Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On NPR & Transracial Adoption: Who Gets to do the Teaching?


A few days ago, I received an email from NPR looking for Angela Tucker’s contact information for an upcoming show on The Sunday Conversation.   I was told that the purpose of the segment was to provide insight from someone "personally affected by stories that made headlines."  In this case, they explained, they wanted to interview someone affected by the comments regarding Mitt Romney's transracially adopted grandchild made on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show.  Angela is a black transracially adopted woman who is the subject of the powerful documentary "Closure," an adoption blogger, and a former adoption professional.  Angela is a friend and a fellow author at Lost Daughters, and the producer anticipated that I could get into contact with her quickly.   Fumbling on my phone in an airport, breaking my own no-email-on-vacation-rule, I excitedly connected NPR with Angela.  I knew that an interview with Angela about transracial adoption would be incredible.

Angela was interviewed for NPR’s January 12th show only to be informed that her interview would not be used because they chose another interview. Instead of Angela’s piece, NPR featured a white adoptive parent to discuss the difficulties of being confronted with issues of race. I am deeply disappointed with NPR's decision.

When an issue in transracial adoption arises, no one is as personally affected as transracial adoptees. A large part of the controversy surrounding the MHP show is that the show's participants made people uncomfortable by bringing up race within a society that misguidedly believes itself to be post-racial and "color blind."   Essentially, seeking out participants qualified as "personally affected" by a transracial adoption issue only to exclude the interview with a transracial adoptee sends the message that the discomfort of white people regarding race is of greater importance than a transracial adoptee's direct experience of racism while growing up in an environment where your race is not reflected in those you see and love.

I know this, not because I am an expert on transracial adoption. I am not. I know this because I listen to transracial adoptees. I know that they can speak of adoption experiences that I cannot--experiences of racism that I cannot.

It’s not that white people or adoptive parents should not educate others about adoption. The adoption community is full of individuals—original parents too—who have powerful messages. I am white, I write and educate about adoption.  I too have important things to say. However, what I have learned—and will always, always be learning—is that knowing a lot about certain aspects of adoption doesn't mean that I always have to be the one doing the educating.

The bottom line is that only transracial adoptees can tell us what being transracially adopted is like, and NPR interviewed a transracially adopted woman and then chose not to include it in a segment professing to represent what it means to be personally affected by an issue in transracial adoption. Erasing transracial adult adoptees from this discourse reinforces traditional hierarchies of power and privilege in adoption and the invisibility of the transracial adoptee community.

My opinion on this issue is that of an ally and a learner. Part of critiquing NPR is knowing that I don’t get to say what response NPR should have to the criticism of its choices regarding its framing of the transracial adoption experience. The answer to this too must come from the transracial adoptee community.  Angela has suggested to NPR that they hold a second segment on transracial adoption that includes her interview. I support Angela.