please reconsider that t-shirt

This isn't a fashion blog (wouldn't that be fun!), but let's talk about clothing. And I'm sure you're wondering how this topic could possibly relate to adoption, but I promise it does.

I remember the first time I saw one. The lady was confidently wearing it and toting her transracially adopted child in her arms. And then I saw another one sported by a mom who was holding the hand of an unknowing toddler with black hair and dark brown eyes.

One Less Orphan was screen-printed on the first mama's shirt. Just ADOPT!  said the second mother's tee.

With the same cotton fabric but with different texts and graphics, similar t-shirts say:

Save the children! (with a graphic of the country of China)
Orphan No More
147 Million Orphans
Expecting... (and then a graphic of Ethiopia... or China... or Korea...)
Adopt Ethiopia!
147,000,000 orphans... minus 1!
Change One Life

or a t-shirt that gives statistics of third world countries and then the words, Adopt One!

Before I write any further, I realize that the people who make and wear these pieces (or dress their kids in them) are likely coming from a place of love. They mean no harm. In fact, they are likely compassionate and creative and want to care for children just like you and I do.

But when I see these t-shirts, I cringe, recognizing the incredible amount of attention they put on adopted children. Just walk a day in the life of a transracially adopted child, and you'll see he already gets copious amounts of attention given the mismatched appearance he has with his parent(s).

Then add the presence of one of the t-shirts, pushing him into the spotlight further and without his consent, and it screams, "THIS KID WAS AN ORPHAN!" It makes the child, even if unintentionally, the poster child for international adoption or for orphan care. Yes, the child instantly becomes an advertisement for adoption.

Beyond the issue of elevating the child as an ambassador for international adoption, these t-shirts connote far more than the actual words and graphics. Strangers and others start seeing the child as a service project. Or view the first grader as a charity case rather than a boy who likes Legos like his friends. Or perhaps others will believe the child is continually in need of saving or rescuing, given that the a-parents wear these t-shirts again and again and again. Some will fail to see the child as any other child but rather first as an orphan in need of pity.

And what comments and conversations do these t-shirts evoke?

Oh, you're child is so lucky to have been adopted.
That poor, poor child. He's so fortunate.

And to think she would have grown up in an orphanage without you.
You're such an angel for adopting!
She was once so helpless and now she has you!
Thank goodness she could come to America.
I sure hope he grows up to know how lucky he is and what you went through to adopt him.

You can imagine how these comments and ensuing conversations might be internalized by the adopted child and how they may affect identity formation. That, however, could be a whole other blog post.

I understand that these shirts are worn proudly to raise awareness or to celebrate adoption and/or children. I recognize that proceeds for some of these shirts are used to feed and shelter vulnerable children, but could we think of other ways to accomplish these same goals -- perhaps ones that do not dehumanize adopted children into numbers or charity cases in their presence? What an unnecessary and tremendous burden to put on adopted children, reducing them and their personal stories to pity, propaganda, and statistics.

I've surely stepped on some toes, but I urge you to consider what you might not have already.


To keep up with this conversation and more, find me on Facebook and Twitter.