A White Adoptee Responds to Abby Johnson’s Comments About Her Adopted Biracial Son

Rebecca Hawkes
4 min readAug 30, 2020
Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

I belong to a group that I find difficult to explain to nonmembers. It is an amorphous group of individuals from around the world, most of whom have never met in person, but we know who we are and we recognize each other when we “meet” in cyberspace. I (and others) refer to it as “the online adoptee community.” I cannot overstate the impact of this community on my life. Through my participation in this group, I have come to understand myself and my experience of having been separated from one family and placed into another. I have healed wounds that most of my non-adopted friends and family members would be surprised to know existed at all. When I have been fortunate enough to meet members of this community in real life, the experience as been profoundly moving. We grok things about each other that others in our lives do not. We fall into easy conversation for hours, in a shared language that only we understand.

This is not to say that members of the adoptee community are always in agreement. Far from it. Some of the most intense clashes I’ve experienced online have been with other adoptees, as our wounds and protective spikes rub up against each other.

Sometimes our disagreements, rooted in our differing experiences, fall along racial and cultural lines. My experience as a white adoptee adopted in infancy into a family of my same race and color is not identical to the experience of transracial and international adoptees. I have never had to worry about my standing as a United States citizen, for example, as have many of my internationally adopted friends. And I have never had to experience racism, whether blatantly expressed or in the more subtle yet insidious form of microaggressions, against my race within my own family.

Much of what I have come to understand about racism in today’s America, I have learned from transracial adoptees. I am immensely grateful to them for this. It was not their job to educate me, but they did. I am thankful for the vulnerability and honesty with which they shared their stories. And I am even grateful for the times they have called me out, helping me to see my own blind spots.

Here’s the main thing I have learned: We do not live in a post-racial society. Not even close. America is not “colorblind.” And worse, the insistence of many (including white adoptive parents of non-white adoptees) that they “don’t see color” causes more harm than good.

Many of my transracially adopted friends had loving and well-intentioned parents who were completely unequipped to prepare them for the racism they would experience in the world. Because they straddled two worlds, they were privy to insights the rest of us miss. When they were with their adoptive parents or in situations where they were known as the child of their white parents, many experienced white privilege by association, but when they were apart from their adoptive parents and perceived only by their race, they were treated very differently. In other cases, the racism was experienced not from outsiders, but from family members — the uncle who told racist jokes in their presence, the grandmother who treated them differently from their white siblings and cousins.

My adoptee blood has been boiling all week about the Abby Johnson video in which she says that police would be smart to profile her biracial, adopted son, because of “statistics.” I am sure that this woman doesn’t think of herself as racist. In fact, like many of the white adoptive parents of transracial adoptees I have interacted with on the Internet, she probably thinks parenting a non-white child gives her an automatic non-racist card. It doesn’t. To acknowledge a statistical reality that disproportionately affects one race over another, such as the disproportionate number of black men in prison, without looking deeper into the societal and structural inequalities that result in the disproportionate representation IS racism. In fact, it is the exact shape that racism is most likely to take in our current time. We have shifted from a biological justification for inequality (the belief that black people are inherently, biologically inferior) to a behavioral justification (the belief that black people’s behavior is the cause of the harmful things that affects them disproportionately). Same wolf; different sheep’s clothing.

If Abby Johnson had dug a little deeper into the statistics, she would have learned, for example, that blacks and whites use and sell drugs at proportional rates, yet blacks are punished for their crimes at disproportionate rates. (Links below.)

People who walk around in brown skin know that racial bias exists and impacts them in countless harmful ways, even to the extent of threatening their lives. And I have listened to and read enough of their stories that I know it too. (And yes, I know it is possible to find brown skinned people, such as Candace Owens, who reinforce rather than challenge the behavioral justification — and are typically rewarded by white people for doing so — but those voices are atypical.)

I believe black people. And my heart breaks for a young biracial adoptee who is being raised by someone who doesn’t.

Resources:

https://www.hamiltonproject.org/charts/rates_of_drug_use_and_sales_by_race_rates_of_drug_related_criminal_justice

www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/30/white-people-are-more-likely-to-deal-drugs-but-black-people-are-more-likely-to-get-arrested-for-it/%3foutputType=amp

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5614457/

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Rebecca Hawkes

Realigning paradigms inside myself, one post at a time.