Rescue or Racism?

“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

True words indeed.

The term “white saviour complex” generally refers to wealthy, middle class white people feeling they need to “rescue” the “poor, needy” people (generally BAME individuals) in other countries. It often starts with the best of intentions, but the mindset that sees the western world as uniquely placed to “relieve the sufferings” of the poor, incapable, helpless masses in all those needy, dirty countries so far away, is one deeply rooted in years of racist thinking.

This mindset has influenced years of behaviours and policies surrounding trans-racial international adoption.

Accepted figures from sources such as UNICEF agree that there are approximately 140 million children living without parents worldwide.

A report published by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism states; “Foreign adoption seems like the perfect solution to a heartbreaking imbalance: Poor countries have babies in need of homes, and rich countries have homes in need of babies. Unfortunately, those little orphaned bundles of joy may not be orphans at all.” E.J. Graff – The Lie we Love

They state that the statistics published by UNICEF are misleading. The definition of “orphan” includes children who have lost one parent. Just ten percent have lost both parents, and most live with extended family. 95% are said to be over the age of 5.

In other words, unicef’s “millions of orphans” are not healthy babies doomed to institutional misery unless Westerners adopt and save them. Rather, they are mostly older children living with extended families who need financial support.”

In addition to the misleading concept of the need for the west to “rescue” the rest of the world, many are starting to point out the potential dark side to international adoptions.

Jessica Davis is an American woman who adopted a 6-year old girl from Uganda, named Namata, via an adoption agency. Jessica welcomed Namata into their home with excitement, but over time her concerns regarding the adoption grew.

Namata’s accounts of her home and family didn’t add up with the story the agency had given Jessica, and then news came that the US State Department had debarred the agency, preventing them for working for three years due to unethical practice.

Realising she had been lied to, Jessica fought for Namata’s right to information regarding her birth family. When she discovered that, rather than Namata being an orphan, she had actually been removed by deceit from a doting mother, Jessica was on a mission.

After sucessfully locating Namata’s birth mother, Jessica was baffled to find that she, the adoptive mother, was given the legal right by the US government to choose whether to ‘keep’ or ‘return’ her child…while Namata’s birth mother, who loved her child deeply and had never legally relinquished her parental rights, had to sit by and wait the choice of the powerful white Americans.

Jessica was incensed, and even more so when friends, family, and outsiders put pressure on her to ‘keep’ the child she had unknowingly taken from a loving family, in light of all the perceived privileges she could offer in a Western home.

“The travesty in this injustice is beyond words. I must be clear in the following statement: My race, country of origin, wealth…none of these privileges entitles me to the children of the poor, voiceless and underprivileged. If anything, I believe these privileges should come with a responsibility to do more, to stand up against such injustices. We can’t let other families be ripped apart to grow our own families!” Jessica Davis, CNN

 After a long process, Jessica and her husband were able to successfully reunite Namata with her ecstatic birth family. This story ended well. But it is only one example of a wide-reaching problem.

Coercion and deception are used to remove children from loving families and then ‘market’ them for adoption in the US – to adopters who may be paying sums in the region of $18,000 – $36,000 to ‘rescue’ this child. And there are also reports of horrendous failures of adoptions.

Well-meaning parents adopt a child with little or inaccurate information about that child’s background and needs. Maybe they are genuine, loving parents with no idea of the challenges, or maybe they were never truly committed to the hard and heartbreaking journey of parenting a child from a traumatic background and were simply spurred on by the example of flashy celebrities and the need to ‘rescue’ a child from overseas.

Either way, when the child’s needs become too much for the adoptive family to bear, there is no support in place. And some children become victims all over again – this time to a terrifying process known as ‘re-homing’.

Children (yes, human children, not puppies or kittens, as the language suggests) are advertised on websites and social media. The University of Arkansas has published a discussion of these cases.

The examples they cite defy belief; “In one case, a mother gave up her 9-year-old adopted son to a pedophile in a motel parking lot a few hours after she posted a re-homing advertisement for him on a Yahoo group. Adoptive parents in Illinois (gave) a 10-year-old boy…to a child pornographer hours after they advertised him online for re-homing.”  UALR – Underground Market

After touching on such subjects as those above, it is hard to look at the subject of adoption in the same light. It is easy to recoil in fear of the potential for abuse and profiteering off the plight of children and families. However, while hundreds and thousands of children DO remain in genuine need of families, we cannot afford to turn our backs.

What we have a responsibility to commit to is a ruthless honesty to ensure we scrutinise our motivations, our abilities, and the methods we pursue to identify and reach out to children in need. And at each stage and in each area, we need to open our eyes to the wide-reaching and ugly effects of racism – a worldview that creates both a mindset and a market for removing children in countries we somehow view as ‘lesser than’ our perceived western splendour, and patting white families on the back for their philanthropic efforts in ‘rescuing’ these children.


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