Slavery and Adoption

by Luanne

Our society has a storyline for adoption to which all involved are expected to adhere. Adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, friends, neighbors, extended families, teachers, and passersby have been taught these points (among others):

  • Adoption “is a positive, one-time occurrence in a child’s life”
  • Adoptees who don’t believe in that viewpoint are ungrateful or angry
  • Adoption is an incidental fact about an adoptee, NOT “who you are at the very core of your being”
  • Adoption fees are a necessary evil to pay for the costs of the paperwork, hospital bills, etc.
  • Adoption is orphan rescue
  • Adoption saves children from living in institutions
  • Pointing out the flaws in (and helping to improve) the institution of adoption is tantamount to being against all adoption

These points are part of a credo of adoption that our society has swallowed completely. In “Question Everything, Including Adoption,” by Laura Dennis and published in Perpetual Child: Dismantling the Stereotype (Adult Adoptee Anthology), Dennis touches upon each of these misconceptions and argues that we’ve got it all wrong.

In this essay, Dennis covers all the bases of the adoption credo and presents her own arguments against each. The essay is engaging and personal.

At the center of her argument is a comparison between adoption and slavery. Because of her writing style (maybe), her case didn’t feel airtight to me. And it could have.

There are a lot of commonalities between adoption and slavery. The exchange of money for a human being, for one. A contract involving the fate of a human being that is not even signed by that person, but by others, for another feature in common.

For me, one of the great commonalities is that adoptees have been ripped from their backgrounds, origins, and genetic histories. This also happened with slaves forcibly taken from Africa and brought to the “New World.” Many adoptees and slaves/descendents of slaves have been unable to track down their own pasts.

Dennis approaches the subject in many ways and makes a lot of valid points, using concrete imagery and compelling logic. Then, just when I want her to hammer home the point, she sidesteps it. Maybe her reasoning is this: she’s stirred up so much in this essay that the reader is bound to consider the slavery-type aspects of adoption and begin to ponder the issue–and yet, by not bringing home her point, Dennis doesn’t risk comparing the wholesale atrocities of slavery perpetuated on a race of people with the plight of adoptees.

This essay covers a lot of ground and gets the reader thinking about the fundamental nature of adoption as it is practiced today in our society.

Dennis blogs at


  1. I remember when I first read this piece and thought wow, ‘now that you say that.’ It’s a great piece and as you say give s the reader plenty to think about. Adoption like, race and culture in the west is very often “spoon fed” to society by people, who are not of colour or not adopted, instructing society on how we should feel about being us.

  2. I disagree. Adoption is nothing like slavery. Comparing the two is an insult to those who had to go through the demeaning, degrading, completely immoral and ugly practice that was (is) slavery. It’s an insult to those who were adopted, and to the people who adopted them. It’s an insult to birthmothers who chose to place their children in other families.
    I feel very strongly about this, as you can tell.

    • Robyn, I actually thought I would hear from the perspective that the comparison is denigrating to people who are or were slaves and who had to live through the wholesale atrocities that I mentioned above. But you are disagreeing because of the light it casts on adoption (as an institution–I think you imply that here?) and mainly because of how it reflects on the triad of adoption: adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthmothers. I can definitely see your point, but I think like all powerful arguments Dennis’ essay tries to make an impact by being a little outrageous. Kind of like satire does in “Gulliver’s Travels.” It functions by taking our brains “out of the box” of our usual thinking.
      Thanks for your points, Robyn!

    • Were you yourself adopted?

  3. Hmmm, comparing being sold, beaten, whipped, worked to death to being adopted into a loving family that would bend over backward for you? It’s an insult to the people that actually lived it, give me a break. I wouldn’t even call it out of the box thinking, more like ignorant. I can’t believe you even gave it a platform.

    • Caspian, I do think it’s important to listen to the viewpoints of adult adoptees. People are going to have different perspectives, and as an adoptive parent I would be doing my own children and adoptees in general a disservice to ignore their various perspectives. Dennis’ essay is not a virulent attack on adoption and adoptive parents, but a thoughtful intellectual approach. So I’m not opposed to listening even if I don’t agree with the analogy.

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