Why orphan prevention is important to adoptive moms

I’m in a hotel in Washington DC, about to get a couple hours of sleep before I fly to Ethiopia in the morning with Help One Now.  I should be sleeping but I’m not . . . kept awake by a heady mix of excitement and nerves. Tonight our team assembled in the hotel lobby for a “quick meeting” that turned into a 3-hour conversation. There was laughter, there were a few tears, but mostly there was the buzz of being around people who share a similar passion. Photo Sep 09, 12 36 32 AM (photo by Ty Clark) At one point, our conversation turned to adoption. Jen Hatmaker, Korie Robertson, Jillian Lauren, and I have all adopted children, and Jillian was adopted herself, so we all have that in common. We talked about the joys and also some of the struggles of adoption, and agreed that one thing we would like to see is an end to poverty orphans. While adoption will continue to be a permanency option for some children, we all believe that poverty should not be a sole reason for parents to have to relinquish their children. Mike Rush, from Pure Charity, also adopted from Ethiopia. He had the chance to visit the community we are focused on back in January, as they were doing interviews with some of the families we’re recruiting donors to support. He said that it was incredibly emotional to sit with these families, as he thought about his own daughter and her birth family and what might have been. This is what drives us to do this . . . we feel incredibly blessed by our children through adoption, but we ultimately want to reduce the number of children who are orphaned in the first place. Orphan prevention first, adoption as last resort. Family preservation is the first step in orphan care.
Photo Sep 09, 12 20 18 AM (photo by Jen Hatmaker) My heart beats strong to see children who need them find a forever family, but my heart also beats for kids to stay with the birth family if possible. This trip is about preventing orphans and strengthening families, and I’m excited to learn and show how Help One Now is doing this work. To read more about the trip and to sponsor a family, click here. You can also follow our hashtag on twitter and instagram at #lovehope.

State rep Alvin Holmes points out racism in Alabama, adoptive parents freak out

Several of my readers have asked me to weigh in on a controversy going down in Alabama. The backstory: African American state representative Alvin Holmes, who is a democrat, was embroiled in a debate about abortion laws. Some republican representatives suggested that adoption could be a better way to reduce abortions, and Holmes responded that it wouldn’t solve this issue because black children are still much less likely to get adopted than white children. He also accused the pro-life representatives of hypocrisy because he believes that they would change their tune were they to discover their daughter was pregnant by a black man. He pointed out that in the year 2000, nearly 40% of white voters in the state of Alabama voted against legalizing interracial marriage. He went on to say:

“I will bring you $100,000 cash tomorrow if you show me a whole bunch of whites that adopted blacks in Alabama. I will go down there and mortgage my house and get it cash in $20 bills and bring it to you in a little briefcase.”

Now, what Alvin Holmes said is problematic on so many levels. First of all, he has no idea what Republican lawmakers would do. It’s a pretty bold and personal accusation of hypocrisy and racism, and a wild speculation about his fellow politicians. Second, he doesn’t present facts about transracial adoption, and makes another inflammatory and non-specific speculation that there aren’t white people in Alabama adopting black children. I’m guessing there may be numbers to back up his assertion that there is racial bias in adoption, but he doesn’t present them and instead makes a universal prescription, ignoring that there ARE transracial families in his state. But the most glaring problem, to me, is that he is creating a false equivalency between abortion and adoption. Not all women who consider abortion would choose to place the child if they carried to term. As the Guttmacher Institute has pointed out, promoting adoption is not an effective strategy for reducing abortion rates. I think Representative Holmes’ statements were incendiary and accusatory. I think he threw in some straw-man arguments. I think he’s guilty of hyperbole and logical fallacies, and dare I say, which I’m usually loathe to say, that the guy even played the race card as he argued his point about abortion. But where I veer from many of the offended parents on this matter? I don’t think he was being racist, nor do I think he was being insulting to adoptive families. I think looking at context is important here. Holmes was elected to Alabama legislature in 1974, back when George Wallace was governor of the state. Remember that guy? “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” That’s from Wallace’s inauguration speech. Not one of Alabama’s finest moments. No doubt Holmes has witnessed some serious racial strife in his tenure in this state. Also, he is one of the representatives who introduced the bill to legalize interracial marriage in the state . . . hardly the actions of someone opposed to interracial families. He also watched as 40% of his state residents opposed that bill, a mere 14 years ago. Let’s let that sink in a little . . . 14 years ago, 40% of Alabama voters thought that INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE SHOULD BE AGAINST THE LAW. So, while I don’t like his arguments as they relate to connecting adoption and abortion, I think that Holmes knows a thing or two about the blatant racism of the residents of his state. It’s not offensive that he pointed out racism or racial bias in adoption. It’s not racist to point out racism. And yet, he’s being accused of being a racist by parents who want to illustrate how many adoptive parents are really “colorblind.” A rally was quickly organized to show Rep. Holmes that there are, in fact, white parents in Alabama who have adopted black children. And while I get the urge to show up and make him eat his words, because they were completely exaggerated, I also think it’s missing his point . . . which is that racial bias in adoption is alive and well. An organizer of the event said that it was “a great representation of parents who adopt without thought of skin color.” Eek! I hope that any parents who have adopted children of color are absolutely considering skin color. Being colorblind is not a virtue. Recognized the unique needs and racial biases that children of color will face is absolutely necessary in transracial adoption, and even more so in a state steeped in racial discord. And honestly? Being outraged that Rep. Holmes called out some of the latent racism in his state feels like misplaced outrage. State rep Alvin Holmes points out racism in Alabama, adoptive parents freak out Adoptive father Jeromy Owing said of his remarks:

“After we work on it and work on it to have an elected official that can come in and make those comments and tear down everything that we’ve worked hard for. It puts a question in their minds of ‘Do I belong?’ ‘Where do I belong?”

I understand that sentiment and that frustration. And yet . . . Rep Holmes is not saying that kids don’t belong. He’s saying that there is a lot of racism against black people in Alabama. And I guarantee his statements won’t be the first time an adopted black child hears about racism in Alabama, not will it be the thing that causes them to question whether or not they belong. Parents should be having these talks with their children. I feel like this whole controversy is a case of two sides not hearing each other. The angered adoptive parents aren’t hearing that Rep. Holmes is fed up with racism. And Rep. Holmes isn’t hearing that his remarks, whether or not intended to be, were dismissive of adoptive families with black children. After the rally, Holmes doubled down rather than apologizing, telling a local paper, “If anybody says Alvin Holmes is against interracial adoption, they are just as wrong as Adolf Hitler.” He also told Montgomery’s local radio station:

“The majority of white people in the state of Alabama are against adopting black children and the majority of white people in the state of Alabama are against their daughters having babies by black men and I stand by that comment.”

On the same radio program, adoptive parent Barbara Owings argued that the 2000 vote on interracial marriage had no relation to the issue of white families adopting black children. I feel like on one side, you’ve got a politician who may be refusing to acknowledge that there ARE a growing number of interracial couples and families in his state, but on the other side you’ve got adoptive parents pretending that a 40% vote against interracial marriage does not have any bearing on race relations or adoption today. I’m guessing the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I believe there are some wonderful, loving adoptive transracial families in Alabama. I believe there are many good people who live there. And I also believe that a politician who watched a bill to legalize interracial marriage only get a 60% approval vote just over a decade ago has a right to some cynicism.  I still think he owes some adoptive families an apology for being insensitive. And I wouldn’t mind seeing him pony up that $100,000 he promised and donating it to AdoptUsKids. But I don’t think we need to assume that he’s against us or disparaging transracial families. I think he’s a man who is frustrated by the race relations in his state, and parents raising black kids in Alabama should understand that. Being angry that he pointed out some of the racist views in his state looks a little bit like denial, and that’s no good for anyone, but especially for adopted children of color.

An adoptive mom’s powerful photo essay on rude adoption comments

Kim Kelley-Wagner, an adopted mama to two girls born in China, grew tired of the rude and intrusive comments she had to field when out and about with her children. In an effort to illustrate how hurtful the comments were, she and her daughters made a list of the comments they had heard, and then wrote them out and took a picture with them. It’s a powerful photo series that illustrates just how hurtful such comments can be. “I have tried to explain to my daughters that people do not say these things to be mean, they say them out of ignorance, which is why I am sharing some of them,” Kelly says. “Words are powerful, they can become tools or weapons, choose to use them wisely.” Here are some of the photos they took. (Shared with permission.) 960269_652491428125505_2078299401_n 994406_652490958125552_5952281_n   1478931_655037641204217_859638119_n 995005_652490831458898_826521687_n 1004794_652491264792188_375988191_n 1476559_652490924792222_461466538_n       1497816_652490844792230_859024783_n 1499550_652491084792206_1785536897_n 1499690_652491051458876_1292756059_n 1506819_652491131458868_1186705291_n 1509183_652490864792228_674518323_n 1509210_655037964537518_1034421042_n 1511309_652491398125508_1812061734_n 1515027_652490938125554_942444533_n 1522203_652490984792216_311702756_n 1522216_655037854537529_40600667_n 1524579_655038261204155_1707142083_n 1524856_655038007870847_55623547_n 1525129_655037804537534_620104074_n 1525725_652491364792178_59943927_n 1527130_655037647870883_358606890_n 1530440_655038184537496_1711440677_n 1530571_655037887870859_2017948383_n 1533783_652491214792193_563863500_n 1535497_655038061204175_1112989623_n 1536699_652491324792182_1529423566_n 1545607_655038357870812_1606762082_n 1546038_652491168125531_1887673803_n 1551734_652491304792184_114918385_n 1554570_655037674537547_1015822504_n 1557637_652491448125503_462600488_n 1560420_652491114792203_1399430813_n 1560480_652491024792212_313395161_n

What we can learn from Melissa Harris-Perry

Last week, a segment appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC that reviewed the best photos of the year and asked a panel of actors and comedians to give them humorous captions. It was supposed to be a light-hearted look back at the year, but things went awry. One of the photos was of Mitt and Ann Romney surrounded by all of their grandchildren . . . a photo tradition the Romney’s do every year. This year, Mitt was holding his newly adopted African-American grandson, the only person of color amongst over 20 cousins. image Immediately, the child’s racial difference became the focus. Actress Pia Glenn jokingly sang “one of these things is not like the others,” (the song used in Sesame Street segments to help kids identify which object doesn’t belong) and comedian Dean Obeidallah joked that the photo “really sums up the diversity of the Republican Party.” Melissa Harris-Perry wondered what it would be like if Kieran Romney (the child in focus) ended up marrying North West and Mitt found himself with Kanye as an in-law. The segment was brief, but it immediately drew a firestorm from conservatives and adoptive parents alike. Conservatives were upset that they used the photo as an opportunity to take a pot-shot at their political party. Adoptive parents were upset that jokes were made indicating that this grandson didn’t fit n. Both were upset that such jokes were coming at the expense of a child. As I watched the backlash, I found myself ambivalent. I immediately noticed that many people took offense at the fact that his racial difference was even noticed . . . as if seeing the one brown kid in a sea of white faces, and commenting on it, is a racist act. We’ve been taught to see everyone as equal, and while I think it’s valuable to view every person as equally worthy, I also think it’s dangerous to ignore racial differences completely. We are not living in a post-racial America, and no doubt Kieran Romney, as a black male, will have a different experience negotiating the world than his white family members.  Even if his family treats him the same, it’s probable that society will not. The only way to deny this is to deny the voices of black adults who share their own current experiences with racial bias on a regular basis. So I personally wasn’t offended that his race was noticed. I notice it in that photo. I think, if we’re honest, most people do. However, I did find it cringe-worthy that, rather than opening up a dialogue about race and transracial adoption, the commenters went for a quick laugh at an adoptee’s expense. While she didn’t quite get there, most of us know that the lyrics immediately following the refrain Pia Glenn sang are, “One of these things just doesn’t belong.” It is incredibly hurtful for adoptees and adoptive parents to hear an implication that, because of race, an adopted child doesn’t really belong. Like many others, I also found it distasteful that the commenters made a child the brunt of their jokes. I did think that crossed a line. As a politician, Mitt Romney is fair game. But his son and grandson did not sign up for this. So while I found the whole segment in poor taste, I did not think it was racist. While the jokes were in poor taste, the people making them were likely joking as a result of some real concern they feel when they see a child so clearly racially alienated in his own family. I can understand why this gives people pause. I don’t think it’s fair to speculate on how he is being raised from one photograph,since we really have no idea how Mitt’s son Ben’s views transracial parenting, if there are plans to add another black child to the family, if they are seeking diversity in this child’s life, etc. There has been a whole lot of speculation on that based on what we know about Mitt Romney, and I would certainly hope that my aptitude as a transracial parent is not based on the perception of my parents. I truly hope that Kieran’s parents are educating themselves and taking the necessary steps to ensure that their child grows up around other black people who can mirror and affirm his racial identity. Of course, unless those parents choose to speak publicly about their parenting choices, everything else is just public speculation. I’ve watched Melissa Harris-Perry’s show for a long time. I am a big fan of hers. I know her backstory . . . that she was a brown child born into a large, Mormon family. Also, in watching the segment, it was clear that these jokes were coming from the actors/comedians and not from MHP herself. I definitely think the segment went off the rails, and that MHP could have worked harder to reign it back in. But at the same time, I saw the segment as some rather desperate and tasteless attempts at a laugh and not as some kind of statement about transracial adoption. MHP has featured transracial adoptees and parents on her show many times, and I’ve always felt like she has been one of the best journalists to really explore the inherent issues with depth, nuance, and compassion. I didn’t take the segment as a personal affront to my family. I also felt that Melissa Harris-Perry did an exemplary job of issuing a swift apology, first on twitter, and then live on the air the first chance she got. Her twitter apology is as follows:

“I am sorry. Without reservation or qualification. I apologize to the Romney family. I work by guiding principle that those who offend do not have the right to tell those they hurt that they [are] wrong for hurting. Therefore, while I meant no offense, I want to immediately apologize to the Romney family for hurting them. As black child born into large white Mormon family I feel familiarity w/ Romney family pic & never meant to suggest otherwise. I apologize to all families built on loving transracial adoptions who feel I degraded their lives or choices.”

And her on-air apology came the day her show resumed: I felt her apology was sincere and I believe her when she says she is “deeply sorry that we suggested that interracial families are in any way funny or deserving of ridicule.”  I was also impressed that Mitt accepted her apology.  “I recognize people make mistakes. The folks at MSNBC made a big mistake,” Romney said. “I’m going to move on from that.”

I think we all should.

Melissa Harris-Perry is an important voice as it relates to race in America. She is also a black female journalist in a world where white men dominate.  But more than that, she has been a consistent champion of diverse families and anti-racism. I hope that anyone not familiar with her will look at her entire body of journalistic work, and not this one segment that clearly went wrong. But I also think we can all learn from how she handled this incident. When it came time to apologize, she articulated a philosophy that I think can help every relationship:

A blueprint for apologies

Imagine a world where everyone followed this blueprint . . . where instead of arguing over what we meant, we have empathy and compassion for how our words effect others. I think this situation perfectly illustrates the importance of recognizing intent vs. effect. It’s possible that Melissa Harris-Perry and her panel legitimately did not mean to insult transracial families. And it’s possible that transracial families legitimately felt insulted. Both of these things can exist at the same time. I think the world would be a better place if we could all take a cue from Melissa Harris-Perry in being swift to apologize instead of defend when our words have been hurtful, even (and especially) when we didn’t mean them to be. Now someone send this memo to Paula Deen and Phil Robertson