Thursday, May 6, 2010

Classism in the Adoption Community

I think one reason that the adoption community does not readily take up the immigration cause is classism. While the community now acknowledges “racial difference” (although not always actual racism), classism remains a taboo topic for adoptees and adoptive parents. It’s discussed when we talk about birth parents and exploitation of poor and disempowered women, but the privilege of wealth is denied by adoptees and even more vehemently by adoptive parents. 

Adoptee organizers and the most outspoken representatives of adoptees overwhelmingly come from the middle and upper-classes. I’ve seen this reflected in numerous ways which effectively shuts out lower- and working-class adoptees. For example, in adult adoptee-run organizations I have heard board members say that only social workers (who seem to be overrepresented in the adoptee community) should run the programs, especially the mentorship programs. Adoptee trips tend toward expensive ski trips and golf outings. “Gatherings” of adoptees often involve costly travel and lodging, taking time off from work, and socializing well beyond the means of wage-earners. Less privileged adoptees end up not participating and not being heard, and so they become invisible.

Adoptive parents often claim that they are not rich. They even fundraise online to pay for their adoptions! Adoptive parents with all the trappings of privilege will argue that they are middle class. Their accoutrements included nannies and housekeeping staff, international vacations, advanced degrees, and 2 (or more) cars in the garage of the big house or condo that they own. Like most Americans, adoptive parents in the USA claim to be middle-class, even if by most measures they are wealthy. They fundraise so that they won’t go into debt paying for the adoption instead of giving up any of the luxuries they’ve become accustomed to. (Yes, these are sweeping generalizations I’m indulging in.)

Immigrants, of course, range from conspicuously wealthy to pathetically poor, but the poor are the people that are in the mind’s eye when we talk about immigrant rights and reform. The wretched masses picking our tomatoes, mowing our lawns, delivering our take-out pad Thai, yelling orders for pork fried rice, running the liquor stores, and cleaning the behinds of our babies and invalids are the people who need reform most desperately. Clearly members of the adoption community in America are not THESE kinds of immigrants! We’re not poor! We speak English! We value education! We have respect for The Law! We work hard! 

When we talk of exploited birth mothers and powerless women in grinding poverty in foreign countries, we make them into nobly suffering victims. It’s the white man’s burden to educate and rescue them, or at the very least their children, from manual jobs and menial labor. Never mind that manual work and menial labor are honorable jobs. Working in restaurants, factories, on farms, or at market places is not demeaning. Only those who judge those occupations as inferior would abhor these kinds of work and look down on the people doing it. Even in the worst cases of exploitation, it’s the exploitation, not the workers, who should be considered inferior.

Failing to identify with the poor in this country or in sending countries is one of the reasons that the adoption community does not take interest in immigration issues. But, before we can do that, we have to first acknowledge the classism in our own community.


  1. This is absolutely correct.

    I don't know what your point of view is on the FACE legislation that would make intercountry adoptee citizenship retroactive to birth, but when I have voiced concerns about it, I've heard adoptive parents say very clearly that they want it passed because they don't want their children to be viewed as immigrants.


  2. I'm very non-religious but I almost want to say 'amen!' lol.

    Thank you for articulating this. I've thought this many time before but haven't necessarily talked with too many others about it. I agree - many of the adoptee social gatherings I've seen are pretty pricey to attend. The 'class' vibe within adoptee groups is definitely a middle/upper class kind of vibe that's a pretty big turn off. etc.

    I've also wondered why adoptees aren't active in the comprehensive immigration reform movement. Although I can understand if adoptees don't 'feel' like they had the typical "immigrant experience", adoptees are still affected by immigrataion policies for many reasons(and adoptees have gotten deported too!)

    To Margie: I hadn't heard about the FACE legislation but from what you are saying, the arguments backing the leg sound a little troublesome! For transnational adoptees of color, they (we) aren't going to automatically get of being viewed as immigrants just by getting automatic citizenship. I think what adoptive parents are saying sounds pretty misplaced and again avoids the reality of race.