Upwardly Dependent » walking the delicate balance of absolute truth and overwhelming grace.

Masthead header

The Role of White Privilege in Adoption

white privilege adoption

I’m no stranger to the White Man’s Burden.

It’s the guilt of having so much in a world where the majority has so little. It’s the motivator to do good for others who live outside materialistic pleasures. It’s the constant nagging question of Why Me?

Why was I the one born into a safe family? Why was I the one given the opportunity for higher education? Why was I the one offered good jobs and steady incomes and never-ending chances to climb up the rungs of socio-economic status?

As a white American from a middle-class family, I was always taught I had to work for my money. I see the value in making wise choices to get along well in life. I understand the life cycle of paychecks and debt reduction and investments.

But I’m also highly sensitive to the fact that I can’t take the credit for my comfortable financial, relational, societal state. Some of that comfort I was simply born into.

It’s not that my life has been without pain or grief. That comes with the territory of being human.

It’s not that there aren’t privileged persons in other racial demographics. Or that being Caucasian automatically makes you privileged. Come, now.

But the truth remains that I’ve never gone hungry because my parents couldn’t feed me. I’ve never questioned whether I could be successful because I was always told I could do anything I dreamed. I’ve never doubted my worth because I was taught about God’s love from the womb.

What a testimony, eh? It’s a sweet life I’ve lived.

It doesn’t take much reading or traveling to admit I am in the minority of the world’s population that can boast of such luxuries.

I’ve hurt, ached, and wept for those who sleep on dirt floors and drink unclean water and go without having basic emotional needs met.

If you resonate with any of this so far, then you’ve probably felt it, too.

The problem with the White Man’s Burden, though, is that we get all feely and forget to use our brains. Especially when it comes to the orphan crisis.

We want to open institutions, start non-profits, and adopt out every child to a loving family as soon as possible.

I can already tell you’re going to have to hear me out on this one. So go ahead and hear this:

When my own guilt of being a privileged white girl serves as my motivation for adopting, a child is at great risk of only being hurt worse by my *generous* efforts.

Because then…
The fatherless are my charity.
The abandoned are my ministry.
The orphans are my cause.

And NONE of these words bestow honor on the child that becomes a part of my family. Words like charity or ministry or cause don’t clothe a child in dignity.

That’s why our burden can’t be what motivates us to love others. At the end of the day, anything good done in the name of burden is still weighed down by a portion of selfishness.

Look at what we’re doing.
Look at our good works.
Look at how we love people.

Yes, our burdens ultimately drive a self-seeking affirmation that we’ve done something righteous after all.

Orphans deserve more than our guilt—they deserve our privilege.

What does that mean for us white, wealthy, adoptive parents? It means we recognize the power of our skin color and our money…both good and bad. 

It means we’re not playing rescue. We don’t exploit the poverty of our children’s birth countries. We aren’t waving our adoption flag like we’ve sacrificed the ultimate comforts as a family for a poor kid in need of a home.

We don’t use our money to push the lines of international law. We open our eyes to the dangers of promoting institutionalized care for the fatherless. We believe first in family reunification over adopting the children of poor mothers.

We don’t adopt because we have no other option. We don’t adopt because we feel bad that we’re rich. We don’t adopt because we want to play the savior.

We don’t adopt because we feel sorry for orphaned kids. We don’t adopt because we want to prove we’re not prejudiced. We don’t adopt because it makes us look good.

We adopt because children need families.

And we are, after all, families.

We take the most humble place as the parents of an orphaned child, considering it an honor to love another family’s child as our own.

We recognize the loss and grief that saturates the adoption process, and we are sensitive to our adopted children’s emotional needs.

We put ourselves in the shoes of any mother who’s chosen to give up her child, and we mourn along with that mother for her loss, too.

We acknowledge the mess the world makes of race, but we don’t dwell on it or fight about it or make our children an example of it.

We remind ourselves of our own adoption, as sons and daughters of the King, and we allow this theme to flow throughout our family dynamics.

We act justly, we love mercy, and we walk humbly with our God.

Our white privilege isn’t going anywhere. But it doesn’t have to do harm.

We can use our resources, our networks, and our education to make sure we are doing everything in our power to adopt ethically and honorably.

And once we welcome our babies into our homes, we can continue to love them with the same love that was given to us through Christ Jesus.

Not a love that says, How can I help you?, but a love that says, Child, you are worthy.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”
Romans 8:14-15


I must state the obvious here: There’s no way an essay of less than 1,000 words can touch the surface of orphan justice issues. Please follow the links in the post for books and blog resources.

This post was not specifically pointed to transracial, international adoption because I believe all adoptive parents need to ask hard questions about the dynamics of their faith walk and familial growth. That being said, I’m also not claiming to be an expert in this field. Our dossier is hanging out at our agency’s office while we wait for one last background check. I have so much more to learn about becoming an adoptive mom. BUT, I’m putting my motivations through the ringer now because I want to do this thing as well as possible.

Can we be respectful in the comment section? I have hives thinking about what the lovely people of the internet will do with this topic. Anything non-constructive will be deleted. Well-meaning, further-educating remarks and links are welcomed. 



DeniseSeptember 9, 2014 - 11:45 am

Thank you for this post. In my IG pic of the quilt top, I said something about supporting a great ’cause.’ I’m sorry if that was a misstep on my part; I meant no offense. I look forward to more education as you walk through this process.

AprilSeptember 9, 2014 - 3:41 pm

I am thankful there are people that go through all the stress, paperwork and who knows what else to bring a motherless and fatherless child into their family and raise them as their own child. I do not feel called to do that but appreciate those that do. It is a courageous thing to do. I would imagine I would have all these same thoughts and worries that I would want to be sure I was doing this for His glory first and for the child second and not put myself into the equation other than to be sure I could support and provide the basic needs and emotional support for the child. I do think that it would be such a pure joy moment to be united with your adopted child though. And you should not feel anything bad about wanting to get to that point!

lmpinkston@gmail.comSeptember 9, 2014 - 6:51 pm

Denise – This is just the most beautiful example of an open heart. Sometimes there are no better words to use for this thing we’re all trying to do. I think there’s loads of grace to cover us through that. I am right there with you in the educating ourselves. I’m thankful for your desire to walk this path with families!

lmpinkston@gmail.comSeptember 9, 2014 - 9:36 pm

April, Thankfully there are many ways to support orphans other than adoption! Those who can’t adopt can still support community efforts to help families prepare themselves financially to welcome their children back home and be able to provide for them. Many children in orphanages still have a mother and/or father who simply can’t afford to care for them. My husband and I are looking at support Arise and Shine Uganda (http://ariseandshineuganda.com), as they focus first on family reunification, then local adoption, and then international adoption. All that said, I am so excited to welcome our second child into our home! I get so giddy thinking about it, and ache for him on a regular basis. I don’t feel bad at all about wishing this would happen so soon–like tomorrow!