Women of Color in the Adoption Community

We are fortunate enough to witness a shift in racial diversity within the adoption community. It is becoming more common to see families that do not look alike. The faces of adoption are evolving just as fast as the faces of biological families. The typical family perception is slowly dissipating. Included in the growing adoption demographics are women of color. A person of color simply means someone who is not white. Women of color are breaking stereotypes and establishing an identity for not only potential parents but children as well. 

Unfortunately, adoption has had a long record of discrimination. At one time, children of color or from multicultural heritages were largely discriminated against and were considered defective or unadoptable. It has been something that has been incredibly difficult to wrap my head around when researching. An ambiguous explanation of “that was the era” is insufficient for me. I am not sure how these labels and hurtful actions were ever justified. Helen Doss documents the discrimination children faced in her book The Family Nobody Wanted, which was written in 1954. Although she is not a woman of color, she does describe the scrutiny that was faced when wanting to adopt these so-called defective children. It was not until 1994 that these discriminations were addressed with the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA). The overview introduction reads:

“The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994, as amended by the Interethnic Provisions of 1996 (MEPA) is one of several recent federal initiatives and laws aimed at removing the barriers to permanency for the hundreds of thousands of children who are in the child protective system, and especially, for the African-American and other minority children who are disproportionately represented in out-of-home care, and who wait longer than others for permanent homes.”

Later in the act, it includes protection against discrimination for potential parents as well and potential transracial adoptions. It also provides that if potential parents or children individually feel they have encountered a discriminatory action, they can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. This was necessary security needed to ensure safety and fairness. 

Women of Color

Social media is the easiest way to find personal experience on any topic. There are so many people willing to share their stories with the hope that someone can benefit from them. You can see both positive and negative experiences, and of course, you form your own opinion. I follow an account of an African-American woman who adopted several children with her husband, including a white boy. She shares so many stories from regular daily activities to blatant disrespectful comments and gestures she encounters from others. She often talks about the responses she gets when people realize she is the mother to her white son. I am assuming that people are unaware that transracial adoptions consist of parents of color as well. She has over 100,000 followers, and I love that she is giving representation to an underrepresented demographic.

We are seeing a significant increase in single-mother adoptions and, more specifically, single women of color. According to the United States Census Bureau, women of color are twice as likely to be unmarried than white women which can be directly attributed to the reason why we are seeing more of it. 

Growth in the number of single-parent adoptions by women of color was noticed as early as the mid-2000s. A founder of an adoption referral and support group in Los Angeles commented on the newly discovered demographic. She hypothesized that many women were ready to start a family despite not finding an adequate partner. Age progression or infertility may have also played a role in the decisions of these women. Whatever the reasoning is, the growth has made a much-needed impact. 

The value of women of color in the adoption community is that they are giving children the representation they need, improving diversity, and they are continuing to break the barriers that have stopped so many in the past. Statistically proven, white women do adopt more than other races. The Institute of Family Studies reports that 77 percent of adopted kindergarteners’ mothers are white and 51 percent have children of a different race or ethnicity. I fully support transracial adoption, especially given the recent expansion of educational resources; however, broadening the racial diversity among adoptive parents benefits everyone. Women of color have so many assets to strengthen children of any race or ethnicity.

Informal Adoption

Women of color, more specifically African-American women, have a pretty impressive history of informal adoption. Informal adoption means that an adult resumes the parental responsibilities without any acknowledgment from the court. It originated in African societies through the slave trade, and the tradition prevailed with the relocations of African-Americans from the South to Northern states. For almost one hundred years, African Americans were denied adoption services. This was not only based on race but also religion. Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Bo Diddley were all a part of informal kinship adoption. Both writers Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes were raised by their grandmothers, and the musician Bo Diddley was raised by his Aunt Gussie. 

Robert B. Hill, a sociologist who has written on this tradition states, “It is part of our culture. We say so few positive things about black families, and this is a trait that most blacks have experienced.”

The increase or movement of women of color in the adoption community is not new; now, it is just legal. While I firmly endorse legal adoption (even though the process can be tedious, I would never suggest otherwise), I feel many parents of adoption would agree that it is just a piece of paper. The love, nurturing, and connection started long before a judge recognized it. It is important to acknowledge all the women who laid the foundation for us. All the women who were not granted that piece of paper, the women who bypassed tax credits or faced possible financial hardships to commit and get the job done. So, although the statistics of women of color have recently been growing they are so many uncounted heroes we have to thank. They were the ones filling the void for a system that would have considered their children unadoptable, defective, or ignored. They truly paved a way for us.

Our Responsibility

I am a woman of color and a mom by way of adoption. Those are just plain facts. To be completely transparent, I did not know much about adoption when I embarked on this life journey. I certainly did not understand the magnitude of being a Latino woman adopting a child. I did not know that even in 2014 when my son was born that the stereotypes of adoption were still lingering. I am willing and hopeful that I can make even a small impact in the adoption community and be a part of the positive direction women of color are headed.  

I feel like one of our responsibilities as women of color in the adoption community, is to continue to move forward with the trajectory that has been initiated by so many women before us. We have to continue to contribute to the change and expose the discrimination of children. 

Women of color can also provide inclusivity to children especially to those experiencing instability in the foster care system. 

Another responsibility we have is to bring attention to the ongoing passive segregation within adoption. The term “defective” of previous years may be unused, but the policies of discrimination against children of color are still inadvertently practiced. For example, numerous studies year after year conclude that African-American boys are least likely to be adopted. There have been adoption agencies that offer incentives to adopt African-American boys at a reduced rate in efforts to open potential parents’ preferences. Giving the benefit of the doubt, these agencies are attempting to act in the best interest of the children and just want them to be placed; however, while they are exhausting all their possibilities, it seems to almost devalue these boys as human beings. I have very strong feelings about this topic, and it is very hard for me to refrain from my extreme disappointment when reading about these common practices. I have never worked with an adoption agency, so I do not know the policies or the intent of these efforts. I can only express my opinion as an outsider looking in. In my opinion, we can not progress towards equality when we continue to conform to acts of inequality and settle for it being good enough. 

NPR released an interesting series of conversations in 2013 called The Race Card Project, and they challenged listeners to submit six words that summarized their thoughts on cultural and racial identity. One submission was titled “Black Babies Cost Less to Adopt”. There, a woman from Louisiana explains how the difference in fee structure left her utterly devastated. To adopt a white baby would have been $35,000 versus $18,000 to adopt an African-American baby. Washington University law school professor Kimberly Jade Norwood has stated on this topic, “In the adoption market, race and color combine to create another preference hierarchy: white children are preferred over nonwhite. When African-American children are considered, the data suggest there is a preference for light skin and biracial children over dark-skinned children.”  

The reduction in fee structure is reminiscent of the efforts of 1960s New York City’s Children Bureau’s that issued brochures with “heartbreak babies”. The brochures were released with the hope of recruiting African-American parents. At the time an estimated 50,000 African-American children were in need of permanent placement with very little likelihood that it would happen. Large cities around the United States began innovative efforts to persuade couples to adopt. Sayings such as, “You don’t have to be a Joe Louis or a Jackie Robinson to adopt children.” were used to promote awareness of people’s competence. Despite the incredibly high racial tension the nation faced, many agencies persisted in finding a home for the 50,000 children waiting for permanent placement. 

MEPA was initially drafted because there was enough attention drawn to the injustices of these children. It is our duty to continue to advocate on behalf of children that are unable to do so for themselves and allow ourselves to be used as the representation they need. 

Our Strength

Now more than ever we see the exposure of social injustices. We have the opportunity to bring to light an injustice that directly affects us and children like us. The strength of women of color in the adoption community is special. We can personally identify with the discrimination and propel through it. We are pushing forward to break stereotypes and establish a reputation of strength and understanding. It is not always easy to talk about the hurt associated with discrimination that children are still facing today; however, if heard from the voices of other minorities, it can make a difference. We can give a voice to the voiceless. We owe to the women who initiated this movement despite the odds and laws being against them. We owe it to children that will grow up and they themselves will be part of the adoption community. We owe it to ourselves to allow our purpose to bring change and possibly unify.

Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.