When I learned that the Peabody Award-winning show, "Doc McStuffins," would be kicking off a series of episodes revolving around adoption, I was overjoyed. As a black adoptive parent, opportunities to connect with other black adoptive families are few and far between, so I was delighted to see my family reflected in an animated series that mirrors my children's reality and normalizes black people as adoptive parents. In an age where popular media would have you believe that all adoptive parents are white, this new series reminds viewers that many of us are black.
"Doc McStuffins" follows the adventures of Dottie "Doc" McStuffins, a 6-year-old who expresses her black girl magic by tweaking her stethoscope, animating her stuffed animals and toys, and fixing what ails them. One day, her parents, Dr. and Mr. McStuffins, call Doc and her little brother Donny together to make an announcement: a baby is on the way! But this new baby isn't in Mommy McStuffins' tummy like Donny and Doc were. The family is adopting a baby, which means, Doc's mother explains, "our new little one will come from another mom."
Online media outlets, which are excited about this month-long series, focus on adoption as a theme that preschoolers should encounter as they develop their emotional IQs. But what about the importance of learning that not all adoptive families look alike, or more appropriately, like the family portrayed in "Tell Me Again about the Night I Was Born"?
Stories about black adoptees typically focus on transracial adoption and issues like the "vanilla" care of "chocolate" hair or how to build a community for your transracially adopted black child. In addition to placing a black child in the care of black parents, however, the "Doc McStuffins" series is special because it challenges the myth that black people don't adopt. My husband and I came to adoption after 13 years of marriage and unsuccessful attempts at conception through a variety of Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Adoption may have been our last resort, but the love we have for our children is first-rate.
By painting African Americans as willing and able to adopt and by portraying black infants as wanted and loved, this series reflects a statistical truism: the fictional characters in "Doc McStuffins" are more realistic than you might think. According to the "Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents," the majority of adopted children are black, and they're more likely to be adopted from foster care than private adoption. This reports also notes that while African Americans do not adopt the majority of black children (white parents account for 73 percent of adoptions), black families still comprise a significant percentage of all adoptive parents. Black parents adopt 27 percent of all children adopted from foster care and 19 percent of all children adopted privately.
At the same time, African Americans have a long history of maintaining informal adoptive families, where grandmothers, "aunties," brothers, or sisters assist in the care of extended family, often without going through legal channels. These networks maintain the cohesion of black families during difficult times and demonstrate the strength of black families. The McStuffins family reflects the biological and adoptive approaches to family formation seen in black communities more broadly.
One reason black adoptive parents slip under the radar of popular media is the monoracial nature of black adoptive families, where those identifiable as phenotypically "black" are presumed to be related by blood. This means that black adoptive families are, in essence, hiding in plain sight. The "Doc McStuffins" adoption storyline makes us visible. It challenges the dominant image of the white adoptive family as the norm, and instead, presents a narrative of black family life that is more typical than anomalous.
When I sat down with my children to watch the McStuffins family welcome a new baby into their home, I reminded them that were both loved and wanted. We talked about the day they came home and our early days as a family. My daughter's response to the first two episodes speaks volumes: she insisted I turn the channel as soon as she realized that the adoption storyline ended after the first segment because she wanted more, and so do I. I want to see black adoptive families woven into popular portrayals of American adoption and want to hear black adoptive families speak openly about their experiences. Until then, "Doc McStuffins" will remind me that "black love is black wealth," and in parenting my two children, I'm the richest woman in the world.
Shanna Greene Benjamin, associate professor of English at Grinnell College, is a literary critic and biographer who studies the literature and lives of black women.