Interracial Adoption: A Mirror For Our Cultural Attitudes

In 2010, David French, and his wife adopted a child from Ethiopia. Writing for The Atlantic he explains how first the Left and then the Right reacted to his interracial family.

But then came a backlash. Claims of cultural imperialism, wounded national pride, and rare, sad horror stories of exploitation or abuse soured foreign nations against American families. And at home, identity politics and even outright hostility against the Christian adoption movement triggered attacks from some on the left—attacks that were soon to be matched and exceeded by attacks from a racist right.

Next, in 2013, Kathryn Joyce, a writer and journalist who studies and reports on American evangelical Christianity, published a book called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. It was a blistering attack on the evangelical adoption movement, claiming that the adoption industry was rife with corruption and that Evangelicals were in the grips of an ominous “orphan fever” motivated primarily by a desire to evangelize orphan children. The book received significant coverage. Joyce wrote essays in The New York Times Sunday Review and Mother Jones. She was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.

One of the pet issues of the late Senator John McCain was adoption. He believed strongly that the American Left had made the process of adoption so difficult within the United States that families were either abandoning the idea altogether or being forced to go outside the United States for children. The latter reality, ironically, is precisely what drove complaints from the Left about cultural imperialism. This ultimately led to Senator McCain making adoption reform part of his 2008 platform when he ran for president. As someone who is Pro Life, this also became an important issue for me. Progressive conservatives have always noted that a Pro Life stance must be paired with robust sex education, access to birth control and incentives created around adoption. On that last point, I agreed with Senator McCain that reform was desperately needed.

Leftward activists were well-intended when they created more and more hurdles for potential adoptive parents to jump through, but the truth is that today the foster-to-adoption system is truly broken. There are too many stories of foster parents who, after years of caring for a child and wanting to adopt, were unable to do so because the birth parents decided at the 11th hour to re-engage their parental rights. Anecdotally, I have had two coworkers go through this in the last five years and it was heartbreaking to watch.

Unfortunately for the French family, the misguided objections of the Left gave way to a much more sinister opposition from the Alt-Right.

…around the summer of 2015, we began to notice a shift. The attacks on our family came less and less from the left, and increasingly from the so-called alt-right—a vicious movement of Trump-supporting white nationalists who loathe multiracial families. They despise international adoption. They call it “race-cucking your family” or “raising the enemy.” Heaven help you if they find you online, and find us they did. In part because I criticized their movement directly—and in part because I refused to support Donald Trump in 2016—they came after us with a vengeance.

They lifted pictures of my then-7-year-old daughter from social media and Photoshopped her into a gas chamber, with Donald Trump pressing the button to kill her. They put her image in slave fields. They found my wife’s blog and filled the comments section with gruesome pictures of dead or dying African Americans. They made me wish for the days when the left came after us; at least progressive critics didn’t want my daughter to die.

Much has been written about the general racism of this crowd and whether or not this will be a long period of renewed xenophobia or the last gasps of unhinged racism in the United States. This attack on the French family is just one front in a larger war and not necessarily the central point of this post. What troubles me the most is not the misguided intentions of certain liberals or the utter inhumanity of certain conservatives… but the reality that both sides have contributed to the erosion of adoption in our country.

In the years since we brought our daughter home, overseas adoption has plummeted—down 72 percent since 2005—and it’s not hard to see one of the reasons. A broken American culture inflicts itself on nations abroad and families at home, and attitudes shift. In 2010, before we left for Ethiopia, the primary response from friends and acquaintances reflected the hope and joy of the moment. “Are you so excited?” they asked—offering the cheerful rhetorical question always asked of expectant parents. Since then, I’ve seen the question posed to adoptive parents change: “Are you ready?” people wonder, as they seek to prepare parents for problems to come.

I make a bit of a game when I watch television, noting how many commercials reflect obviously interracial families. I have always believed that marketing is a leading indicator about cultural sensibilities and careful viewing can tell you much about the state of our country. If American marketing firms can be trusted to have their fingers on the pulse of public opinion, then we appear to be a much more accepting people with regards to interracial relationships and biracial children. Unfortunately the backlash to some of those ads and the story told by French contradicts that optimism. The recreational outrage machine that seems to exist on both sides of the aisle, for very different reasons, is best neutralized by a more sensible majority that refuse to be agitated by change. Ultimately, it seems we could do a lot better and the children of both our country and the rest of the world deserve it.

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2 thoughts on “Interracial Adoption: A Mirror For Our Cultural Attitudes

  1. The problems of foster parents adopting children is a real sticky one. I saw a few of those cases when i was a child therapist. How to guard biological parents rights while also acting in the best interests of the children is super hard. But that leads into the one thing i think French missed about some of the lefts reasonable criticisms. There is a long sad history of POC and indigenous people having their children taken and adopted into white families for no actual good reason. There are now strong protections built into the law for bio parents but that does mean sketchy parents can string out the process to the greater pain of every one involved.

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  2. I don’t know what to make of this. The OP identifies some objectionable adoption-related practices from the Right and then refers generically to objectionable adoption-related practices from the Left, but doesn’t tell us what they are. Maybe BSDI, maybe not. We should at least know what “It” is.

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