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.

Sibling Connections in Adoption


That’s my 26 year old son Sean with Genet Tsegay, Miss Ethiopia 2012/13, in a photo taken recently in SIlver Spring, Maryland. Sean has found his way into many photos with beautiful women. The icebreaker between these two, though, might have been different from his usual (not that I truly have any idea what “the usual” might be lol). For this meeting, it might have been something like “Hey, my sisters are from Ethiopia,” and maybe a conversation would have started around the not immediately obvious connection between these two young people from very different places.

One of the areas I find most fascinating in adoption is one that needs more research: siblings. I have no siblings. I have four adopted children; my twin daughters are biologically related. Our family has had many conversations along the way about the fact that all the kids are adopted. They’ve wondered what it would be like to be in a blended family, where some children were the biological children of the parents. They could all share their experiences of “He’s not your real brother?” and “She’s your sister?”

My Ethiopian daughters have reconnected with their 5 older Ethiopian siblings. So my daughters have four brothers, but the way they connect is very different at this point. For one thing, they don’t really share a common language with their Ethiopian siblings, and that’s a big deal. My sons have not explored any biological siblings, but sInce they were adopted in the US, we know they share a common language.  How they would differ from their biological siblings (if any) in terms of childhood, economics, education, religion–it’s hard to say right now.

As an African-American young man, Sean has known racism and discrimination–as well as solid community, love from family and friends of different races, and the ability to travel in many cultures, because of his own (adoptive) family. He shares race with his sisters and brother. Believe me, there have been many conversations around skin tones, stereotyping, the travails of being asked “What are you?” especially while growing up, when my children of different shades didn’t fit neatly into a category, particularly when one or both of their white adoptive parents was on the scene. Adoption can be complicated, and transracial adoption adds another layer of complexity.

I’ve known families with bio kids who adopt, and then see how the newly adopted child changes their home life in unimaginable ways, not all positive, and wonder if they did the right thing for their bio child.

I’ve known adoptive families with one adopted child of color, who stands out vividly in family photos. That difference can promote feelings of incredible isolation and difficulties with identity, though I’ve known parents who work to empower children around their uniqueness.

I’ve known adopted children who wonder about their bio siblings, older or younger, who were not adopted, who stayed with the first mother. That has a poignancy all its own.

I’ve known siblings with no biological connection who are deeply connected, the lack of common blood making no difference.

My son Sean would probably have found a way to chat with Mss Ethiopia, but the fact that he has two Ethiopian sisters created an easy connection. Miss Ethiopia is from the Tigray region of Ethiopia,  a college student, studying architecture–in her own way, perhaps also challenging stereotypes. I don’t know how much she and Sean chatted about his sisters–prolly not a whole lot. I love the fact that we can make wonderful connections sometimes, when we don’t expect to.  And I hope that we continue to have conversations about siblings, race, and adoption.

Angela Tucker and Aselefech Evans On Transracial Adoption, Search, and Reunion

Angela Tucker, featured in the new documentary Closure, and Aselefech Evans will talk about transracial adoption, search, and reunion on Tuesday, June 4 at 7 p.m. PDT. You can watch their conversation live on Google+ Hangouts On Air here, or later on a YouTube page I’ll link to after the conversation.

Angela was adopted as a baby from Chattanooga, TN, and grew up in Bellingham, Washington.  Aselefech was 6 years old when she and her twin sister arrived from Ethiopia to join their US family in Maryland. Both Angela and Aselefech have searched for and reunited with their birth families. Each now in their 20’s, Angela and Aselefech will talk about race, hair, identity, loss, grief, and love, hosted by yours truly, Maureen McCauley Evans.

Save the Date: Angela and Aselefech Talk Together!

On Saturday, June 1, at 10am pdt (1pm edt), I will be hosting an on-line live discussion with Angela Tucker and Aselefech Evans.

Angela’s story is featured in the new, highly-acclaimed documentary Closure, about her adoption as an African-American baby from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to white parents in Bellingham, Washington, and her search and reunion as a young adult with her birth family.


Aselefech is an Ethiopian adoptee, who arrived in the US in 1994 at age 6 with her twin sister. She has also searched and reunited with her birth family in Ethiopia, as well as in Seattle. She has presented workshops and webinars about her story, about transracial adoption, about hair care, and more. Full disclosure: Aselefech is also my daughter. She was recently invited to be a columnist for the soon-to-be-launched magazine of Land of Gazillion Adoptees.

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

Aselefech with her brother (reunited in 2009) and her daughter. Photo: December 2012

As transracial adoptees, they have much in common. As a US infant adoptee and as an older child international adoptee, they have different experiences. Both are wonderful, thoughtful, amazing young women, and their stories are compelling.

I’ll post more details later about how to watch and participate. Meanwhile, please save the date!

Ethiopian Children and 2 Medical Issues

A quick PSA about 2 Ethiopian-related medical issues. One is physiological, and one is cultural. For adoptive parents of Ethiopian children, this information ought to come from agencies prior to placement of the children. Parents and others may want to share this information with their pediatricians, dentists, and other medical caregivers.

The first is about codeine.

When children have tonsils or adenoids removed, they are often given codeine after surgery for pain relief. Ethiopians are more likely to be “ultra-rapid metabolizers” of codeine than other ethnic groups. This means that if the codeine is given to them in the wrong dosage, there can be serious harm done.

A quote from the FDA:

“These ultra-rapid metabolizers are more likely to have higher than normal amounts of morphine in their blood after taking codeine. High levels of morphine can result in breathing difficulty, which may be fatal.

From one to seven in every 100 people are ultra-rapid metabolizers, but they are more common among some ethnic groups. Twenty-nine percent of North African and Ethiopian populations are ultra-rapid metabolizers, and about 6 percent of African American, Caucasian and Greek populations are also affected.”

Here is more information, which you may want to print out and give to your doctor and dentist.

The second is about the uvula, that bit of flesh that hangs down in the back of the throat.

I’ve known a number of Ethiopian adoptees, particularly those adopted after infancy and toddlerhood, who have no uvula. Their uvulas may have been removed: here’s further information. There may or may not be any subsequent complications; those adoptees that I know have had none, but the pediatrician was surprised. This information may be worth sharing with your pediatrician.

Swimming Along With African-American Beauty

All four of my kids are excellent swimmers, which makes them unusual among African-Americans. Some reports indicate that 70% of African-Americans and 60% of Latinos cannot swim. According to the Center for Disease Control, between 2005 and 2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of whites across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-14 years old.

The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range.

There are lots of complicated historical, socioeconomic, and other reasons for the lack of swimming among African-Americans.  It’s quite different from tennis or golf (which also have low proportions of African-Americans participating), because there’s not so much danger of dying in those activities.

I would of course like to see all these sports and activities embraced by all sorts of people, having fun and being safe.

My daughter Adanech and son Chris, when they were in elementary school, were on the swim team for our town’s swim club.  Let’s just say it was fairly easy to locate them in the well-populated team picture.

Adanech, now 24,  has continued to use swimming as exercise, and even more intentionally as a stress reliever. I admire that. My granddaughter Zariyah loves the water, especially if her uncle Sean is there.


Z is wearing a swim cap here, as she usually does, as many swimmers do.

My experience with my daughters and with their black girlfriends when they were growing up–and still today–was that hair was a factor in swimming. Unlike many white, Asian, or Latina girls, these girls did not always freely jump in the water, especially not if they’d spent some serious time and money on their hair (via chemicals, flat irons, hairdryers, curlers, braids, weave, beads, more). The impact of chlorinated water on chemically treated hair can be especially damaging, no doubt.

Seeing hair as a gift and not a burden is one of the responsibilities, I believe, of white parents of black children. Yes, we need to learn how to care for it, comb it, celebrate it.  We need to associate their hair not with inconvenience or tears or time-consuming chores, but with positive energy and beauty.

And we need to encourage our children to swim, with swim caps if needed (that don’t pull out hair at the hairline), with styles that work well in water, with hair protected before and after swimming from the chlorine (conditioner matters), and with confidence that they can do it.  As the poet Rumi wrote, “Today, let us swim wildly, joyously in gratitude.”