The Ethics of Transracial Adoption

The Ethics of Transracial Adoption

The Ethics of Transracial Adoption

The Ethics of Transracial Adoption

Synopsis

This text explores new ground in the transracial adoption debate by examining the relationship between personal and public conceptions of race and racism before, during, and after adoption.

Excerpt

In the mid-1980s, Mattel started manufacturing dolls that came with birth certificates and adoption papers. The new owners of these Cabbage Patch Kids, mostly young girls, could give the doll a new adoptive name and make the “adoption” official by filling in blanks on the adoption certificate. Marketing make-believe motherhood to girls is nothing new. But never before had adoptive motherhood been so explicitly marketed to girls. The U.S. public literally lined up to purchase this newfangled twist on the old theme of playing house. Cabbage Patch Kids were a phenomenal commercial success, out- selling most other toys during the holiday shopping seasons of 1984 and 1985. The frenzy to acquire these dolls created the bizarre mayhem of future “adoptive grandmothers” fighting one another for any Cabbage Patch doll they could get their hands on.

Perhaps the popularity of these dolls signaled a breaking down of social prejudice toward adoption. And maybe the faddish appeal of “transracial adoptions” among American girls reflected eased anxiety over interracial family life in U.S. society. It was especially hip for white girls to “adopt” black dolls. Generic “ethnic” dolls were also coveted items. Hair color, eye color, and skin pigment that was fabricated to represent some of the physical differences found among human beings made each doll somewhat unique, as did “personal” trademarks like freckles, hair texture, and sartorial style. Since the 1980s, the variety of Cabbage Patch dolls has grown, and they continue to be a popular American toy. African-American newborn dolls are still top-sellers, often back-ordered on Internet toy sites. Mattel still makes generic “ethnic” dolls and has added “Hispanic” male and female dolls to its product list, as well as “The Cabbage Patch Kids Playtime Friend with Special Needs, ” which comes in “blonde, ” “brunette, ” or “ethnic.” “Special needs” dolls . . .

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