Why Do White Parents Adopt Black Children?

Chittister Family 2013

Because they’re there.

OK, seriously. This post has been sitting as a draft for most of this year. The question was written by  Adoptive Black Mom in her post Privilege, Adoption and Melissa Harris-Perry. Specifically, she wrote:

Do I think that [people of color] often sit back and question why White families adopt Black children?  Yep, and I’ve been curious as well.

The author seems to think there’s some hidden motive behind White parents adopting Black children. My immediate reaction to the question, “Why do White families adopt Black children?”: Because they’re there.

The first time we adopted, we considered what was important to us, when it came to a child. Ultimately, we decided we didn’t care about the child’s sex, because we simply wanted to be parents. So, we didn’t specify sex the first time around. When it came to race, we had to decide if we thought we could provide the appropriate environment for Black children. We decided we could, because we simply wanted to be parents. It didn’t matter to us if our kids didn’t “match” us. Fortunately, we knew we were signing up for some extra work. We never subscribed to the Colorblind Theory of Parenting. We’ve done a lot of research when it comes to raising Black children.

When you set out to adopt, you’ll find that most of the babies and children available for adoption are of mixed race, and one of those races is usually Black. When you look at international adoption, most traditionally White countries have never been or are no longer sending countries. Russia is closed, Romania’s been closed for decades, apparently the political unrest in Ukraine has affected their program. Meanwhile, countries in Africa are opening up, even amidst reports of corruption. In the foster care system, the majority of kids are White, but the majority of kids available for adoption are children of color. In the private adoption sector, people don’t keep statistics. Anecdotally, however, and based on the situations we saw in 2010-2011 and ones that I see now from time to time, most babies are at least part Black. A lot of people seem to think that Caucasian babies are rare, but that’s not true either. You’d have a much harder time adopting an Asian baby than a Caucasian baby. But I digress…

If a prospective adoptive couple specifies race, they are limiting their choices. Limited choices means a longer waiting time. If you’re willing to accept the additional challenges of parenting a child outside of your race – whatever that may mean for you – chances are your wait will be shorter.

I believe that most White parents don’t necessarily set out to adopt Black children. We simply want to be parents. So, really, White parents adopt Black children because the children are there. There’s nothing nefarious about it. I don’t know of any adoptive parent who thinks that a Black child is an accessory or a fashion statement. (I should never read comments about Angelina’s adoptions – people suck) I can’t think of anyone I know who thought it would be cool to specifically adopt a Black baby. Most of the people I know, whether in real life or online, adopted Black children because – say it with me now – they were there.

We wanted to be parents, these particular children needed other parents.

That’s it.

7 thoughts on “Why Do White Parents Adopt Black Children?

  1. So, I’m a bit intrigued that this single comment was the one extracted from my essay and that my thoughts were extrapolated to be a negative commentary on transracial adoption. Dropping down a mere few lines in the essay I note that these are complicated social issues that make people uncomfortable. There is chasm between catching feelings about something and characterizing the subject matter as negative.

    The adoption community is a relatively small one. I think there is a lot of shared experience in feeling misunderstood, invisible (which is uncomfortable because often we want to be and for various reasons may never be). I think there is extraordinary ignorance about adoption for folks outside of the community. They make jokes, they say things that make rankle all of us. I think no one really gets a pass from being questioned in some way about their adoption choices in one way or another.

    I would posit that there are countless complicated reasons why people of color might question transracial adoption. The obvious answer is, as you write, because children of color are available to people who want to be parents. I whole heartedly agree with you, but the issue with an obvious answer is that it is seen and offered through a single lens, assuming that everyone around also sees through that exclusive lens. Sadly, that’s not reality. The obvious answer doesn’t address or negate contextual lenses around race, class, privilege or history. Obvious answers don’t address sometimes nuanced curiosity about how a family will cope, how will a child relate, etc. in a world where racism is still very much “a thing,” our collective desire for it to take its leave, notwithstanding. Curiosity and possible concern about how to communities transracial families isn’t nefarious, so I would take a bit of umbrage in my discussion of the topic being characterized as such. Such a characterization really misses the point of the essay and does little in advancing the notion that perhaps we all should take a moment to try on some other lenses.


    • When I read a blog post or article and I want to comment on some part of it, I save a link to it as a draft, with a few words to remind myself why I’m doing this. I wasn’t responding or commenting on your entire blog post. I was just answering a question that I have seen in many places, from many people. It just happened that yours was the post I “bookmarked” to come back to write the answer.

      I think anytime a person asks, “Why did you do X?” there is an implied judgment. “Why did you do X instead of Y? Because Y is what I would do, or Y is what I think you should do.” Even if the asker never meant to convey that judgment, it’s out there. In the case of this specific question, people have asked it because they do think that White parents have some hidden motives. I’ve been involved in some very interesting discussions about transracial adoption, where this question is the central theme.

      I think that most White parents who adopt Black children do so because their kids needed parents. I don’t think there are motives other than “I want to be a parent, this child needs a parent.” So, the answer to “why do White parents adopt Black children?” is simple. You are absolutely right, that there are other factors to be considered in adopting transracially. But that question is, “How are White parents going to prepare Black children for the world?” It is a valid question. It’s a question all people who adopt transracially should be able to answer. But it is a completely different question. That’s the question that you’re really talking about in your comment, I think. The question that brings up privilege, race, history, and so on isn’t “Why?,” it’s “How?”. And maybe that seems like it’s really just semantics, but I think it’s an important distinction. Many people do believe that White people adopt Black children for the “wrong” reasons. And when you ask someone, “Why?” you do tend to get a defensive response. But if the dialogue is really about “How?”, well, that’s different. That’s tangible.

      I hope that makes sense.

      • We are absolute in agreement in the need for parents of Black children (any parent) to be able to answer the question of how they will prepare their child to live in a world that time and again seems to value them differently. I write about this a lot on my own blog with respect to my daughter.

        I get your point; however, where you see a strong distinction between “Why” and “How” questions, I would argue that, in this case, I do not. I would also go out on a limb and say that many folks looking through my lens also do not make such a distinction. So yes, I do think it’s semantics that allows the discourse to be parsed and oversimplified in a way that falls short of really getting to the crux of the “Why” question. Attempting to separate the Why and How questions feels like the inherent interconnectedness is not seen, understood or appreciated. I say *feels* because I can sense from your response that you get it, but for some reasons there is still a need to parse the two concepts in order to maybe explain it to people who don’t?

        The “Why” question is a linear result of a host of other how/why questions stewing beneath the surface. I would argue that it’s like an equation—with the result being admittedly loaded and full of critical inquiry (a la, “are you sure you can do this?’). But you can’t just separate out that end question without looking at the variables that produce it. All of the questions are rooted in a milieu of curiosity, distrust and a desire that children get what they need, which includes a cultural framework that ensures not only survival but the ability to thrive. Sure there’s an element of judgment there, but there’s a genuine concern there that is equally weighted in the inquiry.

        The response to the answer to Why question elicits a “Well duh” response because the original question is coded language for all the other questions.

        I think that most Black people think that White parents who adopt Black children do so because the kids needed homes, but that belief can and often does coexist with a curiosity about that still questions why would they choose us/our children? I’ve observed and participated in similar discussions about transracial adoption that made such inquiries—and the asker was not always a person of color asking the most uncomfortable questions. There’s curiosity all around and I believe their questions were coded as well.

        So with genuine respect, I would continue to argue that, for these purposes, a linguistic framework that oversimplifies the original question of Why falls short understanding the complexity of the inquiry and sides steps the tough work of tackling the multitude of thoughts and opinions (some valid, others not) on raising children of color.

        I get your point, and really appreciate the conversation—I really do. 🙂 Thanks.

        • Sure, “why” and “how” are interconnected. But the “why” automatically puts most people on the defensive, the “how” may or may not, depending on a number of factors. It’s less likely to do so, at least. When you say, “Why choose us?”, that question elicits a very different response than, “How are you planning for situation X?” So, to some extent, I also think it’s a matter of asking the question to get the answer you really want. I like for people to say what they mean, and to use the least complicated way to do it. It’s from being a technical writer, I’m sure.

          Thank you for conversing with me. This is *really* making me think.

          • Ahhhh! Technical writer–now I understand where you’re coming from. 🙂 We still have square pegs and round holes, here. For the non-technical reader/writer there is a desire to have *all* of the curiosity satiated–it’s not just a matter of what you “really” want to know. Coded language isn’t going to be adequately parsed with technical writing without really understanding the language. It’s like learning idioms in a foreign language–we learn the words, consider their literal meaning, use it in a sentence and get a massive side eye from the locals because it simply doesn’t mean what you think it does. 🙂 Be open to multiple meanings in coded language and try comfort (stretch) in the fluidity of language. I think the confrontations associated with the ‘why’ questions might be greatly mitigated as a result.

  2. Pingback: Adopting While Black | AdoptiveBlackMom

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