Let us join Nancy French in congratulating herself for saving a baby from the horrific prospect of being raised in Africa. French wrote an article entitled I’m a White Republican Raising a Black Child: Deal With It to raise awareness about how awesome she is.
When I hear this self-congratulatory rhetoric around transracial and/or international adoption, I always pause and think. The self-congratulations typically come from middle, upper-middle, and upper-class heterosexual white families who have adopted a child who is of color and/or born in another country. There is typically lots of applause from other whites for their “good deed”. The assumption being that a middle-to-upper class white upbringing must be superior to other kinds of upbringing, and that by allowing a normally-inferior individual into the white club, a meritorious act has taken place. This is part of what is called the White Savior Complex. It is a relic from colonialism, when whites felt it was their mission to spread across the planet and “improve” the “backwards” races. The colonial mindset is still very present with us, as when this author insinuates adventurism with phrases like: “poverty stricken African tribal area” and their savior status by rescuing a “starving, abandoned girl” from such a terrible place. As I recall from grade school, Africa is actually broken up into political units known as “countries”, but French is kept very busy letting the world know about her good deeds that she can hardly be expected to know unimportant details about insignificant parts of the world.
Then I start to wonder about the big picture. French’s adopted daughter has a biological mother and father. Where are they? Why are they so poor? Why couldn’t they keep their child? Do they have rights? Isn’t there any value to the culture she was born into and taken away from? Why are so many African nations “poverty-stricken”? How are the world’s dominant countries implicated in this poverty?
I just happened upon an article about the struggles of Congolese mothers against the backdrop of political violence: A Congo Mother Survives Cannibalism to Save Her Children: Why Her Photo Matters. Interestingly, the article notes that much of the conflict was instigated by European colonists. Now mothers have to protect their children from cannibalism. If only French could adopt even more African children.
The right to raise your own children is a fundamental human right, and a pillar of the Reproductive Justice movement. Yet it is easier for white Americans to reframe themselves not as colonialists with serious responsibilities to other countries we have impoverished, but as pure, loving saviors who just want to help the children. Do we really have a right to take these children that trumps our responsibility to ensure that all mothers enjoy the right to raise the children they birthed?
Obviously, I am not the first one to have these thoughts. I would recommend further reading, starting with these articles:
The Lie We Love
Black Kids in White Houses
All Your Children Are Belong to Us
Another question that just popped into my head: If French’s daughter had instead grown up in Ethiopia and tried to immigrate to America as an adult to find a better life (the better life that French hopes to offer her by raising her), would French support her access to American residency? Or is it only by fulfilling French’s need to have another child that her daughter earns her right to live in America?