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Dolls, adoption, and race

Feb 5, 2008 • Karen

Interesting article on racial preference in adoption as applied to dolls. Go read.

Summary: In its store, FAO Schwartz has an "adoption" center where you can buyadopt realistic baby dolls. When the dolls become a hit, all the white dolls sell out. After much semi-PC wrangling by parents, the Asian dolls sell out. Then the Hispanic dolls. And the last white doll, special needsdefective, with melted hands, is sold before the rows upon rows of Black baby dolls are.

Talk about play, or art, imitating life.

I mean, this in part seems to be the result of poor planning on FAO Schwartz's part. When you are an overpriced toy store catering to the wealthy, you simply aren't going to have that many customers of color as compared with the number of white ones. So don't select your purchase distribution as if we live in a happy egalitarian race-free society.

But it also reflects the reality of American adoption (of real babies), as well as the fact that racism isn't just black and white (so to speak): it's a multilevel hierarchy of status, at least when you're looking at it from the top. The Asian baby dolls are the "next best thing" to white. Why is that? Does this merely reflect the frequency of Chinese-US adoptions (thus normalizing the practice) or was it a preference to begin with? It does seem that, exoticism notwithstanding, (some) East Asians are in the process of "becoming white" within the race hierarchy, as Irish, Italian, Eastern European, and Jewish people have already done. (A lot of this is a class thing, I suspect; since many Asians who come to the US get the visa because they have a high level of education and can work as engineers, doctors, etc., that eliminates one major barrier between them and white elites. Consider how differently people treat Joe Kim in the cube next door and a Hmong refugee single mother--who, likely as not, has the tanner skin of the two.)

It's such a complicated question. On the one hand, transracial adoption is definitely not easy. Pretending to be race-blind is neither practicable nor the best parenting strategy; the kid's gonna have to deal with a second, assumed cultural identity whether or not you recognize it. Being prepared to recognize it, and do so helpfully, is hard. Furthermore, it seems weird to foist the duty of creating a multicultural society onto adopting couples. No one asks fertile couples to have babies of a different race than their own. ("How dare you have babies that look like you?!") Because that would be stupid.

But, on the other hand, as in the FAO Schwartz scenario, it results in a mismatch in the adoption "market." There are orphans waiting for adoption in the US, right now. You don't *have* to wait years and years or fly off to Russia. The problem is that the available adoptees are mostly Black/Latino, while the class of adopting couples is mostly white. (Many of the unadopted are also older, while most adopters want infants.) Which leads to fun exchanges like this:

I remember one pre-adoptive parent I was working with who was considering switching from the willing-to-accept-a-White-baby-only category to the ‘biracial’ category. This parent had a potential ‘match’ and wanted to know if their unborn biracial child would look ‘more White or more Black’. I gave the standard multiracial-children-come-in-all-shades response. But what I really wanted to say was, “If you have to ask that question, I don’t think you get it.”

Really, what we need is a class of adopters that roughly matches the class of adoptees. Which would involve having true socioeconomic equality. And stuff.

...Isn't that always the solution? *sigh*

In an aside, the article also suggests that there is a strong preference among adoptive parents for girls over boys ("adoptive parents request girls and the boys just wait"). As two out of the threefour out of the five adoptees in my family are boys, this surprised me. This is true domestically, not just as an artifact of all the one-child-policy girls? Why would this be?

[Edit: Here's a Slate article discussing possible reasons for the gender imbalance in adoptions. Interesting stuff.]