Bruce Poinsette | Freelance columnist
Published: Monday, January 31, 2011
I don’t usually pay any attention to the tabloids, but one recently caught my eye in the checkout line. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are looking to adopt yet another child. The couple has already adopted three children from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam to go along with three children of their own.
One has to wonder how the couple is able to maintain the cultures of all these children while simultaneously assimilating them into the lifestyle of the American elite. Children, as well as adults, have the toughest time integrating into the wealthy elite of this country, which gets increasingly white and exclusive the further you go up the ladder.
Jolie and Pitt perpetuate the myth of the American „saviors.“ As the story goes, the generous Americans enter Third World countries, rescue children from heart-wrenching situations and turn them into prosperous U.S. citizens. The children’s past and countries become distant, backwards memories.
Adopting a child from a foreign country, especially a country with internal conflict, does nothing to address the country’s problems. It suggests American exceptionalism is the only solution to the world’s problems and creates a cycle of dependence rather than empowerment. „Making the world a better place“ is not synonymous with Americanizing it.
When you take a child from his country, make him learn your language, assimilate him into your culture and possibly give him your last name, the process should sound very familiar. It’s voluntary colonization.
A couple of centuries ago they would have to put you on a boat and beat your culture out of you. Now it’s as simple as dangling the carrot of American exceptionalism, even though this country is filled with xenophobia, increasing poverty and rising unemployment, especially for minorities.
Most parents adopting children, both foreign or domestically, have the best intentions in mind. They want to provide children with a better life, but when they adopt across cultural lines they are limited in how much they can impart knowledge of self to them. It is important for parents to take whatever steps they can to help their children maintain a sense of being bicultural.
For example, when a friend of mine was adopted from Poland, his parents made sure to expose him to the Polish Festival as well as a Polish school in Portland, Ore. Neither one of the parents had a culture rooted in Poland, but their conscious effort to connect their son to his culture made sure he didn’t forget his history or where he came from.
Another question that needs to be asked is why the tabloids and major media outlets are quick to praise international adoptions while the plight of orphans in the U.S. is seemingly invisible?
According to the Administration for Children and Families there were 423,773 American children in foster care as of the last estimate in 2009. 114,556 of these children were on the waiting list for adoption.
Third World „made for TV“ adoptions neglect the Third World conditions facing poor people in the U.S. Low-income neighborhoods are filled with crumbling infrastructure and broken schools. Teachers are more likely to dump children into special education or the corrections system than teach them how to read. This cradle-to-prison pipeline has created an atmosphere where single black and Latino mothers 18 and younger have a median wealth of $0.
It makes you wonder why the media puts such an emphasis on the Third World while there is an increasing disparity between the rich and poor at home.
Although the number of international adoptions in the U.S. has steadily declined over the last decade from its peak of 22,900 in 2004 to 12,753 in 2009, the „rescue“ myth continues. The number of children in foster care has also steadily decreased over the last decade, but there are still hundreds of thousands of children in need of parents.
Black children are over-represented in the foster care system in the U.S. Although blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 30 percent of the foster care population according to the ACF. Hispanics aren’t far behind at 20 percent.
Recently Mississippi governor Haley Barbour rejected an invitation to an NAACP Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and told the group to kiss his butt and take up the issue of race with his adopted Jamaican son. While Barbour is correct in asserting that his refusal to attend doesn’t make him a racist, one must wonder why he had to travel all the way to Jamaica to get himself a black child.
Some might claim this is to combat the child trafficking that occurs in poor countries, but what does it say when you „rescue“ one child and watch thousands of others suffer? For example, an October report in the Miami Herald estimated more than 7,300 children have been smuggled from Haiti since the earthquake. Members of the Idaho-based New Life Children’s Refuge were even arrested for transporting children who still had family to the Dominican Republic.
We have to turn our eyes to children in need at home as well as attack the root problems of poverty and joblessness abroad to truly „save the children“ instead of Americanizing them.