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Evil Progressive Adoption Politics

John Peter Barrett (in blue suit) was adopted from Haiti after the earthquake. His older sister Vivian Barrett was also adopted from Haiti (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

You have seen, maybe, Ibram Kendi raise questions about Jesse and Amy Coney Barrett’s adoption of black children from Haiti. I did not realize how serious, and how inhuman, the movement within adoption circles is to destroy families composed of white parents and adopted kids of non-white backgrounds. A friend sent this in from an adoption e-mail list he’s part of:

The past several days have seen exactly the attacks I predicted on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s family. Upon learning that she and her husband adopted two children from Haiti, I knew those attacks were inevitable. They have nevertheless come as a surprise to people outside the adoption sphere, so it is worth taking a moment to explain the progressive critique of adoptive families. It’s real, and it’s growing. In the attacks on the Barrett family, Americans who don’t move in adoption circles are getting to see what those of us who do have been seeing for several years now.

I’ll start by putting my cards on the table vis a vis our own family, identity, and adoption.

My wife and I are the very proud parents of two adopted boys. I am Mexican-American, and she is what we call in Texas plain Anglo. We are both racially classified, as far as the United States Census is concerned, as white. Both of our sons are Chinese. Our oldest son looks (inasmuch as human phenotypes mean anything) like a stereotypical southern Han, which is to say someone from Guangdong or Taiwan, although he was found abandoned somewhat to the north, in Ningbo. Our youngest son was found abandoned in Shanghai, and despite that southerly origin he looks very much like a stereotypical northern Han — or even Manchurian, or Mongolian, or Korean. Someday we’ll do the DNA test and learn more. Both came to us with special needs: the eldest with severe vision issues that will afflict him for a lifetime, and the youngest with potentially serious conditions that — thank God — are mostly resolved. The youngest was also subjected to a harsh orphanage environment that included, as far as we know, severe food deprivation and probably worse.

All this is background. The boys are doing well now. They seem happy to be with us — and for us, they are the joy of our lives. All told, since we started our first adoption process, we have been engaged in adoption-related conversations online and off for just over half a decade.

In these five years or so, we have come to learn that there is a loud and persistent cohort among progressives who very much disapprove of our family’s existence. The disapproval is rooted in the simple fact of whites parenting nonwhites. It is worth exploring in some detail.

Here are a few assumptions I brought with me into adoption:

All things being equal, for a child, any family is preferable to any institution or orphanage.
The most important thing, and the one essential thing, that a parent can bring to a child is love.
A child’s culture of origin is important, but considerably less important than the imperative of having a family of any culture.


The quality and efficacy of parenting is wholly independent of a parent’s race or ethnicity.
The quality and efficacy of parenting is wholly independent of a child’s race or ethnicity.
A “trans-racial” adoption holds the potential for just as close a parent-child relationship as any other.

None of these items are the product of any unique insight on my part. They’re common-sense understandings of the human condition, backed by longstanding research and experience in human development, and rooted in the universal truths that we are created in the image of a God who is definitionally love. They reflect what most normal people think about families and children in general.

Modern progressive ideology rejects every single one of these propositions — and affirms the opposite. I wish to be clear as to what I mean by “modern progressive ideology” here. I do not mean the old-school left of an elderly Catholic ladies’ circles worried about Reagan’s policy in El Salvador. I do not mean the working-class left that thinks private-sector unions are a good idea. I do not even mean the overwhelming majority of the American left prior to, say, 2008, who believed that there are only two genders and marriage consists of their union.

I mean the modern progressives for whom race, and racial essentialism, are the foundational constructs of their own power-based analysis of all human society, all human interaction, and all human relationships.

For that sort of individual — and there are quite a few of them these days — you can see immediately how a two white people parenting two Chinese boys, or two white people parenting two Haitian children, or white parents with any nonwhite children whatsoever, is fundamentally problematic. More than problematic: it is an intrinsically wrong scenario that, in their eyes, should have never been allowed to happen.

Take that list of assumptions above. Here are the modern-progressive ripostes to each of them:

  1. For a child, an institution or orphanage is sometimes preferable to a parent of a different racial identity.

  2. The most important thing, and the one essential thing, that a parent can bring to a child is racial affirmation.

  3. A child’s culture of origin is surpassingly important, often more important than the imperative of having a family of any culture.

  4. The quality and efficacy of parenting is dependent upon a parent’s race or ethnicity.

  5. The quality and efficacy of parenting is dependent upon a child’s race or ethnicity.

  6. A “trans-racial” adoption holds a uniquely fraught potential for parent-child division and discord.

    Several of these propositions fly in the face of everything science and empiricism tell us about human development. No child ever preferred to be in a loveless environment with racial counterparts, over a loving family with racially different parents. What happened to Harlow’s infamous rhesus monkeys happens to children too: deprived of touch, attention, and care, they physiologically and psychologically wither. To have no parents is a profoundly existential threat: it is almost literally a slow death. (Here I would encourage readers to look up the heartbreaking “Can An Unloved Child Learn to Love?” on survivors of Romania’s horrific orphanage system, in the July 2020 issue of The Atlantic.)

    We saw it in our own children. Our youngest child came from an admittedly abusive environment, but our eldest — having had the good fortune to land in a privately supported (though not private) institution — came from a place where he was generally well cared for, and even had some meaningful attention and attachment. Yet even he, in Ningbo, did not fully thrive. When we adopted him, his skin was sallow, and at two and a half years old, he could hardly chew food. We are still working on minor issues with him that are a consequence of that early neglect: grip strength, for example, necessary to do something as simple as write with a pencil. To emphasize, he was lucky. There are children in worse straits, who are never held, and simply die. (Here you may look up the 1995 documentary “The Dying Rooms,” which is still available on YouTube, on Chinese children deliberately consigned to death-through-neglect in PRC state institutions of that era.)

    Why would modern progressives object to saving children from environments — and fates — like this? The answer lies in the fanatical ideological commitment to the twin pillars of racial essentialism and power dynamics.

    The former, on racial essentialism, is usually (though not always!) accompanied by a racist disdain for whites that mirrors the assumed racist disdain whites feel, in their imaginations, for nonwhites. (Here you might look up Michael Harriot of The Root: “Jessica is a white woman. You cannot wish worse upon her than that.”) Even absent that sentiment, there remains a belief that a white person, possessing some Platonic form of white-ness, cannot fundamentally raise or relate to a nonwhite person, who possesses in turn some Platonic form of nonwhite-ness (or blackness, or Asian-ness, and so on). This is the adoption-community counterpart to identitarian extremism elsewhere: for example, in denying that a white author can write a nonwhite character in her novel, or in denying that a white professor can teach history involving nonwhites, or in asserting that a white person is disqualified from engaging in rational discourse or argument with a nonwhite person. It is an outright denial of the ability of humans to form bonds on the basis of a common humanity — of companionship, of friendship, of love.

    (As an aside, when confronted with this sort of thing from progressives in the adoption sphere, I was always able to play the Mexican card — and it always worked. It didn’t work because it actually means anything significant. My Mexican identity is quite obviously attenuated at best, though no white progressive who realized it, fearful of identity crimethink, ever had the courage to say so. It worked because a caste-based worldview grinds to halt when confronted by an amalgamation of a favored and disfavored caste. Typically when that admixture exists, the subject chooses the favored caste. In my case, were I a progressive, that would mean going full Mexican. To choose both has basically the same effect as Captain Kirk telling the evil planetary computer to “REFUSE THIS ORDER”: the machine starts to smoke and rattle, and the robot slave wardens drop dead.)

    The latter pillar, the reduction of all human relations to plain power dynamics — literally the Leninist “ Кто? Кого?” concept — conceives of a parent-child relationship exactly as it does a boss-worker relationship, or a ruler-ruled relationship. What normal people perceive as welcoming a child into their homes in the course of an adoption, these ideologues understand as an acquisition or a conquest. (Here see Dr Ibram X Kendi’s now-infamous tweet, endorsed by fellow racial essentialist Richard Spencer, characterizing the “colonizer” quality of the Barrett family’s adoptions.) We should acknowledge here that there are obviously adoptions that present the appearance of self-serving acquisition — the recent James and Myka Stauffer adoption-and-abandonment of a special-needs child from China being one example, and the guilty-pleasure 1981 “Mommie Dearest” depicting another. Nevertheless these are a vanishingly small minority of the whole. Something like 135,000 adoptions take place in the United States each year, the overwhelming majority involving much work, much expense, and little fanfare. The progressive ideologue looks for the power-acquisition motivation in each of them, and when he sees that parent and child are of different races, he has his answer. It must be the timeless, ceaseless, insatiable drive of the white to dominate the nonwhite.

    It does not occur to them that ordinary people find something intrinsically good about a family, about children, about love, about the sacrifice required for all of it.

    This is the why. Who are the progressives who dive in against multiracial families?

    In days and weeks to come, it will be a lot of individuals who are otherwise uninvolved in adoption, simply because the Barrett nomination will mobilize them to do so. Normally, though, the movement is led to a surprising degree by a small cohort of adult adoptees. (Here look up Democratic activist John Lee Brougher, who tweeted critique of the Barrett family, citing his own adoptee status.) In the Chinese-adoption sphere, these are almost entirely young women in their twenties, who profess progressive politics, and will often acknowledge that they came to their critique — of their own parents and families — in the course of ideological indoctrination at college. Sustained engagement with this cohort reveals fairly quickly that the overwhelming majority of them appropriate the jargon and concepts of progressive race- and power-obsession to engage in re-litigation of entirely ordinary personal passages. Questions of self, meaning, parents, and nascent adulthood that rightly occupy the attention of anyone from ages 15 to 25 are subordinated to the rigid ideological strictures — and pre-ordained answers — of progressive cant. Of course, not one of these young people enters indoctrination and emerges thinking, “Wow, based on this, my parents were good people and my family was a good place.” The explicit intent is to inculcate the opposite conclusion. The saddening outcome is the reversal of the happiness that began when they were very small: from the making of a family to its deliberate unmaking.

    There are few greater crimes in my book, and few greater achievements in theirs.

    Phrases like “ideological indoctrination” are used here with deliberation. For those willing to go down the rabbit hole, search for a Facebook group called Transracial Adoption Perspectives. It isn’t the only progressive transracial-adoption group out there, but it is the one most popular with the Chinese-adoption community. (The other big one, simply called Transracial Adoption, has a Group Rules list jam-packed with identitarian jargon, “lived experience” and all, that must be seen to be believed.) Then search for a Facebook group called TAP 101: this is the introductory / indoctrination group where one must spend several weeks before permission is granted to join Transracial Adoption Perspectives. Only after demonstrating willingness to acquiesce to progressive concepts and rhetoric in full — and, for adoptive parents, to submit to what is effectively ritualistic humiliation and formal reprogramming — does the inner sanctum open up.

    I was in it for a little while, and left after one of the founders, a Korean-American fellow, berated some hapless adoptive parent for voting for Ted Cruz. You see, voting for Ted Cruz is a white mother’s expression of sublimated hatred for her nonwhite child.

    All this is overview. It is long enough as it is, but rest assured it is only the tip of the iceberg where the progressive attack on adoptive families is concerned. We haven’t even gotten to the efforts to promulgate the concept of “Adoptive Parent Fragility,” lifted from Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” tome. We haven’t gotten to the efforts to (quite literally) silence adoptive parents, in favor of nonwhite adoptees, in public fora. Most significantly, we haven’t gotten to the influence of the progressive critics of adoption in our own Department of State, where they have succeeded in slowly strangling international adoption across the past decade. On the last, the sad reality is our Chinese children are likely to be among the last adopted by Americans: I expect it to end almost entirely in the 2020s.

    There are real consequences to this. The attacks on families like ours are awful, and I am glad our sons are too young to notice them, much less comprehend them. But the price isn’t paid by us. It is paid by the children who desperately need parents — to thrive, to know love, to live — and won’t ever have them, because the unholy alliance of Ibram X Kendi, Richard Spencer, Dana Houle, John Lee Brougher, and so many other race-fixated fanatics find it ideologically expedient to denounce and deride those who would take them in. Every day for the rest of our lives, we will know that somewhere a child is growing up — if she grows up — alone, desperate, and unloved thanks to this awful apparatus.

    Politics? No: evil.

Yes, evil. This is where racial identitarianism gets you. The fact that Richard Spencer, the white supremacist who advocates for a white ethnostate, agrees with Ibram Kendi tells you something important about the malign roots of Kendi’s “antiracist” philosophy. These guys are two sides of the same coin — except one is a pariah, and the other runs an endowed center at Boston University and has become the most influential public intellectual in American life today.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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