Transracial Adoption in Movie Babe
“In the critically acclaimed movie Babe, the eponymous pig Babe grows up on a farm as the only one of his kind. He quickly attaches to the farmer’s sheepdog mother, Fly, and the two soon form a close familial bond after her own pups leave her. Pigs and sheepdogs live very different lives, and so it is of no surprise that Babe experienced difficulties with growing up in a sheepdog home, being taught as a dog would be taught, and having the whole world see only a pig. Over the course of the film, Babe comes to the understanding that he may be a pig raised by sheepdogs, but that doesn’t mean he is just a pig or a dog, but in fact he is something else, something new.
Babe sees himself as a synthesis of the two animals. His identity is a blended spectrum that can’t honestly be labeled as simply a pig, he knows it’s more complicated than that. As the film continues, more characters such as the farmer and even his mother, Fly, come to recognize this facet of Babe. And through supporting and loving him as they would any other, Babe finds success and becomes a beloved and integral figure in the farm. Some parts of this touching story are comparable to transracial adoption, where parents adopt a child of a different race. Many people have concerns over whether transracial adoption is truly beneficial to the child, as they fear the potential for serious issues concerning forming a positive racial identity and providing their children with the education to defend against racism.
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As shown in the film, Babe rarely behaved—and had little interest in behaving as a pig would, and critics of transracial adoption worry greatly that these children may be equally cut off from their birth culture, and as such, transracial adoption should be something greatly discouraged. While due to the unique nature of a transracial family, unique problems occur that must be dealt with, there is little reliable evidence to show that transracially adopted children fare worse than their monoracial counterparts (Aldridge 83). Indeed, transracial adoption, while presenting unique challenges to both parents and children, can be a positive experience if given the appropriate education. By educating parents about the important role they play in their children’s socialization, as well as informing them about the malleable nature of identity, transracial adoption can be an effective and positive solution to providing as many children as possible with permanent and stable families.
Transracial adoption has long been a controversial issue in America. The source for such controversy lays with fears that parents may be unable to adequately nurture a child of a different race, as well as the potential for replacing the child’s birth culture with that of their adoptive parents. While historically, various communities and advocacy groups have voiced their opinions on transracial adoption—especially among Native-American groups who in the 1970s saw large-scale attempts to have their children raised by white families and institutions—transracial adoption has nonetheless been on the rise in America. The state of adoption became a hot-button issue when in 2008 a report published by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute shook the status quo of colorblindness in the adoption process. The Donaldson Report revitalized debate over transracial adoption with its recommendation that race should be considered in the adoption process, citing studies that show that transracial adoptees commonly suffer with issues of racial identity and belonging as a result of growing up within a home with white parents (Butler-Sweet 196). The Donaldson Report sparked renewed scholarly interest in the effects growing up in a mixed-racial household, resulting in several interesting findings and ultimately a broad consensus in the beneficiality of transracial adoption.
A common theme among all sources is the belief that race does in fact matter and should be acknowledged in transracial adoption. Studies conducted by scholars such as Ravinder Barn identify a common adoptive parenting style that de-emphasizes race and differences (Barn 1280), known as the humanitarian approach. While transracial adoptees often feel distinct from others in their birth culture, minimizing ethnic and cultural differences appears to have some notable effects on the speed at which an adopted child adapts to the world. Not preparing a transracial adoptee to life in a racialized world can give them undue stress and conflict later in life as they struggle to adjust to it from their sheltered upbringing.
Before delving into the transracial adoption debate, it is important to understand the terms commonly associated with it. Racial socialization according to Hrapczynski is “the transmission of information about race and ethnicity from parents to children, foster[ing] children’s racial-ethnic identity development, enhanc[ing] their self-esteem, and promot[ing] their ability to cope with discrimination” (355). Within this definition are two main components, attempting to foster for the child a strong connection to their birth-culture, and preparing the child to face discrimination. Parents are considered to be the primary agents of fostering racial socialization in their children, hence why it is important to learn whether parents of a different ethnic group from their children are capable of providing them with a positive racial identity.
Recently, the very concept of a positive racial identity has come under debate as well. A growing number of voices object to the insinuation that there is only one identity that a person of an ethnic group can subscribe to, and only one that they ought to subscribe to. They argue that racial identity is more fluid than previously considered and that most research into this subject assumes that identity is something either simply followed or not, without considering how one defines their ethnic or cultural group (Butler-Sweet “Race Isn’t What Defines Me” 751). If a positive racial identity is considered to be some specific, black-and-white state of being and adherence to some assumption of how a racial group behaves, then the fears critics have towards transracial adoption may hold some weight. However, if racial identity is something more fluid, something that evolves as a child grows up and experiences more in life, then transracial adoption is not as damaging to a child’s psyche as was previously thought.
When comparing transracial households with monoracial and biracial households, we see that factors relating to socialization and parental attitudes towards race stem from origins other than the racial makeup of the parents, such as socioeconomic status. According to Butler-Sweet in her article “‘A Healthy Black Identity’ Transracial Adoption, Middle-Class Families, and Racial Socialization, most studies involving transracial adoption “overlook the importance of class in shaping identity”. Similar to the understanding that family is critical to racial identity formation, socioeconomic class also has a tremendous impact on how parents socialize their children” (194). Knowing more about the role class has in racial socialization is important considering that the majority of children are adopted into middle to upper class families, and so it is necessary to find out which approaches and behaviors parents embody are ones that are attributable to race, and which ones are attributed to class.
Monoracial minority families of middle-class backgrounds take action to foster racial socialization in their children, but they also face their own issues of identity, with Butler-Sweet writing that “in contrast, Demo and Hughes found that higher socioeconomic status is related to lower levels of feelings of closeness to other blacks and separatist feelings” (753). Despite these feelings of separation from the black community at large, these monoracial parents strove to make sure their children’s black identity was nurtured by connecting them to other African-Americans (Butler-Sweet A Healthy Black Identity 201). This perceived distance and unfamiliarity some middle-class black families have over the rigid, popular idea of a black identity stands in contrast to both biracial and transracial families, who tend to define black identity in a more stereotypical way, with Butler-Sweet writing “Like their biracial counterparts, transracial families had a tendency to liken exposure to urban culture to exposure to black culture” (202). While all families analyzed by Butler-Sweet were solidly middle-class, monoracial black families typically had a very different idea as to what a positive black identity should look like from their biracial and transracial counterparts. Even though monoracial families feel a disconnect from the popular black community at large, they do connect with other households in the same situation as them, and they display a freedom to not be constrained to negative ideas of what a black identity looks like. Biracial and transracial families on the other hand may feel fully cut off from the black community, and so in an effort to help their children form their racial identity, focus on the only image of black identity that they are aware of, and the image that is given the most attention by society.
Given such differences observed between monoracial black families and their white/biracial counterparts, opponents of transracial adoption—as implied in the Donaldson Report—may avoid these problems that result from a child growing up in a transracial background by banning transracial placements for adoptees altogether. Such an action may be effective in a country where every demographic adopts in equal numbers, but in the United States this is not the reality. Recent surveys conducted show that whites adopt in overwhelmingly larger numbers than other demographics, with 77% of adoptive mothers of kindergarteners reportedly being non-Hispanic Caucasian, and with black adoptive mothers constituting only 6% of those surveyed (Zill). Pairing this with the findings of other studies that have found that the percentage of white children being adopted is only 37%, and that over four in ten children live in transracial households (Adoption USA), reveals that forcing same-race adoption placements would have a detrimental effect on a large number of children finding homes.
Far too many children will be condemned to spending more months and years in foster care and institutions, growing up having never experienced the love and guidance found within a permanent parental household. In banning, or severely restricting and stigmatizing transracial adoptions, proponents of such actions would ultimately bring far more harm to a child’s wellbeing than if the child had merely had difficulties coming to terms with his/her identity. The psychological effects surrounding adoption and growing up without parents has been long documented, and it is imperative that babies find a stable home as soon as possible, as in the case of transracial adoptions, it is important that the baby emotionally attaches to a mother, regardless of her skin color (Aldridge 86). The tragedy of forcing a child to wait longer than they should have to to find a family, or not being able to find one at all before ‘timing out’ of the system, is something that should be remembered when discussing transracial adoption. It must never be forgotten that the psychological wellbeing and future for hundreds of thousands of children are on the line when discussing these issues.
Parents who intend to transracially adopt should be prepared to educate their children to prepare to deal with a racialized world. Preparation for bias is an important part of a minority child’s upbringing. Within a monoracial household, children have the benefit of having parents who have likely grown up experiencing bias and discrimination, and so are able to draw from their reservoir of knowledge for dealing with issues of racism. In a transracial family however, there is likely a disconnect between the experiences their parents have with these issues and what they will experience in the future. In order to instill in their children the necessary defenses to combat racism and promote self-esteem, parents need to understand that their child may face discrimination in life, and so they should act accordingly. A study conducted by Leslie Nelson found that after adopting their child, parents gained a newfound appreciation of their child’s birth culture and “began to notice racism and microaggressions more often… [describing them] as both disgusting and concerning” (58). Many parents reported a marked change in attitude towards other cultures and a newfound understanding of how rife with bias the world can be, and so explaining and protecting their children from instances of racism became an ever-increasing priority for them. In addition, the same study found that “while their love for their child was unwavering, adoptive parents voiced feeling insufficient to navigate race and culture before, during, and/or after the adoption took place (58). This can be explained by the parents coming to the understanding that society may be far more racialized than previously believed, as well as a recognition of the importance and necessity of preparing their child for bias while at the same time avoiding making their child feel isolated from the family due to apparent racial differences.
While preparing a transracial child for bias in society is beneficial for their psychological and social well-being, parents should avoid forcing and appropriating parts of the child’s birth-culture. Studies have found that preparation for bias, sometimes worded as racial socialization, resulted in increased psychological wellbeing in adoptees, whilst ethnic socialization—the attempts by parents to connect the child to their birth-culture and instilling pride, tended to result in decreased self-esteem (Mohanty 167). It may seem a strange finding at first, but when considering that it is the parents that are propagating these attempts at cultural connection, it begins to make sense how problems can arise. Much like how Babe couldn’t help but feel more in tune with the dogs on the Farm, owing to his canine mother, parents who push ethnic socialization may be forcing a culture and customs that the child doesn’t feel much attachment towards, as the parents clearly don’t subscribe to them themselves.
Issues can also result the parent’s own ignorance of their child’s birth-culture, stemming from outdated preconceptions of what their child’s racial identity looks like. Educating parents on their child’s birth culture is important for the sake of being more ready and available to help them care for their child, however the intricacies of culture and community go deeper than just clothes, cuisine, and activities, and not all transracial children will want to explore their birth-culture. While creating a comfortable environment and providing opportunity for the child to get in touch with their birth-culture is worth pursuing, a better alternative to ethnic socialization would be providing a safe-space for a constructive dialogue, as Mohanty writes, “Parental comfort talking about race and acknowledging racial difference may provide a safe place for these transracial adoptees to address the complex dynamics of adoption-related issues in a non-threatening way, thereby resulting in a positive sense of self” (168). A transracial family should work together to form their own multiracial identity without needing to be constrained to either a singular ‘white’ or other identity, as they may find that ever since the adoption, their understanding of what identity or culture is has changed, and they may come to the understanding that they’ve become something new, a synthesis of both cultures just as Babe achieved a cultural synthesis between dog and pig.
Babe the pig was rescued at an early age from a poor fate and brought into a loving home. Being adopted by a dog, there was difficulty coming from both ways, with Babe struggling to find himself and where he stood amongst the other farm animals, and Fly, his mother, overcoming her own biases and coming to love and support him unconditionally. Ultimately, Babe triumphs over these challenges and, with the support of his mother, the farmer, and the other animals, thrives. Babe synthesizing his identity into that of a sheep pig reflects the more recent breakdown of simplistic, blanket statements of identity, with the understanding that identity is something more complex and dynamic than previously thought.
Babe is a touching and hopeful story, yet it alludes to the equally hopeful reality of opportunity that transracial adoption can provide for children. Transracial adoption presents families with a unique situation that can help garner new appreciation and understanding of different cultures. While more research is needed to learn more about this increasingly prominent and established community, much that is already known affirms the belief that transracial adoption can be a positive and life-changing experience for those involved, and certainly a better alternative to being left without a parent. By educating families in order to prepare them to become parents of a child of a different race, and by both acknowledging and assuaging concerns over transracial adoption and its effects on children, more parents can be better equipped to navigate through the murky waters of a still-racialized society.”
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Transracial Adoption in Movie Babe. (2021, May 24). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/transracial-adoption-in-movie-babe/
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