Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Colorism" in African-American Adoption

At theGrio, a piece looking at how skin tone affects the adoption of black children -- and the conclusion might surprise you:
Could the skin tone of black children play a role in whether they are chosen -- especially if the family considering them is black? Mardie Caldwell, founder and CEO of the Lifetime Adoption agency, says this is true -- and that this bias is exclusive to African-Americans.

"We've found that many African-American families have definite preferences for the type of children they want, whether it's newborns [or older children], and also in terms of their physical appearance," Caldwell told theGrio. The author of seven books on the adoption process, including her latest, Called to Adoption, suggested that the finicky tastes of black families made private agencies reluctant to work with them.

"A lot of organizations and other adoption professionals have actually stopped doing African-American adoptions. We're one of the few centers, Lifetime Adoptions, that does African-American and biracial adoptions, and we're one of the largest in the United States," she explained. "When families come to us they will actually give us preferences and say 'we want to stick with a child that looks like us, and we're lighter-skinned or we're darker-skinned.' It does make it difficult at times."

By contrast, "if we have families that may be biracial -- one partner is Caucasian and the other is African-American -- we can come to them with any black child, and they're more open," Caldwell said. "The same is true with Caucasian families, which is why you're seeing more Caucasians adopting children of color, because they really don't care about the shade."

* * *

Private agencies also tend to be for-profit, meaning the child selection process can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Jacqueline D. Wilson, MSW/LSW, believes this could be one factor effecting the attitudes of the African-Americans Caldwell has encountered. The CEO of the Three Rivers Adoption Council in Pittsburgh told theGrio: "It took me by surprise to learn that she said that, because I have never encountered that at all. We go through a thorough investigation process before we approve families, and I don't know of one that has ever said that in 12 years."
Go read the whole thing.  The article offers three reasons for "colorism" by African-American parents when adopting: 1) when paying more with a private, for-profit adoption agency, parents want a child made-to-order, including skin tone; 2) parents are seeking matching skin tones so the adoption can remain a secret; and 3) preferences for lighter skin tones in the African-American community. Also, the article suggests that African-American birth mothers also take skin tone into account in selecting adoptive parents for their children.

What do you think? Comments, please!


jj said...

What you might find in the domestic newborn scene is that because CC PAPs far outnumber the number of CC newborns available, they accept that if they want to adopt a newborn, they have to look beyond only adopting those babies that resemble them. In regards to AA PAPs, because the ratio is more even, with perhaps the number of AA newborns even outnumbering the number of AA PAPs, the PAPs are more at leisure to choose a child that resembles them more.

Disclaimer: I am not saying that all PAPs want newborns that look like them but many do and there is nothing wrong with that.

As for Ms Caldwell - hmmm - that is all I am saying.

Molly W. said...

We worked with a nonprofit agency pursuing an international adoption, and I lost track of how many times another PAP would say, "We're paying all this money, we should be getting XYZ."

I think it's really, really hard for many Americans to lose that sense that paying customers are entitled to something (there's a European stereotype of Americans always wanting their food/drinks made to order, for example).

I remember noting that a specific agency worker saw her clients as the kids she placed, not the waiting families. Another PAP said something to the effect of, "We're the ones paying her, she should see us [PAPs] as her clients."

And I understand that POV, but -- who IS supposed to look out for the kids? There isn't anyone on their payroll. Which I think is a major challenge with adoption in general: When one party is footing the bill for the whole process, it's almost impossible for the system not to become skewed toward that party's interests.