One night in November 1989, I woke to a baby screaming in my house. I was only 7, and thought I had to have been dreaming since the only children who lived in my house were me and my 9-year-old sister. But the screaming persisted.
I rolled over and saw that my sister was not in her bed sleeping. I saw light coming from my mother’s room and heard her barking orders as only she does. “Go bring me a plastic bag to tie this diaper up in,” she instructed. I realized there was a baby in our house.
I remember looking at the clock as I stumbled confused and sleepy into my mother’s room. It was 12:09 AM. I stood in my mother’s doorway watching her try to soothe a pale baby with a head full of black curls. She looked up and said, “Hey, boo,” as if she didn’t need to explain why a newborn suddenly appeared in our home.
I learned that the baby belonged to a friend of my mother’s, one I’d never even met. She was a crack addict who was in prison. When the baby was born, her mother refused to take the child and social services had been called to come place the newborn in foster care. His mother called my mother begging her to take the baby because she did not want her son with strangers.
My mother obliged, deciding to completely change her life and the lives of her two children by bringing home a two-day-old baby to stay with us indefinitely.
That baby is now a man who turned 29 last year. He was neither the first nor the last child to come live with us. My sister and both of my parents have told me the story of how a toddler came to stay with us for months because her parents were sleeping outside with her and my mother asked if they needed help. Our downstairs neighbor was strung out on crack and her daughter came to live with us for two years. A god sister stayed with us for several months while her mother got back on her feet. The daughter of a friend of the family lived with us for an entire year when her home was not the safest place.
My mother taking in children, often without any financial support, and always without any state knowledge or approval, was the norm. Whether she realized it or not, she has always had a motivating sense of community, an extraordinary empathy for children that made her decisions to step in and care for them when their parents could not easy. And she was not exactly an anomaly in my community.
I recall several classmates who lived with grandparents, cousins or non-blood related loved ones. In my own neighborhood, there was a woman whose home served as an informal group home, housing several children whose parents had fallen victim to the crack epidemic that wreaked havoc on Black families in the 80s. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Black family without a story of a grandmother who took on the task of raising her own grandchild as her own because the mother was too young, irresponsible and unstable to take care of the child.
So when I hear that Black people formally adopting Black children is the solution to the very real problem of Black children being adopted by white families whose motives can never be fully trusted and are too often revealed to be duplicitous, I know that the anti-Black conditioning that white supremacy so desperately depends on is working just as it is intended.
White people do whatever they want. These systems, social, financial and political, are not only owned by them but constructed for their exclusive benefit. Not only do they have the means to decide the fate of Black children, but they have the systemic power behind their decisions.
Accordingly Black people attempting to formally adopt children won’t solve the issue of white women like the Harts murdering the Black children they’re allowed to adopt and abuse or white couples who adopt a Black toddler and leave her to die in a sweltering car because the problem is not one of the availability of eager, adequate Black foster or adoptive parents but one of the insidious, exploitive, relentless, systemic and systematic methods of white supremacy.
If we acknowledge that white people are privileged in all systems, why then, would we assume that they are not privileged in the adoption/foster care system? How can we be sure that white people receive preferential treatment in hiring, college admissions and the justice system, but then allow anti-Blackness to make us believe that Black children are being adopted by white people who minimally are too ignorant, too idealistic and too fucking white to ever raise Black children who have the self-awareness crucial to navigate their Black existence and at most covert racists who use their unchecked access to Black children to punish and torture the most vulnerable members of our community because Black people aren’t stepping up to raise abandoned or orphaned Black children? Let us dig deep and question why we ignore our experiences having watched our mothers, aunts and grandparents raise other people’s children to spout anti-Black bullshit about how if Black people are sick of white people adopting Black children we should do it.
By the very nature of the community we were forced into first as the subjects and victims of chattel slavery and now as the descendants of the enslaved and the victims of the afterlife of slavery, Black people have always had to take collective responsibility for the children in the community without the sanction of the white supremacist government which most often is the reason families are broken and children left without parents. When mothers and fathers of were sold off to other plantations, forced to leave behind their children, it was other Black women and men who become surrogate parents, guiding, feeding and caring for these children. It was this same sense of community that got Black people through the financially wretched 20thcentury as we fed hungry children whether we knew them or not, passed down clothing and allowed children we may never even have met to come live with us because all we knew is that they were too young to take care of themselves and had no one else.
And it was the same breed of white people who some of us are now foolishly and coonishly praising for adopting Black children who retreated to the safety of their communities knowing that Black children were in need. And it was from that same breed of white people who we learned that our informal adoption of our community’s children was insufficient despite centuries of it sustaining and protecting our children. And it the same white people who still create and maintain systems that are inspired by and somewhat mimic chattel slavery who we are looking to with the expectation that they be fair in deciding whether Black people are fit stand-ins for parentless children.
Never mind all of the school secretary who knows that a student’s mother is strung out and his father is in jail, and that he lives with his aunt who doesn’t want the state knowing because they will come in and disrupt the child’s life unnecessarily and potentially remove him from the family he is safest with, so she guides auntie through alternative paperwork she can accept to register the child for school. Let’s forget about all the barely legal sisters and brothers who give up their own apartments to go live in the homes of their mothers and take care of their siblings when their mothers are unavailable or unfit. Who cares if Black mothers are taking in the friends of their children whose own parents cannot or will not properly care for them?
Where’s the formal adoption, right? Because that de jure adoption where the state and a for-profit agency (which charges you fees well into the thousands of dollars) and not the de facto adoptions which are absent the paperwork and government approval but not the love, affection and guidance needed to care for a child is all that matters, right? The only way Black people can stop white people from adopting Black children they do not have the means, ability or interest to raise is for us to go through a system that routinely and perpetually discriminates against us and that will surely continue to operate from the belief that white parents are always a better fit for Black children than Black parents, right?
Black people adopt. We always have. We will certainly continue to take in children who need us formally or not.
Now instead of simple, anti-Black, myopic retorts about us adopting our own as a means to stop white people from adopting our children, how about we start examining the business of Black children and how there is an entire industry which depends on our children being forced into a system? And how about we start assisting Black people fostering Black children? And how about we leave the blame for white people’s racist adoption motivations where it belongs? And that’s with their white asses and their systems.