Breaking Down the Evangelical White Savior Complex

Oy vey. This article from The Washington Post — “My wife and I are white evangelicals. Here’s why we chose to give birth to black triplets” — has some problems, to say the least. A few examples:

I grew up as a child of evangelical missionaries in Honduras, very aware of racial diversity because I was the blue-eyed, cotton-topped white kid who stuck out like a sore thumb, but all the while felt deeply connected to the people there, even though we looked very different.

This is how author Aaron Halbert lays the foundation for his article. He seeks to establish his non-racism by demonstrating how he too has been singled out for he looks. Not off to a great start.

Knowing that it is often more challenging to find adoptive homes in the United States for non-Caucasian children we informed the agency that we were willing to accept any child except a fully Caucasian child. We did this with the deeply held conviction that if the Lord wanted us to have a fully Caucasian child my wife would conceive naturally.

It gets worse. Seriously.

There is something beautiful and enriching being the only white face sitting and chatting with some of my African-American friends as my son gets his hair cut on a Saturday morning. There is also something wonderful in the relationship that is built as my wife asks a black friend on Facebook how to care for our little biracial daughter’s hair.

Please make it stop.

…there was also the young black girl who wept when we told her this little boy with her skin color was our son, and the older white doctor who lovingly prayed over him and held him so tenderly.

How did The Washington Post think this was a good idea?

It was our commitment to the protection of the unborn and to the idea of continuing to add to our family that led us, last year, to the National Embryo Donation Center, a Christian embryo bank.

That’s right. This isn’t even about adopting black children who get adopted less frequently than their white and multi-racial counterparts; it was about adding to their collection. Specifically, it was about adding black children to their collection.

But remember: “We see protection of children not as charity, nor as part of a political agenda, but as something near to the heart of God,” Halbert writes. No, this definitely not about advancing a political agenda. Not at all. 

We began to describe everything to our doctor in Spanish (broken Spanish, that is).

I’m hesitant to use “LOL” in a blog post, but…LOL. Why keep this completely unnecessary sentence in this article except for to continue the self-congratulatory humble-bragging that has permeated the rest of the piece?

I can remember a friend going through the adoption process telling me he had always wanted his family to look like a little United Nations. As I look at my growing family, I prefer to take it a step further, daring to hope that our family picture is a little hint of Heaven.

Congratulations…?

Okay. Now that we’ve cringed our way through this article, let’s take a look at some alternative views on the white, Evangelical collection adoption movement.

First, here’s Kathryn Joyce (author of The Child Catchers) at The New Republic on a few major problems with the movement:

after they brought the girl back to the United States and she learned enough English to say so, she told them she had another mother. When they called the agency to demand an explanation, the child’s claim was confirmed: their newly adopted daughter was not an orphan.

Some families who gave up their children for adoption later explained that they’d thought the child would return when they were older or that the adoptive family was becoming a sponsor of the birth family back home, and would help them transcend their circumstances. On rarer occasions, there were stories of how babies were simply bought or kidnapped.

This is a different scenario from the one conveyed in the Washington Post piece, but yes—these white Evangelical “saviors” are actually contributing to human trafficking.

The movement began to refer to adoption as a means of “redeeming orphans”—saving them just as Christians are redeemed when they are born again—and their families became either forgotten footnotes or ugly caricatures. Adoption agencies, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that referred mothers to these agencies, and Christian ministries often cast domestic “birth mothers” as either selfless martyrs or hopeless, promiscuous addicts—bad influences from whom children must be saved. In international adoptions, birth parents were more likely to be erased altogether, as adoption agencies sometimes wrongly claimed that they were dead or dying.

The problem gets messier and messier. Not only are many of these children taken from their families, they are stolen under the pretense that their birth-families are either evil or irresponsible, and that the children must be “saved.”

As domestic adoption declined after the legalization of abortion and the increased acceptance of single motherhood, international adoption expanded dramatically to a wide range of countries. A pattern began to play out in country after country: initial demand followed by an influx of corrupting Western cash and an endgame of coercion, fraud, and often, eventual closure or suspension of the country’s adoption program.

In an infamous 2009 example documented by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a staff member for an American evangelical adoption agency was filmed leading what appeared to be a mass adoption recruitment effort, asking the assembled residents of a rural Ethiopian village whether they wanted their child “to go to America.”

Deception, racism, trafficking, extortion. Can it get worse? Yes it can. What about once the children are adopted and the parents decide they don’t want them any more?

Reuters did an in-depth investigation on just this problem, which is well worth the read. The examples of abuse and neglect—and the sheer prevalence thereof—are astonishing. The lack of oversight and documentation are similarly distressing.

All this to say that Aaron Halbert’s Washington Post piece isn’t just innocuously annoying in its self-satisfaction, it’s also part of a much larger system of disenfranchisement and fraud. Aaron Halbert is not to be celebrated.

h/t to Gene Demby of NPR for getting this conversation started on Twitter this morning; to Martha Crawford for chiming in with her expertise; and to others who contributed to that conversation with their own experiences and observations.

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