Somebody′s Children

The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption

Somebody′s Children

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 7 photographs Published: March 2012

Author: Laura Briggs

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In Somebody's Children, Laura Briggs examines the social and cultural forces—poverty, racism, economic inequality, and political violence—that have shaped transracial and transnational adoption in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first. Focusing particularly on the experiences of those who have lost their children to adoption, Briggs analyzes the circumstances under which African American and Native mothers in the United States and indigenous and poor women in Latin America have felt pressed to give up their children for adoption or have lost them involuntarily.

The dramatic expansion of transracial and transnational adoption since the 1950s, Briggs argues, was the result of specific and profound political and social changes, including the large-scale removal of Native children from their parents, the condemnation of single African American mothers in the context of the civil rights struggle, and the largely invented "crack babies" scare that inaugurated the dramatic withdrawal of benefits to poor mothers in the United States. In Guatemala, El Salvador, and Argentina, governments disappeared children during the Cold War and then imposed neoliberal economic regimes with U.S. support, making the circulation of children across national borders easy and often profitable. Concluding with an assessment of present-day controversies surrounding gay and lesbian adoptions and the struggles of immigrants fearful of losing their children to foster care, Briggs challenges celebratory or otherwise simplistic accounts of transracial and transnational adoption by revealing some of their unacknowledged causes and costs.


“[I]n juxtaposing histories and current realities of domestic interracial adoption with those of transnational adoption from Latin America, Briggs’s work contributes to the ongoing scholarly conversation about motherhood as a key battleground in global struggles over power, rights, and wellbeing.” — Clare Daniel, H-Ethnic, H-Net Reviews

“Briggs shines a bright light on the ‘politics of transracial and transnational adoption.’ . . . Her provocative retelling of recent adoption history emphasizes that conservative economic forces have steadily eroded state support of children in institutions or through foster care, promoting adoption as the better alternative.” — Martha Nichols, Women's Review of Books

“Heroic rescue narratives of 'orphaned’ brown babies—from the adoption of Native children to the fairytale story of Zahara Jolie-Pitt—often crumble under scrutiny. Briggs, who adopted a Mexican-American daughter, looks unflinchingly at the disturbing history of U.S. adoption across race and borders.” — Ms.

"In Somebody’s Children, Laura Briggs reminds us that [transnational] adoptions are not only about how children and parents are joined across borders. They are also just as significantly about how so many children came to be defined as adoptable in the first place." — Jessaca B. Leinaweaver, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[Briggs] provides a refreshing and long-overdue feminist/womanist perspective on transracial and transnational adoption practices…. This book presents a powerful argument for a reexamination and reshaping of transracial and transnational adoption policy and practices.”  — Robin Spath, Affilia

Somebody’s Children offers a critically engaged history of the state politics of transnational and transracial adoption.” — Kim Park Nelson, Signs

“As the book’s title suggests, adopted children were ‘somebody’s children,; a fact disturbingly absent from most adoption narratives. Briggs does history and family law a great service by bringing that truth to light.”  — Joanna L. Grossman, Journal of American History

“Briggs has done an excellent job of challenging current beliefs, providing convincing arguments to extend the debate, and acknowledging that the facts are not always apparent in the cover stories about adoptions.”   — Ruth McCoy, Social Service Review

“By juxtaposing an impressive selection of facts and statistics with personal stories, Briggs puts together an incisively critical account of adoption politics and its intersections with gender, race, power, and human rights. By focusing on mothers who ‘don’t count,’ the book provides most interesting reading not only for those interested in adoption, but also for those whose interests range from the contradictory effects of neoliberalism, new forms of governance, and the relations between ‘First’ and ‘Third’ Worlds to race, gender, motherhood and human rights.” — Beatriz San Román, The Americas

“Her work shines a light on the difficult path to creating and maintaining a stance of solidarity with the poor and disenfranchised… Scholars of race, kinship, human rights, cultural politics, and U.S. and Latin American history will find the book valuable and engrossing, and might even be tempted to do more reading or research on adoption.” — Sara Dorow, Reviews in American History

“Briggs provides us with a powerful and penetrating account of the politics of transracial and transnational adoption in the USA. Through a painstaking and thorough historical analysis, Briggs articulates a nuanced account of politics, policy and practice in relation to the most vulnerable children and families – in both domestic and international adoptions. . . . The book will be of interest to scholars of child welfare and adoption, race and ethnicity, human rights, and cultural history. It should be essential reading for practitioners and policymakers in the field of adoption.”   — Ravinder Barn, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"I have been longing for someone to write this book for a number of years—and how fortunate we are that Laura Briggs has made this her project; she is an outstanding scholar and thinker. A brilliant and wide-ranging book, Somebody's Children makes a powerful contribution to the study of adoption. The public policy implications of Briggs's work are stunning, and I hope this book will contribute to reshaping adoption practice in the United States." — Rickie Solinger, author of Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America

"For decades, a child-saving ideology that devalues the bonds of children of color with their families and communities has served to mask social, economic, and political inequities in the United States and abroad. Laura Briggs's astute analysis exposes the historical struggles underlying this devaluation in domestic and foreign policies. Somebody's Children is essential reading for everyone concerned about the politics of adoption and the equal dignity of families worldwide." — Dorothy Roberts, author of the books Killing the Black Body, Shattered Bonds, and Fatal Invention


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Laura Briggs is Chair and Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico and coeditor of International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I. Transracial Adoption in the United States

1. African American Children and Adoption, 1950–1975 27

2. The Making of the Indian Child Welfare Act, 1922–1978 59

3. "Crack Babies," Race, and Adoption Reform, 1975–2000 94

Part II. Transnational Adoption and Latin America

4. From Refugees to Madonnas of the Cold War 129

5. Uncivil Wars 160

6. Latin American Family Values 197

Part III. Emerging Fights Over the Politics of Adoption

7. Gay and Lesbian Adoption in the United States 241

Epilogue. U.S. Immigrants: The Next Fight over Race, Adoption, and Foster Care? 269

Notes 285

Bibliography 319

Index 353
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2013 James A. Rawley Prize (presented by the Organization of American Historians)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5161-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5147-4
Publicity material