Abby Johnson’s Video Shows the Problem With White Parents Adopting Children of Color

Adopting a child of color does not make adoptive parents automatically anti-racist

In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson addresses the virtual convention on August 25, 2020. Photo: The Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee/Getty Images

Abby Johnson, a Republican National Convention speaker and prominent anti-abortion activist, is a White adoptive mother who recently posted a problematic video about her biracial son. In the video, she said that if police officers acted extra cautious around her biracial adopted son, versus around her white biological children, she wouldn’t get angry.

“Statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my Jude walking down the road, as opposed to my white nerdy kids, my white nerdy men walking down the road… they’re going to know that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons,” Johnson said in a video posted on YouTube. “So the fact that in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics.”

As an adoptee of color myself, this is one of the many instances where I see evidence that white adoptive parents are not vetted or trained properly before they are approved to raise a transracial adoptee.

When adoptive parents support a colorblind mentality, it denies that systemic racism exists and harms children of color.

A common phrase used in the adoption community, is that “love makes a family,” suggesting that as long as the parents love the child enough, color doesn’t matter. And yet, with cases like Abby and others, it’s obvious that color does in fact matter. In her video, Abby made sure to say that her adopted son was going to look scary to police officers when he grows up into a “tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking, maybe, brown man.” She goes on to compare him to her white sons who she predicts will simply look nerdy as they age.

It is not an uncommon phenomenon for transracial adoptees to experience microaggressions and racism within their White adoptive families like Johnson illustrated in her statements. I grew up in a home where my parents believed that race did not impact the way others were treated. As I grew older, I began to see their opinions about other groups of people as racist, because colorblindness is a type of racism that denies the subtle form of discrimination that has replaced the overt racism in the past. Johnson’s statements reminded me of that and when I reached out to other adoptees, they had a lot to say.

Aliyah Santos, a mixed-race transracial adoptee, shared with ZORA that her adoptive family, “affected her self-view. For many years I only embraced my Mexican heritage because my White adoptive parents taught me that Black is awful.”

Maria Ward, another transracial adoptee, said that Abby’s remarks created a very familiar sadness after growing up experiencing similar microaggressions from her White adoptive mother.

In the United States, about 73% of adoptive parents are White and a majority of adopted children are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. When adoptive parents support a colorblind mentality, it denies that systemic racism exists and is harmful to children of color, and can leave transracial adoptees feeling isolated. And when you add in colorblindness with adoptees that are already struggling with our identity, it often makes it even more difficult for us to figure out and love all of ourselves.

White adoptive parents are not vetted or trained properly before they are approved to raise a transracial adoptee.

If transracial adoptees often are subjected to many complications, why are so many non-White children adopted by white couples?

Well, in 1994, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act or MEPA was passed in Congress and prohibited agencies from delaying or denying foster or adoptive placements based on the child or prospective adoptive parent’s race or national origin. It essentially made it easier for White middle-class adoptive parents to adopt other races, and yet, the law did not form any federal guidelines. This meant that it was up to adoption agencies to provide racial/cultural education. The requirements vary from each agency and state; some still only require a questionnaire concerning attitudes toward race, and some require actual classes.

Abby Johnson is an obvious example of the problems of loose requirements for racial education of prospective adoptive parents, but when other adoptive parents share similar views, they are compounding the problem. For other adoptive mothers, they may refer to adopting a child of color as their “wake-up call,” that opens their eyes to the racism many people of color face in the United States. Others go into adoption to later realize they thought adopting a Black child was a visible sign “that they were a kind and caring person, and not a racist. Proof that they loved all of God’s children.”

Being raised by White adoptive parents who deny, or underplay our experiences with racism leaves us adoptees vulnerable for when we are confronted by microaggressions or outright racism like being told to “go back to our country.” One study finds that despite White adoptive parents’ openness to anti-racist practices, they often lack the insight to follow through, when it is essential for our cultural growth as people of color. “Black adoptees need some Blackness to grow on and with — every single day from the start,” Rebecca Carroll, a Black transracial adoptee, cultural critic, and author of the forthcoming memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, told ZORA. “It’s about belonging and community not just for the child, but for the child to see this is important to their white parents too.”

Adopting a child of color does not make adoptive parents automatically anti-racist.

Adopting a child of color does not make adoptive parents automatically anti-racist. It does not absolve and eliminate biases that a society built on White supremacy has ingrained into most people. Adopting transracially simply makes you a parent, who is responsible for educating yourself and integrating your child’s birth culture into their everyday life.

Andrew M Cislo PhD, a Latino transracial adoptee, emphasized that, “While race, as we sociologists say, is socially constructed it is real in its consequences. And those consequences often include mental health problems.”

In order to help adoptees develop a strong sense of racial identity and self-esteem, it is imperative to prepare adopted children of color to handle racial trauma for when these situations will occur.

Black children can become overwhelmed by traumatic events, such as seeing videos of Black men being killed by police. And events like these can emphasize shame, which is why it is imperative for White adoptive parents to engage in discussions and validate their children’s experience and use their privilege to stand up for their children, rather than act like Abby, and blame Black fatherhood for problems versus the actual issue: police brutality.

But when the system of adoption is built on systemic racism, there will continue to be problems. Hannah Matthews, creator of HeyTRA and a biracial adoptee, explains, “Adoption and foster care have a racism issue. The American White evangelical Christian church has a racism issue. The pro-life movement has a racism issue and Abby Johnson illustrates how all these predominantly white, powerful institutions are often inextricably linked.”

And until we address race in the adoption industry and truly create programs dedicated to anti-racism, we will continue to have these issues. And transracial adoptees like Abby’s son will be the ones to suffer from being “saved.”

Author, TRA adoptee, & podcaster. | WHAT WHITE PARENTS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TRANSRACIAL ADOPTION, available for preorder! |

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