Can White People Be In On The Joke?

22 Feb

A friend of mine, who is black, posted a question on Facebook a while back. He asked what others thought about the trend of white Hollywood celebrities adopting black, African babies?

I was interested in seeing what people thought, and read all the comments, so far only posted by people who were black. Some said they saw nothing wrong with it—that if a baby is given love it doesn’t matter what color the parent is, and that, perhaps with all the actor’s wealth, a comfortable home and upbringing, the child would be getting an opportunity for a better life than he or she might have in Africa.

None of the comments appeared overly negative or angry, but a few joked and pondered the psychological needs of the wealthy, white celebrity to feel they were doing a good deed by saving the poor, black African child. Or joked about it being white celebrities’ own version of “Keeping up with Joneses.” One comment suggested some celebrities were worried that Brad and Angelina had more than they did—so Madonna had to go get her an African baby, and then Sandra Bullock had to go adopt one, too.

I wanted to comment too, but I worried, being white, how my comment might be taken. That maybe my curiosity or opinion wasn’t wanted here, since there hadn’t been a post in this thread by a white person. But, I told myself that I should go ahead and have a voice and post something.

I think I asked what people thought was important for a white parent who is raising a black child to provide for that child in terms of culture and heritage, and what would be of concern in that relationship?

I waited for a response. None came. Instead, it seemed the posts all of a sudden became more polite. They came at a less rapid pace than before I posted. No one seemed to address my question directly. I feared that I had done the wrong thing. At least, that is the way I so often feel—in many areas of my life—not just in the area of race relations. I worry that I’ve said something wrong, that I’ve stuck my foot in mouth, or that what I’ve said is insignificant and not worth hearing or responding to. Of course, I also often project what people may be thinking. Maybe people just didn’t read my post, and weren’t consciously ignoring it—people don’t respond to all the comments in a thread. Maybe I was just being paranoid.

In this case, though, I wondered if I had trespassed, become an interloper on a conversation that was most comfortable being discussed and joked about by the people who felt they had a bigger stake in the issue at hand: the adoption of black babies by white celebrities. But, don’t both races have a stake, a responsibility to share the dialog, so that we can understand where one another are coming from? And, in turn be mindful of the other’s perspective? As our families and relationships become more racially mixed, perhaps we can learn how to live together, and how to parent in a way that led by love, honors another’s heritage, race, culture and class.


Please comment here and let me know what you think. How do we talk about these things, joke about these things, together, without walking on eggshells, without insulting one another, or judging one another’s perspectives or belief systems?


4 Responses to “Can White People Be In On The Joke?”

  1. Margaret February 23, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    Wendy, let me start by saying, I love your articles. I love the fact that you are not afraid to address race relations in America. In response to this recent article, I’m not against white celebrities adopting black/African babies as long as they keep them cultually connected.
    In my profession, I work with foster and adoptive parents every day who care for African American children. A good percentage of African American children are adoptived by white families. They are loved and given great opportitunties that they may not have had in life. But I have an issue when it comes down to personal care. I get really upset when I see pretty little African American girls walking around with kinky hair with a bow. Or handsome little boys walking around with kinky hair because their white adoptive parent do not know how to care for it. Or the child walking around with dry ashy skin because they do not see the need to buy lotion for that child. When a family adoptes outside of their race, they need to make sure that they are culturally educated about that child’s race. Yes the most important thing to give a child is love but sometimes love is not enough. It also makes me wonder if the reason for adopting is because they want to help a child in need or is it for selfish reasons? Do they just want a baby and do not care what the race is? Sometimes loved is not enough. That family have an obligation to that child to make sure they keep that child connected to their culture by seeking out resources and support from people who may be able to point them in the right direction. The family should also live in a diverse neighborhood so that the child do not feel that they are on an island all alone. I can go on and on about the this topic but I will stop here. For those families that do all the things that I mentioned that’s great. It mean that they are totally vested in that child’s future.

    • Wendy Jane February 23, 2012 at 9:51 am #


      Thank you so, so much for your very thoughtful comments here. Your profession really does give you a real inside look to how African American children who are adopted by white families work. I like how you get into something as simple, but as hugely important as knowing how to take care of a child’s hair and skin. I especially like your point about living in a diverse community, so that the child doesn’t feel like he or she is alone on an island.

      Thanks also for your comments about my writing these pieces. It definitely did/does scare me to broach a topic as loaded as race relations, but I wanted to feel the fear and do it anyway because making connections like this far outweighs the negative.

  2. Myrna Griffith February 23, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    How provocative. Lots to think about.

    • Wendy Jane February 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

      Thanks, Myrna

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