Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Is Accepting Transracial Adoption Enough?

“I think the church is doing an awesome job with transracial adoption. They’ve been so accepting of our family!!” 

As the words above, spoken by a genuinely kind neighbor, floated into my brain, my face immediately flushed. It took a moment to realize how quickly my heart was beating. My stomach was woozy and the room felt like it was spinning around me.

The words didn’t seem to immediately impact anyone else in the circle of white women from the church event I was attending. 

It took me a moment to realize the next words I was hearing, which were a little too loud to be socially appropriate, were coming from my own mouth.

Yes. It’s good that the white, evangelical church can sometimes accept transracial adoption and even celebrate transracial adoptive families. However, we continue to perpetuate the unjust systems that cause most transracial adoptions in the first place. In short, every transracial adoption is a reminder of how far we have to go.

We say we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Would we want to be stuck in unstable situations caused by systemic injustice that causes vulnerability that leads to our children being removed from our homes and raised by strangers? Or would we want our neighbors to love us in a way that preserved our families?

Families were intended to be together- biologically. It’s how God made us. Separating families, specifically, biological mothers from their children and children from their biological mothers, is abusive unless it’s absolutely necessary to keep children safe. Removing children from their culture of origin creates another unique trauma. We need to work to make certain adoption hardly is necessary if we aim to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have an opportunity to prevent trauma upon trauma as we truly love our neighbors as Jesus instructed us.

Although the circle of friends spoke loudly through their body language of uncomfortable shifting and inability to know where to focus their eyes, it seemed like two-and-a-half decades passed before the next voice spoke. When I heard how shaky it was, I glanced up to see a visitor with tears in her eyes. She then poured her heart out, beginning with wholeheartedly agreeing adoption creates trauma. I won’t tell her story or her family’s story, I will say she had grown up with an adopted sister and what I’d said resonated with her greatly. The trauma was always obvious to her. It was obvious her adoptive sibling needed her birth family. Her sister knew it, her parents knew it, she knew it; yet the system that had originally separated a once hopeful family was limited in its ability to contribute to their healing or safe reunification.

Only the adoptive family had the means to begin addressing the cumulative trauma. Yet, it wasn’t nearly enough. 

Sadly, in the white, evangelical church, it feels like we believe the next thing we choose, dream up, or contribute to financially (child sponsorship, transracial adoption, etc…) is the solution to racism. We’ve become comfortable with expecting far too much for ourselves and far too little for our neighbors; which leads to us to believe the church is doing justice by merely accepting adopted Black children of white congregants into our communities without first acknowledging that we’re contributing to unjust systems that separate families in the first place. 

But transracial adoption isn’t a solution to racism. Transracial adoption is an imperfect response to crises created by racism. If racism were eradicated, transracial adoption would be mostly eliminated with it.

If justice prevailed, adoption in general would rarely happen. 

Adoption not only separates a birth family, but the resulting trauma often wreaks havoc in the adoptive family. Transracial adoption involves the additional traumatic experience of being removed from one’s culture of origin; something some adoptive parents refuse to acknowledge, other adoptive parents don’t have the resources to address, and those who acknowledge it being left knowing they can only do the best they can with what they have. Trauma leaves scars. 

Yet, while trauma had clearly left its mark, as I listened to the newcomer speak, I didn’t hear a note of blame for her adopted sibling. She had only love for her. She only wished the circumstances of their relationships were different- that loss wouldn’t have caused unnatural urgent necessary relationships. That the systems that had caused her sister’s need for adoption would have rather prevented it. 

She loved her sister. She hated the trauma her sister endured. The trauma both families endured. She wanted better for her sister- which would have been better for everyone. 

In order to love my adopted children, I’ve had to grieve with them, constantly, over their losses. I’ve had to learn to acknowledge that they didn’t want me to be their mom- that, if given the choice between having a whole family from the start and being my child through adoption, they (like every other child on earth) would choose the former.  

Transracial adoption constantly reminds me our society has a long way to go to love our neighbors as ourselves. Inequitable and unjust housing, education, childcare, wage, and employment structures not only constrain mobility for African Americans, but also put those families at disproportionate risk of losing a child to foster care or adoption. Who of us can keep our family together without the wages and housing opportunities necessary to keep a family safe? 

Investing in causes that fight to dismantle unjust systems that cause the disproportionate separation of African American families via adoption is one way we acknowledge the pain associated with the trauma of adoption and love each member of our unique family well. As we work to love others with the goal of family preservation, we enjoy each other and thrive; because we all know that our neighbors deserve a solid foundation- beginning with the family and culture they were born into. 

We know that the day our society treats everyone as a neighbor, adoption trauma will all but cease. 

Adoption is in the fabric of our family and we cherish each other. And if adoption was no longer necessary for our neighbors, we would all have reason to celebrate. 

While transracial adoption has a broader definition, I’ve specifically emphasized African American children being adopted into white families because that is our family’s experience. This theme also applies to international adoption. I truly believe also that if we loved our neighbors as ourselves adoption in general would be nearly nonexistent. This post is my theological and personal perspective; which has been informed by multiple adult adoptees, birth parents, as well as my experiences providing foster care and as an adoptive parent. 

As I write, I’m constantly reminded that while all of our experiences are valid, adoptees didn’t have a choice being adopted. Transracial adoptees also didn’t choose being adopted into another culture. Adoptees: I recognize your opinions are diverse and your voices are not heard nearly enough. You are the experts. I’m thankful to be learning from you.

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