'Black Babies Cost Less': The Racial Realities of Adoption in America

In 2010, NPR's Michele Norris started The Race Card Project, a website through which she solicited six word statements from listeners on "race and cultural identity." She gets honest statements like "race is a white man's problem" and "I feel guilty because I'm white," but the most recent one she's chosen to explore is somewhat shocking in its frankness concerning the hierarchy in America of kids of different races: "Black babies cost less to adopt."

In her piece, Norris starts with the circumstances that surrounded Michelle P. of Covington, Louisiana's decision to adopt her son:

"We decided to adopt a child years ago. We are not infertile, but felt like it was a great way to add to our family, while loving someone who needed us. Our research showed us that African-American children, especially boys, are the least adoptable in our country. We decided to adopt via a non-profit agency, a child of any race. In the US, whether you use a non-profit or a for profit agency, black children are cheaper. I have read the reasoning behind this, but I really don’t care to repeat the rationalizations here. My son was cheaper than if he’d been white. How will he feel, if he ever finds out about that?"

Norris' piece dives into some of the price differentials for children of different races being adopted domestically. She cites one example of a woman who was told that black babies cost less than $20,000, while biracial children were around $25,000 and white kids were $30,000.

In 2010, a study showed that black children were less likely to be adopted than white children, and that girls were more desirable than boys. According to the New York Times:

"The probability that a non-African-American baby will attract the interest of an adoptive parent is at least seven times as high as the corresponding probability for an African-American baby."

Part of this is due to who is adopting; in 2009, an ad campaign funded by the federal government was released to encourage black families to adopt, in the hopes that they'd be more likely to take home children who looked like them. Before that, the passage of the 1994 Multiethnic Placement Act sought to protect children from adoption agencies that might work less hard to place them because of their race.

Perhaps the saddest thing about this reveal is how totally unsurprising it is. Even famous parents who adopt – think of the "trend" of single mothers in Hollywood adopting black children – aren't privileged enough to avoid considering these issues entirely. Angelina Jolie might be famous for her brood of children she adopted and conceived with Brad Pitt, but in 2006, when she and Pitt were considering adopting again, she told Anderson Cooper that there choice on where to adopt next was dependent on what worked for the children they already had. "Another boy, another girl, which country, which race would fit best with the kids," she said.

The discussion surrounding this topic indicates that unfortunately, many people who have adopted or tried to have a story like Michelle's. Just take this comment on the article from a woman named Catherine Hughes:

"I adopted my biracial daughter 12 years ago as a newborn through Catholic Charities, which charged a sliding scale based on income. Total cost was nominal — under $6000 if I recall correctly. In a first phone conversation with CC, I was discouraged from pursuing adoption of a newborn as a single parent until the end of the conversation when I said something that made the adoption worker say, Wait, are you open to babies of different races? I asked why she assumed I wasn't. It was the norm that white parents sought only white babies. To my surprise, I was quickly fast tracked and I became a mother in six months to an amazing, beautiful baby. My situation brings up a number of issues, but it made me wonder about parents who struggle and wait for years for a child who looks like them when there are obviously others waiting."

As Norris says, "no one is comfortable [talking] about this" cost differential. Except maybe the parents who found the differential weird to begin with.

Image via AP.