Friday, April 29, 2011

When White People Adopt 'Colored' Children... on TV

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Back in the day, when I went to journalism school, we were taught that when a particular incident occurs three times or more, then officially it is a trend. So as a freelance writer, I'm always looking for trends to write about. And I think I have a new one. It is the White people adopting the child of color story line, now seen on a TV or movie screen near you.

Last night after watching a riveting episode of Grey's Anatomy, I saw a preview for next week's show. And that's when we caught a glimpse of McDreamy (who happens to be White) holding a cute, chubby Black baby and saying to his wife (also White) with fervor and enthusiasm, "Let's adopt this baby!!" (cue the cliffhanger music). I kind of chuckled to myself because Grey's Anatomy already tackles such hot button issues as interracial marriage, gay marriage, Alzheimer's disease, mental illness, virginity by choice, and now they're going to throw in transracial adoption. That's a lot to handle for a one-hour drama.

But then it hit me that the White couple adopting the child of color story line isn't new or maybe even controversial. In fact, one might just call it trendy right now, at least in Hollywood. Think about it. On the wildly popular new show, Modern Family the gay White couple has an adopted baby girl from China. In the movie, Easy A, the White couple with one biological White child, also has an adopted Black son. (Here's a funny clip from the movie). And then, believe it or not, in the Easter flick Hop, the White family at the center of the story has an adopted Asian daughter. But the thing is in all of these examples, the fact that these children are adopted or of another race is so not the issue. In fact, it's almost a non-issue, which I think is a little silly, but we're talking Hollywood so what can one expect?

So, I'm wondering? Is this a good thing for transracial adoption to be the next cool thing to add spice to your sitcom or movie? Does it normalize or trivialize the experience? What do you think? In a weird twist of Life imitating Art, Law & Order actress, Mariska Hargitay recently adopted a Black baby girl. Will that story line enter the Law & Order franchise? Hmmm.

Have you seen other recent examples from Hollywood where a White family adopts a child of color? Tell us about it. I'm listening. Of course.



Anonymous said...

Adopting children of a different race on TV is nothing new. Take a look at Webster of Different Strokes from the 80s.
The idea of race, while racism still exists like at the entire Obama birth certificate BS, does not have to be THE issue. It certainly is not the only issue that comes up when adopting internationally.

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

To me it trivializes things because they never really go to the core issues. Its already hard being biracial with a white parent, its got to be even harder as a black child adopted by a white couple. The Madonnas of the world annoy me because not only the way she went about the adoption (disrespecting laws of Malawi) but also the fact that people are doing this as some kind of trendy thing.

If they are going to have white characters adopt children of color, they need to make sure to actually address issues that come with having a child of an entirely different race (such as hair for starters) to show people that there is more to this and that if you were to do it, tread very lightly.

It just irritates me when white people blow over the issue of race because they don't realize how racism still exists. Whether you are the biological parent or the adopted parent, there are extra steps that come with being a child of another race and if you don't pay attention that then you are setting your child up for a very terrible experience once they start school.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't normalization involve a bit of trivialization.

Marona said...

The US has a long history of transracial adoption, especially among white parents and Korean children following the Korean war. They don't really discuss how the children feel, how they experience racism and extreme cases of internalized racism where they want to opt for plastic surgery just to feel normal. I saw a doc about one particular transracial adoption and it was really sad. Not surprising of course. I mean, do people think these white parents are less racist on average? I mean, seriously? That's like saying interracial sex can eradicate racism. It just doesn't work that way. I've read a lot on transracial adoption of Korean adoptees by white parents.

Another thing, what about POC parents who adopt transracially? There are some black parents with white children, ya know. And there are black parents with Asian children. And I'm pretty sure there are Asian parents with black children, white children and so on. But transracial adoption tends to be dictated by white subjectivity.

I remember reading an article about a black family that adopted a little white girl. Would you believe the white people in their neighborhood would try to snatch her away from her parents or ask her "if she was being kidnapped" or something? Yet no one would make that assumption with white parents and non-white children?

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

@Marona, I'm not surprised by that really. For starters, white children are so highly wanted, its kind of weird to see other races with a white child (I remember reading a story about something similar but the child was not a baby but like 5 or 6 or something). And more importantly, I think most of us assume if a black person would adopt they'd do the logical thing and adopt within their own race because there are so many black babies in need of adoption and to see a black person opt out of doing that reeks of suspicion.

But you did bring up a point by talking about the fact that minorities adopt other minorities (although its pretty rare), I think that what I said earlier still applies in these kind of cases too. If a black woman adopts an Asian kid, she has the responsibility of knowing his culture and understanding the kind of racism Asians contend with.

But you are right. In the end, adoption will always be looked at from a white centric view like everything else...

Anonymous said...

wait, wait let me get this straight white people who adopt children of color DO NOT have to learn about the issues involved when adopting across racial and/or cultural lines???!!!

I am sorry, but that is totally untrue. While I cannot speak for every adoption, I know personally that we spent hours talking about such issues as part of our pre-adoption classes. Also when we talked to other families with internationally adopted children, this issue was always brought up. Namely because it brings out the secret racist amongst family members. Utterly heartbreaking.

Often the parents even though white in skin hue are subject to actions and behaviors that will make your head spin. We have been segregated, stared at, asked inappropriate questions, etc.

We white parents of brown children are, in fact, taught about issues. On top of that many of us have degrees in things like social work, sociology and have studied things like race issues. In fact, some of us, my husband in particular knows first hand what its like for being hated for the color of his skin. He moved to Hawaii as a kid and was hated for being white. He was picked up, beat up, etc. So sweeping stereotypes are never pretty.

With my latina daughter, the color of her skin is an issue, her culture is an issue, but IT IS NOT the ONLY issue. Its a too complex situation to boil it down simply to race.

Many people don't know squat about adoption. Just look at adoption jokes that get thrown around. Adoptive families have to deal with terms like "real mom" and "give away". I am happy for adoption to appear "normal" on television because I am tried of adoptive families being treated as less than. Look at it this way, people who birth their children say things like "my own" children. Birthing is almost always preferred over adopting. Adopting is always seen as the second choice for infertile people, ALSO NOT TRUE. I choose adoption over birthing. I do not view it as a second choice. I wish the rest of the world would see it that way.

Genes and skin color do not make a family, love and hard work do.

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

Anonymous, I disagree with you 100%. It takes alot more than love to make anything work in life. And I think its important to dissect the issues of adoption on tv rather than pretend like its no problem because this way it will make the viewer think twice before doing something rash without considering the full picture.

Race issues are alot more important than you realize. Also, please stop trying to give excuses to white people over this whole thing because I have seen the reality too many times with both adoption and biological children of color with white parents.

Also, just because someone has an education does not make them less of a racist.

Also, taking classes on it is only one step. You need to make sure you immerse your kids with people of their own race and live in areas that are diverse because areas of one specific race will be nothing but murder for them.

I can go on, but I won't because what I am saying is just simple common sense. At least for a minority like myself.

Anonymous said...

I knew my love comment would be misconstrued but I put it in anyway. Its love that helps us WANT see things through the child's eyes. And you are right it is not always enough, but it is the fuel that can help you work through the rest.

I did not realize I was speaking for white people everywhere as I can only speak for myself.

Becoming an parent through adoptions is rarely a rash decision. Many months or in our case YEARS go into the planning, paper chasing, parenting classes that is necessary to fulfill the requirements in order to adopt. Again there is a lot of misinformation involved in what adoption is and what is involved. Some of it is very offensive and hurtful. This is my point.

I know that the adoptive families I am around try to walk the fine line between embracing the child's birth culture and teaching them that they too are also American. Most adoptive families I know visit the child's birth country, teach the child about that country, and in my case I teach her Spanish. We have been back to her birth country since adopting and will go many times through her childhood. My six year old has a passport full of stamps. I am teaching her to be a world citizen, that's something very important to me.

The adoptive family is ripe with identity issues. Again what bothers me most is the misinformation and language that surrounds adoption. I want my daughter growing up seeing mixed race families on TV, adoptive families on TV.

However,the parents themselves are the ones who are taxed to teach children not the television.

I never said that the race issue isn't important. Its very important. However, I feel that people saying stuff to me in front of my daughter like "do you have any children of your own?" is also very important. Do you know how that cuts me every time? Do you know I wonder if my daughter is going to think that she and our family is less than because we were formed through adoption? Do you see that happens? It does!

By the way, we left Iowa in order to live in Arizona an area with a higher Latina population. Worst decision ever. The race issue there was unbelievable. We high tailed it out of there as fast as we could. Now we live in a large Midwestern city, because of my profession (University Spanish Instructor), our frequent travels, and our friends our world is truly bilingual and bi-cultural. Race and culture can but not always go hand and hand.

I hope this is sensical. I finally gave in to the pain meds for my terrible sinus infection. But I really think we agree more than we disagree. I just think society needs to respect and be educated about adoption. Terms like "real mom" and "own children" need to go away. My point is and will always be that race is not the only point when dealing with the adoptive identity. Its a big issue of course, but it is not the only one.

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

All the more reason when tv does show any kind of adoption rather than make it look like it is normal, they address the real issues even down to the more hurtful things that other people say so that it teaches everyone else to think before they speak.

People learn more from the tv than most realize, and its important that every depiction is accurate as possible.

If Grey's wants to have their characters multiracially adopt, then I hope they don't make it appear the way Madonna and Angelina Jolie do, where its all about trendiness and "do gooder, heart of gold" nonsense. If they are going to do it, I hope they tackle real issues that go with adopting someone of another race, and of adoption in general. But knowing this show, it probably will not address the issues because no show wants to address issues of race these days.

And what I meant by rash decision is that media makes it look like its easier than it really is. It gives the public false information and doesn't prepare them for the reality of what adoption is.

So far to date, the only adoption issue you'll ever see on tv is the issue of the kid realizing their parents are not their parents (because they never tackle transracial/cultural adoption).

Its good that you take the effort to immerse your child in their culture. But the reality, is not as many are willing to do so. They believe in the "love is enough" fallacy. Its even worse at times when it comes to biological parents and their biracial children since there are no required classes on dealing with racial issues.

Jay said...

hello.. what a great blog .. i was listen to mixed chick pod cast that how I found out about your blog ... keep up the great Job .. a new fellower

LT said...

Anon #1
It's true Webster and Diffrent Strokes had multiracial families, but in both of those cases the White families kind of inherited the Black kids. It wasn't a choice. Just a minor clarification.

I believe I read the same story about the Black family and White child. Thanks for your insight.

LED and Anon2
You both bring up some really good points that I think continue to rock the adoption world. As well as, as LED points out, White people birthing children of color. As a Black mom of biracial children, even I have to recognize that I have a learning curve to understand their real experience as biracial/bicultural children. I can't just raise them as Black children, like myself. I had to be open to the fact that there are parts of their existence that I've never experienced and never will BUT I am still responsible for preparing them for this world. Thank you both for your opinions on this topic. It's deep.

LT said...

Welcome to the Meltingpot and thanks for stopping by!

Ernessa T. Carter said...

Lily was adopted from Vietnam. If I remember right, China has some pretty strong prejudices against gays adopting children from their country.

I love MODERN FAMILY, but find this issue a bit touchy as well. I wonder why the two dads aren't doing more to celebrate Lily's culture or even arrange play dates with other Asian kids. And the fact that they always end up saying something racist to her Asian doctor seriously irks me to the point that I wonder if the show got notes, because while race came up a couple of times in the first season, it totally hasn't in the second.

That all said, I don't think it's a thing as much as a reflection of societal trends. The fact is that this country makes it very hard for infertiles, single mothers, and gay couples to adopt, even outside of their race. So many people are taking their money and adopting abroad. Often the kind of people who can drop $25,000 on an overseas adoption are successful in their chosen career, the kind of people you'd find writing for TV shows. Shonda Rhimes the exec. prod of Grey's is an adoptive mother. -- I think you actually mentioned yourself that the guy behind I LOVE MY HAIR on Sesame Street is an adoptive father. So I think this is why it's showing up on TV more and more, just like every other TV character seems to be struggling with infertility these days, whereas I'd have to really work to name a TV show from 10 years ago that covered this issue.

I think it's different from DIFFERENT STROKES, b/c that was based on what the writers felt to be an extraordinary situation, whereas the current crop of transracial adoptions are a reflection of a current societal trend. So I don't think it's a question of normalizing or trivializing. Right now this is a normal situation in America. Living in California, I don't even blink when I see a transracial family anymore.

Anonymous said...

Another example is from "Brothers & Sisters". The senator & Kitty, two of the most powerful & privileged people the tv world has ever seen, adopted a mixed black/asian baby. Interestingly, the mother was a medical resident who choose adoption over abortion. Remarkably, the child's race was never mentioned.