Monday, June 02, 2008

Another Reason "Race" Makes No Sense

The NY Times ran an article on a recent report opposing what it called "transracial adoption." The report called for a revision of the Multiethnic Placement Act that allows placement agencies and workers to consider "race" and culture when making adoption placement decisions. The premise is that children adopted by parents from other ethnic groups will face identity and other problems later in life.

(In 1904, the Mexican-American family shown here adopted white orphans from New York through the Catholic church in their Arizona mining town. These families conformed to religious, but not to racial matching. Armed white vigilantes removed the children and placed them in white Protestant families instead. Transracial adoptions might occur when children of color were inadvertently placed with white parents, but the reverse was unthinkable and intolerable.)

Of course, there are two sides to the issue and a rather interesting history. And as Christians, we need helpful responses that centers this issue in the gospel.

But the most fundamental problem with the report's recommendation is its assumption that "race" exists. The report assumes that personal identity should be tied to skin color, that there are biological determinants of individual and group self-understanding. Further, it supposes that "transracial adoption" aggravates this biology--identity connection because the adoptive parents are unprepared or insensitive to cultural identity.

Several brief reactions.

1. I've yet to meet a parent adopting "transracially" that is not quite concerned about the cultural identity of the children they adopt. They may not feel competent to handle everything that comes up, but they are quite aware and sensitive in my experience.

2. According to every major report and study I've read (I spent about 3 years working on child welfare reform at a think tank that specializes in it and has a special project focused on racial disparities in the system), black children are disproportionately more likely to be removed from their birth parents, to remain in the child welfare system longer (especially boys), to not be adopted, to suffer significantly poorer educational, social and economic outcomes than any other group of children in the system. Native Americans come close. Viewed purely from a child outcome perspective, the report amounts to leaving more of the children meant to served in the worst possible situation for them. In other words, it's far better that black children grow up in homes with loving adoptive parents from some other ethnic group and wrestle with cultural identity questions than be assured of their "blackness" while locked parentless inside a system that almost certainly dooms them to future failure. Black children are not any more psychologically hurt by adoption than they are by years of neglect in an adoption agency.

3. Also conveniently not mentioned is the fact that almost all people in general, and black people in particular, have some kind of identity crisis during their lives. The social psychological work on "Racial Identity Attitudes" is really quite well-established and from a social science perspective reliable measurement. That theory and research shows quite clearly that African Americans move through four stages/phases of personal and group identity. Pre-encounter is a period where "race" or ethnic identity is not really thought about much at all. It may also be somewhat anti-black in attitude, thinking of all things black as inferior. Encounter is a period where, usually through some event or series of events, a person is forced to think about "race" and identity. It's a period of some dissonance and conflict. Immersion/Emersion is a phase where typically African Americans immerse themselves in a newly "discovered" black identity (think Afrocentric and black nationalist) and reject all things "white". This goes on until a new identity emerges wherein positive attitudes toward blackness are solidified. Finally, there is Integration, a period where a person is able to integrate positive black identity with positive appropriation of ideas, values, etc. from other racial backgrounds. That's research conducted on a bunch of average joes who grew up with their biological parents, not kids adopted "transracially." Identity conflicts and questions are a part of what it means to grow up and figure out who you are. It's not a function of transracial adoption.


If "race" does not exist, if there is nothing intrinsically meaningful about skin color, if all people are descended from Adam and Eve and God has made us from one blood (Acts 17:26), then a worldview and public policy predicated upon "race" as an objective reality--on skin color as the primary determinant of personal and group identity--is insane. It opts for an illusion over what God says is true--we are one human family.

I like Russ' gospel emphasis. As Christians, we're laboring to see everyone "hid in Christ" where there is neither Jew nor Greek. But even before we come to the gospel and the one new man created in Christ's flesh on the cross, there must be adequate recognition of the one old man, descended from our first parents. Until we see and apply the truth that we are one in Adam, we will continue to have public policy and to make personal decisions that have no connection with reality. TV pundits will continue to ask why Barack gets the black votes and rural West Virginians go for Hillary. And worse, blacks and rural West Virginians will continue to think that's what it means to be black and a rural white and that the lives and interests of the two should never meet. I long for a better future.


John said...

You're not alone in your longing. One day all the barriers will be erased. All the believers in Christ will worship Him in perfect harmony. I'm ready. Come quickly Lord.

Anonymous said...

this was really well written and very solid. =) i listened to an audio recording of your message T4G (on race) and was really encouraged. thank you for preaching the Word of God. thanks!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insightful comments. I greatly appreciate that. My wife and I are foster parents for 1 child (up until a week ago 2 kids) and my first thought regarding the article was "my biological kids are going to have 'issues'...?!!"
Blessings to you in your ministry.
T David Else

Anonymous said...

I'm totally on board with you. There was a line in a WaPo editorial quoting The National Association of Black Social Workers as having long argued for "preserving families of African ancestry." My first thought is that they aren't preserving families, they're preventing them.

My wife is white and our son will be proud to bear the physical signs of two races. What race of child would we be able to adopt? Only mixed? Are we a "black" family? My son has curly blond he white? When we use race as a state sanctioned means for division, things only get more complicated.

What's sad to me is that blacks are the ones pushing this forward.

Mark Diebel said...

"Identity conflicts and questions are a part of what it means to grow up and figure out who you are. It's not a function of transracial adoption."

A white family adopting a child of color... might as well be adopting the people of that child as well... but adoption, as it is practiced, too often deletes the child's past, erases his first parents, his transitional parents, in order to complete the adoption.

For instance, it looks like Madonna is being pursued by David Banda who wants to visit his son. The first father wants to see his son, but the manner in which adoption is considered too often locks out that connection... not always... but often.

Some of the international adoptions of Ethiopia recently were criticized because parents there thought their children were going to Europe to get better education and return to them... but no... they were kept, their names changed.

Transracial adoption... is a subset of many practices of adoption... many of the practices need to be looked at closely.

I'm a transracially and transnationally adopted adult... a Christian too... I think you are misrepresenting the Donaldson report... as did Dr. Moore in his article in Touchstone, and his interview with Dr. Mohler. There are problems with MEPA. Too many people it seems to me ignore the experiences of adult adoptees. I think you may be one of them.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I recently adopted a black baby. We are white. We wanted a child and were open to any "race" or either gender when we filled out the application. We simply wanted a child. I believe God in His Sovereign Grace has given our son to us. We know his birthmother and keep in touch with her. But he will grow up to be ethnically white. Is this wrong? No. Is it wrong for me, a Gentile to be adopted into God's His eyes, I am no different than an Israelite. My son is my son. He's black, I'm white. Wrong? I don't have the space to explain the series of miracles God ordained for this adoption to take place. So, no, this adoption is very much a good thing...just as a biological birth is very much a good thing.

Joel Hamernick said...

Wow Rev T. I think you've given white folks a shot in the arm at colorblindness as virtue. Very unfortunate.

I think I track your basic premise but as you acknowledge in your piece on appreciating Obama, there is a place to celebrate and surely not ignore color.

I think all adoptions by loving Christian parents are wonderful and especially love it when folks adopt across racial lines (or skin tone lines if you prefer), but suggesting that one ought not even discuss race, let alone prepare for the realities of dealing graciously with a segregated society (as MEPA does) is quite off base. . .

FellowElder said...

Not sure how I give a shot in the arm to colorblindness. Help me out there....