Adoption’s Article of Bad Faith

19 July 2014

Manifold disclosures about the unethical and immoral practices of those trafficking in human children now make clear the systemic, not merely idiosyncratically aberrant, character of those ethical and moral violations. [1]

For instance, my adoptive parents paid for a white baby, but they didn’t get one—as 10.4% of my genetic heritage makes clear in its tracing back to sub-Saharan heritage. Had I been born back in West Virginia among my historical people, I’d’ve been labelled “colored” which would have been as fine for me there as here now.

However, my adoptive parents’ reasons (or worse, their feelings) for seeking adoption matters less in this analysis than the structural existence of the means that manufactured their desire to adopt. And just as the history of international adoption from Korea makes abundantly clear, the “back-end” of that process discloses a veritable shit-storm of contradictions to the “front-end” discourse of family building, love (feeling in general), &c. Whether my Hispanic (i.e., Spanish and Apache) adopted father, who had married a Caucasian woman (herself adopted), explicitly wanted a “white” baby or not, that was what the system claimed to parcel out in general.

The resort to international adoption must have numerous influencing factors,[2] but if we stay with an eye on the domestic market, then clearly “babies who can pass as white” will be a desirable, though maybe not plentiful, part of that market. From a student’s thesis about the Chestnut Ridge people (“my people”) that I read recently, the author carefully allowed the social construct of race (rather than any genetic basis) to direct her analysis. In other words, people who outside of their local, historical context would not have been called “colored” were labelled as such. The author examines the tax rolls and shows how tax roll personnel would actually change the racial designation of people over the years; people previously “white” would become some category of “colored” (and then might, in the future, return to “white” again). These changes were, in part, due to increasing paranoia by Caucasians about race; so much so that such “colored” people by the 1930s had a whole repertoire of denials (specifically about African origins), even though their own ancestors had unabashedly and openly practiced interracial life-making.

Poverty—all the more so when imposed systematically—manufactures orphans, and the area my people come from continues to be poor; in West Virginia, one county away from one of the loci of the Chestnut Ridge people, is the poorest county in that second poorest state in the national (second only to Mississippi). Thus, it comprises structurally a fertile ground out of which would be generated adoptable babies, i.e., apparently white ones. This will become even truer for those who left the area. As the thesis author notes, people unmistakably white in appearance were labelled “colored” (by tax assessors) simply by association, by the historically known cohabitations and associations that had begotten various “white” individuals.

Since the most famous genealogist of this group from that group set out to rigorously expunge from his lineage’s history all trace of African origin, his relocation to Spokane, Washington—I mean, his birth amongst descendants who had previously moved away from an area where their heritage was well-known—suggests that relocation for the sake of being “mistaken” for white might well have been a motive.[3] Structural features or forces like this help, then, to create (one of the many pools) of “acceptably white” babies that might supply the adoption industry domestically.

This shows how my adoptive father got defrauded and thus the fraudulence of the system generally all over again (if such proof is necessary). I do not propose this “revolutionizes” any understanding of systemic adoption, but rather fills in yet another niche (that I or we might have guessed existed, even evidence for it had not surfaced yet). Structurally, I think this discloses something that genetic testing is “good” for for orphans. Personally, it means that my awkwardness (as a “white guy participating here”) was misplaced; I might have suspected all along.[4]


[1] Once one assumes a demand exists, then no means to supply that demand gets taken off the table—only whether or not certain means remain publicly acknowledged or not. But even here, the distinction between heinously outright theft, dispossession, coercion, lying, or mere purchase of infants (i.e., the deliberately literal creation of orphans) by “individuals” contrasts with the “accidental creation” of orphans by structural features (like war, economically predatory international trade agreements, globalization, &c) only in degree. It echoes the observation: kill two people, you’re a murderer; kill 200,000, that’s foreign policy. And while it can be difficult to detect the “structural” element at work in the “individual” behaviour of the serial murderer or child-trafficker, this therefore requires simply more attention to those structural features, not any easier or lazier resort to “individual” explanations. So long as we talk about what individuals do, we implicitly argue that the fault lies with the practitioners of the structure, not the structure itself.

[2] I think it would be very interesting to study how Korean (or perhaps Asian) babies came to be a valid market product. I recently read a dissertation that traced the origin and rise of “fertility reduction programs” (aka “family planning), which found their first large-scale experimentation and implementation in Taiwan in 1963. While reading it, resonances between the “problem of fertility” and adoption (from Korea) tantalized me.

[3] I’m not blaming anyone for that motive, but the genealogist’s efforts to falsify his family history suggests perhaps he’d’ve done better to abandon the project.

[4] And happily something only ever in my head. No one ever made me feel unwelcome.

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