In the 1950s, the world famous American-born entertainer Josephine Baker, who lived in France, toured the US. She was refused in 36 hotels in New York because she was black.
Back in France, Baker adopted twelve children from 10 different countries in order to prove to the world that people of all ‘races’ and religions could live together. She organised tours through the castle where she lived with her ‘rainbow tribe’ and made the children sing and dance. In the 1920s and 1930s the popular novelist Pearl S. Buck adopted seven children, four of whom were labelled ‘mixed-race’. By doing so she flaunted American restrictions on mixed-race adoptions. In the 1950s, Buck said she did so because she wanted to show that families formed by love – devoid of prejudices based on race, religion, nation, and blood – were expressions of democracy that could counteract communist charges that America’s global defence of freedom was deeply hypocritical.
The adoptions by Baker and Buck were political statements that illustrate that intercountry adoptions were frequently about much more than saving a child, as many people who defended adoptions claim. My Identities article, ‘Parenting, citizenship and belonging in Dutch adoption debates 1900-1995’, explains why debates on this issue continued, without ever reaching a conclusion. Celebrities (including Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) followed in the footsteps of Baker and Buck. Non-celebrities copied behaviour and arguments. Adopters tried to show that children and adults not connected by blood ties could form a family, and that single parent adoptions or adoption by same sex couples could work. Critics pointed to child kidnappings, trafficking, ‘baby farms’ and a profit-driven industry based on global inequality. Adoption was not a solution to poverty, nor in the best interest of the child, in their view.
Adoption was and is a popular subject in women’s magazines and (children’s) literature, starting with the biblical story of Moses in his basket. It features in large number of TV sitcoms (e.g. Modern Family, Sex and the City), movies and books (Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Superman). Ancestry.com offers DNA tests to find ‘your liberator granddad’, there are numerous TV shows about searching birth parents, and heritage tours to birth countries are popular.
Overall, the public and media are fascinated by adoption stories, while the issue torments authorities. This has been the case for over a century. My Identities article tackles this question of continuity by placing intercountry adoption within the context of migration, to which it legally and administratively belongs. This is an uncommon approach. By placing it in the migration context, and addressing it from a historical and comparative perspective, the interaction between discourses, policies and practices are analysed, and the continuity explained.
Making children adoptable is a discursive as well as a legal process. My article bridges the divide between the private sphere (the intimacy of the family) and public sphere (of policies and treaties), and pays systematic attention to how colonialism, persistent global inequality, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion were important to the debates about belonging, failure, saviour and good/bad parenting. Children are made adoptable by emphasising that their parents, family, community and country of birth have failed them. A Janus-faced construction – saving the child, condemning its origin – explains the continued challenges for policy making.
Blog post by Marlou Schrover, Leiden University, The Netherlands
Read the full article:
Schrover, Marlou. Parenting, citizenship and belonging in Dutch adoption debates 1900-1995. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1757252
When migrants move abroad and start their life in a different location, they may keep their loyalties and links to their place of origin and combine them with newly built connections to their new location. Such transnationalism, though it is a well-known phenomenon, is perceived as problematic from the state point of view as it is difficult to predict the loyalty of such migrants (if they are loyal to their new state or the state of origin).
However, it also brings many dilemmas for individual migrants. One of these dilemmas is how to answer to question, 'who am I'. New identities developed in a new place need to be combined with existing ones. This is extremely difficult in the case of national identities which are built on an opposition of ‘us’ and ‘them’. If I define myself as a member of particular nation in opposition to other nations, how do I develop a new identity related to a foreign land where a foreign national lives? How do I solve a conflict of loyalties between my old and new national identity? My Identities article, 'Game of labels: identification of highly skilled migrants', calls the process of building new hybrid identities ‘a game of labels’.
Game of labels is a game played by migrants who try to avoid conflicting identifications. They can do it by playing with the scale of place. The place where we live can be understood as home, street, neighbourhood, city, country or even continent. Some scales are more important to us than others, and usually the national scale is the key for a person’s identification (Lewicka 2012). However, it is often not the case for ethnic, racial or religious minorities. It is also not the case of highly skilled migrants who live in Opole and Wrocław, two cities located in southwest Poland. Mahi, from India, who for several years has lived and worked in Wrocław, says about her Polish city:
This is where I found myself, where I developed myself, where I became a mature person. For me this is home. I know that even if I move to another country, another city in the future, Wroclaw will still be my home because I know everything there is to know here.
Mahi has developed a strong belonging to Wrocław and not to Poland. This may have happened because she needed to combine a new identity rooted in a new place with her former identity of being Indian. She explains:
For me saying that I’m Indian is not a complete truth. I know I am not just Indian… I’m also a Wroclawian [Wrocławianka].
My Identities article argues that migrants avoid combining two national identities and instead use a ‘game of labels’. The most important rule in the game is to not combine two different national identities. Therefore, instead of calling themselves Polish, they express their new identification through different scale labels: city level (they call themselves Wrocławianin – inhabitants of Wrocław) or supranational – European, human. Coming to a new country, migrants not only learn a new national habitus but also build belonging to a new neighbourhood, new city and sometimes a new continent. Interestingly, by obtaining these identities, they join the groups that include both migrants and members of the hosting society. Both Poles and migrants may be citizens of Wrocław. Both Poles and migrants can claim to be Europeans. Membership in cross-national groups, above national or local groups, lets migrants overcome their exclusion, which appears when national identity is discussed.
 Polish name for female inhabitant of Wrocław
Lewicka, M. 2012. Psychologia miejsca [Psychology of place]. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar.
Blog post by Agnieszka Bielewska, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Poland
Read the full article: Bielewska, Agnieszka. Game of labels: identification of highly skilled migrants. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1522794
When you see images of French daily life or French people in magazines, films, or other media, what do you see?
Usually, it’s white people, with perhaps a few visibly non-white people depicted. But this is odd for multiple reasons.
One, France has a long history of immigration, primarily from its overseas territories and former colonies. Due to years of colonialism, colonial slavery, and subsequent migration, ethnic minorities, or 'visible minorities' in French academic parlance, have long been part of French society.
Secondly, France does not acknowledge or measure race as a separate identity category. So while France is a multicultural society, it does not, as a facet of law, distinguish between these different cultures. One is either French or not. This is France’s Republican model.
Yet representations in popular culture or government reveal how this ideology does not quite play out this way as representations of Frenchness, whether it’d be French people, French identity, or French culture, are usually white, in terms of positions in government or images in French cinema and television.
In my Identities article, 'Are French people white?: Towards an understanding of whiteness in Republican France', I discuss how middle-class adult children of North African immigrants – individuals who were born in France and are descendants of France’s colonial empire in the Maghreb – navigate a French society that is supposedly colorblind where whiteness is the default.
How do they wrestle with definitions of French identity as white and full belonging in French society as centered on whiteness?
One way to understand this is as part of a racial project (Omi & Winant 1994) in which distinctions among individuals are marked without explicit categories.
David Theo Goldberg (2006) argues that our ideas of Europeans and European identity more generally are also based on whiteness as default. Just as French Republicanism denies the existence of race and racism, I argue that it simultaneously denies the existence of whiteness and white supremacy.
Part of France’s racial project is the continued production and reproduction of white as normal or default.
This is one reason why France is a fascinating place to examine white supremacy and everyday racism.
Goldberg, D. T. 2006. Racial Europeanization. Ethnic and Racial Studies 29: 331–364.
Omi, M. & H. Winant. 1994. Racial formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.
Blog post by Jean Beaman, Purdue University, USA
Read the full article: Beaman, Jean. Are French people white?: Towards an understanding of whiteness in Republican France. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1543831