I recently attended the Adoption Initiative’s biennial conference, “Race, Religion, and Rescue in Adoption.” Even as a committed reproductive justice advocate, adoption is a fairly new topic to me. I fully acknowledge that I knew little about adoption beyond the broad stereotypes about who places and why promoted by people seeking to dissuade women from having abortions until I attended the Adoption Access Network’s 2010 conference on “Building Bridges Across the Pregnancy Spectrum.” Given the opportunity to attend a convening that explicitly addressed issues of race, and that included people from all parts of the adoption triad, as well as people studying and working within the adoption system, there is no way I would have missed it.
The conference did not disappoint. Given the wealth of new information, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the research presented at the conference over the next few blog posts.
Dr. Darron Smith, the first speaker of the day, is a professor at Brigham Young University whose research focus is on the formation of race identity, and transracial adoption. He shared his experience of researching and teaching in Utah, which has a particularly high rate of transracial adoption because of the teachings of the Mormon faith about the importance of family. (Leaving for another time the legitimate concerns that have been raised about the positions and practices with regard to adoption and reunion within the Mormon church.)
His research on transracial adoptees raised some thought-provoking questions about whether white families are equipped to teach their black adopted children race-specific survival lessons. Specifically, he wove together W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of “double consciousness”–the way Black Americans navigate the quotidian racism of our society by living between two worlds–with the complicated realities of black adoptees raised by white families within a religion that, until relatively recently, taught that black skin was a sign of God’s cure and excluded black people from its most sacred rites.
Then, in one of the most unexpected moments of the morning (things would get more surprising…), he revealed that he is himself a convert to Mormonism, and didn’t know about the history of racist teachings in his religion until he was on his mission and was challenged by a black man he was attempting to proselytize. Describing his efforts to have a meaningful conversation about race in a faith that has many black followers in Africa, but few in America where it was founded, he observed that “Faith can be a place of stagnation or a place of growth.” The slow progress toward a dialogue on race within the faith is somewhat surprising given the Mormon faith’s history of persecution and oppression, and evolution toward abolitionism under Joseph Smith; the note Dr. Smith ended on was one of daunting unfinished work.