Al Jazeera’s Lost Opportunity on International Adoption

It could have been a compelling show about identity from an adoptee-centric perspective. Instead, it fell far short.

Here’s what a producer wrote in an email to Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora on September 22: “I’m with Al Jazeera English’s live daily show “The Stream” and working on a show about adoptees who return to their motherland to live for a short period or even for the rest of their lives. The show is next Thursday, Sept. 29 and airs live at 3:30 p.m. EST.
I wanted to find out if you know of any Ethiopian adoptees who decided to live in Ethiopia. Better yet, if they are still in Ethiopia.”

Great! A show about a rarely considered perspective in adoption, and a show intentional about having actual adult adoptees speak about their experiences. Ethiopian adoptee Heran Tadesse, who was raised in The Netherlands and now lives in Ethiopia, was chosen as a guest. She has a fascinating, important story.

The show, The Stream, tweeted a link to a New York Times article about Korean adoptees who have returned to live in Korea: “We’ll discuss more stories,” said the tweet. Two Korean adoptees, Hollee McGinnis (raised in the United States) and Kasper Eriksen (raised in Denmark), who have spent much time in Korea, were the other adoptee speakers.

When the show aired on September 29, the angle had apparently changed. It was billed on the website as “The challenges of international adoption: What happens when adoptees can’t adapt.”

What does that even mean?

Elizabeth Bartholet, a lawyer, adoptive parent, and founder of the Child Advocacy Project at Harvard Law School, was the fourth panelist. She is often noted as an advocate for adoption agency-supported legislation such as the Children In Families First (CHIFF) bill.

In fact, Bartholet’s Child Advocacy Project recently received $250,000 from Children of All Nations, a division of the Great Wall China Adoption agency. Great Wall has adoption programs in 15 countries. That quarter of a million dollars, from an adoption agency, will be hugely helpful to Bartholet’s mission, a press release said.

The show itself, which you can watch here, turned into breathless questions from the two hosts (Tell us a “nice, juicy story!”) that jumped around topics and had little focus. They showed a photo of Mia Farrow’s family, a photo that included Woody Allen. One of Mia Farrow’s adopted sons recently committed suicide, but that wasn’t even acknowledged. They showed a photo of Angelina Jolie.

Despite the original intent, the show lost the opportunity to discuss the interesting, evolving topic of adoptee identity as experienced by adoptees themselves.

Instead, we heard Professor Bartholet (not an adoptee) asked how she related to an adoptee’s struggle for identity. We heard her say to adoptees that she is “not somebody who thinks that there are major sorts of traumatizing, psychological issues built into the idea of being adopted.”

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L-Elizabeth Bartholet. R-Heran Tadesse

Heran raised the issues for international adoptees not knowing their names, their background, their parents, their culture: “I think this is not to be underestimated.” She noted that many children in orphanages in Ethiopia are not orphans at all, and called out the Western demand for children, along with the West’s wealth, as vital factors in problems in international adoption.

Having selected Heran for her perspective, the show never addressed the story of why she returned to her motherland to live after being adopted to Europe. Indeed, toward the end, one host asked Kasper Eriksen, “What are we missing” in what was discussed today? “Probably many things,” he answered.

If and when Al Jazeera’s The Stream does a follow-up that genuinely and effectively looks at the issues in adoption, perhaps they will take the time to hear Heran’s story, as well as those of other adoptees who have re-connected with their homelands.

Perhaps they could also include the perspective of the birth/first mothers in any show about international adoption. Their voices are even more marginalized than those of adult adoptees, and this show was no exception.

 

You can comment on The Stream’s page. I hope more adopted persons comment, as there are many adoptive parents who have weighed in. You can tweet to @AJStream and @AlJazeera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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