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Performing Adoption and Adopting Identities in Reconstruction

journal contribution
posted on 2024-03-28, 17:50 authored by Darcy BallantyneDarcy Ballantyne

[para. 1]: “In her essay "Race/Identity/Culture/Kin: Constructions of African American Identity in Transracial Adoption," Sandra Patton reminds us that "from a cultural studies perspective, all human identities are socially constructed ... [but] ... Adoption is the literal social construction of families and, thus, of identities. Those of us who were adopted into our families-whether across or within racial categories-often move through our everyday lives with an acute understanding that our identities have been constituted by outside forces, that who we are is not 'natural'" (274). The dialogue around transracial adoption and the racial identity formation practices of black and interracial adoptees has recently been reinvigorated by a spate of scholarly and popular explorations in the field. Much of the literature on these issues focuses primarily on the ways in which black and/or interracial adoptees ad-just to their adoptive contexts; however, as Patton wisely points out, adoption is not only the "literal social construction" of adoptees' identities; rather, the entire family unit constructs and reconstructs its identity through the trope of adoption. In cases where there is no racial or cultural match between the adoptee and the adoptive family, the impression adoptees have of possessing identities that are not "natural" - both in the sense of having originated somewhere outside the adoptive family and of being racially marked in a society where the "(unmarked) racial identit[ies]" of white adoptive parents and siblings are assumed to be the "norm" - is compounded and thus presents an additional challenge to both individual and collective identity formation (277). Additionally, Patton argues, "black children of white parents will be ex-posed to a different range of racial meanings and narratives of self than will black children raised by African American parents. Demographic and cultural factors such as the racial composition of the neighbor-hood and community and the racial assumptions of parents and other family members fundamentally shape the range of cultural systems of racial meaning that are made available to these children" (275-76).”

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