Skip to main content

Why Romney adoption jokes hurt

By April Dinwoodie
updated 7:27 PM EST, Tue December 31, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • April Dinwoodie: MSNBC panel's flip jokes about Mitt Romney's grandchild were thoughtless
  • She is a transracial adoptee and says such adoptions have scant guidance or support
  • She says MSNBC jokes hurt and don't help adoptees already facing identity issues
  • Dinwoodie: Transracial adoptive families need preparation and media should be sensitive

Editor's note: April Dinwoodie is chief executive of The Donaldson Adoption Institute and a transracial adoptee. Her workshop, "What My White Parents Did Not Know and Why I Turned Out OK Anyway," helps parents understand what it means to become a multiracial and multicultural family.

(CNN) -- Yet again, politics and race got mixed up together today, and this time with an added bonus -- adoption.

In a segment on her MSNBC show, host Melissa Harris-Perry highlighted Mitt Romney's family photo, in which the former GOP presidential candidate held his newly adopted African-American grandson on his knee. She encouraged her panel to "caption that" picture. What followed was unfortunate, thoughtless commentary from the panel. (One of the panelists, Dean Obeidallah, appears on CNN shows and writes op-eds for CNN.com.)

The exchange was a cold reminder of us of just how easy it is to flippantly do harm, and also of the dearth of understanding and sensitivity surrounding race and adoption

I am a transracial adoptee and advocate for children and families, so the complexities of race and adoption resonate on a personal level. I see myself in that Romney family photo.

I was adopted from foster care when I was about 8 months old. My white parents recall that during the adoption process, there was little conversation about race or what it meant to have a baby of another race enter the family. The "non-identifying" adoption records I received as an adult articulated the agency's noncommittal stance on my race and noted that there was a birthmark present that "could indicate" I was of mixed race.

April Dinwoodie
April Dinwoodie

With the reality that race was not something that was going to be discussed, how could anyone expect me or my family to know how to deal with issues of race and adoption? There was little to no education, so we were left to our own devices. When people did and said insensitive and cruel things, my sturdy New England parents simply loved me and cared for me the very best they could.

According to a 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents, about 40% of adoptions in America are transracial (most are international adoptions) and that number is growing.

Most transracial adoptions are with white adoptive parents. While there is a strong sense of community support surrounding many intercountry adoptions -- such as from South Korea and China -- black and white adoptions tends to be more polarizing.

Thankfully, more resources are available today than during my 1971 adoption. Families can proactively seek out books, online help and support groups to be more in tune with the needs of their adopted children.

But they have to be self-starters because transracial adoption is poorly studied and not tracked appropriately. What's lacking are longitudinal studies that focus on the transracial adoption experience. Without these, it's difficult to create and target additional programs and support systems, indeed to even make the case that they are needed. While to many, research that would yield such information would be useful and important, it seems to fall low on the funding priority list.

Because of this, available data is old, limited and often inconsistent. This might also have something to do with issues of class, race and history that for many attend the idea of white parents adopting black and brown babies.

MSNBC pokes fun at Romney family photo

Today there is no set national standard for training pre-adoptive parents that want to adopt a child of another race. Some agencies make it their mission to do as much as they can to prepare families, while others simply do not include differences in race and what that means to a family as part of their training.

Against this backdrop, the misbegotten MSNBC jokes hurt. They don't help. They are another reminder that adoptive families need to be always at the ready to support their children on matters of race and adoption. White parents will never fully understand what it means to be black or brown, but they can and should do their best to support their children.

And they should have help: Even the best adoptions managed by well-trained practitioners should offer robust post-adoption services and education that includes the language and tools to help adopted children as they grow and develop. When someone says or does something careless, the people that should know how to comfort the adopted person should not be at a loss.

I remember in my white neighborhood that people during the summer would ask me if I was a "fresh air" child. While I did not understand it, I got the distinct impression that I did not belong where I was for some strange reason. And kids in my school would throw out barbs such as "at least I know who my real parents are."

So often, the thoughtlessness and carelessness of others results in deep pain for adoptees, who are already faced with navigating a life-ong search for identity that begins with losing their original family.

I can't help but feel for innocent little Kieran Romney as he is singled out at the very beginning of his adoption journey. When transracial adoption is mocked, it only works to undermine the foundation adoptees and adoptive families are trying to build. One hopes Kieran's parents received guidance before adopting him on the challenges they could face.

Insensitivity, ignorance and intolerance will fuel negative comments. The answer is to better to prepare and educate adoptive parents, practitioners, educators and the media to the sensitivities of adoption and race. Transracially adoption children should be protected and empowered, not singled out and mocked.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of April Dinwoodie.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT