Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Adoption and Race: The Elephant in the Room

Martha Nichols deliberates  the perils and challenges in adopting a child of a different race in an excellent feature on Salon.com. Haitian children, of course, are in dire need of loving homes. But the obvious challenges facing these children in a non-color-blind world leaves Nichols–herself an adoptive mother–with concerns over the media’s avoidance of issues of race.

It’s a subject that has been on my mind recently with the success of movies like The Blind Side, in which a white Texan family adopts a black teenage football player. Ostensibly, a heartwarming movie about a family adopting a teenager in need. But how can anyone avoid the racial implications of the white family saving the black child?

Nichols states the issue directly:

Why is the white-savior storyline so entrenched? And why is it so hard for the “objective” journalistic voice to talk about race?

Perhaps because an open dialogue, mindful of the legacy of white colonialism, of polite conversation rather than tough questions, of the persistent, oftentimes subtle instances of institutionalized racism, isn’t what Americans want. We want uplifting stories of rescue, adoption, and reconciliation.

We don’t want to acknowledge that interracial adoptions may have a negative impact, both for the adoptees and families, but also in the context of reinforcing stereotypes of the “white savior” as identified by Nichols.

It’s not that all news outlets avoid the issue of race. In the mainstream media, however, dialogue is often polemic at best, left to alternative or scholarly outlets at worst (as in this article from the alt-weekly Illinois Times, providing facts on the different costs to adopt children of different races. The impact of major newspapers and broadcast networks can’t be discounted; when the Boston Globe trumpets headlines like “Joy, Frustration Brought Home” without a balanced coverage of adoptive issues, images of rosy blitheness, of those who rescue and those who are rescued, is subtly conveyed.

As I was traveling through Uganda in January, I’d often be stopped in my tracks by African children with straight-forward questions like: Why are Americans so rich? Africans so poor? How can I build self-confidence? The directness, the sincerity, of the Ugandan children that I met often surprised me. Not only because I rarely felt that I had an adequate response, but also because the depth of the question asked was not a level of inquiry in the American public domain.

What’s said and what’s lost. It’s a conundrum.

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Filed under: family, media, race, , , , , , ,

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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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