No white saviors, here or abroad

Recently, I stumbled across a series of tweets that led me to a world I had thought about but never truly delved into. The tweets were from a group of social workers in Uganda called No White Saviors.  In them, they talked about Lauren Akins and Thomas Rhett adopting a child from Uganda, a place they thought needed help with their “3 million orphans.”  The semi-famous couple talked about knowing when they saw this baby girl that she was their family, a sentiment that on the surface is a noble one. But, No White Saviors points out a troubling trend that most couples in the U.S. are never aware of. That baby not only probably had a family, but a family that wanted to raise her and was more than capable of doing so. When I researched further, I found an opinion piece from a mother who had adopted a six-year-old Ugandan girl, only to hear her speak about a wonderful family that she missed terribly.

This, I have learned, is big business in Uganda. Families are tricked or coerced into sending their children away, sometimes not even realizing they are being adopted. Why does this happen? Well, because of the fact that nothing makes an American feel more charitable than giving a home to a “poor” and “neglected” baby African orphan. Traditional colonialism may be gone, but the ideals and practices are alive and well. Couples want babies and many want African babies specifically, especially white couples with a strange fascination with black bodies. This sense of being a white savior, as the social worker’s organization rallies against, is something that we can see in all colonial narratives. It is the idea that we are bringing children to civilization through adoption. That we, as white people with money in America, have a duty to the small black children in Africa. That we must save them from their situations and lead them to a better life in the USA.

In their rush to snap a selfie with their future black baby and start them on this glorious path, these white saviors don’t ever stop and question why it was so simple to receive this baby. Agencies that connect these doting parents to their new children don’t seem to particularly care much where the child’s family is. The marketability of a white family with a black baby is huge and the business has responded to that. Celebrities can’t wait to jump on a plane and show their followers what destiny has brought them. But why do all these kids seem to not have parents? Or families? We’re so eager to believe that we can help them that we don’t stop to think that maybe they are wanted by a family member who could very well care for them. We’re so obsessed with obtaining this small black body and believe at the same time that all other black bodies are simply incapable of raising their kin in one way or another.

This is not an issue isolated to Africa. As strange and outlandish as it may sound, we are doing this right here in the U.S. Immigrant women in our holding facilities are being prevented from aborting fetuses, and they are losing their kids to the foster system and to adopters. American families may not want immigrants, but we sure do want their moldable kids. Though some may scoff at the suggestion, there is real evidence of members of Congress trying to deny abortions in holding facilities and “losing” immigrant children. After a certain time, one starts to wonder whether we are truly “losing” kids or whether they have been cycled into our own white savior narrative.  What do you do when you can’t have an abortion? You put your child up for adoption, most likely to nice white parents who want to save them.

This concept of saving people of color is not new and it is certainly not harmless. It is not that we need to simply adopt within our racial groups, but we do need to consider why we would prefer a certain race to another. We need to consider why we might be so readily accepting of the idea that a family of color is simply incapable of raising their children. As someone who thinks that they might want to adopt someday, these are issues I simply wasn’t aware of.  And, it has made me aware how painfully careful we should be, lest we rip a loved child out of a parent’s arms.