Token black babies: A conversation on transracial adoption

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I know I’m in church, Lord. Please don’t strike me down.

That’s what I couldn’t help thinking when the guest pastor showed us all a picture of his family on the big screen. I saw his beautiful wife and two cute kids. And his newly adopted African daughter from Uganda.

There was a black baby in the picture!

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I felt a little uneasy. But why? He did a good thing out of the kindness of his heart. Why was I feeling a little offended, I guess you could say?

I looked to my left where my cousin sat and our eyes met. He pulled out his phone and typed something to show to me. “Is it just me? I feel a little uncomfortable?” the text said. I nodded and smiled.

Wooh! I wasn’t the only one.

I brought up the issue during the car ride home because I wanted to know what my (black American) family thought about it.

“Why’d they have to go all the way to Africa?” my mom said.

I also couldn’t help but suspect racial motives. Wasn’t there some poor European country they could have went to instead? I don’t know, some Russian orphanage in the middle of nowhere in the country maybe? Or weren’t there white kids in America who needed adoption?

I recalled a skit I saw at one BET awards show in which comedian Niecy Nash poked fun at how so many white celebrities were adopting black kids. She walked up on stage with three white children in tow.

“These babies have done wonders for my credit score,” she said. “To all the rappers and singers and ballers and shot callers: instead of making it rain, make a difference and get yourself some white kids.”

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Niecy Nash with her “adopted white kids.”

A joke, obviously. But why were so many white families choosing to adopt black babies as opposed to their own?

Well, most of the world’s poorest countries are African countries, I thought. So they do need the most help. (Because of European colonization I might add, but that’s a whole other post.) But was that all there was to it?

With thought my mom added, “Funneling the babies away does nothing for that country. Help them strive where they’re at.” She held the “teach a man how to fish instead of giving him fish” sort of mindset.

“Build a school instead,” she said. “Give them clean water or electricity like Akon did.”

Akon is a millionaire, mom. And only people like Oprah have the money to build schools.

My cousin, the black panther, was highly offended. “It’s because of their white privilege and white guilt that they wear these black babies like purses,” he said. Ouch.

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A line that I’d read in Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah popped in my head. The main character had a blog in which she wrote about various social issues (not unlike moi), and a white man whom she met in passing unexpectedly served as the inspiration for her next post with these words:

“. . . he said, ‘Ever write about adoption? Nobody wants black babies in this country, and I don’t mean biracial, I mean black. Even the black families don’t want them.’

He told her that he and his wife had adopted a black child and their neighbors looked at them as though they had chosen to become martyrs for a dubious cause.”

Dubious cause. I thought that my cousin would have been one of those neighbors with his raised eyebrows and suspicious looks as he saw tiny black Faith pile into the minivan with her pale brother and sister.

“Why don’t black families adopt these orphans then?” I argued. “How can black people get mad when they’re not doing anything about the problem?”

I’d always planned to adopt when I decided I was ready to start a family. I’m not one of these negroes who gets mad when they see “token black babies” in white families, but won’t don’t do anything about these struggling children. They won’t dare go out and adopt their own black babies to solve the problem or at least get foster children, but they have the nerve to comment when they see a black child being raised in a white family.

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“A lot of black families can’t help because a lot of them are poor and too fucked up mentally to adopt due to over 400 years of slavery and discrimination,” said my mom. She was right. (And if you have a problem with me blaming slavery, Slavery. Slavery. Slavery.)

But, I still wasn’t satisfied with that. I added, “Why don’t a lot of well-off blacks want to help their communities? A lot of uppity black folks would rather leave their struggling brethren in the gutter.”

I wasn’t being entirely fair to black people, though. While many of us couldn’t afford to adopt a child, we gave back in a lot of other ways. We created and participated in many organizations like sororities/fraternities, NAACP, and the Boys & Girls Club to give back to our community.

But back to the issue that sparked the discussion: the pastor’s new African baby daughter. I imagined her growing up confused about her identity. Her parents couldn’t teach her about racism and what it meant to be a black woman in America.

What would she do with her hair? Would her childhood friends understand why her parents and siblings had strikingly different skin complexions? How would it feel growing up not knowing your people’s culture?

But when if they’d never adopted her and she’d remained an orphan in poverty back in Uganda? Faith could have gone her whole life feeling unloved in that orphanage or could have even died from a lack of resources in a war-torn country.

No doubt Faith would have a much better life growing up in America with easy access to necessities like filtered water and healthcare. No. Faith would have a much better life because she had a loving family now.

The pastor and his family weren’t racists like my cousin insinuated, nor are the vast majority of whites who take in black children. I believe they truly aimed to do something out of the goodness of their heart and felt like they were called by God to do it. They did a wonderful thing.

So why did I feel so conflicted?

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Undoubtedly, Faith would grow up confused, questioning her blackness and identity like the countless black children adopted into white families before her. But if you could choose between lack of racial identity problems and lack of a loving home, wouldn’t you choose the latter every time?

We are a proud people. We think that we don’t need the white massah’s handouts. We don’t need a white savoir to come lift us out of poverty. We can help ourselves! After all, it was white people who put us in this position to begin with through slavery and colonization, right?

We are letting our mistrust of white people tarnish genuine kindness. Regardless of motive, even under the “the black people need my help” mindset, it is still fundamentally an act of love.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely at ease when I see a black child with a white family, but I’ll always be thankful that someone cared enough to take that child in. I’ll answer the call to adoption myself one day. And I’ll always have Faith that one day no child will go without a family.

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Categories: Culture, race, Religion, Uncategorized

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