Time for a slightly embarrassing confession: I watch Grey’s Anatomy. Lesbian Wife #2 got me into it, and it’s my soapy addiction, week in and week out. There has been a story line this season around transracial/transnational adoption, and there were some interesting parts this week that I want to touch on. I doubt it’s relevant for any of you, but spoilers ahoy (or you could just watch the episode).
First of all, I want to acknowledge and put aside the narrative problems that have been happening all season with adoption expediency. Even with special medical need, you don’t get your homestudy done as fast as Derek and Meredeth, and you certainly don’t get a transnational adoption visa in that kind of time. Also, you know, social workers call before coming by with a baby. But that’s understandable in the world of television where seemingly no one has phones, so they just stop by each others’ homes all the time. Anyway.
This week focused on Zola’s hair, which I knew it would from the first time that Derek showed up on the screen with his daughter’s messy afro-puffs. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a “daddy can’t do hair” or a “white people can’t do black hair” story, and it ended up being both. I’m glad that it was mentioned that Derek does his own hair very prettily, so it wasn’t just down to male incompetence, but it’s clear that Meredeth has clearly done her homework on doing her daughter’s hair. It was interesting that Bailey, who has had processed hair for the entire eight series run (except for that stupid alternate universe episode, where she had braids), would be the one to instruct Derek on doing his daughter’s (natural) hair, but then again, all of the black women on this show have processed hair. I’m just glad that the last scene didn’t feature a hot comb.
The deeper part of this episode for me came from Derek’s self-consciousness about the (perceived) racism his family was now subject to. His clumsy attempts to set up a playdate between Zola and Bailey’s son Tucker show the beginnings of an understanding that he will need to go out of his way to provide his daughter with peers of color, rather than doing what most parents do, which is rely purely on their existing social networks. For me, for O, my intention is to try to achieve this through public schooling in a diverse city, as well as through networking with other transracial adoptive families and the Jewish Multiracial Network, although I have barely scratched the surface on this so far. I keep thinking that it doesn’t matter yet, that I can start on this when O is social and I have more time, but it’s time and past for me to start making the adult connections that will create O’s connections to other children.
The other interesting piece was Derek’s outburst at his colleague: “It is 2012; you want to be shocked by a White man with a Black baby, you’re about three decades too late!” I think it’s interesting that the writers place the normalcy of transracial adoption so far in the past. Transnational adoption started achieving prominence in the wake of World War II, with a push for American families to adopt the biracial children of soldiers from the Pacific theater, and had similar bumps after the Korean and Vietnam Wars. More recently, it has flourished with the need created by China’s One Child Policy and the fall of the USSR. But the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption was only written in 1995, and as of 2007 (the most recent date for which I could find statistics), the top three countries that American parents are adopting from are China, Guatemala, and Russia. Notice something about the races of children being adopted to the United States? While children from China and Guatemala are not White, they (usually) aren’t Black, either. African adoption is a relatively new phenomenon outside of the missionary sphere, and has achieved prominence only in the last decade with adoptions by Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Madonna. If we frame this, as the writers do, primarily as a transracial adoption, the last year for which statistics on transracial domestic adoption were taken was 1987 (!), and they showed fewer than 8% of adoptions were of Black children by White adults. And while this doesn’t take into account the children of interracial couples, as shown in this scary story, a White adult parenting a Black child is not as commonplace as all that.
Finally, something that isn’t addressed in the episode at all: that Zola has a home culture from an unspecified African country (don’t even get me started…). There has been basically no mention of this since her arrival in the states (in fact, when the adoption disrupted, there was no mention of repatriation, she was just in state custody). True, she was under a year old when she came to the United States, but that was originally for medical treatment, not for adoption, and regardless, although she will grow up as an African-American, she could also grow up as an American from Africa. I truly believe that it is the responsibility of transnationally adoptive parents to give their children cultural ties to the home countries they emigrated from. Although they may have been infants, they are still natives of other countries and immigrants to the US, identities that are unique and precious. Maybe Derek’s tentative outreach to his African-American friends will grow into outreach to the African community in Seattle. Time (and the writers) will tell.