Mike Seate of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Doesn't Approve Of Your Family's Skin Color
Mike Seate has strong feelings about the proper racial makeup of your family.
That's hardly surprising in and of itself. There are plenty of people who have strong feelings about what some folks still call "race-mixing." Their views have fallen out of fashion, so they're mostly confined to writing poorly spelled screeds on web sites and marching in the occasional white-sheeted parade.
What makes Mike's views notable is that he's a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and it publishes his tripe.
See, Mike has concluded that international adoption is just about making a fashion statement, and that there is no reason to adopt some Asian kid. Mike has concluded that knows everything there is to know about adoption from watching a couple of movies.
As you may have realized by this point, Mike is a willfully ignorant ass.
Let's discuss just a few of the reasons Mike is an ass.
1. The "Latest Trend": What-I-See-Must-Be-A-Trend Journalism
There's a shallow and lazy school of journalism that I refer to as "trendoid." You see it regrettably often in the pages of everything from the New York Times to entertainment rags. It's essence is narcissism: the journalist, having noticed that some friends and acquaintances are doing a particular activity, or having noticed that activity portrayed on TV or in movies, concludes that there is a new major trend of doing that activity. The journalist savors his position at the center of the universe; what he perceives must be universal. Factual research into whether this activity is actually prevalent — or into whether the activity has actually been going on for years and the journalist has just been to wrapped up in herself to notice it — is not required, and would in fact detract from the breathless "OMG a trend!" tone of the piece.
(This is related to, but distinct from, the New York Times tradition of running pieces delivered in a Marlin-Perkins-hosting-Wild-Kingdom tone of safari-going fascination that some people are conservative. In New York! But I digress.)
Anyway, Seate's column is a prime example of this stew of self-centered and lazy ignorance. Seate concludes that adoption of Asian kids is the "latest fad" based on watching two movies. No, really.
In "Then She Found Me," Helen Hunt portrays a neurotic mess of a woman who screws up every relationship in her life and can't tell good men from rotten ones. Unable to conceive a child naturally, Hunt's character decides to reward herself with something guaranteed to make her character and the audience smile: a Chinese baby girl.
. . . .
One week later, I suffered through an afternoon screening of the glitzy handbag commercial cleverly disguised as a major motion picture known as "Sex and the City." In that one, Charlotte, one member of the quartet of ditzy, clothes-obsessed main characters, couldn't conceive a child naturally.
The solution? She adopts one of those adorable Chinese babies you've heard so much about — forcing viewers to spend much of the next 90 minutes of film watching these four screwed-up women as they screw up some kid who would be better off in a rice paddy 7,000 miles from any of them.
(The "rice paddy" line is a dead giveaway for Seate's views on Asians, by the way. Imagine, for a moment, if I wrote a column saying that white folks should not adopt African-American kids because "they'd be better off shooting hoops in some project.")
Naturally, Seate's got no data to back up his point that adopting Asian kids is the "latest fad." If he had been a journalist, rather than a piss-poor spleen-venter, he might have done some homework and realized that he's full of shit. International adoption by Americans has been trending up in the long term. But that's the long term — over 16 years. It's hard to make a credible argument that something that has been growing steadily since before Clinton was in office is either "the latest" or a "fad." Moreover, in the last couple of years the trend has been going the other direction. In 2006 and 2007 — the years that a reasonable person might look at to determine if something is, indeed, the latest fad — international adoptions in the U.S. dropped by a significant amount. Once again, it's had to argue that something is the "latest fad" if it had been going up steadily until the last two years and then began trending down.
No, what Mike Seate means is that it's the latest thing that's risen to his notice. But what does or does not rise to Mike Seate's notice is hardly a matter of public interest.
2. The "Fashionable" Slur: If I Can't Imagine Adopting An Asian Kid, You Must Be Doing It For Bad Reasons
Next up in the Mike Seate prejudiced idiocy hit parade, the increasingly popular "it's fashionable!" slur. Most international adoptive parents have heard this one at one point or another, either with a reference just that blunt or with a giggly comment about Brad and Angelina. Seate goes in full bore in the column:
Call me cynical, but since when did Asian children become "must have" fashion accessories for upper middle-class Americans?
Along with Calloway golf clubs and season tickets to football games, paying $30,000 to $40,000 to adopt an exotic baby is suddenly viewed as the most chic purchase this side of a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps.
If Mike Seate interviewed a single person who adopted internationally before writing that, I'll cut off my right nut with a spork. For people like Mike Seate, it's enough that they can't imagine adopting a foreign kid in general or an Asian kid in particular. They can't imagine embracing a radically different culture and loving a child who doesn't look like them. So they assume that only a person with base motives could possibly want to adopt a child from Asia. That's how someone like Mike Seate can call tens of thousands of Americans shallow and fashion-obsessed without meeting even one of them. Mike Seate doesn't know me. He doesn't know how my family reached the decision to adopt first from Korea and then from China. But Mike Seate wouldn't care. Once again, it's pure narcissism: If I don't know about it, and I can't grasp it, it can't be important.
Note that Seate is not content to classify parents he's never met or talked to. He classifies the babies as well:
That's a shame. Because if people really wanted to adopt children because of a desire to become parents, they'd just adopt babies, not fashion statements.
You see, Asian babies aren't real babies. At least not to Seate.
3. There Can't Be Any Reason, Because I Don't Know Any Reason
To a pretend "journalist" like Mike Seate, a fact doesn't exist unless he already knows it or unless he can learn it by watching whatever is on TV that day. In this case, Mike's abject ignorance is focused on American adoption. Mike isn't familiar with the reasons that people might adopt internationally, so they don't exist:
There is no, and let me repeat, no reason that any American family should be looking outside our own borders for kids to adopt when tens of thousands of American kids languish in foster care. Unless, of course, these families are only interested in Asian kids because A) it's what everybody else says to do, and B) they expect a quiet, studious child who will be a math whiz and excels at the cello.
(First, note again how gleefully Mike Seate trades in racism with his eager use of the cello-and-math stereotype. Sooner or later one must ask: does Mike Seate really care deeply about African-American kids in the U.S., or does he just have an issue with Asians?)
Once again, Mike doesn't bother to inquire or research. Some people reacting to his column have tried to educate him (and far more politely than he deserves, but he responds with contempt, calling their explanations "dubious" and characterizing their responses as "weeping and wailing." He blusters that people have to pay "tens of thousands in bribes to be paid to Chinese officials" (there's Mike's attitudes towards Asians again) without any support. No support will be forthcoming — I didn't pay any bribes in China, let alone "tens of thousands." Mike's talking out of his ass — or, more appropriately, out of his spleen.
Had Mike educated himself — had he interviewed even one set of adoptive parents — and had he been capable of considering the answers fairly, here are some of the reasons for adopting internationally that he might have heard about:
- Cultural Affinity: We know many families in which one or both parent is Asian. We even know some in which one of the parents was an Asian adoptee himself or herself. International adoption is a way for these families to connect with their birth cultures. Many such parents have the joy of passing along cultural elements like language, history, literature, food, and celebrations to their children, ensuring that they learn about their birth culture. Indeed, many white parents feel a deep connection to Asian culture. But somehow, I don't think Mike Seate was thinking about Asian parents.
- Youth: At least in some states and counties, you can't count on adopting an infant unless you go through the expensive and completely unpredictable domestic private adoption route. There's no telling whether or not you'll be matched with an infant through domestic public adoption. Many parents want to adopt an infant. They want to influence the child's earliest development, which can be crucial for healthy attachment. They want to experience parenthood as completely as possible. People like Mike Seate tend to begrudge them this; such people think that adoptive parents should just be happy with whatever they can get.
- Timing and Certainty: Right now adoption from many Asian countries is very slow. But there have been times when international adoption was the most prompt option. Our son came home within a year of our initial application. By contrast, domestic adoption (whether private or public) can be quick or can be slow — it's unpredictable. Similarly, for qualified couples, international adoption is as close to a sure thing as you can get — there may be bumps in the road, but if you meet the criteria, it's going to happen. By contrast, there are simply no guarantees in domestic adoption.
- Change of Mind and Heartbreak: In international adoption, parental rights have been terminated before the baby is placed with the adoptive parents. (There are legitimate concerns about how this is done in some countries, and debates about the ethics of the process, but that does not appear to be Seate's concern). Once you get the baby, the baby isn't (save in the most extreme cases involving unreliable agencies) going to be taken back. There's no such guarantee for domestic adoption in the American legal system. In private adoptions, mothers routinely change their mind after giving birth — it's happened to two different couples I know. In public adoptions, some states allow late-coming changes of mind by parents, and previously unidentified fathers can come out of the woodwork claiming rights. It's a risk, and one that many parents are simply not willing to take — particularly when parents have arrived at adoption through the hellishly uncertain and disappointing process of fertility treatment.
- Hostility Towards Some Transracial Adoption: Mike Seate's column demonstrates the cultural catch-22 that white adoptive parents face: if you don't adopt an African-American baby, people like Mike Seate will call you a shallow racist, and if you do, other people will accuse you of cultural genocide. Until relatively recently the National Association of Black Social Workers took the official position that white adoption of African-American children was cultural genocide and decried it in the harshest terms possible. This issue was much in the news just last month (although not, apparently, enough to penetrate Mike Seale's consciousness) when various social worker groups renewed calls for race-consciousness in adoption placement in the wake of a study claiming that black children suffer because adoption agencies can't force whites to take classes on how to raise them properly. The issue was also the source of much controversy in the 1990s, when Congress passed laws requiring race-neutrality in adoption placements over the vigorous dissent of many social worker groups (again, a debate and issue of national prominence that apparently when unnoticed by "journalist" Mike Seate. ) I know that I could love any child regardless of the color of that child's skin. But like many other adoptive parents, I find the decades-old consistent hostility towards transracial adoption expressed by prominent social worker groups to be chilling. Those are the people who will be evaluating my suitability as a parent, evaluating how a child is doing in my custody, recommending whether or not I should be allowed to adopt the child. It's a major deterrent to white adoption of African-American children. Now, Mike Seate isn't responsible for all of that simply because he is African-American. But he's responsible for being ignorant of it when he shoots off his mouth about white adoption of African-American kids.
- Cultural Resources: Though I disagree with the groups that say that whites shouldn't adopt African-Americans as bright-line rule, I agree with them on one point: adoptive parents have a moral obligation not to ignore their kids' ethnicity, and an obligation to expose them to their birth culture and to equip them with resources for dealing with how America will treat them based on the color of their skin. Many parents, like me, feel better equipped to do this for Asian kids than for African-American kids. I live in a neighborhood with a very sizable Asian community; at my son's school, nearly 40% of the class is Korean like him. There are two Korean groceries in walking distance, places to take Korean language lessons, and Korean churches. There's a wealth of Chinese resources for my youngest daughter. And because of the places we grew up, the schools we went to, and the places we work, we have more Asian friends (potential role models and confidants for the kids) than African-American ones. It would be far more difficult for me to raise an African-American child responsibly — that is, not to simply pretend the kid was white. i simply don't have the same resources.
These are just a few of the reasons, and just off of the top of my head. Other adoptive parents could name many others. But Mike Seate doesn't care.
4. Only American Kids Have Genuine Need
Seate's angry because there are kids in the American foster care system who need homes:
Never mind that thousands of babies of other races — most of them black — go without foster homes and adoptions here and elsewhere in this country every year. It doesn't cost tens of thousands of dollars to adopt a black, Latino or mixed-race child.
Seate's right, there are kids in need here. But Seate is proceeding from a hidden yet familiar premise: only American kids are needy in a way we should care about. This is a variation on a nationalistic theme we heard after the terrible Asian tsunami a few years back; many expressed anger that people and governments were sending money to foreigners instead of using it here.
People are people. The world is a better place when a child has a home, no matter what that child's skin color or where she was born. Asian kids aren't somehow racially better suited to orphanages than African-Americans. They're humans. They have feelings like anyone else. The view of Seate and his ilk that some kids should be first in line as a matter of right because they're American is obnoxious. "America first" is an ethos — but it's not the only one.
By the way, there's something else utterly banal and typical about Seate's views on adoptive parents duty:
I have no children of my own, but . . . .
Yep. Seate feels free to mouth off about how badly African-American kids need parents, and to lecture adoptive parents about their moral obligations to choose kids of the correct skin color. But he doesn't walk the walk. Seate seems to have a steady job as a columnist, at least until the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review realizes what an ignorant racist dick he is (assuming they would care). He could adopt one of these needy kids. But does he? No. Like so many who criticize others for not adopting from the foster care system, he's all about talk. No doubt he thinks that pontificating on the issue is his contribution.
Increasingly I have very low expectations for the media. By being so transparently racist and willfully ignorant, Mike Seate manages to fall short of even those. Mike Seate, you fail at journalism and at life.
Edited to add:
Seate is following a pattern typical of columnists who like to write racist crap: (1) write something offensive, (2) wait for responses — some angry, some profane, some reasonable — to flood in, (3) cherry-pick the most profane or ignorant or racist responses, and (4) selectively quote those responses to represent the whole, and don the martyr's garb. "Oh, poor me — how unfairly these people are treating me!" Seate's doing that right now. He's big on accusing adoptive parents of racism — based on selective quotation of a few of many responses his bigoted column drew — but because he's a coward, he'll never address his own racism, embodied in his fondness for quips like the rice paddy reference. What a loser.
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