A friend and I got in a heated discussion the other day. The two of us have a lot in common. We’re both adoptive parents and we both adopted through domestic infant programs so our children arrived into our families as babies. We both adopted biracial children who have one African American birth parent and one white birth parent. And we both used agencies with racist fee schedules. On many issues of adoption ethics and reform, we agree. But we disagree about whether or not our children have a right to know that their adoptions cost less because they are Black.
Most people don’t realize that many domestic adoption agencies work on a sliding scale that isn’t based on prospective parent income. Instead it’s based on the perceived adoptability of the children being placed. Using these fee structures, the whitest children cost the most and the darkest children cost the least. At our agency, children who were white, Asian, Hispanic or Native American (or any combination thereof) were adopted under the full-price program.
Infants who had at least one African American parent could be adopted for about half the price. Because our daughter’s birth mom is Black, we paid far less for her adoption than we would have if both her parents were white. (An aside: Our agency no longer uses this fee structure as it is no longer legal to base adoption fees on race under Ohio state law.)
In the adoption industry, kids are commodities and the harder they are to place, the lower the price for their placement. Instead of outreaching to African American families – to give prospective birth parents a broader range of potential adoptive parents to consider – many agencies sometimes take the easy way out and put some kids on clearance.
Ugly? Absolutely. Racist? Darn straight. But covering it up won’t do my daughter any favors.
Do our adopted kids need to bear the burden of the essential market mentality of the adoption industry? Do they need to know the way that money exchanged hands and the way this impacted their placement in our families?
I can see why some parents say no and I certainly don’t relish sitting down to talk to my daughter about it. But I argue that this is part of her story and that at the appropriate age and in the proper context, she has a right to this information.
I strongly believe that adopted people – who for so long have had their histories shrouded in secrecy – need and deserve the truth even when that truth is painful. The racist fee structure under which we adopted our daughter isn’t about her – it’s about the racism that underlies the adoption industry. Like every other form of racism, it is brutish in its ignorance and it is part of a legacy she may have to live with but she doesn’t ever have to accept or internalize. Not telling my daughter would be a lie even if only by omission. We have saved all of her adoption information – the brochures the agency sent, the paperwork we filed – and this information includes the cost of her placement as well as the details of the agency fees. I would no more shred these documents than I would my biological son’s hospital records. Not only is it part of her personal history, it’s part of history itself. Which leads me to another reason I will tell her.
I don’t want my daughter hearing about racist fee structures somewhere else and being afraid to ask me if her adoption cost less. Or worse yet, catching me in a lie about it. To me, it would be no different than a family who adopted from China not explaining how the one child policy and deeply ingrained cultural ideas about the value of girls contributed to her adoption. The media regularly digs up discussions about adoption fees based on race and most of the adoption history I’ve gathered (and have sitting on my book shelf) talks frankly about race in the context of domestic infant adoption fees.
I don’t know how or when it’ll come up for my daughter but I expect that it will. And when it does, I’m going to tell her the truth.