Gailey, Christine Ward. Blue Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love: Race, Class, and Gender in U.S. Adoption Practice.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308|
|Issue:||Date: Fall-Winter, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 3-4|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Blue Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love: Race, Class, and Gender in U.S. Adoption Practice (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Gailey, Christine Ward|
Gailey, Christine Ward. Blue Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love:
Race, Class, and Gender in U.S.Adoption Practice.Austin, TX: University
of Texas Press, 2010. xi + 185 pages. Cloth, $50.00.
In Blue Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love, sociologist Christine Gailey has produced an important work on adoption practices in America. She examines adoption in the United States from many different lenses, all of which facilitate understandings of this complex issue. Adoption has generally been considered a positive and well-meaning humanitarian gesture toward children in need of families; however, in this book Gailey does a good job of deconstructing any myths surrounding adoption, and successfully calls into question the motivations of different groups of adopters. More importantly, she includes an analysis of race, class, and gender in adoption decisions, utilizing an intersectional approach that is important in any study of human actions. By illustrating that kinship and ideas of family are socially constructed concepts with varied meanings attached across race, class, and gender categories rather than built on "blood" relations, Galley furthers understanding of the link between symbolic meanings and family relationships.
Throughout the book, the author provides an extensive history of adoption practices and policies in the United States which helps readers understand how adoption has changed and why her book is an important addition to the scholarship. Gailey presents a typology of different types of adopters and the ways that race, class, and gender influence the decisions made to adopt. She argues that adoption is highly gendered: Women are more likely to initiate adoptions; the majority of social workers are women; and birth mothers are the primary parent placing children for adoption. Gailey does include men as members of married couples who adopt children and quotes from married male adopters, many of which deal with the men's perceptions of the adoption on their wives. The challenges and rewards of adopting for lesbians can be found throughout the various chapters, but gay males as adopters, while identified as part of the sample, are largely missing in the rest of the book. This is one of the drawbacks of the book, for it perpetuates rather than questions the notions that children are women's burdens and that fathers are not involved in family and kinship practices.
One of the strengths of the book is that the sample of 131 adopters of ninety children, while not generalizable to all adopters, includes eastern and western adoptive parents. Galley explains that she did not include stepparent or relative kinship adoption because her focus is on examining the construction of kinship and family relationships across race, class, and gender in adoptions of non-relative children. The bicoastal sample eliminates, to some degree, the lack of a representative sample, as both samples include various parental configurations of race or ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and gender.
Gailey thoroughly examines five types of adopters: public agency adopters, private agency adopters, independent adopters, international adopters, and lesbian adopters. She asks four basic questions to examine adoption decisions across types of adophon and uses qualitative research analysis to explore family and kinship constructions. First, how do gender, race, and class hierarchies and ideologies influence adopter perceptions of their children? Second, how do adopters come to prefer some children over others placed for adoption? Third, how do adopters conceive of families and enact relationships with their children? Fourth, based on the results of the first three questions, what does adoption provide to theories of kinship?
Gailey's results capture the idealism of adoption and how meanings of family and kinship change when one's beliefs about family and kinship are challenged by children who are "flawed" in some ways. She exposes the classism, racism, and sexism that accompany adoption decisions, aspects of adoption that do not fit the humanitarian notions of adoption. In doing so, the author demonstrates that adopters with bad experiences construct meanings of family and kinship that do not challenge their sense of self or agency. The extensive quotes allow participants a voice that is refreshing to hear, and Gailey does not hesitate to include controversial quotes that are sometimes uncomfortable to read.
Gailey's investigation of transracial adoption, particularly White parent-Black child adoptions, as well as international adoptions, reveals how cultural differences are taught or not taught to children. The section on White-Black adoption would have been enhanced by examining objections of the National Association of Black Social Workers to White adoption of Black children. Nevertheless, she emphasizes the lengths to which White parents go to create extended families for their children and of how family and kinship are defined in resistance to, or because of, racist beliefs in America.
By addressing the tensions, stresses, and rewards of raising non-biological children, Gailey makes this book a necessary addition to the study of adoption practices and decision-making processes. Because of her use of an intersectional approach to the study of adoption, social scientists studying issues related to race or ethnicity, gender, social class, and sexual orientation will find this book worth reading and assigning in their courses. Although the book would have been enriched with quotes from gay adopters, it is a timely and stimulating study of adoption with language that makes it accessible to academics and laypersons.
What is valuable about Blue Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love is that it offers understandings of the roles of racism, sexism, and classism in adoption decision-making and the constructions of family and kinship that is absent in adoption research. In exploring motivations for adoption, along with how ideas of family and kinship shape their decision-making, Gailey adds much needed research on adoptive parents, a significantly underrepresented area in adoption research that focuses largely on the experiences of adopted children before and after adoption. This systematic research study enlarges on the issues previously addressed mainly in case studies of White adopters of Black children, such as Barbara Katz Rothman's Weaving a Family (2005) and Neely Tucker's Love in the Driest Season (2004). By including single mother adopters in her study on constructions of families and kinship, Gailey extends the research on single-mother adopters by Rosanna Hertz (Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice, 2006), which addresses women's decision to create new types of families and meanings of kinship by parenting alone. In sum, Gailey has written a valuable addition to adoption research that will raise new questions and open avenues for future research.
This book should be required reading for prospective adoptive parents, social workers who facilitate adoptions, and non-governmental agencies that assist in adoptions. It generates serious questions regarding who benefits and who does not benefit from the adoption of vulnerable children. By incorporating race, class, and gender in her analysis on adoption, Gailey has written a good book for undergraduate and graduate classes in family, social work, gender, and social psychology.
Regina Davis-Sowers, Ph.D.
Instructor of Sociology
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, California
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