New York Times aka “the Adoption Police?”

Not everyone agrees with me that the New York Times post by Tama Janowitz was offensive. Some adoptees found it funny; I didn’t but I don’t speak as the representative of all adoptees.

But my big gripe is that when I and several other people I know went to comment, we were censored. I’m estimating that based on all the emails I’ve received that at least a good 20 people have not have their comments published and I’d guess it’s a lot more than that considering me and my compadres are a small little group of people over here. I have to wonder what the editors of the New York Times are afraid of. This is not the first time they’ve censored adult adoptees in their paper or online. I think that the bias here falls squarely on the shoulders of the editors – namely, one editor (whose sister had just adopted internationally) re-wrote an article that was published last year that was to have prominently featured adult TRA’s and reduced us down to one singular quote, despite a several-hours-long interview with six fairly well known adult transracial adoptees, two of whom work in the adoption field (and yes, I was one of them) – and now, with an adoptive parent as gatekeeper of the "Relative Choices" blog. 

And now, strangely, several of us have noticed that some comments are "appearing" out of order (and so my numbers following this are now going to be screwed up). I think maybe they’ve "reassessed" some previously withheld comments.

Anyhoo – I also noticed that none of these "new" comments were from the more than dozen adult Asian adoptees who contacted me, also saying their comments never made it online.

I’ve noticed a few adult adoptees were able to comment, and hmmm, some of these comments seem very similar to what people have shared with me. Especially #80 which I swear I didn’t see earlier (and it makes me wonder, as DIASL queried, whether it had been "added in" later):

While I can see the humor in this article, I can’t help but feel a bit offended by it too. As an adult adoptee from Korea, I find it offensive that you are essentially telling your daughter you rescued her from a stereotypically awful life in China. To an adult, maybe that’s humorous, but to a child that could be really hurtful and damaging to her self-esteem. Communicating the idea that she comes from an awful country and that she’s lucky to have been rescued by you is not helpful to the development of a positive self-image. I think a better approach in general would be to try to encourage your daughter to learn about the positive aspects of her birth country and telling her you adopted her because you wanted her to be your daughter, not out of pity, but out of love. Also, I think it’s a shame that you’re so quick to dismiss the “bitter complaining” of adult adoptees because after all, those are their own experiences and adoptive parents and the international adoption community in general could maybe learn from our experiences. Adoption agencies have certainly evolved from encouraging parents to make their children conform into mainstream culture to encouraging them to incorporate elements of their child’s birth culture so there must be something to the “angry adoptees’” complaints, no?

In any case, I’m glad that this series is running so that we can all engage in a discussion of adoption issues. And I certainly do appreciate the larger point of this article. Thanks for sharing your point of view with us.

So why this post and not the others? What were the reasons that comments from several adult adoptees and a few adoptive parents were thrown in the trash bin? I will admit right now that my comment was not as mature as these examples I’ve posted here. I responded on the snarky side since I was just following the tome of the original post (interesting that one famous author known for her sarcasm can dish out but can’t take it – maybe it was because I called her out on the term "Mongolian" as a dated descriptor?)

Despite my poor attempt at articulating in a more mature way, however, I’ve read what some of the other banned comments were and I am left scratching my head at why they were left out. Must have been the editor wanted to include more "high fives" for Ms. Janowitz and these lovely gems where we’re basically told to get over ourselves, like #66 who writes:

Tama, I have 3 little boys from another country who are my “real” (really adopted, I mean!) sons. Yeah, I’ve told them if they think I’m as nice, sweet and permissive — I mean, overlooking the drug addictions and alcoholism, that is — as their “real” mothers then I’m not doing my job very well and I need to toughen up! When they think I’m that nice, then I can be sure I’m heading in the wrong direction. [what a thoughtless and demeaning way to talk about your children’s first parents.]

The biggest belly laughs I get are from those well meaning, but misinformed helping professionals who lecture condescendingly about the correct attitude/answers for adoptive parents. [Yipes, I think she’s talking about people like moi!]

Or this one by #57:

I have never understood why they don’t appear to take into account that most of the problems they have are universal. [maybe it’s because last time I checked, losing your birth parents wasn’t something that every child in the world has experienced? In other words, this comment is telling us to "get over it."]

Or, as #82 scolded us:

I’d say to these adoptees be grateful to your loving parents, and consider adopting your kids as I have done. [There it is again, the G word.]

Thank goodness a few other voices were heard too.

Paula (#55) was one of the few that managed to get in:

To be honest, I’ve never understood the seemingly insatiable need that many fellow adoptive parents have to declare themselves the “real” mother or the “real” father. To invoke the familar litany of qualifications that supposedly make a person more “real” as a mother or father doesn’t make the argument any more convincing to me, but instead leaves me wondering “What are they so afraid of?”

When people ask me about our son’s “real” mother, I tell them that he has two moms, both of whom are real. Just because his Korean mother is unable to partake in the daily events and happenings of his life does not make her any less of a mother in our eyes. Honoring our son in his totality means recognizing and appreciating his entire history, which includes acknowledging that he is a child of two people who deserve to be called mother and father, without any qualifiers.

As a Korean adoptee myself, I’m appreciative that my mother and father were secure enough and wise enough to let me know that all four of my parents are very, very real and that I am who I am today because of each one of them.

And then there was Phil (#62) who wrote:

While it certainly is true that biology doesn’t guarantee a smooth, problem-free relationship between parents and children, there seems to be a certain unwillingness here to recognize that adoption brings with it unique challenges for all involved.

I’m struck by how few comments from adoptees are showing up here. [We tried, Phil, really we did!] As an adult adoptee, I have two real moms. Neither one gets any realer. Neither one loves me any less. And though the one that raised me and cared for me is my mom, that doesn’t mean I didn’t notice something missing in all of that. It isn’t because we didn’t bond. It’s because I was missing a piece of who I am.

Amidst all the jokes, I hope the loss your daughter has experienced isn’t forgotten.

So what would be your response to the NYT series, "Relative Choices"? Those of you who were censored, if you want to share your thoughts here, fill out the comments box.

I promise I won’t censor (- unless you threaten me!)

For more thoughts on this whole mess:

Here are some of the blogs who covered this:

Reading, Writing & Living

Heart, Mind & Seoul

A Birth Project


Twice the Rice

Sun Yung Shin

Outside In . . . and Back Again

According to Addie

Resist Racism

This Woman’s Work

Borrowed Notes

Angry Asian Man


Multiracial Sky

Third Mom here and here

Ungrateful Little Bastard



Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

19 thoughts

  1. Jae Ran,, a popular blog that’s basically a list of links that’s very well-read in new-media/online-journalism circles, picked up my recommendation of the Racialicious post, so hopefully that will lead to some wider, industry awareness of and questions about this comment moderation/withholding/censorship issue.

  2. I’ll stick my neck way out and state #57 is me.
    And I do know what it is like to be taken from your mother. I was forcibly taken from mine.
    I don’t expect anyone to get over anything. It isn’t about that. It is about understanding each other’s perspectives, and more so our own. I don’t know what a whole and stable childhood is like anymore than you do.
    I almost certainly had a less privileged, harder childhood that 100% of the Asians I have ever met. And I lived in Japan at one time. But I am white, and therefore not subject to understanding what struggle is?
    I think we have to try to let go of our anger – and trust me I have plenty of my own where my origins are concerned – and try to truly open up enough to understand everyone involved in this extremely complex life we find ourselves in.
    We can’t let anyone be “the enemy.”
    Coming to be a good parent to my Korean sons is going to take the rest of my life and it has and will mean going through exactly what that author is. How can it be any different? It isn’t about being right or wrong. I think it is simply about understanding.

  3. Ed, I in no way mean to diminish the experiences that you have, and I only have a very small understanding of your experience because I work with youth in foster care. But I would never assume that I know what you went through because I didn’t. Just like I would never say I know what it’s like to be the child of divorce, or to say that I know what it’s like to be abused.
    And I have friends who have been through all of these things – adoption, foster care, divorce and abuse.
    My critique is on the ideal that ALL kids have faced some “universal” experience of losing one’s parents. Not all children have. You have, I have, many of us have. But I just don’t think we can say that it is a “universal truth.”
    I think we (adoptees) are being blamed for being “not understanding.” Not understanding the adoptive parent’s view? Yet, reading Ms. Janowitz’s post and the subsequent comments – do you really truly in your heart feel that THEY were understanding?
    We already have to be the rainbow bridge, the infertile parent’s dream child, the object of God’s plan; do we really have to be the ones to always be told to be understanding?
    Frankly, I’d really like to see more adoptive parents be “understanding” towards us.

  4. Looking forward to reading more of the responses that haven’t been published yet.
    Thank you for your voice, Jae Ran. I hope all of our voices will be heard.

  5. As I admitted on Resist Racism: I didn’t read the article or the comments, just the awful quote posted on RR. How dare they allow Janowitz to diss your book based on second-hand defensive chit-chat in an AP group, and then they censor its very authors from commenting??? How incredibly disrespectful, not to mention unprofessional journalism from one of the most widely known and respected US publications. And this is why I don’t feel too bad about having an opinion without reading all her words–I really have read them, on too many AP forums already. She’s saying NOTHING original. Just infuriating.
    I hope some of you OW authors can pull an op ed together and get it published. They owe you that much after this.

  6. I was one of the people who was initially left off and then added back in (as of this morning, it was post #50, with a time stamp of when I initially submitted it although it didn’t appear until late in the day). Although I am an adoptee (domestic, inracial) and a researcher in race and adoption (albeit in literature, not social sciences), I chose not to identify myself that way in the post. I wonder if I would count as a dreaded “adoption professional”?! It’s interesting though maybe not surprising that I did eventually get in, while adoptees with more direct experience with these issues were overlooked.
    Has anyone considered raising the issue with the NyTimes “Public Editor”? I found the whole series has been strangely lacking in context. Who is in charge of it? How were the writers located? Why does “adoption”, in this venue, refer only (at least so far) to international adoptions of children from Asia? The term “adoption” casts such a wide and would love some explanation for such a one-dimensional treatment.

  7. I read about this last night both here and over at Racialicious and I bopped around a bit on the other blogs covering this. I’m really glad so many people came together to post about the NYT and their crappy commenting ‘policy’ (I’m not a big fan of mainstream media and things like this always reinforce my opinion!). I hope that lots of people clicked on the NYT’s Adoptee blogroll to find you, Jae Ran! Here’s what I would have commented to the NYT if a) I hadn’t had to go to work last night, b) I wasn’t stomping around the house and ranting about it to my SO, c) I’d been able to marshal my mature, non-ranty thoughts! So I wasn’t censored, but I suppose I may have been.
    I’m not a mother nor an adoptee but I hope I would be classified as an ally. So I guess have an ax to grind – some might just call this an opinion. Nevertheless, I fail to see how it’s enlightening or even funny to treat TRA as flippantly as Janowitz did in her piece. To reduce the issue of race down to the idea that all kids fight with and resent their parents (uh, DUH!) is asinine, not to mention missing the boat by about twenty nautical miles. And her opening paragraphs – about how having a mixed race family just isn’t a problem in her neighborhood – comes quite close to the whole “I am color blind! It doesn’t matter what race you are! It doesn’t matter what race my daughter is!” argument. I mean, maybe I’m just sensitive. But it seems like she all but said that her neighbors are polka-dotted with purple children. What I thought was enlightening was that she goes on to demonstrate exactly why the whole ‘color-blind’ idea is so incredibly false. And that’s because just as she’s claiming that race doesn’t matter among families in Brooklyn (this idea is so ludicrous I can’t even begin to touch it, for now I just suggest she read Michael Thomas’ novel Man Gone Down for some perspective), she demonstrates quite vile, stereotypical, ethnocentric, xenophobic, and yes, racist opinions about China. And to her *child* no less! Oh, I know, it’s a joke. She’s sarcastic. That’s her trademark. Well, a lamer defense there does not exist. It would almost be better if she admitted she was trying to hurt her daughter. Best would be if she just kept her mouth shut.
    So call me sensitive. Call me humorless. Ask me why I always play the race card. And I’ll tell you that it’s because as a woman of color I can’t be any other way. Because there remain people out there like Janowitz who likely claim, “But I’m not a racist!” loudly and repeatedly but continue to *be* racist and perpetuate frustrating, hurtful myths, opinions about TRA. And you expect me to stand silent in the face of this? Or to praise Janowitz for being a tough cookie? Not bloody likely.

  8. Another way to bring this attention to more media types is to try to bring it to Jim Romanesko at the Poynter Institute. He has a very influential blog on media matters. (
    Unfortunately, most items in the blog come from other media outlets. Perhaps a letter to the NYT Public Editor copied to Romanesko would raise his interest enough to post. His email is available from the blog web page.

  9. I read the atrocious Janowitz piece last night and considered commenting and didn’t. Now no more comments are being accepted.
    The sweat shop comment is one of the most ignorant remarks I’ve read in some time–especially coming from a so-called “liberal.” But then, I expect that. It’s the cousin of the famous, “Well send you back where you came from” tirade that many adopted persons were threatened with as children.
    Censorship, I believe, is an integral part of the “liberal media.” Adult adoptees who tried to debate records access on NPR’s Talk of the World yesterday were also censored–even cut off in mid-sentence. AdoptionLand increasingly reminds me of the great ’60s Phil Ochs song, Love Me, I’m a Liberal.
    I vote for the democtratic party
    They want the U.N. to be strong
    I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
    He sure gets me singing those songs
    I’ll send all the money you ask for
    But don’t ask me to come on along
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
    BTW, it was great to meet you at the ethics conference. I have yet to blog about that piece of work, though I will.

  10. I was one of the dissenting APs who sent in a comment yesterday morning that was not published (not that the moderator knew for certain that I was an AP – in my comment I didn’t identify my position in the triad), and who contacted JR.
    I didn’t keep a copy of my comment, but I can assure you it was reasonably well written, shorter than many of the published ones, and sans profanity or jabs at anyone.
    The gist of what I said was this: that my reaction to the piece was similar to commenter Lori A. and that I found Outsiders Within to be thoughtful and well written re: the complexities of transracial international adoption. I also said that at times the book was uncomfortable to read but that sometimes what we need to hear isn’t always easy to listen to. But I suspect that the real sinker was that I said I hoped I’d hear some responses from the authors whose works appeared in the book.
    And I still hope I will hear those responses in the paper – that is, if the NYT isn’t too chicken to let them speak on their pages…

  11. Are there any other APs blogging or talking about this? It seems like it hits too close to home for some, and so APs are afraid to come out and say that Tana is totally off base.
    Are APs forever going to be stuck at the basic level of unable-to-admit that transracial and transcultural adoptive families/relationships are complicated? Somehow we’ve got to reach the point where ‘different’ does not equate either better or worse.

  12. Hi,
    I was going to comment about Janowitz’s piece as soon as I saw it but didn’t have time that minute, this was right after the piece came out and I was already amazed by the comments posted praising this “wonderful piece” I am glad adult adoptees and aps did try to comment on this piece, and shame on the NY times for censoring. I am an AP of a 3 yo adopted from Korea, and I was so appalled by Janowitz’s comment about sweat shops. First off, she is teaching her daughter that she needs to feel indebted and greatful that she was “saved” which is just wrong. Secondly she is equating happiness with america, money and white priveledge, without considering that there are indeed happy people in China who have difficult lives but love their country and their lives. Again reinforcing some Americans ethnocentric views and further some APs views that their children should feel priveledged to be in America, without considering any of the losses they have incurred in the adoption process.

  13. As a New Yorker, I never thought of taking Tama Janowitz seriously — she’s not that clever and has always been on the trashy side of sassy. But I can see the point that criticism lies with the NYT for giving platforms to this writing.
    I think dry or provocative humor can be a great way to make a point, and it presumes an audience that “gets” that it is tongue in cheek or purposely outrageous. But that only works if humor doesn’t lose a humanistic, respectful core, or come unfairly at someone else’s expense. I think Dan Savage’s “The Kid” (which deals with adoption, but not race) is brilliant because it is funny, irreverent and sarcastic, but does not demean anyone in the adoption triad. Janowitz, by contrast, has a completely demeaning attitude towards her daughter and other adoptees’ concerns that gives it all a nasty edge. It’s fine if Janowitz wants to poke fun at herself and her own fears to raise some good points about parenting. And it’s fine to point out that kids can be bitchy and mean. But it’s cheap and disturbing to poke fun at her daughter, and by extension other adoptees, for voicing their very normal, and deeply sad, fears and losses over adoption.

  14. As an adoptive parent of two daughters from China, I have been reading the Relative Choice blog at the NY Times. Please notice that I’m also reading your blog as well.
    My husband had the same reaction to the Janowitz piece that you did. I actually knew Janowitz years ago in grad. school and thought that she was sort of a smart ass jerk then. I told him that apparently she had not changed very much.
    And how anyone could get a graduate degree in English and still talk about reality as a stable constant is beyond me.
    The tone of her whole piece was in poor taste.
    So keep on writing and posting and linking to other blogs. Janowitz is just one voice and you have many. Intelligent people really are listening to you, even if the NY Times isn’t.
    Feel free to block my post if it makes you feel any better!
    Jane Fisher

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