Calling NPR–KUOW: Who’s Missing from Today’s Transracial Adoption Discussion?

Today’s NPR Sunday Morning Edition show (broadcast locally here in Seattle on KUOW) is about transracial adoption. The guest is Rachel Garlinghouse, the white adoptive mother of three black children, all of whom are under six years old. Rachel seems like a lovely person, has a very popular blog, wrote a book about transracial adoption, and dispenses lots of advice about transracial adoptive parenting. The headline is about the double takes the family gets. Let me assure you that’s the least of what transracial adoptees go through, yet that’s apparently the big draw to advertise the segment.

So who’s missing from today’s discussion? The people most affected by the topic.

While I don’t dismiss Rachel’s perspective, I am deeply disappointed that Yet Another Show about transracial adoption features Yet Another Nice White Adoptive Parent, this one whose kids are preschoolers.

She lives in a predominately white area in Illinois, and has hired a black, Christian woman to be a mentor for her children. Hired.

She says on her blog description of herself: “I really wish I lived on the beach. Except sand and Black hair don’t mix well.” Oh my.

What do all those folks in the Caribbean do?

My gentle jabs here at Rachel are nothing compared to what her children may face later, as black Americans in what remains a racist society. She clearly deeply loves her children, but she can only imagine what lies ahead for them.

Look at most NPR segments on international and transracial adoption, and who are the guests? Nice white adoptive parents. And often nice white adoption agency executives and lawyers (who are often adoptive parents).

NPR lost, yet again, an opportunity for listeners to hear from those most affected by transracial adoption: adult adoptees. Angela Tucker was passed over. She writes a blog called The Adopted Life. Yes, the bright, warm, perceptive African-American adult adoptee, raised in Bellingham, WA, by white parents, featured in the powerful documentary Closure (about her search and reunion with her original African-American family in Tennessee), now living in Seattle–the NPR producers decided not to have her on.

Other transracial adoptees that might have provided an “unexpected side of the news,” as the Sunday Conversation describes itself, would be the Ethiopian adoptees mentioned in Kathryn Joyce’s recent Slate article “The Tragic Death of An Ethiopian Adoptee and How It Could Happen Again.”

Another would be Chad Goller-Sojourner, an African-American transracially adopted adult, “a storyteller, solo-performer and recipient of a distinguished Washington State Arts Commission Performing Arts Fellowship. Most recently he served as the 2013 Ohio University Glidden Visiting Professor, where his work focused on the social, political and historical dimensions of multi-identity construction and intersectionality. In 2011 he was awarded both an Artist Trust Grant and Creative Artist Residency to further develop his sophomore solo show: Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness.” You can read more about Chad and his other plays and work here.

In May 2013, NPR (and KUOW) did have a Sunday Conversation on adoption that included Nicole Soojung Callahan, a US adult adoptee in the Washington, DC, area, and an adoption attorney, to discuss legal issues in adoption searches. Nicole is an insightful, smart person, and as usual did a wonderful job discussing the story of her search. She had written a great piece in Slate about her search; click here  to read it. The segment was not about transracial adoption, though Nicole could have talked on that subject, on today’s NPR show. You can listen to the May 2013 show here.

Who are the people most impacted by transracial adoption? I’d argue it’s the adoptees, for whom transracial adoption was not a choice, for whom other people decided that transracial adoption would be best. Adoptees who do not remain children, as sweet and wonderful as they may be as preschoolers. Adoptees who grow up and can speak genuinely of their experiences with racial discrimination, of what their parents did and didn’t do successfully to prepare them for adulthood as people of color, and of what “transracial adoption” really involves. Other great people to talk about transracial adoption could be found via Lost Daughters, Gazillion Voices, and many other resources. Many have written books, just like Rachel Garlinghouse.

Rachel Garlinghouse’s 3 little African-American children are all placed as open adoptions, meaning some form of ongoing contact with their first/original parents. It would have been interesting if any of the those parents were also on this show. As best I can tell, none of the 6 is included.

Sadly, NPR’s approach today is nothing new for NPR or other media outlets. First parents are very marginalized in discussions about adoption, as are adult adoptees. We white adoptive parents are almost always the first picks for shows about adoption, and that has to stop. I wrote about this very topic last September: “To NPR, PBS, HuffPo, News Media: Don’t Quote Me, Don’t Ask Me.” 

You can link to the NPR show, and comment on it, here.

6 thoughts on “Calling NPR–KUOW: Who’s Missing from Today’s Transracial Adoption Discussion?

  1. Oh dear, the ignorance and the neglect of adoptees -business as usual!! Someone who has lived with adoption for just a few years knows one perspective slightly. Compare that to the depth of experience of an adult adoptee who can speak with authority on what it is to be raised by white adopters. Yet again those with the knowledge and skills have been overlooked because it is not comfortable or convenient.

  2. I am really sorry they did not include the voices of the adoptees. My husband’s niece has talked with me about being adopted by white parents (She is Native American). They were loving and the greatest people in the world. However, they did not understand many things about Native Americans. Things like the fact that most darker skinned people are lactose intolerant. So they would insist she drink milk, even when it gave her bad gas and an upset stomach, because “milk is good for you.” And they truly did not understand prejudice and racism and how it affected their children. She believes that had they known, they would have done what they could to mitigate it, but they just expected them to be treated like all of their (white) friends’ children. And they lived in an area that was very biased againsy Native people. There are just so many things that come up with transracial adoptions that I believe leaving adoptees out of the conversation is just plain wrong.

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