Labeling Your Child as Adopted: Dilemma or Not

9 June 2012

The title of one Internet blog-post is: “The Adoptive Mother’s Dilemma: Should You Label Your Child as Adopted?”

Before going on, I want to stress two things. I only know of this one blog by the author and feel disinclined to dig further. Second, I have nothing to say about her character, her person, or her motivations; everything I respond to below arises from digging into the ideas expressed in her blog. In the anti-adoption community, adoptive mothers are often the target of mountains of vitriol, and the author’s blog arguably gives cause. But even in such a context, one can distinguish between what could be called “well-meant” ignorance on the part of adoptive parents (especially mothers) and stuff that is harder to classify as well-meant.  In the author’s blog, having declared, “I’m not ashamed or embarrassed; I just don’t feel the desire to reveal [my adopted child’s] personal situation to strangers,” she goes on to write:

[My adopted child] was in foster care when we adopted her. Before getting to her door, we had lost a baby, suffered through fraudulent birthmothers and birthmothers who rejected us. We traveled back and forth by airplane to [my adopted child’s] town 14 times before we were able to bring her home. Is this something I really want to get into with people I don’t know?

It’s hard to know what to make of the apparent solicitousness for the child’s privacy here, when the blog primarily involves “getting into it” with people the blogger does not know. The very thing itself contradicts a claim of any absence of “desire to reveal [the adopted child’s] personal situation to strangers”—unless it’s in face-to-face encounters with other people, where the possibility of (unwanted) dialogue exists, that the absence of desire manifests. Again, without pointing to the author’s motivations or character, these expressions force a disconnect between what seems meant and what is said. Anti-adoption proponents might easily locate not only an essential and familiar hypocrisy in this—that overweening pride our culture promotes for mothers who are able to parade children around without having to admit at the same time that the child is not hers—but also that equally morbid and familiar sense of property rights that all parents tend to exhibit toward children: “he’s mine, she’s mine, and you can’t tell me what to do about it.” Again, it is children of adoptions who may be particularly acute to this orthodox claim, in part because sometimes adoptive parents pull that card and declare, “you’re not mine!” but also because the situation of adoption makes the “mineness” of a child (the claim to a mineness that is) more readily visible.

The urge to have children is sufficiently lionized by those who have them and want them to make calling it into question a dubious proposition—but just because it’s a thorny minefield to ask the legitimate question “why do you want children?” doesn’t mean the question isn’t pertinent. For adopted children, this question of why has redoubled significance because it at least seems to bear on the circumstance by which they were matched/chosen/selected/found by the people who claimed to want to raise them. “Because your mother and I had sex” is the ready answer to everyone else, though “why did you choose to have me, despite trying to get pregnant or the accident of it” might open a vein something like posing the question to one’s adopting parents. In the context of the blog’s text, the dual claims (“I’m not ashamed or embarrassed; I just don’t feel the desire to reveal [my adopted child]’s personal situation to strangers.” and “Is this something I really want to get into with people I don’t know?”) are strikingly out of step with what they state and create a sense of disconnect in the blog overall.

One way to say it is: something is a problem only when you see it as one. Children of divorced parents, for instance, will typically experience it as a trauma if the parents treat it as one. (The younger the children, the truer.) A child might equally and independently make the divorce into a problem as well (the older the child, the truer), and how the parents then respond or not provides family history. Viewed this way, the same holds for adoption—a child will experience adoption as a trauma if the parents treat it as one (the younger the children, the truer). It might be that earlier or later in life, the child (regardless of the age of adoption) will come to feel it as a problem, and how the parents (or parent) then respond or not provides another chapter of family history.

However, saying “something is a problem only when you see it as one” has an only limited application. It’s not everywhere and in all domains true. The point in part boils down to asking “whose seeing?” Who gets to participate in seeing something as a problem. In certain religions, divorce might be prohibited even though the couple see no problem in separating and may even find necessity in doing so. Here, religious leaders “see it as a problem.” In practical terms, when their “seeing” has sufficient force behind it to back it up then it becomes perilous to ignore. In the case of adoption, who sees? Unequivocally, adoption typically involves trafficked humans—money changes hands. To say that it is a problem only when the parties to that transaction view it as a problem may not be apt—especially since one party (the commodity being traded) almost never has any say in the matter. In practical terms, since the “seeing” by the child is not recognized, the transaction seems at root morally problematic, at best. But more broadly, reducing the social phenomenon of adoption only to the feelings or actions of those involved (including the child) is dubious. It hinges ultimately (and, again, in practical terms) simply on who has the most force to enforce their construction of “the child’s well-being,” whether that is a State agency determining suitability in a foster home or some agency warranting the suitability of any given person or couple to adopt a given child.

These issues are self-evidently far outside the author’s blog. There, the problem is (as the title asks) should you label your child as adopted. And though the argument runs, “I do not want [my child] to feel the stigma of being different yet I want her to embrace her uniqueness,” where will any self-consciousness about this stigma originate? The author writes:

When my husband … and I are out in public with [my adopted child] (and now our two biological younger daughters), we often see families with children that are instantly recognizable as adopted: Usually it’s two Caucasian parents with Asian children, although there are certainly many other combinations of parent and child. … The population at large sees these [instantly recognizable adopted] children, notes that they are of a different ethnicity than their parents, and deduces that they are adopted.

In other contexts, what is being expressed in “we often see families with children that are instantly recognizable as adopted” would be called racial profiling. But try an experiment. Describe to people a circumstance where a Caucasian male and female are walking with a non-Caucasian child and ask them the relationship of the adults to the child. Self-evidently, one will find that families with adopted children are not so “instantly recognizable” after all (the older the children, the truer). There is currently an auto commercial, which features a family who “play” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. In the car, one child is Black—is he a family friend or adopted? How would we decide? Is this instantly recognizable? What about any of the rest of the children in the car? You can push the persuasiveness of “instantly recognizable” to its logically absurd extent: at what age will two white people, walking with someone who is non-White, no longer seem to be a family with an adopted child?

What seems to be being expressed in the author’s blog already reflects the stigma attributed to others.

[My adopted child and I] had company that day – there was another mother with her baby in the sandbox. I noticed her look curiously from me to [my child], then back at me. She watched us, taking in my dark-brown eyes and even darker brown curly hair, then openly staring at [my child’s] incredible blue eyes and pale-gold hair. … I live through this scene in waiting rooms, on store lines : everywhere. I watch as strangers examine my daughter and me, unable to reconcile the physical differences (my emphasis).

Self-evidently, this scene does not play out everywhere (as claimed) but only where it is noticed or assumed to be playing out. Just as homosexuals, convinced before coming out that they will be oppressed, reviled, attacked, or worse every waking moment of their day, often discover upon coming out that the majority of people don’t give a shit, it is surely the case that almost no one gives a shit that this blonde-haired, blue-eyed child may not be her guardian’s biological one. Of course, the author’s description of her experience–that she sees pink elephants everywhere because she has one–may be blinding her her to what may be a much more frequent explanation by onlookers (if they are bothering at all): that she had the child previously by some other (blond-haired, blue-eyed) man. There are still more shrill versions of this yet: that she stole the child or bought it on the black market, etc, or had an extramarital affair. On and on. It’s certainly too tenuous to guess whether or not the unvoiced concern—that someone will think the child is a child of illegitimate origin—plays into the unwillingness expressed in the author’s text to see that not every non-ethnically similar public display of adults and children should be “instantly recognized” as an adoptive family. It is clear, however, that the suspicion or sense that people do reach some kind of conclusion does operate (from the description in the blog) at all times and thus “everywhere.” Thus, not only are the relatively rare cases when someone asks raised to the status of “always” and “everywhere,” precisely the expectation of that scene is put in play—and forms the very spine of the stigma desired to be avoided. That is:

Their scrutiny makes me feel like I have a secret, and as time goes by, [my adopted child], too will bear the burden of the secret. A little Chinese girl with Caucasian parents is not carrying around a “secret” about her adoption – her situation is already assumed. By contrast [my adopted child] will continuously be evaluating social circumstances as she grows up, deciding whether or not she wants to disclose the fact that she is adopted. Since she’s still young, I frequently make the decision for her. And I struggle with it (emphasis added).

[Coming back to the above paragraph on a later date to edit my blog post, I still find it almost mind-boggling full full of unconsciousness and problems.]

The language here is so telling. Is it a certainty that the adopted child will “bear the burden of the secret”? In contrast to the little Chinese girl, who is condemned to being outed at every turn as adopted, how is it certain that this adopted child “will continuously be evaluating social circumstances … deciding whether or not … to disclose the fact that she is adopted”. Who will she learn to do that from?

Since no child’s life is ever so certain, this seems to be textbook projection. Self-evidently, adoption is a secret only if it is made one, and is only burdensome if made so. By calling it a burdensome secret, this may plausibly be cited as the ground for instilling (as a self-fulfilling prophecy) the child’s dis-ease with being adopted. In this way, the use of the word “disclose” seems especially apt (in this context) and concerning.

Speaking personally for a moment, I can say that I have never in my life “disclosed” that I am adopted. I may blurt it out in passing without thinking about it or I may fail to mention it for no reason at all; there’s no quid pro quo to it at all, no “evaluating social circumstances” and much less “deciding whether to disclose”. To be specific, I remember no time in my life when I did not know I am adopted, and it is, in the classic parlance, “no big deal”. I have issues with adoption generally, and plenty with my parents growing up. Thinking about my estrangement from them (decades after the fact) in light of being adopted is fruitful for me, but I’m far more circumspect to people about being out of the closet as gay or atheist than adopted–and I’d be flabbergasted if anyone actually wigged out when I told them.

I’m not proposing my attitude as a norm or as not a problem; I’m saying that my parents did not impart to me (if they had it at all themselves) any self-consciousness of a stigma, of adoption as something one has to be circumspect about or evaluate social conditions before disclosing; for them, the stigma was (if at all) being childless, and they were at least consistent enough in avoiding that stigma to recognize that I, as a child, “corrected” the basis of that stigma without holding it against me that I was also “not theirs”. In a very abstract way, I can imagine circumstances where children might have to resort to “evaluating social circumstances,” but it’s far, far easier to imagine (even without the author’s blog as an example) that it’s the adoptive parents who would feel compelled to resort to “evaluating social circumstances” in deciding whether or not “to disclose the fact” of the children’s adoption.

Each time people ask about [my adopted child’s] blue eyes, I know the answer is far more important to the impressionable child standing next to me than to the inquirer. … but she should not think of herself as my “adopted daughter” – she is simply my daughter who happens to be adopted. How do I show her that it is okay to be adopted without constantly labeling her? I do not know the answer.

From the picture the author includes, presumably of her very young adopted daughter, that the “answer is far more important to the impressionable child standing next to me than to the inquirer” has its own net of weirdness all over again. Most assuredly, such a young child could care less—more precisely, hasn’t learned yet to care, so once again there seems to be a shifting of circumstances from parent to child—a projection and deflection of the parents’ issue onto a child, who is not yet capable of evaluating social circumstances yet.  As an impressionable child, what is the effect of being in the presence of actions that follow from the belief:

Studies show that it is healthier for adopted children to acknowledge that they are adopted and to accept that they are different and have special emotional needs, but [my adopted daughter] should not think of herself as my “adopted daughter”

What I notice here is that it is healthier for adopted children to acknowledge they’re adopted; that is, it’s an issue for them and not for the family in general. Dialogue: mother (“You need to accept you’re adopted”); son (“Because you adopted me”). Whatever anti-essentialist arguments one wants to try to make that homosexuality or race are not real, but are social constructs, when it comes to adoption there is no question of its social constructedness; by definition, it is “artificial” (a product of civilization, rather than the “natural world”). Moreover, the adopted child needs to “accept that they are different”? Different than who and what? Other children in the family? Other children? It’s quite obvious that adopted children occupy a different (constructed) social space in the world, but what claims on behalf of their status as children vis-à-vis their family are being adduced. What behaviors in biological children will be tolerated that are not excused in adopted children, and vice versa? What quality of parental love should an adoptive child expect in comparison to their non-adopted siblings.

It seems hard to get around the impression that “different from what” means “different from me, your father, your mother”. This of course has equally absurd extensions for biological children on the side that “you are the same as me, your father, your mother”. A biological son might be expected to take over the empire; an adoptive daughter to … do whatever she likes. Etc. That “studies show” suggests some scientific validity to what most plausibly seems to be (once again) the parents’ sense of the child’s “difference”.  It’s that “you’re not mine” option that’s always hanging out in the background, even when the child is wholly oblivious to it and (like me) would never imagine either parent ever saying such a thing (hurtfully or not). This can have weird ironies. When I came out, my father was (like many fathers) highly depressed about it. But once someone convinced him that homosexuality is genetic, he was fine again. I wasn’t his—my genes weren’t his fault. The fact that my relationship with my father has improved thanks to this piece of bigotry is no argument for it. Sundown towns in the United States might have their token “nigger”; historically, even rampantly anti-gay organizations can sometimes tolerate an Aunt Tom (even a really campy one). Just because a given class of social pariah can, in one exceptional case or two, demonstrate no threat to society (and thus no activation of the fears associated with that class of pariahs) and thus find a kind of social acceptance (within narrow limits, to be sure) from folks in various anti-social setting, this provides no argument or model for “how such people should be”. On a much more human note, my father had the choice—he probably didn’t feel it in these terms—to either keep my relationship with him as his son (who was gay) or lose me forever. Genetic determinism for homosexuality was the argument that worked; anything else that would have would have.

So adopted children need “to accept that they are different and have special emotional needs”—thus everything unique about the adopted child finds itself under the onus of being a “special emotional need”. The very uniqueness one seeks to foster (as opposed to a stigma) gets stigmatized in ways that are almost certainly going to turn into therapeutic issues at some point. When girls reach a certain (young) age and suddenly are told that boys can still run around in swimsuits only but girls must put on tops, this enforces a difference that becomes (can become) baffling. All the reasons in the world do not suffice—we all are created equal (so goes the claim) and yet when we do the same thing as someone else, there is a different result. Thus, no matter how much the adopted child tries, the temper tantrum thrown for not getting a toy, the low (or high) grade on a test, and everything else does not have the same interpretation (or consequences) as for the non-adopted child. If, that is, the distinction of adopted and non-adopted child is maintained with any rigor in the family system. It’s not that the adopted child must always be less—my sister and I (the adopted ones) were obviously and continuously scholastically superior to our parents’ biological (youngest) son. Or, again, the fact that I’m gay (and that my sister had a bisexual spell) gets excused in the family narrative under the rubric of “they’re adopted”.

I have a strong, visceral reaction to the notion of “special emotional needs”. I could easily argue that I had particular emotional needs that neither my father nor mother were equipped to deal with. And I can blame that on adoption or it could be just that I’m inherently difficult in some ways. I can imagine that there are biological relatives of mine who might have swam in the “weirdness” I presented, but there’s nothing that says their facility would have been beneficial, short- or long-term. I’m mentioning all of this to protect the notion of a child’s autonomy in the first place. On one argument, we all have special emotional needs, which our parents are likely woefully unprepared to deal with. And adoption may exacerbate that, if the kinds of unpreparedness one winds up being parented (or unparented) by proves to be less suited than the circumstance one was snatched from.

But this human circumstance—or at least this circumstance that seems to be the norm in the United States—is behind, betwixt, and between the situation where a parent begins from the premise that their child is “different” and has “special emotional needs”. A Ritalin prescription lurks just around the corner then along with a dangerous, destructive, and long slide into domains adjacent to “special education” departments and the like—a circumstance not at all improved by the presence of money in the family, so that “only the best” is bought (“we spared no expense”). Recall the study where a teacher was told she would have four exceptional students in the upcoming year—and by year’s end, those students were indeed outperforming their peers. The punch line: the students had been randomly chosen. The better punch line: the researchers could not identify what in the teacher’s performance might have accounted for their increased performance. The conclusion: it was the teacher’s expectation alone. The bitter punch line: what about teachers’ expectations of children in special education? The bitterer punch line: what about children whose parents believe they have special emotional needs. The only thing that can save a child in that circumstance is inattention—a failure on the parent of the parent to sustain the daily misprision of all the child is.

If one is worried about confusing an impressionable child, could one proceed more effectively than by insisting, “[my adopted daughter] should not think of herself as my ‘adopted daughter’”. (The unintentional irony of the sentiment becomes unambiguous when the the bracket’s replace the child’s name.) As such, “she is simply my daughter who happens to be adopted. How do I show her that it is okay to be adopted without constantly labeling her? I do not know the answer.”

Over the groans from the peanut gallery at this point, it will suffice (again) to point out the confusion here may be precisely the grounds for the child’s confusion, the parent’s ambivalence for any children. The indignant reply, “I love my adopted child,” is no reply. If we could somehow raise our adopted children in perfect and guaranteed ignorance of their adoption, that ignorance could not be extended to the parents, and so the “stigma” of adoption would be reproduced in those inclined to reproduce it. But even if it were possible to raise children in such ignorance, this would be immoral and primarily a convenience for the parents, who would not then have to deal with the fact that they engaged in human trafficking, for whatever emotional, social, financial, etc., reasons they indulged in it. That they love their child is the least of their obligations—one which they do not always meet. Whatever else might be claimed, the right to some semblance of knowledge about their one’s possible medical history (and thus possible prognoses) cannot be ignored. In any case, you “show” a child it is “okay” to be adopted by not constantly labeling her.

The use of the word labeling is especially worrisome. To pick out just one illustration of labeling (from sociology):

As an application of phenomenology, the theory [of labeling] hypothesizes that the labels applied to individuals influence their behavior, particularly the application of negative or stigmatizing labels … becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. an individual who is labeled has little choice but to conform to the essential meaning of that judgment. Consequently, labeling theory postulates that it is possible to prevent social deviance via a limited social shaming reaction in “labelers” and replacing moral indignation with tolerance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labeling_theory#The_ .22criminal.22)

The implication behind the theory of labeling involves the negative interpretations society puts on its labels (i.e., criminal, mentally ill, adopted). From those labeled criminal, mentally ill, learning disabled, etc., there are massive industries that benefit from the perpetuation of those labels—once again, people are getting rich off of people labeled criminal, mentally ill, learning disabled, and the like. Unequivocally, it is also case that an industry exists to traffick in human children, but the wrinkle here is that those who would purchase the commodity (as opposed to those that “purchase” the criminals, mentally ill, and learning disabled) must be convinced of the positive (not negative) value of the commodity.

To be more precise, criminals, mentally ill, and learning disabled are, in fact, highly valuable—vast sums of cash move in the trading, maintenance, and reproduction of these classes of pariahs. But they are socially pariahs—that is, their status as pariahs makes them easier to traffick as criminals, mentally ill, and learning disabled. Adoptees are also highly valuable, but their marketing does not presuppose their constructions as pariahs, exactly. To the extent that (White) hegemonic discourse pretends that non-White (and especially African) babies are already inferior human beings (if human beings at all), there is indeed a kind of “defect” construed in the child to be adopted that is analogous to the socially conventional brokenness of the criminal, mentally ill, or learning disabled child. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the jailer, psychiatrist, or special education instructor taking on airs not only “to help a human unfortunate” but also “to do society the favor of saving it from an unwanted burden”—and in that respect, adoptive parents can fall into a very similar pattern.  When someone says (of a trans-culturally adopted child), “What kind of life would she have had anyway?” it becomes clearer that the world has been rescued from the earth’s equivalent of a welfare case.

Oh, I’m sure that this perhaps sounds grotesque, talking this way—adoptive children can have a different view of the self-satisfied narrative the world likes to tell about it. We can minimize it all we want, but this never erases the cash transaction at the root of the event, whatever good and ill the parents and child eventually make of it. Moreover, if there is frequently a very easy equation for adoptive parents—that they are saving a kind of “defective” child from an even more defective background—this narrative is present intraculturally as well, if more mutedly. Clearly, for a child who is not an orphan, if they are available for adoption then there must be something socioeconomically “wrong” with them and their background. In the author’s blog, her adopted child is rescued from foster care; in my case, I was an extramarital “surprise”. The thing that is slippery in this—and this is what connects many of these issues to discrimination generally—is the extent to which the character of the criminal, mentally ill, and learning disabled (and thus the adopted) is at issue. That is, in the social debate about the “nature” of criminality, whether it is a question of character (that the person is simply bad) or compulsion (that circumstances make the person do bad things) is what matters. It might be that the compulsion is so strong there’s no stopping it or that a person of bad character can be redeemed (e.g., in the band UK’s one most moving song, there is the lyric “I’ve been wrong so many times before, was always laying down the law; one thing you cannot ignore, bad boys can come clean”), but these details pale in comparison to the underlying notion of criminal (or mentally ill, or learning disabled) by nature or by circumstance. The later presupposes that, were we in a similar situation, we’d’ve likely done the same; the former presupposes, no matter what you do, they’ll always act criminally, mentally ill, etc. The difference is obvious.

Whichever point of view may be more accurate, socially, it’s a matter of who has enough power to enforce a given point of view. The theory of labeling is a way to point both to how labeling itself is a major circumstantial factor in prompting behavior but also how it is precisely those who do the labeling who enforce an anti-circumstantial view of human beings. In the discourse on being human, the gulf between “our wretched civilization is a reflection of human nature” and “our wretched human behavior is a reflection of our so-called civilization” may never be bridged. But it is also unambiguously clear that a child is not adopted by nature. So in that case, the consequences of labeling a child negatively with the term “adopted” is an unambiguous source of the stigma. And let’s not forget that such labeling need not be done with malice aforethought.  The judge may be angling for no friendship with the accused by calling her “criminal” and no end of “mental health providers” are cold-hearted bastards to those they deem “mentally ill”; even certain more clear-eyed, brutal special educators can recognize that there is a strong institutional gravity to ensure both that those who get into special education (whether they belong there or not) remain there as long as possible and also that new students are regularly pulled in. Even so, there are well-intended, good-hearted people who treat those who are not (and who are) learning disabled per the label, who treat those who are and are not mentally ill as per the label, and those who are and are not their own biological children per that label. There is no reason to believe that parents who place their children under the onus of being treated as “adopted” must not or cannot love them—much worse, it is precisely through this distorted lens that all of their well-meant love pours.

Amongst the points raised by opponents of transcultural adoption, having the experience of being all but exclusively Other in the world one grows up in may not be the kindest thing to do to a child, whatever shitty life you imagine they would have lived “over there”. Cases of celebrity superstars buying African babies make for unambiguously clear examples of the otherworldliness imposed (to say nothing of being amongst celebrities), but to come down from such stellar heights for the moment, I’ve heard enough times from people the sense of estrangement simply over being different to know that even not looking like your parents can be an issue for those for whom it’s an issue. The cultural shittiness about how to treat red-headed step-children attests to this. And it’s worth noting, as opponents of transcultural adoption have, that the circus of such celebrity adoptions often seems—either due to the media’s emphasis or because of the adoptive parent’s statements—to have an air of adopting something exotic. To put it less politely, the celebrities act as if they have chosen a rare breed of dog—because they can, because it makes a splash, to stand out from their peers, and so forth. We recognize in their behavior—whether they mean it this way or not—the kind of grandstanding appropriate to the self-promotion of celebrity. Other celebrities might just as well adopt transculturally, but they don’t splash it before the world to read about. Their motivations may be no better (or worse) but at least the rather stinky appearance of self-aggrandizement isn’t added to their act of human trafficking. Ultimately, the same question the adoptive child can ask of her parents (“why me?”) can be asked in general (“why that child”).

Anyone who’s ever been to the pound to pick a pet has a sense of that answer—even if you want to call me disgusting for saying so. It’s not a question of asking, “why do you have to adopt a baby from Africa; aren’t there babies in the States to adopt?” No one is more deserving of being human traffick, if you want to put it that way—never mind the ugly (or ironically amusing) overtones of, “Buy American” lurking behind such a statement. Part of the reason “why that child” is because there are agencies who financially benefit from human trafficking, who ensure that the word gets out—we almost never see these unseemly creeps, their work is that dirty. But let’s not pretend there’s more idle chatter to be had about the child of an Ethiopian refugee than a meth addict from Detroit. The agencies are well aware of what sells and what doesn’t–though a good marketer (as the Monty Python sketch makes clear) will wisely figure out how to move every product. But unless you’re adopting sight unseen—which may be as close to having your own child as adopting can get—ultimately there’s that moment of “yes” or “no” when you are confronted with this or that precious bundle of human transaction. And maybe the most damning nail in the coffin of adoption isn’t that anyone ever says “yes” but that they also—either in person, or with photographs, or without ever doing the other person the courtesy of considering them in the first place—said “no”.

In an ideal world, the selection process of adoption would operate indistinguishably from the kind of random assignment the lottery of birth enacts. If it turns out that there actually is some kind of “fateful pairing” that can occur between some children and some adopting parents—a fateful pairing that obviously is not based on the current notions of suitability for adoption—then the randomness of assignment can occur within the range of would-be adopting parents who would be particularly well-suited for raising a given child. And certainly the process would be arranged in such a way that no one could benefit financially from working out the pairing up of parents and children.

The solution is (in part) not to ban adoption of families with one set of eye and hair color and babies of another, of course, but to shame the labelers who see such difference in a family as a source of stigma. This applies less to the Joneses, who may or may not be judgmental but are also only occasionally around, and more to the guardians of adopted children, who daily impart to them in ways too subtle to be discerned by anyone watching (I’m recontextualizing the findings of the researchers who told the teacher she’d have exceptional students) a negative accent on the fact of being adopted.

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