John Seabrook NPR Segment
Some of you may recall John Seabrook’s recent article that appeared in the New Yorker on adoption from Haiti. Well here’s a follow up to his story which appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air program. The story smacked of “saving children through adoption,” and labeling adult adoptee perspectives as “ungrateful/angry.”
Let’s talk about the host, Terry Gross, whose last name aptly describes how I was feeling after listening to her carelessly quip about saving children and the history of “baby-lifts” in international adoption.
But I think perhaps it’s the most maddening to hear John Seabrook, whose only expertise in adoption is the initial research he has done in thinking about his own life as an adoptive father of a Haitian adoptee, essentialize the entire history of international adoption. He systematically denies the social contexts of these countries at the time their adoption programs began, and from a very America-centric/imperialistic point of view, asserts that corruption occurs ONLY in “poor countries,” since they are more prone to be corrupted by their urge to make money…He later remarks almost smugly on how terrible it is that such a wonderful experience (allegedly for the adoptive parent and adoptee) comes out of such tragedy. I won’t get into it right now, since that could be a totally different post given the circumstances in Haiti, which he tries to acknowledge only to wipe out his own credibility by saying the latter.
He leads the listeners to believe that those adult adoptees making their mark either through film, book, etc. portray painful experiences (he omits questions of race) and that an adoptees’ seemingly “primal” pain can be cured by trips to ones birth country. As much as he compares adult adoptee experiences to mere “emotional baggage” he exposes his own hand as an adoptive father with relatively no understanding of race, what it means to parent a child of color, and how his “emotions” potentially drive his own opinions on the historical context of adoption. Seabrook goes on to describe how he hopes his daughter doesn’t grow up feeling angry about her circumstances…
Of course there is always a question about how well an adoptee is “Adapting,” using pathologized and over-essentialized language like “grieving, loss and trauma” to position his own child (who is supposedly the happiest child he has ever seen), in the percentile of adoptees who did not experience or WILL NOT experience such feelings in the past or later in life.
And, sadly he goes on about how when thinking about international adoption, he and his wife believed they had more of a connection with Haiti and how they felt they could represent Haitian culture to their daughter Rose more than perhaps adopting an African American baby or other baby of color. Again, this statement itself could be an entirely different post.
Overall, the segment left me feeling as though I was not allowed to socially critique adoption without becoming an “angry adoptee,” and that what I perceive to be my scholarly opinions (based on REAL research), are misleading since they are based on my “feelings.” The piece was totally misrepresentative of the WHOLE adoptee experience and it left me questioning how one with such little knowledge on adoption could be called on for a national radio program to discuss the history and alleged “merits” of international adoption. Would it be so hard to acknowledge that perhaps the best people to call on to discuss international adoption might just be, the one affected the most by it i.e. the adoptee? No. The media seems to prefer to turn to the perspectives of adoptive parents who can tie things off with pretty bows denying that there are huge problems with international adoption, policies, and that for every seemingly “happy ending” there is extreme tragedy when a birth family is broken whether it is through “voluntary” or “involuntary” circumstances.
If you care to listen to this cringe-worthy segment, please click the link below.