Yesterday on their Sunday Conversation segment, National Public Radio (NPR) aired an interview with a white, adoptive mother of three young black children, Rachel Garlinghouse. The angle for this interview was to discuss bias against mixed race adoptions in light of the recent controversy over comments made on the Melissa Harris-Perry show about Mitt Romney’s adopted grandson, who is also black.
What was not mentioned on air was the fact that NPR had also interviewed an adult, transracial adoptee, but had decided at the eleventh hour not to use that interview. The adoptee interviewed was Angela Tucker, subject of the documentary Closure, who recently joined Lost Daughters writing a column on adoptees’ abilities (please read Angela’s response here). When I learned that Angela, who has lived transracial adoption her entire life, had been passed over in favor of a white, adoptive mother whose children are all under the age of six, I was livid.
Let me make myself very clear. There is nothing wrong with speaking to an adoptive mother about her viewpoint on parenting a child who is not related to her biologically or whose ancestry or skin color are different from her own. However, it is disgraceful for an organization that boasts “rigorous reporting” to deliberately cut one viewpoint of such a multifaceted topic when that viewpoint had already been obtained.
The fact of the matter is, all adoptions involve three major players: biological parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees. Only one of these parties has no voice whatsoever in the adoption decision–the adopted person. When media organizations rely solely on adoptive parents for information about adoption, they present a foggy picture of what really goes on in adoption.
This particular case is made even worse by the fact that the topic for discussion was mixed race–i.e. transracial–adoption, because no white person can speak to what it’s like to live in this country as a person of color. No white person has had this experience.
Let me give a personal example: I am an adoptee, and as you can tell from my photo, I’m quite white. I was born of white parents and raised by white parents. My husband, who is also white, is an adoptive father of a transracial (Korean) adoptee. Nevertheless, my husband is not the authority on my stepson’s adoption experience. He can certainly tell you about his own perceptions and challenges as an adoptive parent of a Korean adoptee, but he can tell you nothing about what it was like to go through childhood or transition into adulthood as a non-Caucasian person being raised in a white family. Nor am I the right person to talk to about transracial adoption. Even though I can relate to some of what my stepson experienced as an adoptee, I cannot speak to that experience of growing up with parents of a different race, attending schools where everyone’s skin was a different color, etc. My stepson is the only person in this family who was able to speak with authority about these things, because he was the only one who lived them.
Adult, transracial adoptees are the best authority on the transracial adoption experience. They should be the ones consulted when media outlets want to talk about what should or shouldn’t and what can and does take place in transracial adoption.
NPR’s selection of Rachel Garlinghouse to represent the transracial adoptive parent point of view only makes matters worse. This is a mother who is at the very beginning of the journey in raising her children. Her oldest is barely in elementary school, and her youngest is not yet even a toddler. Yet she’s written a book advising other white adoptive parents on how to raise their black children? I can’t imagine why anyone would follow her advice when she hasn’t even lived the entire experience yet. She claims to have an open relationship with her children’s birth families, yet she’s hired a black woman to serve as her children’s official mentor. What kind of message does this send to her children about the value of their own, biological relatives, and therefore, about themselves?
I had never heard of Garlinghouse prior to this interview, so I took a peak at her blog to try and understand where she’s coming from. Unfortunately, it seems she has a lot to learn about how adopted people view their families. In one post she boasts that “the kids only use the name ‘dad’ for one person and ‘mom’ for one person (me). We use the birth parents first names . . .” What if one of her children wants to call his/her birth parents “mom” and “dad” when he/she gets older, as I call mine? I wonder how Garlinghouse will react. Besides including Angela Tucker’s viewpoint as an adult transracial adoptee, NPR could have told an even more well-rounded story by asking the birth parents of Garlinghouse’s children to participate. Inviting all three players in adoption to the table would have made for an excellent Sunday conversation about transracial adoption.