Steps the Adoption/Foster Care Communities Can Take to Combat White Privilege
“How lucky you are to get to rant about discrimination and the hatred of white privilege that luckily pulled you out of Columbia (this individual meant to say Colombia) and put you in a family that loves you despite your arrogance….”
I’ll let that sink in for a moment….
The above is an excerpt of an actual comment I received in response to me voicing my support of the Black Lives Matter movement and my condemnation of police brutality, systemic racism, and white privilege in this country. According to this individual (and sadly many others I have encountered over the years, both whom I know and don’t know) I, as a transracial adoptee am supposed to be grateful to my white parents and their white privilege for getting me to where I am today. Let me be clear, I love my white adoptive parents dearly, but I am not and will not be grateful for a privilege that should not even exist, a privilege that has marginalized black and brown people—like me and my ancestors—for centuries. This comment as well as others I’ve received are a glaring statement that this country must do better, not only when respecting the dignity of people of color, but also of those who have been touched by adoption or foster care. We need to do better.
Let me back up for a moment and give some context and information on what white privilege is and how it ties into the world of transracial foster care placement and adoptions. According to McIntosh’s famous article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” white privilege is defined as “a set of unearned assets that a white person in America can count on cashing in each day but to which they remain largely oblivious.” Plainly stated, people by way of their skin color are predisposed to having greater opportunity in life; luckily, we are starting to call this out. This white privilege and the system of white supremacy has slithered its way into adoption and foster care in many ways. The numbers of white parents adopting far surpasses the number of minorities adopting. When adopting or applying to be a foster parent, individuals must complete home studies that often include some of the following factors, annual income, parent’s education level, home ownership, and job stability. Due to systemic racism and white privilege, white people are put in a better position to be able to meet those requirements. Also, historically, those white parents have preferred to adopt white children. For many years, black or brown children were viewed as not as desirable or tainted—stemming from the idea that white is better. As international adoption spiked, it was mainly white families who were able to afford this as an option to create their families. The same goes for foster care, as we see in the United States black and brown children are in foster care at higher rates and for longer periods of time than white children (likely in part due to the impacts of systematic racism), and the majority of foster care parents are white. In many parts of the nation attention is starting to be brought to the racial disparities in the foster care system including lower rates of adoption or reunification, smaller numbers of people of color as foster parents and lengthier stays in the system for children of color. There have been cases where foster families have “sent back” or refused children who are of different racial backgrounds due to feeling threatened. Over the years, thousands of children have had to grapple with the inherent trauma associated with being separated from their biological families and on top of that the added challenge of being raised by parents who have a very different racial experience and often times do not recognize the child’s differences. Historically, we have seen white adoptive/foster parents who have black or brown children assume a number of damaging approaches including, but not limited to:
- not addressing color and race at all within the home
- expecting or forcing black/brown children to assimilate to white culture
- colorblindness or refusing to acknowledge their child’s racial differences by using the rose colored glasses mindset that everyone is the same and skin color doesn’t matter
- bringing children into families where they are subjected to racism from extended family members or other relations
The impacts of these practices can be severe when it comes to attachment, identity formation, self esteem and more. Adoptive/foster parents may just see us as children they love and care about, but the world sees us very differently.
This video below gives a better understanding of white privilege check out the link below:
I have been aware of the presence of white privilege for many years. I have witnessed it myself at school, work, and in other environments. I have been involved in adoption support groups that refuse to acknowledge racial and ethnic differences of families created through transracial adoption. I have been met with ignorant comments from complete strangers. As I became an adult, I recognized how I, in a sense, rode on my parent’s privileged coattails, but it has not been until the injustices of late that the deep-rooted privilege, and in some cases, overt racism have really sunk in. We are in the throes of the Black Lives Matter Movement in this country. The murder of George Floyd was a flagrant display of systemic racism and white privilege that has now gone viral. He has become part of a long line of black and brown individuals who have been demonized and perceived as a threat by white people; as something to get rid of, without any regard for their dignity or human rights. This is a pandemic in and of itself that has plagued the United States for centuries and the antidote is to unveil, expose, and work to demolish white supremacy and a system that has never been equal for those with black or brown skin. I feel compelled, now more than ever, to put my discomfort or desire to appease aside and voice my perspective—even if in some situations it is unpopular. I have vowed to be a fierce advocate for a comprehensive view of adoption and foster care, both domestic and foreign. I and anyone touched by transracial adoption or foster care cannot turn a blind eye to how generations worth of inequities have impacted racial groups. In my opinion, sharing the truths about transracial adoption and dismantling the injustices of racism go hand in hand. It can seem like a daunting task, upending long-standing skewed mindsets and viewpoints and possibly standing against some people we hold dear to us, but it must be done in order to empower the transracial foster care and adoption populations; to help give them a voice.
What can foster/adoptive parents do?
1. Acknowledge and check your own privilege. Realize that you have not and will never truly understand what it means to be in their skin, not only due to race, but because they are also adopted. They will inevitably experience trauma related to these issues that you have not had to endure in your lifetime. Acknowledging and understanding privilege must be done before making the decision to adopt or foster and must continually be done throughout that process and beyond. This takes time and humility and is not always comfortable, but it is imperative in order to be an ally for your child. Be aware that in some ways, your child will benefit or be protected by your whiteness when you are with them, but that when they are not under the reach of that white umbrella, the world will see them and judge them differently. Noelle Palmer, an adoptive parent, highlights the need for white parents of black/brown children to be aware of their own white privilege and to fight against it. Noelle Palmer’s Facebook post.
2. Educate yourself on the racial background and cultural history of the child, just as you would their history pre-placement or pre-adoption. Foster relationships and connections with people of their race and who share their cultural background. Instill pride and understanding in your foster/adopted child regarding their race and culture, just as you instill ownership and understanding of their adoption story. Do not adopt a mindset of colorblindness, we are not all the same and we must see and acknowledge color, just as we must tell children they are adopted, not keep it a secret. This is part of their story and they are entitled to it.
3. Encourage children in foster care or who have been adopted to openly discuss and call out racial injustices for themselves and others. Teach your black and brown children how recent events impact them, their ancestors, and their story and hold space for them to express their feelings about these events. You can serve as your adopted/foster child’s biggest advocate, their strongest source of back up. If they bring something to your attention that has been said about their race (or adoption), do not minimize it, but rather follow up immediately. Stand up for them, no matter what! Black, brown, and adoptee voices have been downplayed or ignored for years; end that cycle and teach your child that their voice matters using the privilege your white voice has to rally for change.
4. Do not let the fear of getting it “wrong” keep you from taking a stand and having the conversations. We see so many foster and adoptive parents who are avoidant or anxious about taking a position or using their voice to stand against these injustices because they don’t know enough and worry they will say something wrong. Mistakes are part or learning. You will make mistakes (just as you will when it comes to adoption). It’s okay as long as your stance is genuine. Keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open to experts and those who have personal experiences. They can be your guiding light.
5. Start small and build momentum. You are not expected to change the world all on your own, but you can make small changes in yourself, your family, and your community, which in turn will impact the world. Be the catalyst for those in your life when it comes to being sensitive and aware and when it comes to adoption and race-related issues. Start reflecting on your own experiences and beliefs; have the hard conversations with family members, friends, colleagues; donate to organizations; support minority-owned companies; and talk to government officials about changes you’d like to see. There’s no easy fix and sometimes this advocacy may be uncomfortable, but it must be done.
What can professionals who work with those affected by foster care/adoption do?
1. Acknowledge and check your own privilege. Acknowledging and understanding privilege must be done in order to align with your client. Be aware that your own experiences in the world may be very different than those of your client, and do not allow your privilege or internal biases to taint your interactions. Those touched by adoption and foster care are among the most vulnerable and need a place to be seen and heard without judgement or prejudice.
2. Educate yourself on the racial background and cultural histories of your client and their adoptive/foster/biological families. It is important to understand how to honor these histories and differences to create cohesion and appreciation. Cultural/racial information is yet another piece of the puzzle that those touched by adoption or foster care are entitled to and you can help them to integrate into their identity.
3. Ask the hard questions and identify the deep-rooted trauma associated with the perpetuation of systemic racism and white privilege. Racial issues, not unlike adoption issues, are extremely complex. Take your time to get as much information as you can, validate the experiences, and acknowledge that it will take a great deal of time to heal from these wounds.
4. Understand how issues such as systemic racism and white privilege impact the adoption and foster care world. Do your research and work to comprehend the ways that white privilege has presented itself overtly and covertly in adoption and foster care and how it appears throughout history. This is important in promoting increased understanding of the complexities of transracial adoption and puts you in a better position to help and promote healing.
5. Take a stand. Lead by example and strive to be an advocate, and an ally regarding issues that impact your client, whether they have to do with race or adoption or both. Be a voice for your clients who have been touched by foster care and adoption, especially those adopted transracially. Whether you own your practice or are a part of a bigger organization (a school, government agency, non for profit, etc.), do your part to help disassemble the confines of white supremacy and systemic racism.
We are at a time of change in this country. I have seen many transracial adoptees deeply affected by the recent events highlighting racism and this has triggered and made us think harder about many years’ worth of microaggressions, oppression, and injustice for us and our ancestors. We are calling on our transracial adopted brothers and sisters, our families, and those within our communities to fight this battle with us. Breaking down systemic racism and its many facets is a journey, much like the complex journey of adoption. There are harsh and ugly truths and realities that must be revealed and systems that need to be dismantled and restructured in order to create a real change. We, at Adoption Perspectives, LLC encourage members of our community to do their part to advocate for equality and stand against any kind of injustice whether it be based on race, gender, age, religion, family dynamic, or any other area. We must use our voices to pave the way for future generations, creating a path of acceptance, compassion and justice for all.
Articles of interest and facts backing up this blog are available on our “Resources” tab under Blog and Article headings.