Conclusion to my dissertation

Having conducted this study with non-adopted siblings, I now suggest that choosing to adopt a child is a manifestation of privilege, and should be understood as much more than a demonstration of paternalism, altruism, or rescue. Moreover, transracial adoption especially is a decision that comes with a set of subsequent, and in some cases, recurring consequences that are put into motion once a child joins a family through adoption. One way to think about these momentous parental choices is to reflect on their impact on the other children in the family, namely, their non-adopted or “born-to” children.

This study has shown how, by bringing into the family an adopted child of another race, the entire family unit becomes positioned within complex discourses of race and adoption. We have seen how a transracial adoptive family can respond in several ways. That is, they can choose to minimize race and try to remain safe, oblivious, and color-blind, or they can embrace racial and cultural differences and educate themselves about, and eventually take up in a principled way, anti-racism and multiculturalism. In transracializing their lives, they may even nurture the development of post-white identifications.

Choosing to participate in the social experiment of transracial adoption represents, in a manner of speaking, a choice between opposing sides. When adoptive parents make their decision to adopt a child of another race, they also decide the fate of their children, adopted and non-adopted alike, as participants in the contest between the forces of racialization and transracialization. As I have tried to argue, the major implication of this study focuses on developing more effective approaches to, in a word, integration. That is, the narratives gathered here that collectively describe transracial family life can be understood as first-hand reports of honest attempts to create integrated families and, by extension, multicultural communities.

Integration is an especially apt word to use in this context, however outdated it may sound to 21st-century ears. Integration calls forth the discourses rooted in the social movements of a by-gone era, a time characterized by unbridled idealism made manifest in passionate personal commitments. The young families created during that era’s climate of optimism and idealism arguably reflect, in the lived experience of the now mature study participants, our society’s unfinished and, in some cases, generally abandoned struggles for equality, liberation, and peace.

If transracial adoptees constitute one group of “guinea pigs,” their non-adopted white siblings can be understood as yet another group from the decades-long social experiment now coming to fruition. Moreover, while the political winds have long since shifted, mature transracial families have been left tossing in the wake of still-troubled waters, seas left churning due to the unresolved nature of the related controversies and incomplete social reform movements that gave rise to child welfare innovation in the first place. Partially as a result of our society’s collective abandonment of youthful idealism and the post-World War Two consensus that advocated racial equality and integration (Melosh, 2002), many of today’s transracial families now find themselves left without a rudder or moral compass to navigate safe passage through treacherous territory. And yet, of necessity, they persevere in uncharted waters—even as our society has moved on to seek other shores. The national will has moved away from broad-based liberal support for affirmative action, peace and justice movements, and social welfare programs to now embrace corporate welfare, war abroad, and escalating rates of incarceration domestically, while anti-immigrant sentiment appears to be on the rise, manifest, for example, in English-only initiatives sweeping the land.

Nevertheless, transracial families can still be said to represent the cutting edge of our nation’s continuing love-hate fascination with pluralism, and our simultaneous revulsion and attraction to the risks and promises of racial-mixing. Even in the face of misunderstanding and insensitivity, as Ashley so poignantly declared, the unusual experience of being a non-adopted sibling in a transracial family “stands for something.” That something, in my view, is the unfinished project of racial integration. That experience moreover demands attention to the unglamorous details of how we will live together and care for one another, despite persistent racialization, and in the face of increasing polarization along other lines of difference.

In order to support today’s transracial families, adoption professionals, educators, and others must renew their commitment to the lofty ideals of racial integration. However, instead of a limited and outdated color-blind approach, an explicitly race-conscious yet postmodern (i.e., non-essentializing) anti-racism that acknowledges the enduring significance of race (and the durability of racism) offers transracial families a way to participate actively and effectively in the discourses of race and adoption. Moreover, the cultivation of post-white identities, as brought about through the cultivation of long-term relationships of genuine caring between members of different racial and cultural groups, can provide options—actual opportunities to transform one’s lived reality—at least for the limited group of comparatively privileged families who make the decision to adopt a child of another race. In the final analysis, choosing to adopt a child transracially means making a choice—or not—to transracialize one’s life, and the lives of all members of the family, parents and children, adopted and non-adopted siblings alike.

From Sharing the Spotlight: The Non-Adopted Siblings of Transracial Adoptees (John Raible, 2005, University of Massachusetts Amherst).

Here is a link where you can preview and order your own copy of Sharing the Spotlight: The Non-adopted Siblings of Transracial Adoptees (Raible, 2005). This is not a money-maker for me; I offer this bit of info because I get inquiries about how to obtain a copy, since it is not yet available in book form.