Race Mixing and White Saviorism – I’ve Heard It All Before
Ibram X. Kendi is very well known in the anti-racist movement. In fact, he wrote the book, “How to be an Anti-Racist,” along with, “Stamped from the Beginning,” and this year he was appointed director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.
Kendi is a National Book Award winner and this year Time magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He is regularly on the national news speaking on issues of race in this country and is a CBS contributor.
Ibram X. Kendi is a very prominent voice in this country on the issue of race. Incidentally, he is also from Northern Virginia, graduating from Stonewall Jackson High School (now Unity Reed High School) in Prince William County.
When he tweets, lots of people listen.
And whether this is Barrett or not is not the point. It is a belief too many White people have: if they have or adopt a child of color, then they can’t be racist.
— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) September 26, 2020
Twitter is not the place to make nuanced arguments, and this tweet is an exemplary reason why. There are people who adopt black children and do not invest the time and energy to fully examine their own implicit bias or role in a system of racism and privilege, but most do.
Adopting outside of your own race requires extra attention and a recognition that no matter how much you may love your child and want the world to be color blind, you will need help connecting them to their race and culture. You will not personally have the life experience to give them all the tools they need to navigate being a person of color in America.
I can speak to this fact from personal experience as a white adoptive mother to two black teenagers. When they were little and seen by the world as unthreatening and cute, I was committed to raising them with a colorblind worldview. I wanted them to be the best version of themselves fully divorced from their race.
Then when my daughter was four and was called a n***** by a white girl on the playground, I realized two things very quickly: the world is not colorblind and I needed help. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a loving group of friends and mentors who put books in my hands and wisdom on my heart.
However, there are historic and modern examples of the type of behavior to which Kendi is referring. Our country does have a history of whites kidnapping the children of indigenous tribes to civilize them through re-education, and that is a conversation we should be having in this country, but that is not why Kendi brought it up at this moment in time. His Tweet was a reaction to two things: the nomination of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court and a Tweet from Candace Owens.
Amy Coney Barrett:
-She’s a woman, so they can’t hire their usual fake sexual assault victims.
-She has two black children, so they can’t smear her as a racist.
Taking early bets as to what the Democrats will cook up to try to stop ACB…
— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) September 26, 2020
Being that this is a conservative site, I do not feel the need to explain who Candace Owens is or give examples of her firebrand style of political discourse. However, I will say that her Tweet is no less devoid of nuance or blanket inaccuracy as that of Kendi. There is no magic wand that expunges racism, be it having a black friend, co-worker, or even a black child. And yet, Owens implies that very thing in her Tweet. She didn’t do this to prove how open-minded she is; she did it to score political points.
The real issue at hand is that the two black Haitian children of Judge Barrett have been dragged into the center of this judicial nomination by both sides of the aisle with Kendi on the left and Owens on the right, and now their statements are being debated by the whole world while placing a blinding spotlight on two innocent kids. Each has broken the cardinal rule of political debate: family is off-limits. Completely. End of story. No if, ands, or buts.
I have been a transracial adoptive parent and a political activist for most of my adult life. The attacks on Amy Coney Barrett’s adoption of her son and daughter are upsetting but they aren’t new. They aren’t even original. I’ve been hearing those same denigrating comments about my own family for well over a decade. Even though I don’t know for sure, I suspect that Judge Barrett has heard them all before as well.
I’ve been told multiple times that white adoptive parents of minority children are secretly (or openly) the most racist people alive. This is usually the argument lobbed at us from folks on the left.
Sometimes the comments are more subtle from people with left-leaning politics, but their meaning is no less apparent. “Those kids are so lucky that you adopted them. Your son would probably be in jail and your daughter would probably already have a baby if it weren’t for you. You know how some people just work to keep black people down. It’s so good that they had you to rescue them from that.” That sounds like a compliment, but really those folks are just leaning into some very negative racial stereotyping.
Before Republicans break their arms patting themselves on the back for how accepting they are being of Amy Coney Barrett’s transracial adoption, I am here to tell you that the mother of two adopted black children and a longtime Republican, y’all better put that hand back down at your side.
People on the right have said that my husband and I only adopted our children because “they look good on our lit” or we were “smart to adopt those two kids so no one could call us racists.” When our kids first came to us, a Republican elected official asked, “Couldn’t that Mexican priest of yours (he was Salvadoran) find some nice African family to take them?”
We’ve been accused of sinful race mixing and white saviorism. Some may have a guess about which side of the political aisle these comments came from, but I’m here to tell you that no party has a monopoly on racism. I’ve had members of both parties say incredibly inappropriate things to me about my family.
The left and right wings of American politics don’t seem to find much to agree on, but they’ve both found ways to tell me that my family is somehow wrong, so at least we’re bringing about a little political unity. That’s something, right?
Meanwhile, we’re just living our lives like so many other racially mixed families.
According to a report by the Institute of Family Studies, 77 percent of all adoptive parents in this country are white. In 1999, 29 percent of adoptees were of a different race than their adoptive parents, and by 2011, that percentage had jumped to 44 percent. It has continued to grow year after year.
Adoptions from foster care, as ours was, lag behind this number with only 20-25 percent of all adoptions being transracial. This could be due to the fact that, until 1994, many states would leave children to languish in the foster care system rather than placing them with a family outside of their race.
It was only with the passage of the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act-Interethnic Adoption Provision (MEPA-IAP) that this changed across the United State as the law “prohibit[ed] State agencies and other entities that receive Federal funding and were involved in foster care or adoption placements from delaying, denying, or otherwise discriminating when making a foster care or adoption placement decision on the basis of the parent or child’s race, color, or national origin” (US Department of Health and Human Services). Failure to comply with MEPA is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Within our foster care system, 60 percent of children are non-white. There are thousands of kids eligible for adoption but waiting in foster care because there just aren’t enough people willing to adopt. Whether it is with a family of their own race or another race, it is clear that kids do better in a stable loving home.
A 1995 study determined that interracial adoption had no negative impact on a child when it comes to “adjustment, self-esteem, academic achievement, peer relationships, parental and adult relationships,” with more than 75 percent of transracially adopted children adjusting well to their new homes.
However, there is another issue at play here: the damage that this debate is causing. Transracial adoptees hear people calling their parents racists. Potential adoptive parents seeing the vitriolic nature of how this is being discussed may reconsider adopting. White saviorism in the adoption community is a thing, but it can’t be discussed using the rhetoric of attacks and shame.
Our history is complicated and messy, especially when it comes to race, but Twitter is not the place to unpack that. As my friend DJ succinctly put it, “With over 400,000 kids in foster care, and millions of orphans worldwide, this problem is huge. Stop the shaming and do something.”
Candace Owens and Ibram Kendi were wrong to bring attention to Judge Barrett’s family to win a political debate. One should never make an assumption about someone based on how they choose to grow their family. Full stop.