How to suppress discussions about transracial and transnational adoption

This post was inspired by two things – “How to suppress discussions of racism,” which I thought was brilliant, and the comments I’ve received (and other TRA bloggers have received) as well as arguements written in featured stories in papers such as The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, etc. These quotes are all actual things written by people towards those who critique the practices of transracial or international adoption.

"How to suppress discussions about transracial and transnational adoption"

1. Attack the person, not the argument:

A few key phrases will really help you attack the person, thus effectively diverting attention away from the critique. Accuse your opponent of being “maladjusted,” “paranoid,” “angry and/or bitter,” “whiny,” “ungrateful,” “over-reactive/dramatic,” or call them a “reverse racist.” For added bonus, suggest that your opponent needs therapy, question their intelligence (calling them an idiot) and assume they have a bad relationship with their parents and/or hate their parents.

Infantalize the adopted person (if they are the one offering the critique). If the person you are critiquing does not have children, it is really effective to tell them that they will understand your point of view “once they become a parent.” Be sure to emphasize that “nobody but a mother [or father] could know” and if you are close enough, pat them on the arm or hand while saying this. A similar tactic would be to use the “If you have adopted a child, then you’ve got a right to have an opinion about the nature of adoption in this country and the world. If not, then maybe you should think about it and stop criticizing.” Be sure to offer up a “Just because you’re adopted doesn’t make you an expert on adoption” while you’re at it.

Other successful ways of attacking your opponent is by using a special sub-category of the “reverse racist” arguments. It helps if you can share the one time in your life when you were “different” because then you’ll be able to show your opponents that you know what it’s like to be a “minority” and therefore, you know how these transracially adopted children will experience racism. These include the following popular phrases:

  • All your focus on race just proves that you’re the one who is racist!”
  • I don’t care if they’re black, white, purple, green or polka-dotted” because everyone knows that to discriminate against purple, green and polka-dotted children is just racist!
  • There’s only the human race – you’re the one who is racist for making distinctions!”

2. Misrepresent your opponent’s argument:

This is called the “straw man argument.” The most effective way to do this is to twist the argument around so it sounds as if your opponent is arguing in favor or against something other than the critique – especially if you quote them out of context. Common straw man arguments regarding transracial or international adoption are:

  • You think children are better off in orphanages” or “You think children are better off in foster care.” Extra credit if you use the words “languish” or “linger.
  • “You would rather deprive a child of a loving home.”
  • “So you think it would be better to have been aborted?”
  • “At least you’ve had the opportunity to get an education by being adopted. You couldn’t have made this argument if you’d lived in [insert backward, developing country of your choice here].
  • “If you lead a big movement to “send money to orphans,” then be prepared to watch how fast corrupt, third world countries use the money for anything but helping orphans they do not value and letting the orphans go hungry and unattended: (this quote also works as a tactic of Attack developing countries).

3. Deflect attention away from the specific criticism:

The best example of this is to over-generalize or use examples of people who defy the critique. It is also effective to bring in some mystical rhetoric, such as referring to destiny or fate. By all means, invoke Jesus if possible, because he is a good example of someone who was spiritually adopted.

The first category of deflective statements that work well are those that talk about families. “All we’re talking about is building families” and “All children deserve a loving family” are two great examples. If you can tie this in to mystical rhetoric, then it’s extra persuasive; an example would be "My daughter was destined to be part of our family, according to God’s plan."

Using a personal example helps too such as “I’m [a member of an oppressed group] and I’m not offended” and “My friend/partner/spouse is transracially/ internationally/ adopted and s/he is not offended.”

Making your opponent sound petty is an effective strategy. Try, “Why are you upset about how families are made when there are real issues in the world, like war/world hunger/AIDS/global warming . . .”

A very popular form of deflecting attention is to victimize adoptive parents. The way to use this method is to present all the hardships adoptive parents must go through to adopt. Among the items to list are how long it takes to adopt, how much money they spent, the invasiveness of the homestudy, and infertility issues.

Some people have effectively used the strategy of using “My biological family was so abusive/dysfunctional, I wish I’d been adopted.”

4. Attack developing countries and/or communities of color and first mothers:

This works so well that most stories in newspapers use a few of these statements. If you can add a personal story of the person in your office/next door/second cousin and how their adoption saved a child from infanticide in said developing country or saved a child from a crack-head mother, you’ll be extra persuasive. In addition the crack-head mother, using the argument that birth moms and dads can reclaim their children as a way to show how they don’t care about their children.

Some of the most useful phrases for your attack:

  • "[Insert country or ethnic community] don’t adopt; if more [Insert country or ethnic community] would adopt, then we wouldn’t need to have transracial/international adoption.
  • [Insert country or ethnic community] don’t take care of their own; therefore white people should adopt or else these kids would just languish in foster care or in orphanages.”
  • “It is unfortunate that [insert country or ethnic community here] is so biased against girls. Being adopted is the only way these girls can get educated and have a chance to have a good life.”
  • Children growing up in orphanages or foster care will have no future. They will end up being prostitutes or servants because of their low status in life. At least here in [insert dominant developed country of choice here] they’ll have a chance.

Of course, the most effective attack is simply to tell your opponent to "get over it.”

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

22 thoughts

  1. Yes, I realize people do try to skirt issues, especially those they are uncomfortable with. I also think that because people have different experiences, they will express differing opinions on subjects like racism, transracial adoption and so on.
    I think it’s perfectly valid to say that every child deserves a family. I think it’s perfectly valid to express your philosophy of believing in fate in terms of how you became a family (although I think this must be done with sensitivity to the adoptee and first family). I also think it’s perfectly valid to state that one’s personal experience with racism, as a minority individual, may not have been what another member of that minority has expressed.
    I’ve been trying to balance out the blogs that I read for this very reason. There is never just one way of looking at things. Some people have had awful experiences with transracial adoption, others have been more positive. Both are valid. I picked up a book recently called “In Their Own Voices” which, so far, has related much more positive experiences with transracial adoption than I have read thus far.

  2. This is such a great post. I really enjoyed reading
    “Scattered Seeds” in “Outsiders Within”. I just found
    the video, too!

  3. For those of us who are trying hard not to be these people, ouch.
    Your “Being an Ally” page points out that to be an ally, one has to “accept that others may stereotype you.” Please tell me this is an example of this, and that there’s hope for some of us.

  4. I have to admit I had the same reaction. That gee, stereotypes fly in all directions, don’t they?
    However, perhaps the best lesson I’ve learned as an a-parent has been the result of the experience of having so many strangers make assumptions about myself based on what they see. The hard part’s been aborbing that and considering its impact with humility.
    I appreciate with all my heart how sincere such writing as yours is. But I still find myself wishing it was more open. There is great irony in making such statements about our fellow human beings.

  5. I don’t see this list as a criticism or stereotyping anybody but as real life responses and sentiments from others. Even from people who have no ties to adoption. And why are hackles being raised? It’s just recycling the noise that adoptees hear over and over again in a neat bullet point format.

  6. Brilliant summary. For every time I have heard any of these dialogue killers you must have heard them a hundred times or more. I don’t know how you keep going but I am really glad you do.

  7. Hackles not raised, and I certainly mean no offense. I just do not see it as constructive.
    One could apply nearly all of these to statements made by both sides of any issue.
    Here you are discussing statements, which means of course ideas and not individuals. But it still applies to a particular group, right? Or perhaps that is me applying it to myself. 🙂
    It is all good and your writing is very important to me. Please don’t take this as anything other than stating how it made me feel.

  8. JR-
    A million thanks for sending the original “How to Suppress Discussions of Racism” post, and for creating your own TRA version — it is a MUCH needed antidote to all the oh-so-transparent rhetorical devices that TRAs and all us folks trying to think critically about adoption and kinship are constantly being bombarded with.
    I, too, find it interesting that whenever one levels a (dare I say right on point…?) critique, the very first/dominant reaction from those in power is, “We’re all just human — Why are you perpetuating hate?” In my view, truth is not the same thing as hate. Looking at the truth can sometimes be very ugly, especially when it’s your own face in the mirror. No one said that adult TRAs speaking our truths would be pretty for everyone. That’s not what the truth is for. Speaking truth is about seeing what’s really there, not what we WISH was there (which, for me, is what is at the heart of White Liberalism…”But I MEANT to do so much good!”). But then, I guess I’m allowed, socially, to be more vitriolic than you, my KAD sistas, since I am already just another Angry Black Woman anyway (the TRA stuff is just an added bonus)!
    Kisses to you, beautiful one — and keep on with your much-needed work and words!
    Your fan,

  9. In terms of racism charges, another popular phrase uttered by whites is: “You’re a racist for calling me a racist!”
    I’ve done alot of real life research and this is almost exclusive to whites. Who comes up with that busted logic?
    You’re a thief for calling me a thief!
    You’re a kidnapper for calling me a kidnapper!

  10. As always, I am surprised at some of the non-constructive criticism that your posts get… You open up the conversation about non-contructive way to stop conversation and what do you get? Do you sometimes feel as though you’re stuck in Catch 22?
    It is somewhat telltale that these quotes were automatically assumed to be ‘stereotyping of adoptive parents’ – doth protest much, no?

  11. Okay, this is a long one, sorry.
    I’m a white dude. I’m married to a white woman. We have two white boys. We are 1/2 way through adopting an Ethiopian girl. We are trying to be responsible. My sister was adopted and had major issues, partially due to my parents focus on treating us the “same”, they didn’t realize we had different issues… that she would have issues about both her adoption and her racial identity (she is half-white, half-Latino).
    Our main concern is how to make sure our daughter doesn’t end up “too white” for the black community to embrace, but, obviously, not black, and we all know that being black is no picnic.
    So, now I can say I’m liberal and we live in a mixed area in Los Angeles, and I have black friends and all the other bull that white people say to “justify” themselves. The fact of the matter is that I have seen racism (overt and soooo subtle it would kill you) in my “liberal” workplace in the entertainment industry… and as a white dude, I’m never gonna have to worry about that. Therefore I will never “know” what it is like to be black. Therefore I will never “know” what my daughter faces. SHE probably won’t even “know”, because people don’t say “do we want to go black with this project??” to people’s faces.
    I’ll be honest, many of these “conversation killers” have been thought by me (not the “blessed” ones and not the “destined” ones… don’t believe in predestination, divine or otherwise). I’ve never SAID any of them, as everyone I’ve spoken to has been cool, so far. That won’t be forever, I know.
    The reality is SOME of this DOES play into our choice for Ethiopia. I, personally, hate China’s political policies so much, I can’t see supporting their “one (male) child” policy, especially knowing that they only open up adoption to a portion of their orphaned population to “save face” internationally. Also, the AIDS crisis and America’s brutally stupid response to it played a major factor. And I AM involved politically and financially (as much as I can be, y’know)in supporting actions in stemming the crisis.
    So, here’s my question. This seems like a very smart blog with rational comments. How does a whiteboy like me raise a confident black woman?
    All responses very welcome.

  12. Harlow’s Monkey,
    Thanks for doing this post. I will remind myself of it to bite my tongue if tempted to blurt out one of the above spurious arguments. The sad irony for me, is that although I agree with just about every critique of transracial adoption I hear, I often have a visceral defensive reaction anyway. Probably because it feels like *my* beloved family is being threatened/questioned/delegitimized. Sigh. Thanks for bringing it all in focus like this.

  13. Definitely no hackles raised here!
    I’m seriously trying to understand what “Accept that others may stereotype you” means on the “Being an Ally” page. Stereotype me in positive terms? Negative? I truly don’t understand.
    Although this post doesn’t specifically call out adoptive parents, I’ve heard many of these comments from adoptive parents, verbally or in writing. It therefore struck me as a possible example of being stereotyped in the context of “being an ally.” I honestly want to understand what this means, because I’m taking it seriously.
    Sorry to have caused confusion, it wasn’t intended.

  14. The premise is “how to suppress discussion about transracial/national adoption”. An AP’s, first parent’s or invested third-party’s post might include other examples, but regardless of the specific examples, the points are dead-on.
    For productive discussion, each involved party must feel
    1) That they are not being attacked
    2) That their arguments are understood
    3) That their arguments are specifically addressed
    Without the examples, the points read as “yadda yadda yadda”. I don’t stop skimming long enough to “get it”. But with the examples, my mouth drops open, and I am forced to truly consider what an adopted person or first parent experiences when trying to put forth her own views on transracial/national adoption. It’s a great way to quickly assess whether my own arguments are productive contributions. It’s also a great tool to use in deciding whether or not to address others arguments. I *know* that the best response to non-productive arguments is to ignore them, but I still forget and try to chase the straw man all the way down the yellow brick road to Oz…

  15. I don’t get this post. The whole theme seems to be to find a way to mock people who support transracial adoption, and the arguments that they might make. Of all the people in the world who deserve mockery for one thing or another, why pick on people who are willing to open their homes and lives to someone of another race?

  16. God…here we go again… Seriously I have HAD ENOUGH OF THE IGNORANCE!!!!!
    Sometimes i think we should all just move into a private TRA commune under the sea. With the little mermaid and flounder. Maybe that dumb seagull can drop in from time to time, too. You know, the one with the fork aka dinglehopper. Hehe 🙂
    Or else we should just stop trying to make a difference by expressing our perspective as TRAs, women/men of color, etc. Because our words will be continually ripped apart, gutted, and flamed upon until we can’t even remember what we were trying to say in the first place.
    It’s the same old story, same old side-taking…And people are refusing to make the dialogue productive because of their own insecurities and defensiveness.
    Productive dialogue–yeah right…

  17. I am an adoptive parent. My biological son is mixed race and my adopted daughter is African African American like myself. I must be pretty shallow
    but many of the arguments seem valid to me. I guess
    I will have to think about the issue more. I
    am new to this sight and I got here from Rachel’s Tavern. Opposition to Transracial adoption is
    a new Idea to me. I would not call it racist however in every instance. I need to learn more.
    Great post!!! It is making me think.

  18. I just want to update readers to let you know that off blog, I have been in communication with Third Mom and we have agreed that some things were “lost in translation” regarding her comments on this post. I think there are a bunch of people who may think that we’re in some kind of arguement or something, but let me just say for the record that is not true.
    I think this speaks to the difficulty of dialogue on blogs via. comments. So often things get misinterpreted. Sometimes its hard to tell if someone is being sarcastic, mean, or just not sure. So, I think the first thing people do is jump to the conclusion that the person is being mean.
    I learn from everyone’s comments, even if I don’t often respond (actually, I rarely respond). I knew this post was going to get a lot of negative or questioning feedback and after tracing and following people’s url’s to their blogs or forums, it seems everyone thinks I’m being unfair and mean to adoptive parents. Even though, as I point out in the next post I wrote following this, it was not intended to be a diatribe against adoptive parents.
    All the points I was trying to make here – attacking people personally, using a straw man arguement, misrepresenting a person’s point of view, deflecting attention and attacking a country/community/first parents – are things that shut down communication with transracial and transnational adoptees.
    I have no doubt that adoptive parents surely have their own version of this post, by those opposing adoption. And I say “Go for it” if someone were to write their own post about how people shut down and suppress discussions with adoptive parents. It’s just not my job to do – I’m an adoptee. I represent my adoptee point of view. And not all adoptees will agree with me. We don’t all look same and we don’t all think same.
    My first and only priority on this blog is to write about what I’m thinking about regarding child welfare issues, and sometimes it’s less than flattering. And honestly, I was looking for dialogue with other adoptees. This blog was not created with adoptive parents as the intended audience. It’s not that I don’t care about adoptive parents views, but I’ve been hearing your side of the story for 38 years. I want to hear more from adoptees, and they don’t comment any more.
    Not everyone wants to hear what I have to say. I will be the first to admit I’m not much of a sentimentalist and I’m not going to put frosting on my critiques. So if it makes you mad, then don’t read my blog then. I’m not trying to be mean, but really – if you hate what I have to say, then why read it?
    I found out the hard way myself by reading a bunch of adoptive parent blog posts that made me mad, and I got into trouble by commenting negatively. It came from my defensiveness and lack of maturity. I wish I could take some of those things back, because most were said in the heat of the moment, but as we all should know by now, you can only delete things on your own blog. Once it’s out there on someone’s blog, you have to own those words.
    So some advice for those adoptive parents who want to engage and dialogue –
    Hateful and insulting comments aimed towards me will be deleted. Immediately.
    Having an anonymous name like “John Doe” or “For the Record” won’t make me take your comments seriously, since it’s just hiding.
    Otherwise, I mostly just publish comments, whether I agree with them or not.
    For now, I’m going to continue with this formula, but I might disable comments in the future. I think we’ll just see where it goes, but I wanted to let everyone know where things stand.
    For those who decide to stick around, thanks. I really do appreciate it. (See, I can be nice sometimes).

  19. Thank you, Jae Ran. Although my language skills are not always up to par, my intent if I comment on an adoptee blog is to learn, not to attack or demand explanation for any position raised.
    I completely agree with you that the statements in this post are real examples of the things that people say to squelch adoption dialog – my only disagreement would be that I WOULD apply most, if not all, of them to adoptive parents. I’ve heard almost all of them myself from other APs.
    I’d like to add one to the list – attack the language used, which could be considered another deflection technique. I saw it myself in a forum today in a comment from an adoptive parent to an adoptee. It worked like a charm, very sad to say. Saddest of all – the dialog would have opened eyes, it would have helped a group of adoptive parents see an adoptee’s world in an entirely different light. But they stopped it in its tracks instead. That is a real shame.
    Thanks again for clearing up the confusion, it means a lot to me.

  20. Jae Ran,
    First of all, I do not think for one minute that you
    were being mean.
    I am very concerned that by commenting I might be preventing adoptees from sharing here. For that, I am truly
    sorry. I can clearly see how adoptive parents might
    dominate the conversation, and we don’t even realize
    it! 🙂

  21. K, I found this part of your post a bit disturbing:
    “Our main concern is how to make sure our daughter doesn’t end up “too white” for the black community to embrace, but, obviously, not black, and we all know that being black is no picnic.”
    First of all, why is it obvious that you wouldn’t want your Ethiopian adopted daughter to be black? And second of all how would you even go about preventing her from being black?
    I think you should start thinking of how you will help her deal with the “no picnic” reality of being black instead of trying to prevent it altogether, because that is an impossibility.

  22. Awesome post. It really captured the dynamic that I, at least, have experienced first hand as a Latina trying to explain racism to others…
    Thanks again for the awesome post!

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