Saturday, January 21, 2012

Parenting and Race

I recently wrote a post about adoption (see here). While it isn’t necessary to read that post in order to understand what I say here, this is a follow-up to and expanding of ideas already mentioned there.

Consider the following claim:

Ideally, children will be raised by parents of their own race.

Let us refer to this claim as the Symmetry Principle of Parenting, or SPP. Is SPP true? I can imagine some people reacting to SPP with disgust. Those people may see SPP in terms of what it (seemingly, but not actually) prohibits. That is, some will see SPP as carrying the following mandates: blacks shouldn’t raise white children, whites shouldn’t raise black children, Asians shouldn’t raise Hispanic children, etc. Though SPP does not actually entail any of these things, I can see why people might respond negatively to SPP. Something about it just doesn’t sound politically correct.

I’m not 100% committed to SPP, but I think it’s probably true. In fact, I think the implications of rejecting SPP are much more likely to be offensive than are any implications of accepting it. By denying that, ideally, children would be raised by parents of their own race, it seems to me that you are disvaluing race altogether. And that doesn’t seem right. I think most of us are comfortable saying that there is something special and unique about each race. Perhaps I am wrong, but my impression is that most (if not all) black people regard their black heritage as something to be proud of, as an inherently valuable part of who they are. I also assume that, no matter how in touch with black culture a white person may be, that person has only a superficial understanding of what it is like to be a member of the black community. Finally, I assume that the more intimate and complete the parents’ understanding of what their child’s experiences in the world are like—in one sense, the more capable of empathy the parents are—the better that child will fare in life. Now, I know this is not a black and white issue—neither figuratively nor literally, as there are more races than black and white—but I trust that my point is becoming clear. A black parent can provide things for a black child that a white parent cannot. To suggest otherwise is not only absurd, but insulting. It implies not only that race is of little consequence, which is just false, but (for example) that when it comes to raising a black child, any value a black parent might offer to that child in light of their common racial identity, can just as easily be replaced by the good intentions of a white person—a white person whose understanding and appreciation of black culture is necessarily both minimal and largely impersonal. Now, can that be right???

At this point, we might ask what the practical implications of SPP are. Perhaps nothing. We aren’t living in an ideal world, so it may not matter what’s ideal. The ideal might be unattainable, and we might be capable only of doing what’s best in a non-ideal situation. Without a doubt, it is better than not that a child be raised in a safe home by loving parents who can provide for that child, regardless of who is of what race. But if we accept SPP, it may imply that adoptive parents do children a disservice if they intentionally adopt outside of their own race for superficial reasons (e.g. to diversify, to be cool, etc.). And it might go beyond race. SPP can be extended from making a racial claim to making a cultural claim. If it’s equally true that, ideally, children will be raised by parents of their own culture, then it may be morally wrong (in some situations) to adopt a child from a different country. This is less obviously true, especially when (or, at least, if) adopting typically improves the life of the child. But again, when people adopt outside of their own culture primarily because it seems cool to do so, they should recognize that such a move may be detrimental to the child’s sense of self-worth and identity. It’s at least a possibility, one that I think merits consideration.

Side note: in writing this, I began to wonder just how many non-white parents adopt white children. More tellingly, I began to wonder just how many non-white parents would even want to adopt white children. I can’t help thinking that it must be a SUBSTANTIALLY higher percentage of white parents who adopt outside of their own race than non-whites. This almost certainly has a lot to do with the availability of adoptable children, and yet I'm not convinced that there isn’t more to it than that. I’m tempted to say that white parents are much more likely to take pride in adopting outside of their race, believing that it says something positive about their characters. Insofar as this is true, it irks me.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Ben! I thought this was extremely well said and some very good arguments. We are afraid of saying such things because of political correctness and hurting people's feelings, but I think you said it very well!