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Colorblind Love or Racial Responsibility? The Adoption of Black German Children to Postwar America

The history of Black German children born to white German women and Black military service men after 1945 has been uncovered in Yara Collette Lemke Muniz de Faria’s groundbreaking study Zwischen Fürsorge und Ausgrenzung, that looks at the many ways in which German officials, welfare organizations, the church and politicians tried to either integrate these children into a nation they imagined to be white, or to get rid of them through emigration and international adoption; similarly, Heide Fehrenbach’s Race after Hitler has analyzed the perception and representation of Black American men and their white German partners as well as the discourses and practices the existence of their dual heritage offspring triggered in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi regime.
In my own research project, I aim to add to this existing scholarship by focusing on the U.S. discourses on those Black German children who have been adopted by (mostly, though not exclusively African) American families between the mid-1940s and the end of the 1950s. I am interested in the contentious debates their adoption provoked among social welfare workers, non-professional adoption activists like Pearl S. Buck, a famous white writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature, and Mabel A. Grammer, a Black journalist and wife to an officer stationed in Germany as well as civil rights activists. One aim of my project is to get a better understanding of what prompted African American couples to adopt a Black child from abroad, and to understand the nuanced, sometimes ambivalent responses to these adoptions from civil rights groups. Significantly, Afro-German children represent the first organized transnational adoption primarily on the basis of race, their history thus adds to our understanding of the emergence of transnational and transracial adoption. I argue that the civil rights movement, discourses on the hegemonic notions of the American family, on American citizenship as well as a Cold War rhetoric all intersected in the social practice that became international adoption. Lobbying for the adoption of Black German children must also be analyzed with regard to the integrationist discourse of a colorblind society as well as the domestic adoption landscape in the United States.