Adoption and Essentialism

Margaret Homans, Yale University
Vol. 21, No. 2 (Fall 2002), 257-274

This essay discusses racial essentialism in adoptions in the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was thought by the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) that orphaned African American children could only come to understand their black culture and heritage if they were adopted by African American families. Though there were opponent organizations that vouched for transracial adoptions, they were often just as essentialist. NABSW rationale for adoptions extended into the 1980s and 1990s and expanded to include children of other races and from countries outside of the United States. In a way, this mode of thinking—that adopted children could only succeed in families of the same race—became detrimental to international adopted children as well, as their adoptions would not be identical to domestic transracial adoptions. This essay examines how moving away from essentialist thought in the adoption process opens other avenues of nonessentialist thinking as well, both for the purposes of feminist academic study and for applying feminism to life outside of the academy.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]