Just my 2 cents.

  4. Stacey,
    1. In my county there are over 100 kids RIGHT NOW who have TPR’s and are available for adoption. I’m not sure what county or state you were dealing with, but that is the figure in my county.
    2. You probably would not consider any of them because most of them are not babies or toddlers. So that is another factor.
    3. Children who have a history in the foster care system might seem like they’re harder than those who are virtual “blank slates” from other countries, but I just want to remind people that having less information about parents and family history means you know less for the future. You are lucky you are so sure your daughter has the ability to attach to you. Not everyone who adopts internationally has a child who is like your daughter.
    4. My job and my world view is that we find families for children, not children for families.
    5. From your description you are describing something in our county we call foster-adopt, or concurrent permanency planning, which is the role of the parent is to be a foster placement with the goal of helping to reunify kids with their parents, and then stepping in to adopt if there is a termination of parental rights. From your own description of “the last thing you want is the rollercoaster of dealing with unfit birthparents trying and failing to get their act together” it sounds to me (and this is just my opinion) that your goal was adoption, not to be a concurrent permanency placement option or a foster adopt parent. If you went into it trying to adopt, and not to facilitate for the children during the reunification process, then of course you would feel that it was a bad system. Because this system WAS NOT MEANT to be for adoption.

  5. OK, this is somewhat disjointed and long, but I hope you won’t knitpick it…
    My original response had to do with how for us, race was not the factor in deciding to adopt internationally. If adoptive parents were so concerned about race, they would all adopt from Eastern Europe or pay the large fees to adopt a white domestic infant. In fact, originally, we looked into India, but were told by the agencies we contacted that the Chinese program was much better run and faster, so we went with China.
    Yes, my goal was to become a permanent parent, not a foster parent, thus birth or adoption were my only options. And yes, I, like most people who want children, wanted a baby or toddler. In our case, my husband and I struggled with infertility for almost four years trying to have children.
    Adoptive parents, like almost all other people (fertile or not), prefer young children, since one of the joys of parenting it to be with a child throughout their infancy/toddlerhood/childhood/adolescence and beyond. We are just not as lucky as “fertiles” to be able to conceive children easily. I don’t see too many FERTILE people decide to not breed and instead adopt an older foster child, so why is taking care of America’s abused children the responsibility of INFERTILE people? Note: when we did re-adopt our daughter here in the US, one of the many court fees we paid was labelled a “child abuse fund” so I guess that adopting our Chinese daughter did ultimately result in some funding going to US foster kids and their families. Your profile state you are the mother to “two Hapa children”, are they adopted from the foster care system? If not, why did you decide to give birth instead of adopting older foster kids? What is stopping you, an experienced parent, from doing that now? Oh, right, you are fertile, so you don’t have to.
    As an aside, I did finally give birth to bio-children through IVF and all of our children get along wonderfully. I can truely say that to me, there is no difference in the love you feel for a child whether they enter your family through birth or adoption.
    Anyway, prior to adoption or my bio-pregnancy, when I contacted the public agencies, I was told the only way to get a baby or toddler was to do foster-to-adopt and hope the birthparents didn’t get their act together. They said I could improve my chances for this if I fostered a child whose birthparents had already had other children permanently removed…thus showing an inability to parent and probablity that they would lose this child as well. The other option was to take a large sibling group. Does this make any sense to you…people with no direct parenting experience suddenly become the parents of 2-5 siblings all at once that have a long abuse history? Shouldn’t they be looking for people with parenting experience to take sibling groups?.
    Instead, we chose the more direct path of adopting a child from China whose birthparents had already terminated their parental rights when they abandoned her. Yes, I know that the reasons they made that decision have to do with Chinese government policies and Chinese cultural preferences for boys which both seem unfair to westerners. But, I don’t control the Chinese government (if I did, they would still be allowing singles to adopt) and I certainly can’t convince Chinese couples that girls are as good as boys. The birthparents’ choices are not my responsiblility. My only choice was to adopt a child whose other option in life was not a family in China, but life in an orphanage.
    I (and she) were lucky in that she was in a city that has a good Social Welfare Institute and that placed her with good foster parents until she could be adopted. I am aware that there were other children in our referral group from other orphanages in China that had significant developmental delays due to not receiving enough interaction from their caregivers. Thankfully, from what I have heard in year that we have been home with our daughter, most of these kids have caught up develpomentally.
    I understand that the agencies’ job is to find “families for children” and that is commendable, but the potential adoptive parent is not an adoption agency, they are a person/couple that is trying to find a child and their goal is to to have a family. So, when doing that, you have to look at what the various options are to have a child. Do you continue with so-far unsuccessful infertility treatments, do you look into private domestic newborn adoption, do you do foster-adopt, do you do international adoption, do you remain “childfree” and focus on you career. Each of those options has a different chance of success, a different cost, and a different timeline. You have to weigh those options and make a decision. Many potential parents think that international adoption is the best option.
    If people in the US want more children to be adopted out of foster care, then they need to focus on the rights of the CHILDREN, not the property rights of the birthparents. If birthparents have abused a child, why give them a second, third and forth chance? Why keep a child in foster-care for years and years? So they can go back to abusive parents and then be taken away again? Also, why if parents have had parental rights taken away for abusing previous children are they allowed to just give birth and take home new children without any supervision? If you abused your previous kids, you will probably abuse the new ones as well. It seems to me the best interest of the child is to be in a loving, non-abusive family whether they have a genetic connection to them or not. You mention that there are “over 100 kids RIGHT NOW who have TPR’s and are available for adoption” in your county…but they are not babies are toddlers. Where they babies/toddlers when they first entered fostercare? If so, why were they allowed to sit in foster care for years? Because the birthparents parental rights were more important than the child’s right to a loving family?

  6. Stacey, I actually do understand a lot of what you are saying.
    It’s just that I find your attitude towards birth parents so demeaning. For example, the majority of the kids I work with were not abused by their birth parents. They came in through neglect because of chemical health or mental health issues. The two that were the most abused were – get this – abused in their adoptive home and were removed (that’s why they are now in the system again).
    I know that for some adoptive parents it’s a lot easier to vilify birth parents and it makes them sleep easier at night. But everyone is human and everyone has their battle to fight. I have no reason to believe that a woman in the US who loses her kid to the system grieves any less than a woman in China who gives up her daughter for the 1-child policy.
    As for why I decided to give birth, it’s because I WAS ADOPTED AND NEVER KNEW ANYONE WHO LOOKED LIKE ME OR WAS GENETICALLY RELATED TO ME. And it was important for ME to experience that.
    Maybe if you were adopted, you’d understand. Actually, I think you DO understand, otherwise you wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of using IVF to conceive biological children.
    However, you are presuming an awful lot when you state that because I’m fertile I don’t choose to adopt. How do you know that I won’t adopt? You are right, I am an experienced parent. I even have a teenager. I work with 17 teenagers in foster care right now. How do you know that in the future I won’t adopt from the foster care system? How do you know I wouldn’t adopt internationally, say, from Korea?
    My purpose for keeping this blog is to dispel the myths about international and transracial adoption. I know that what I write will cause adoptive parents to question, and be defensive, about their own choices they have made.
    You have a number of good points – especially the one about giving new parents a sibling set. But that is because most people want to adopt babies and toddlers and some social workers are desperate to find homes for these kids. For myself, I disagree with that, but I’m only one social worker here and not everyone would agree with me.

  7. You told Stacey most kids were removed from their birthparents because of neglect – not abuse. Neglect IS a form of abuse.

  8. Neglect IS a form of abuse.
    It can be, however, read what this article says:
    “Few states make a distinction between parents who choose to neglect their children and parents who can’t afford food, clothing, and shelter. Essentially, a state can take someone’s child because they are too poor.”
    Before someone says that “you shouldn’t have kids if you can’t provide for them”, remember that nothing in life is certain and just because you are financially ok this year doesn’t mean you will be next year; it can happen to anyone.

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