White Mother, Black Daughter: An Honest Look at Transracial Adoption
By BETH HARPAZ
In 1990, a Black girl in a yellow dress flew from Haiti to New York with the white woman who’d adopted her. Thirty years later, Rebecca and her mother, Joni Schwartz, explore their relationship and their identities in a poignant and honest new book, Learning to Disclose: A Journey of Transracial Adoption.
Joni Schwartz is a professor at LaGuardia Community College. Rebecca Schwartz, a LaGuardia adjunct, has worked extensively with humanitarian organizations in Haiti, Jordan, Uganda, and the Congo.
The book offers first-person accounts from both women as they contemplate their memories and experiences while reflecting on race, white privilege, and the controversies that now surround transracial and international adoptions.
“My adoptive parents never talked about race much therefore I never saw myself in a racial way; I just saw humanity,” Rebecca writes. Now, though, she adds, “I am aware and now I cannot go back to colorblindness. And it is like I am making myself look in the mirror as I come to this consciousness, that there is color and I am Black, and what am I going to do with this?”
Joni responds with “regret” for “not discussing and grappling with race earlier in our relationship.” She adds: “From my position of privilege, I did not have to recognize that I was White … Embracing my White racial identity perhaps made me feel that I might be more distant from my daughter and all I wanted was to be close—to bond as mother and daughter.”
These personal passages alternate with meditations on topics like colonialism and gentrification, along with short profiles of individuals like W.E.B. Dubois and Shirley Chisholm.
The book also takes an unflinching look at abuse and corruption in the international adoption industry, along with the role played by American churches. Faith-based groups in the U.S. supply most of the $100 million funding for orphanages in Haiti. Yet many children there and in orphanages in other developing countries have living relatives, according to the book. They’re placed in orphanages only because their families can’t afford to care for them.
Instead of funding orphanages, the evangelical movement “ought to embrace alternatives to poverty” to “keep children in their own countries with their own families.” The book also rejects the glorification of adoptive families as “white saviors.”
Joni was unaware of these issues when Rebecca was adopted. “I understand now that adoptions shouldn’t be necessary; that children are orphans because of the oppression, racism, and institutionalized destruction of Haitian society within and without,” she writes. “Yet and still, Rebecca is my daughter—I love her with my whole being. … I have fought to be her mother despite my own insecurities and perhaps the perceptions of others.”
Rebecca, for her part, doesn’t want transracial adoption seen as negative. Her own story, she says, is a positive one: “I deal easily with different people; I am comfortable in international, intercultural and interracial settings. The world needs people like me.”