Staff Picks: Transracial Adoptions, From The Adoptee’s View
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We’ve been feeling reflective here at WEEKEND EDITION. And over the past few weeks we’ve been listening back to some of our favorite interviews from the past year. This week’s pick comes from out editor Jordana Hochman and producer Chris Benderev. They join me in the studio. Hi, guys.
JORDANA HOCHMAN, BYLINE: Hello.
CHRIS BENDEREV, BYLINE: Hey.
MARTIN: So what did you pick?
BENDEREV: So we picked a story we did about a year ago on trans-racial adoption which is when a parent adoptions a child of a different race.
HOCHMAN: The guy that we talked to – his name is Chad Goller-Sojourner. And he is an African-American writer who was adopted when he was a really young boy by white parents. We decided to talk to him because trans-racial adoption had popped into the news, and we wanted to explore what that personal experience was like with somebody who was intimately involved in it.
MARTIN: OK. Let’s take a listen to my conversation with Chad Goller-Sojourner. Here’s Chad telling his story.
CHAD GOLLER-SOJOURNER: One thing that is kind of unique to my situation, or being trans-racially adopted, is that my source of love and hate came from the same well. So my parents looked just like the same people who are calling me a bleep or a porch monkey and all this other stuff.
MARTIN: And that was hard to process. How did your parents respond when you went to them with those revelations?
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: So what happened for me is, like, every six months to a year something would happen. And I’d have a major breakdown and call my mother crying and unable to breathe of sorts. And she would arrive at the school. So I always knew that my mother and parents were in my corner, but it was still difficult to process because I didn’t see myself as they saw me. I mean, all my first experiences were white – my first friends, my family, my church, my faith. Don’t they know who I belong to? You know, for instance, shopping – I learned pretty early on that when people knew I was with this white lady that they treated me differently. So…
MARTIN: Your mom?
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: My mom. If I didn’t want to be followed or bothered I would make a connection with my mom. It kind of played out like this. We have very different tastes – mine are high-end, hers aren’t. So I would, like, hold up some outfit, like, hey, mom, can I get this? And be, like, no – she’d go, like, no.
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: Which let everybody within earshot know that I was with a white lady. And then suddenly it was like that privilege came back over me.
MARTIN: Your parents adopted you at a time, 1972 – The National Association of Black Social Workers declared that trans-racial adoption like yours was tantamount to cultural genocide. And there are still a lot of people out there who feel that the best option for children of a certain race is to be raised by parents who share that race – in particular for black children to be raised in black families. What do you think of that?
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: Well, OK. So here’s the part that always gets people upset. Part of my story is I was 13 months old, and according to the social workers in my file, I had already been passed over by two or three black families because they considered me too dark. So yes, I mean, I agree that perhaps a black home is probably best for a black kid, but, I mean, it wasn’t by accident that in 1972 a white couple from Washington state ended up with this black kid from Cleveland. They were not my first visitors.
MARTIN: It sounds like you had a loving relationship with your parents and family and siblings. Would you still recommend trans-racial adoption today? Do you think it’s a good idea?
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: I’m not opposed to it. I mean, it’s tough because, you know, as a parent you want to protect your child. But you also have to prepare your child for the world they’re entering into. And, you know, they were there for me, you know, in college when I was going through some issues surrounding self-hatred and kind of, you know, begin to take this descent into blackness and out of the whiteness. It was difficult because I realized all these privileges that I had I would have to start letting them go.
MARTIN: So what’s the solution? How do you prepare kids?
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: I don’t have, like, a check list. But if I did, it would sound something like this. If you don’t have any close friends or know people who look like your kid before you adopt a kid then why are you adopting that kid? So your child should not be your first black friend. You know? Where are you living? It’s interesting, you know, people cross the country for a job, but they won’t move two neighborhoods over so that their kid can go to a more diverse school. Somebody’s going to have to be uncomfortable. I don’t think it should be the parent. One of the things I think that was the hardest for me is I didn’t have any independent relationships with black people, especially adult black people, until I was an adult. I was 25 before I saw a black doctor. I think there’s a lot of things that people do that you can do – certainly you can do better than my parents did because they only had certain options.
MARTIN: When you were talking about shedding white privilege, you then used the phrase I started descending into blackness. What does that mean? And what did it mean for you?
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: Basically, you know, I began a journey. And for me it began with a new name. I added sojourner to my name, and I moved to New York City where, for the first time, I found my own reflection pleasing. So for instance, I didn’t have to, hey, I’m not the black guy you think I am. I used to say that in different ways. You know, I carried a picture of my family. I tucked it behind my driver’s license for years. Wherever the license went, the picture followed. Sometimes whispering and sometimes shouting, you know, I’m not the black man you think I am. And I stopped saying that.
MARTIN: How did your parents respond to that when you changed your name and started to assert a stronger black identity?
GOLLER-SOJOURNER: Yeah. There was no, you know, I was smart enough not to drop the Goller. I mean, you know, hey, mom and dad, I changed my name. Could you cut another check for school? You know? (Laughter). That – but they were very happy with that. And one thing – I’m part of the first wave – the 60s and the 70s so my parents had every single book, you know, in the library by a black author and black people. And so we were highly educated in that realm. But that only takes you so far. I mean, I learned to fall in love with myself and being black in my mid-20s to late-20s. And although it was a beautiful experience, it shouldn’t have taken 25 years to do that.
MARTIN: That was my conversation with Chad Goller-Sojourner about his experience as an African-American adopted by a white family. So Jordana and Chris, this is the piece that you selected out of this year that was really memorable to you. This is a story that generated a whole lot of public response, right?
HOCHMAN: Yes, it really did. And it wasn’t our first story on the topic of trans-racial adoption. A couple weeks before we aired our interview with Chad we had a conversation with a white woman about adopting African-American children, and we talked with her about what that experience was like.
MARTIN: And what happened after that interview, Chris?
BENDEREV: At that point we did get a lot of responses from trans-racial adoptees. They wanted to hear their perspective on-air. And I think at that point we started looking around for someone who could tell that experience well. And it ended up being Chad. When it I listen back to it, it just strikes me that he seems fair to both his parents and trans-racial adoptees who had a hard time like him. And maybe it shouldn’t be sort of eye-opening, but it was, when he said someone’s going to have to be uncomfortable. And when he had that line, and maybe it shouldn’t be your child. It just sort of seemed like a profound point.
MARTIN: Jordana Hochman is an editor at WEEKEND EDITION. Chris Benderev is one of our producers. Thanks so much for sharing your pick, you guys.