When I first saw that Jada Pinkett Smith had created a Facebook series, Red Table Talk, I was intrigued. I’ve liked Pinkett Smith as an actor, and the idea of three generations of women talking about varying topics seemed interesting. I watched a couple episodes and found them entertaining, if not very deep. However, I was beyond upset that a recent episode focused on transracial adoption featured a white adoptive parent celebrity. Normally my frustration would have been simply based on how once again, the narrative around controversies related to transracial adoption focused solely on the white adoptive parent. But in this case, I was angry because I had background knowledge that someone I know, someone who is a black transracial adoptee well known in the adoption community, had been in talks with the RTT producers and was dropped only a couple of days before the episode was to be filmed. In other words, not only did they privilege the white adoptive parent, they did so because the producers told the TRA that they didn’t think their status was important enough to get the ratings they were seeking.
At least they were honest about it. Those of us who have some media experience know that when it comes to mainstream media, it’s less about getting to the breadth and heart of an experience and more about what’s going to get ratings, and stories about how white adoptive parents are saviors and rescuers and humanitarians are always the stories that seem to get ratings.
Red Table Talk missed the opportunity to really expand on the issues around transracial adoption but instead only reproduced the same, tired, old perspectives. I mean, sure – why not include an actor who is not only a transracially adoptive parent but played one on tv? That hasn’t been done to death already. And it’s not entirely Hollywood’s fault, since this is what the public demands. We need to do better. Right now as a society we care more about celebrity status and public personalities. I shouldn’t have been surprised with the outcome of RTT. They just produced the same old story that everyone wants to hear. Rather than a transracial adoptee dropping some knowledge, they chose a white adoptive celebrity parent’s tears about the racism their children experience. I’m not opposed to this story, but it’s the ONLY story that Hollywood and mainstream media seems to care about. There are so many more stories out there – and not just the adoptee’s story. What about the family of origin? And not only the birth/first mother who, if mentioned, is typically framed as brave/courageous/doing what’s “best” for her child? What about fathers, and grandparents, and siblings and the rest of the extended family of origin?
This is why I encourage adoptees and families of adoption loss to create and produce their own media, blogs, podcasts, shows, plays, books, and music – we simply can’t rely on mainstream media to get it right. If you are an adoptee or family of origin member and you’ve got a book, blog, podcast, show, play, book, media and/or music or other showcase for your perspective, feel free to add it to the comments. Let’s support more voices of those impacted by adoption.