The Worst Racism

Jenni White, columnist at The Federalist

I learned about Jenni White while reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad. White has caused a bit of a stir with her column – “The Worst Racism My Children Have Experienced Came from Black Peers.” So I went looking because I also read that she had adopted 2 daughters from Zambia.

Hamad wrote – White claimed to be raising her daughters in a house that does not see color and wrote, “Why would I raise them to identify with a specific race as if being members of the human race weren’t enough?” Hamad says, It is as if she believes that racism will disappear, if only Black people stop calling themselves Black ?

What White defined as hideous racism included their Black pastor asking her whether she was educating the girls about their culture. While she claims to be a staunch believer in Martin Luther King, her perspective is that once her daughters were brought to America, “they became Americans. Not African-Americans, not black girls.” Hamad judges that assimilation and absorption into the default that is whiteness continues to be the frame from which many white women view women of other races.

So, now I will read Jenni White’s column and share with you what I think about it. She begins with the story of McKenzie Adams, a fourth grader from US Jones Elementary School in Demopolis, Alabama, who was despondent after relentless taunting by other black children for her relationship with a white child. McKenzie hanged herself in her family’s home. White acknowledges that suicides which are the result of school bullying have risen steadily over the years, it was McKenzie’s death that spoke to her on a very personal level.

She goes on to share how she ended up adopting her daughters. “In the summer of 2005, while visiting my grandparents in the northeast, my husband and I met up with my cousin, an international teacher, and his new wife, whom he’d met while teaching in Zambia, Africa. In recounting her history, Justina told us of the very recent death of her sister and how her 21-year-old nephew was struggling to feed and care for five siblings as young as 2.”

She admits that “We knew that adopting two little girls (4 and 9) from the other side of the world into a family of two boys (4 and 2) wouldn’t be easy in terms of bonding and re-assimilating the family birth order structure, but it was the stuff like what little McKenzie Adams experienced that we didn’t see coming, and it quickly blindsided me.”

So, the Black pastor incident occurred in a grocery store. The pastor is a Black woman. The pastor talked about how important it was for White to get the girls subscriptions to “black” magazines and to make sure and watch “black” movies and TV shows so they could see and relate to people of their color. She felt that, Jenni, as a white woman, couldn’t be expected to understand the “black experience” in America. That she needed to be sure and make appropriate and relevant material accessible so the girls could better assimilate with black culture.

White responded about raising all of her kids as Americans. The pastor believed White’s thought process was unfortunate. Her “whiteness” would be unable to process the facts that her girls’ fate would always balance at the pinnacle of someone else’s prejudicial small-mindedness. The pastor felt strongly that it was up to White to make the girls aware of the discrimination that was sure to come their way.

White brings her story up to date by writing – Today, my daughters are 21 and 16. She writes that it continually shocks her that any real racism her children have encountered has come from their black contemporaries. She also admits that the 21-year-old had enough of an emotional struggle that she returned to Africa to live with her brother and finish high school. Then, the girl did come back to Oklahoma after graduation, joined the National Guard, and began college with the intention of becoming a nurse.

She goes on to describe the other girl as innately conservative and that she struggled with the constant racial politics in her college English class. The girl had been assigned to write a paper regarding disproportionate brutality by police toward black Americans. White says that her daughter is frustrated that so many black contemporaries have razzed her because her last name is White and she was adopted by a white family. When Jenni asked her how she dealt with that kind of thing, she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “What are you going to do?”

She shares a story about when a Black boy called her older daughter the n word. She told him she was in no way an “n-word.” He answered, “Hey, we’re both from Africa.” Her response to that was “I’m from Africa. You’re from Oklahoma, and I’m no ‘n-word.’” Her daughter also said that this same kid has mocked her about hanging around white kids, including her white boyfriend, who is also on the football team, as well as acting and speaking like she is “white.”

Jenni White says that she follows the Blexit movement. I had never heard of it. They are clearly against CRT (Critical Race Theory) since they indicate that on their home page and I have included their link to that document. I am not going to read all 24 pages. The document seeks to explain CRT this way – Critical Race Theorists … believe that people of color experience racism daily … that the majority of American society, or more specifically white people, have no interest in stopping this so-called oppression because it benefits white Americans. The Blexit movement claims their intention is to uplift and empower minorities to realize the American Dream. In truth, it is only that so far – a dream unrealized for most.

I’m white. I do not raise any black children and I do have strong feelings about the adoption of children of color by white adoptive parents. I really can’t judge anyone else, including Jenni White, regarding how parents decide to raise their children. It is a complex world. I grew up with no racial bias, even though I am white, because both of my parents were adoptees with no knowledge of their genetic origins. We were raised only knowing we were Americans. I used to joke that I was an Albino African because back then, even I didn’t actually know for certain. My mom did discover she had a smidgeon of genes from Mali when she had a DNA analysis done. I can agree with Jenni White’s hope – that someday differences are celebrated within the context of the whole, and not parsed out as weapons of contention and conflict.

Exploitation

I’m reading this morning about the surrogacy baby factories in India in the current issue of Time magazine. I personally know of more than one family who has acquired their child using surrogacy. I’m not a fan. Learning about the in utero mother baby bond has done it for me. Separating the baby from its gestational mother creates trauma in the child.

Both India and Africa are hot beds in the trade of women’s bodies to create babies for their intended families. There is also surrogacy in the United States. Always it is a matter of poverty and money.

One poor woman writes – she went to the clinic to live out her pregnancy because she was worried that being pregnant while divorced would subject her to malicious rumors. “If I tell anyone, they think that I am going to give away my own child. They don’t understand that I am simply giving my womb on rent.” Still, as far as that baby in her womb is concerned – it IS her own child.

I do have sympathy and compassion for the poor women who turn to surrogacy as their only method of creating revenue. This is a difficult situation. Without a doubt, commercial surrogacy takes advantage of low income women. I do not believe that making only Altruistic Surrogacy legal is the answer as it does not address the poverty that drives woman to provide their wombs in service to prospective parents. It will likely only drive the practice underground. A 9 month long commitment is a huge demand on any woman’s life.

Legal protection is needed – for both the surrogates and the intended parents. There needs to be medical insurance for the surrogates and a minimum amount of compensation for the time they are devoting. Don’t get me wrong – I still do not favor surrogacy. However, I am being realistic about the financial circumstances that drive a woman to agree to this. Banning the procedure will not work any better than it has worked for banning alcohol or illicit drugs. One needs to look at the source of what is motivating the behavior – poverty and desperation.

Sital Kalantry is a clinical professor at Cornell Law School and has written extensively about surrogacy. She worries about the lack of informed consent and notes that many of the women are unable to read the contracts, which are written in English, and they sign them using a thumbprint. The clinic highlighted in the Time magazine article has a C-Section rate of 70%. It probably is safer for the fetus than a vaginal birth but it is definitely more convenient for the doctor (your blog author raises her hand that she has had 2 C-Sections – these were said to avoid transmission of the hepC virus she co-exists with). And it is more convenient for the intended parents because they know when to pick up their baby.

A ban on commercial surrogacy in India will only send the practice underground. The conditions for the surrogates will be worse and it will still be in effect unregulated. Underground the surrogates will have no protections whatsoever. An example is China – despite commercial surrogacy being banned there – it is estimated that more than 10,000 children a year are still being born through that process.

You can read the entire Time magazine article here – India’s Ban on Commercial Surrogacy.

Glad I Was

The author with her parents (both adoptees) apologies for the poor quality

My mom wrote about being adopted to me in an email “glad I was” but it was half-hearted because she died never knowing why. The state of Tennessee had rejected her request for her own adoption file while breaking her heart by telling her that her original mother had died some years earlier. In beginning her quest, my mom had said, “As a mother, I would want to know what became of my child.”

It is exceedingly sad that she didn’t receive her file. Her mom’s photo, holding my mom for the last time, was in it. Had she read through it, she would have known how much her mother loved her, wanted her and fought to keep her. My mom had defined her adoption as “inappropriate” in her letters to Tennessee. She was stating her belief delicately because she couldn’t reconcile having been born in Virginia and yet adopted in Tennessee while still an infant. And my mom knew all about the scandals of Georgia Tann, who’s agency my mom was adopted from.

The truth is that in the kindest of terms, my grandmother was coerced and exploited to take her baby from her for a woman who was willing to travel from Nogales Arizona to Memphis Tennessee to fetch my mom and then return to Arizona by train with an upset baby.

That remark from my mom came as I informed her I had gotten my DNA tested at Ancestry because both of my parents were adopted I didn’t know anything about my genetic origins. I had previously participated in National Geographic’s Genographic study of my maternal line (it was a gift from my brother-in-law for my birthday). The results were vague and minimal, only telling me my maternal line came out of Africa, validating my assertion that I was an Albino African – no one, including myself, could prove otherwise. The truth is I am very European, mostly Danish, then Scottish with a healthy dose of English and Irish to top it off. My mom had a smidgeon of Mali, I have a smidgeon of Ashkenazi Jew and Neanderthal.

My mom surprised me by telling me that she had also done an Ancestry DNA and had attempted family trees but they were based on the adoptive families for my dad and her self. She admitted that she lost motivation – “it just wasn’t real to me” she said – and I understood. Someday I will create REAL family trees for both of my parents. It just hasn’t been a priority nor have I had the time so far.

I recently went through a long exchange with some woman I didn’t know who had included my parents in her own family tree. She was really dense and it was difficult to get through to her that the people she was saying my parents were related to – they weren’t related to. Finally, she got it and said she would correct it when she had time. I never went back to look.

Someone recently described being adopted as being forced to play a silly game of pretend. I understand. My parents had to pretend to be the natural born child of the people who adopted them. My dad’s perspective matched that. He believed once you are adopted the people who gave you birth are insignificant. Only the people who raised you mattered. The pity is – unknown to him – at the time of his death a half-sister was living 90 miles away from him in the same state of New Mexico and could have shared with him so much about his mother and the family that came of her.

Un-Adopted

The Stauffer Family minus Huxley

The video began like so many others. YouTubers Myka and James Stauffer, in the glow of camera-friendly lighting, staring into the lens. But this time, instead of energetically updating their roughly 1 million subscribers (over 700,000 on Myka’s YouTube channel and over 300,000 on the family’s vlog, The Stauffer Life) on their “kiddos” or Myka’s “mommy morning routine” or vegan-meal ideas, the couple had somber expressions.

“This is by far the hardest video James and I have ever publicly had to make,” said Myka. Wearing white shirts that matched the linens on the bed where they sat, the Stauffers revealed that they had placed Huxley, their then almost 5-year-old autistic son from China — whose adoption process and life they had documented for more than three years — with “his now new forever family.” Myka and James tearfully explained that the extent of Huxley’s needs had not been clear when they’d adopted him, that it was never supposed to happen this way, and that they loved him.

In the kindest light, Myka, now 33, and James, 35, were painted as well-meaning but naïve parents who had gotten in over their heads; in the harshest, they were fame-hungry narcissists who’d exploited a child for clicks and profit only to discard him when caring for him proved too difficult.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, anywhere from one percent to 5 percent of the more than 100,000 adoptions in the U.S. each year are legally terminated in what’s called a “dissolution”. The Stauffers’ decision to relinquish custody of Huxley could be called rare but it is not uncommon in adoptionland.

Myka said she’d long wanted to adopt; at one point, she and James talked about having six or seven children, with multiple adoptions, and were specifically interested in a child from Africa. James was more reluctant, she said, and after several conversations, she finally pleaded, “Can you please, please in your heart just consider adoption? Just really genuinely think about it, because it’s really important to me.” He ultimately agreed, and, later in 2016, the couple posted a video announcing their plans to adopt and their intent to take viewers along with them on their “journey.”

Sharing information about a child’s adoption before he or she is in the home is frowned upon by adoption experts.  Not only can publicizing an adoption jeopardize it, but it’s often seen as playing into the stereotype of white families swooping in to “save” foreign children.

International adoptions to the U.S. have dropped to a fraction of what they were a decade and a half ago, as many countries, including China, have revised their protocols. (For the 2019 fiscal year, the U.S. Department of State reported just 2,971 adoptions to the US from other countries, down from almost 23,000 adoptions in 2004.) China still accounts for more adoptions to the US than any other country, but now almost all adoptees from China to the US are toddler age or older, and many have existing health conditions. If the Stauffers adopted from China, they would almost certainly be choosing a child with special needs.

Myka and James asked viewers to invest not only time in Huxley’s adoption story but money.  In October 2017, Myka and James, along with their three biological children, traveled to China to pick up Huxley. The accompanying video, which they called Huxley’s “Gotcha Day” — a term popular on YouTube but criticized by the adoption community — racked up more than 5.5 million views. Myka and James dedicated it “to all the orphans around the world” and set the video to “You Set My World on Fire,” by Sweden’s Loving Caliber, an acoustic track with the lyrics “Just tell me you’ll stay or take me away / I want you for myself every single day.”

Since adopting Huxley, Myka and James’s online success had grown substantially. Total earnings are difficult to estimate, but the Stauffers earned from $4,100 to $66,700 from their three channels in April and May 2020, according to analytics site Social Blade, a number that does not include revenue from sponsorships. Myka had hired a manager to handle all the direct marketing from companies that wanted to work with her.

The Stauffers began to consider a way out that was never part of the “journey” they had expected to experience, much less share. When they finally broke their silence in late May, they said they had initially kept quiet because they didn’t want to jeopardize Huxley’s transition to his new family. In their video, Myka said that Huxley was thriving in his new home, that he was happy, and that “his new mommy has medical-professional training and is a very good fit.” But the optics of their situation were fraught. In the middle of a pandemic and a national reckoning over racial injustice, when the president and multiple other right-wing leaders repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” or “Wuhan flu,” Myka and James were a privileged white couple who’d given away their Chinese son.

Other adoptive parents have described situations that seem to echo the Stauffers’ sense of hopelessness. In her memoir The Best of Us, author Joyce Maynard describes adopting two girls from Ethiopia and then, just over a year later, placing them with another family whose mother she met during the adoption process. “With an ignorance that staggers me now — ignorance, and some arrogance, no doubt — I had believed my love would be there like an eternal flame, and that this love of mine could fix whatever had been broken in my daughters’ lives.” When this proved not to be the case, that the road to attachment would be a long one, she describes it as “the most profound sense of despair I had ever known.”

One of the biggest misconceptions is that dissolutions happen because the child is bad. Nine times out of ten, it is NOT the child’s behavior. It seems like it’s the child’s behavior, but it’s the child’s behavior triggering something in the family.  The most common reason for dissolution is that the parents feel incompetent to manage the child’s behaviors.

These are just excerpts.  You can read the entire story here – Why Did These YouTubers Give Away Their Son?  I had encountered the story previously but I didn’t know it in depth.  It is a cautionary tale about international adoptions as well as chasing after lucrative clicks and sponsorships.  It is a double edged sword waiting to cut the next victim.