The current CNN story that uses this image, "Transracial adoptions: A 'feel good' act or no 'big deal'?," was inspired by Sandra Bullock's recent adoption of a black baby.

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But a white person adopting a black baby is not surprising. What's surprising is what we see in the image: a black person adopting a white child.


The surprise is tied to this question: What is going on when a black person adopts a white child? We understand what is going on when it is the other way around—a white person adopting a black child (white people have more resources than blacks, and so it is an act of kindness or pity and, in terms of appearance, a show of solidarity). But for blacks it makes no sense for the few who have resources to adopt white babies. And that is the source of the surprise: Why is a person from a group with limited economic opportunities adopting a child from a group that has far better economic opportunities?

Because it makes no sense for blacks to adopt white babies, those who do so have this big problem, a problem that confronted my mother when she for a moment considered adding a white child to our family (one of the few black families in Zimbabwe that had the resources to adopt children): If a black person adopts a white child, is this also not a show of power or prestige? Is it not a kind of status symbol? Even if there are good reasons for adoption (which seems to be the case with the two people captured in the image), how can this picture or reading be avoided? A black family which adopts a white baby is displaying to all that it has truly overcome the exceedingly difficult obstacles of racism and the limited economic opportunities established and reinforced by whites. With whites, adoption of a black baby can never be about prestige. It presents another sign: the sign of pity.