A few weeks ago, NPR Weekend Edition ran a segment on transracial adoption where they interviewed Rachel Garlinghouse, a white adoptive mom of three black kids. Good interview, but many in the adult adoptee online community were irritated outraged (#NPRgate) that the recorded interview with adult transracial adoptee Angela Tucker was not also used in the segment. How, they wondered, could you possibly say anything relevant about transracial adoption without including the words of those who have actually lived the experience as a child and now adult. How indeed?!?
The Real Experts on Transracial Adoption
Being inundated with negative comments clearly sent the message that they needed to present the voice(s) of adult adoptees. Duh! I have no idea why NPR chose not to air the interview with Ms. Tucker, and I had hoped that they would do a longer segment including interviews with several adult adoptees, but the interview they aired this past weekend with Chad Goller-Sojourner was terrific.
Goller-Sojourner was adopted in 1972 at 13 months by a white family, who clearly loved him and did their best by him. They read books by black authors, sent him to diverse schools, and came to his defense when racial taunts were slung. They could not, however, make race or racial differences go away. They could not teach him to be a black man.
Goller-Sojourner describes so well the cloak of white privilege from the vantage point of one who experienced its protection when he was near his parents and absence when away. Children, he points out, experience race and white privilege before they have words to express it. His spent his 20s falling in love with himself and being black.
Checklist for Transracial Adoption
Goller-Sojourner is not necessarily against transracial adoption. “Perhaps a black home is probably best for a black kid”, he acknowledges, but he knows that he might well have never had a family if he had not been adopted by his white parents. He had been passed up by several black families because he was “too dark” and was being moved to a group home for older foster kids when his parents adopted him.
He does however have suggestions for white parents adopting kids of color. He strongly encourages transracial families move to diverse neighborhoods. “Someone’s going to have to be uncomfortable, and I think it should be the parents.”
“One of the things I think was hardest for me is I didn’t have any independent relationships with black people, especially adult black people, till I was an adult,” he says. “I was 25 before I saw a black doctor.”…
“I don’t have a checklist,” he says, “but if I did, it would sound something like this: If you don’t have any close friends or people who look like your kid before you adopt a kid, then why are you adopting that kid? Your child should not be your first black friend.”
There are over 300 comments on this segment on the NPR site, and I read about 100 or so. Most were insightful, until I came to the following that made me want to reach out and smack the commenter.
IMHO [In my humble opinion], instead of appreciation for his parent, when other prospective adoptive parent of same black skin deems he is too dark skin, he turns around and get quite insulting.
Sounds like there are some patent-child hostility here.
There are people in this world, when given free things, still complains.
ARGHH!!!! Insulting? Hostility?? GIVEN FREE THINGS!!! Fortunately, the NPR commenting crowd quickly said what needed to be said to this (hummm what PG rated word to use?) unenlightened person.
What`s on your checklist for transracial adopted parents?
P.S. Whatever reason NPR chose to not air Angela Tucker’s interview, it is not because she isn’t eloquent and thoughtful. Her website, The Adopted Life, is one of my favorites, and I suggest you make it one of yours.
P.P.S. Check out Chad Goller-Sojourner one-man show in Seattle: Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness, the story of “what happens when a black boy, raised by white parents, “ages out” of honorary white and suburban privilege and into a world where folklore, statistics, and conjecture deem him dangerous until proven otherwise.”
Add Your Comment
I read all the comments yesterday (all 400+). There was more than one “smackworthy” comment – there were quite a few “ungrateful” comments.
cb, you’re a better woman than I to get through all 400. 🙂 I was pleased with the overwhelming response to the one smackworthy comment I cited. It gives me hope.
That guy is ungrateful. All the ungrateful comments are valid. The only smack worthy comment came out of his mouth. He seems mad still. Mad that he was adopted by white parents and ignoring the fact that black parents didn’t want him because he was too dark. The conversation needs to be about black on black racism and not white privelage or white parents being guilty of NOT being racially motivated. He even goes to YES INSULT them by insinuating that they wished to develop a friendship with a black person by adopting him instead of it being a loving thing to do. He is an asshole. He could easily have taken the high road and showed appreciation
for the fact that white people get a bad rap from race baiters and the overly “racially concerned” groups. He could point out how lucky he was that it was white people who showed love and kindness and did NOT judge him on his skin color. And he could use this story to show the hypocricy of the black community in how they are just as racist if not more so than anyone else. He could use this as a platform to end racial boundaries and stop this nonsense but instead he uses his story of fortunate blessings and hardships to instigate even MORE racial boundaries than prior to him speaking. Now we are to walk away and think hateful thoughts about any white parents who adopt kids who have not only been abandoned by their own race but then overlooked as well. It’s crazy to make it racial. Really his parents are everything that is RIGHT with the world and it is the WORLD and HIS attitude that is what is WRONG with it. He needs to lose weight and stop the hate. – DON’T BE IGNORANT
He doesn’t sound mad to be adopted by white parents to me, I never got any message like that. It seems more like you’re projecting that onto him, says more about yourself than him. He’s trying to help and equip foster parents to be more effective for their children. Why are you trying to deflect the conversation into some other topic about racism, trying to refocus to conversation to black communities, and saying that they’re at fault? Do you know what you’re trying to do or is this just mindless hateful racism spewing out? He never ignored that other black families passed on him because they thought he was too dark, there are quotes of him mentioning it in almost every article. You perhaps even learned about that fact through him himself! And quit it with the “grateful” rhetoric for adopted children. They’re tired of it, all of them, no matter their race or skin color. Your entire message is just full of hate for people with darker skin and praise for people with lighter skin. You are the ignorant racist here.
It’s fairly well-established in adoption circles that adoptees don’t like to be told they *should be grateful* to be adopted. It’s entirely possible that “NotCoolFool” isn’t up to speed on that basic issue.
Both Angela Tucker and Chad Goller-Sojourner offer excellent perspectives of the anguish of a transracially adopted child faces in the White world and having to navigate the own sense ofidentity when there’s no one of the same skin color to bounce off with. I find it particularly difficult for Black boys with the unfair, but general stigma of fear around them. I am not against mixed-race adoptions, but would certainly agree with Chad when he states that in touchy situations that present themselves for the family, someone will be uncomfortable, and it should be the White parents, not the child. Good post, Dawn, as usual.
Thanks Catana. How can parents help reduce the anguish?
I have mixed feelings about that quote: “Your adopted child should not be your first black friend.” In general, people don’t make friends based on skin color; people make friends based on shared interests. My schools were always mostly white and Asian. Then I moved to NH, where, according to the last census, there are 1300 black people. I knew two of them. We were definitely friendly, but they weren’t in my (small, because I’m very shy) inner circle of friends. We moved to CA, to a city that is mostly Latino. (White people are in the minority.) But, really, our only good black friend at the time became our friend because she married one of DH’s best friends (who is white). I realized this when I was putting together our adoption profile. I realized that I was going to have to figure out how to make black friends.
I agree with the idea that parents who are adopting transracially need to have black friends, or, friends of their children’s racial background. I’m just not sure how many people think about their friends in terms of color before they think of adopting. Part of our white privilege is the fact that white people don’t have to think about color and race. It’s not in our faces all the time. Adopting transracially spurs us into thinking about our friends in those terms, and, if necessary, into broadening our social circle.
Robyn, I think you are right that you have to change the way you think if you are going to adopt interracially. On a totally separate note, I struggled with the quote because I don’t think it terms of children being friends with their parents, but I totally understood his point and it is a good one.