Adoption, Dr Ibram X. Kendi and Amy Coney Barrett

On September 26, 2020, President Trump announced that his choice to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court is Amy Coney Barrett.  And she is an transracial adoptive parent.

Not surprisingly, later that same day, the conversation around transracial and international adoption was thrust firmly into the national and international spotlight.

As an adoptive parent and educator, my ears perked up when my favorite author, speaker and all round human spoke about adoption in response to a photo of Amy Barrett’s family.

Some White colonizers “adopted” Black children. They “civilized” these “savage” children in the “superior” ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity.

And whether this is Barrett or not is not the point. It is a belief too many White people have: if they have or adopt a child of color, then they can’t be racist.

I’m challenging the idea that White parents of kids of color are inherently “not racist”…

Dr Ibram X. Kendi, @DrIbram

And the adoption internet blew up. And my heart skipped a beat.

If like me, you are an adoptive parent, does reading those words make your back bristle?  Do you feel that by extension, he is calling you a colonizer?  Or calling out the fact that you are civilizing your children?

Stop and read it again.

THAT IS NOT WHAT HE IS SAYING. It isn’t even really about Amy Coney Barrett. He is pointing out that adoption of children for purposes of saving, civilizing or reforming is not new, in fact it goes way, way back.

The most well-known of these policies started in the late 19th century, when the government took many Indian children from their parents and put them in boarding schools to “civilize” them. Children had their hair cut, were required to speak English and were taught Christianity….

Federal policy changed in the 1930s when the government realized boarding schools were expensive and were not achieving the goal of assimilation. But they had to find a place for all these children, so they turned to the child welfare system. One infamous federal program called the Indian Adoption Project resulted in hundreds of Indian children in Western states being removed from their parents and given to white families, often several states away…

The government’s goal was assimilation, Jacobs says, though individual social workers likely had good intentions.

Time, “The Fight Over Native American Adoptions Is About More Than Just the Children”

They were living in adoptive homes.  They were living in foster homes.  In an effort to civilize them, up until 42 years ago.

And what about Phillis Wheatley?

A pioneering African American poet, Wheatley was born in Senegal/Gambia around 1753. At the age of eight, she was kidnapped and brought to Boston on an enslaved person ship. Upon her arrival, John Wheatley purchased the young girl, who was in fragile health, as a servant for his wife, Susanna.

Under the family’s direction, Wheatley (who, as was the custom at the time, adopted her master’s last name) was taken under Susanna’s wing. Her quick intelligence was hard to miss, and as a result, Susanna and her two children taught Wheatley to read and was actively encouraged in her literary pursuits by the household.

Biography.com, Phillis Wheatley

Purchased, named after the slave ship she was brought over on and then given her slavers last name and raised and educated almost like a daughter, Phillis’s story is part adoption, part slavery. As her intellect started to shine, she was paraded around to all the other White wealthy slave owners, to show the uniqueness of her civility.

And if because it was the custom of the time to take the last name of your owner, the adoption aspect comes into question, Phillis herself thanks the family for adopting her. Blurry lines indeed.

Although critics debate Phillis’ status in the Wheatley home, in a letter to her friend Obour Tanner, Phillis thanked Susanna Wheatley for adopting her and treating her “more like her child than her servant.”

Dartmouth Collections

Adoption, saving, civilizing… this is NOT new.

I have worked with hundreds of adoptive (and foster parents) and I have to tell you that what Dr Kendi is saying is true. Just because you parent a child who is of a different race does not make you automatically “not-racist”. You do not get a free pass. Many of the parents I have worked with are ON the journey to learn about race and racism, and many haven’t even started.

It has to be an intentional process of reprogramming our brains of the socialisation we all go through as children to believe the stereotypes, lies and convenient half truths we learned about people of other races, almost by osmosis.

So… If this conversation is still rubbing you the wrong way….

If you just tucked in much beloved children into bed and are thinking – not me. That’s not me! Not my family…. I implore you to keep digging.

Why is it not you?

What are your actions saying to the world around you? What you say and don’t say? Do you love truly love all people and think they are all as worthy to be beloved as your children. Do you think “those people” “could” be good, but they make bad choices? They “could” be loveable with some more services or more support in their lives?

Check yourself. You have babies to raise.

You CAN be anti-racist, raise healthy kids AND an adoptive but you first have to admit that you are starting from a place of ignorance, or hold some racist ideas. And then keep going. Keep engaging with adoptees (especially transracially adopted ones if that is what your family looks like), people who are not just like you and be open to being uncomfortable, ignorant and teachable.

You have to start somewhere. Engage in the conversation and lean in.

Here are some good places to start:

**As far as Amy Coney Barrett herself, I withhold judgement. No matter what, her kids by birth and by adoption are now at the center of all of this now and for the entire time she is justice if elected. If you pray, pray for all for all of them. The photo on the post is NOT of their family, its a stock photo.**

IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

Amy Coney Barrett is a parent through adoption. In a tweet that followed, international adoptive parents were called colonizers. Racist or accurate?

Published by Alisa Matheson, Attempting Agape

I’m Alisa Matheson. Previously a foster parent, an educator, recruiter for teens aging out of the foster care system. I became a full-time contractor and photographer in 2019. I love coffee, deep conversations, snuggles with my kid and justice on the street. I welcome you to share in my journey.

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