I saw a young Black girl dancing in an Irish dance competition with two White guardians. (I am presuming they are adoptive parents.) Was she being denied “her” heritage, or was she celebrating her family’s heritage?
There’s two aspects of this that bear mentioning.
The Visible Man clearly tackles one inarguable side: Regardless of who you are inside, society judges you by appearance. That is, society will treat my nephew as Black, no matter how many White relatives he has, no matter how he personally behaves, no matter how we would like society to be. It is vitally important that his mother understands that, and understands what kinds of experiences he will (sooner or later) encounter. That way, she can help him cope, resist, and simply be a better parent to her son. Likewise, White parents in particular need to learn about aspects that are based in biology: Hair care, for example, or that most people (other than Europeans) are lactose-intolerant after infancy. Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven is a novel that addresses this, by the by.
But let’s examine the other aspect: That there is some “heritage” due or required for any child *simply because of their biology*. I have to admit, I’m astounded this idea persists in the 21st century, simply because of the two assumptions required to make this assertion.
- That family via biology trumps real-world experiential family. (Examined in this post)
- That race is a real biological construct.
We know historically that the latter simply isn’t true. Race is a social construct, not a biological one. The Italians and Irish were once not considered White in the US, for example. Every time we attack the stereotypes about physical prowess, sexuality, or behaviors, we assert it isn’t true.
Yet when it comes to family – we suddenly pretend that biology matters. Suddenly, biracial children have to recognize thier minority heritage, or children adopted from overseas should learn thier “native” language or “meet their child’s identity needs”. Sorry folks, we can’t have it both ways.
I have a guess where the concern comes from. There is a *legitimate* fear that White culture – that unacknowledged 800 pound gorilla in the room – will simply continue to co-opt minority cultures. It is a concern that native peoples and minority cultures will no longer be subjugated, but instead simply subsumed. It *is* a legitimate concern, but attacking adoptive families as somehow illegitimate is *not* the way to deal with the problem.
And yes, I am presuming that adoptive parents are acting in good faith. In my experience, adoptive parents are willing and desiring to care for a child (or multiple children). They usually cannot have one of their own, or wish to help others in a sense of altruism. In some cases, there is ignorance – and I utterly agree with the Visible Man post in that such ignorance must be addressed. But ignorance is curable.
Are there bad adoptive parents? Absolutely. But that is a criticism of the adoption *process* letting them through, not a criticism of *adoption*. All of the ways that adoptive parents are “bad” are the same ways that biological parents can be “bad”. Can the *process* become cynical and exploitative? Absolutely. But again, that’s a critique of the *process*, not *parents*.
Ultimately, only one of the three things in the title matters. Family is what you make of it (or don’t), for better or for worse. Your heritage is based on ideas and concepts, not genetics.
Oh, and by the way: ALL children – ALL other people, for that matter – introduce one to and force one to face new things and, heaven forbid!, gain knowledge. At least, if you’re not busy being completely snarky about them not being as sophisticated as yourself.