I wrote this about four years ago, when Nick and I were just being confronted with the various forms and checkboxes that are part of the adoption process. I was baffled and overwhelmed by all the choices that go along with adoption. Race is one of those choices. Here’s what I was thinking in January, 2008:

We can’t ignore it: the adoption forms are full of questions about the kind of child we’re looking for. The ones we’re open to. The child we will welcome into our family. The child who will steal our hearts.

When we first started researching agencies, we would fill out online forms, pre-application applications for adoption agencies or facilitators. The race question is inevitable: “What races are you open to? Check all that apply.” Sometimes the question is tidied up and you’re just presented with two options. It goes something like this: “X adoption entity has two types of adoptions: the “traditional program” and the “agency assisted” program.” Or sometimes, just “Group A” and “Group B.”

There are different kinds of babies?

Yes. But only TWO different kinds of babies. One group is all babies EXCEPT ones of African American ancestry. Group 1 and Group 2. “Agency assisted” usually means the organization waives part of its fees to facilitate the placement of these African American or multi-racial babies.

An admirable cause, yes. Necessary? It depends on how you look at it. How things ought to be? Definitely not.

The instant impression this two-tiered system makes is that there is an ECONOMIC difference between black babies and other babies. A different monetary value is placed on “Group A.” Now we know from adoption statistics that healthy, white babies are a scarce commodity, insofar as there are not enough of them to go around for all the families who would like to be matched with one. So this double system–Group A and Group B– reflects reality. Does it follow that because seemingly fewer families want to adopt “Group B” babies that their adoption should actually cost less?

Many agencies maintain that these adoptions should cost less to increase adoptions of black babies. But do we really want decisions about which family wants what race of child to be based on money? Or you could say that people choose to adopt black children just happen to get a little “thank you” in the form of reduced rates. Something not connected to their decision. No matter how you look at it, the separation of babies based on race reinforces the status quo: it represents certain children as more valuable than others. And representation doesn’t just show us reality; it creates reality.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that measures are needed to find homes for black babies. But measures such as the this double system are bandages–they treat the symptom, not the disease. It’s not the best solution to the problem of finding families for all the babies. We need to inquire into the powerful but silent workings of the system itself. Why are black babies harder to place? Are black and multiracial families recruited by adoption agencies and facilitators at the same rate as their caucasian peers? Why is it so beyond the imagination of many white families that they might adopt a black child?

This American Life on PRI ran a show called “Matchmakers” in January 2008. The third act of the show tells the story of a writer who works as a “nurse” in a “nursery” at FAO Schwartz. The idea is that little girls can adopt newborn dolls and bring them home to be part of the family. The store is swamped with white parents and children who buy out all the white dolls, then the asian, then the hispanic (in that order). The “nurse” is left with a group of unadopted, black babies and one white baby, whose hands are deformed.

Utterly fascinating and very sad–have a listen.

You can stream it for free, or download:


3 Responses to “Are there two kinds of babies? Race and Adoption”

  1. Denise K. Says:

    This post really broke my heart.

  2. Rosemary Says:

    oh I have listened to this before – this is brutal. And very helpful to read.

  3. Little Bird » Blog Archive » Race and Adoption, Part II Says:

    [...] wrote Race & Adoption, Part I, more than 4 years ago. But I just posted it two weeks ago—and, as they say at the end of [...]

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