Color-Blind Individualism, Intercountry Adoption and Public Policy

Article excerpt

A prevailing ideology of color-blindness has resulted in privatizing the discourse on adoption. Color-blind individualism, the adoption arena's version of color-blind discourse, argues that race should not matter in adoption; racism can be eradicated through transracial adoption; and individual rights should be exercised without interference of the state. As privatization has increasingly dominated our world and disparities between countries have grown, so too has intercountry adoption. This paper examines the colonial aspects of intercountry adoption and implications for conceptualizing global human rights from our current emphasis on individual rights, as the real issue continues to be which children are desired by which parents.

Keywords: Color-blind, adoption, racism, transracial, intercountry

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The prevailing ideology of color-blindness has resulted in privatizing the discourse on social issues even as neoliberal policies have exacerbated inequalities. Support for public education has been discouraged in favor of school choice. Social welfare programs have been dismantled in favor of workfare, and preservation of the ecology has been undermined in favor of corporate entrepreneurship. The institution of adoption is no exception as changing discourses and definitions of race in America are reflected in adoption. Color-blind individualism (Perry 1994), the adoption arena's version of color-blind discourse, argues that race should not matter in adoption; racism can be eradicated through transracial adoption; and individual rights should be exercised without the interference of the state (Bartholet 1991; Kennedy 2003; Mahoney 1991). The logic of color-blind individualism has even greater currency in private adoption. Individual agency, a component of color-blind ideology, is critical to participants in private and independent adoption, and in the 1990s Congress passed laws to support color-blind adoption practice. Reflecting the desires of the dominant culture and certainly adoptive parents (also dominantly white), the Multi-Ethnic and Inter-Ethnic Placement acts of 1994 and 1996 denied consideration of race in adoption placement and shifted adoption from a utilitarian function to familial entitlement.

At the same time web site presentations of private agencies mirror a color-consciousness that continues to pervade our society. Web sites also show how racial categories are shifting since not all persons of color are located similarly (Quiroz forthcoming). The tripartite system of racial categories described by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2003) is found in private adoption where the majority of sites show how the term Biracial is used almost exclusively for children of any ethnic group mixed with African American heritage. At the same time, other racial/ethnic children, particularly those who are mixed with white ethnic parents, are given honorary white status as they are removed from Minority and Biracial programs and placed either into a middle category between the Traditional and the Biracial/Minority program or into Traditional programs. Adopting children of color (or not adopting them) is seen as a matter of individual taste and lifestyle as color-blind individualists look to transracial, intercountry and minority adoption as partial solutions to poverty and family disruption. As privatization has increasingly dominated our world and disparities between (and within) countries have grown International adoptions have increased substantially, particularly in certain countries. British demographer and intercountry adoption expert Peter Selman points to "the picture emerging in the United States--with numbers doubling in the last five years--suggests that there is a growing demand for young light-skinned healthy babies, which has led to a trade in children from and to countries" (p. 23, 2001).Thus, new meaning for human rights is generated because issues are no longer national but global. …