“Gagging” Over Transracial Families?

A few days ago, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen triggered a firestorm of scorn and outrage when he wrote the following about New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s family:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

Did he really mean that it was “conventional” to suppress a “gag reflex” in the presence of an interracial family? When I read the piece, my first thought was that he simply expressed himself poorly. Cohen’s no racist, and surely he didn’t mean what he wrote. When one writes hundreds of thousands of words over the course of a career, sometimes one writes something stupid, and sometimes that stupid comment even leaks through editors. So rather than scream for his head, let’s just read his body of work and grant him a bit of grace.

Sure enough, almost immediately Cohen clarified:

“I don’t understand it,” said the columnist, who lives in New York City. “What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people. I don’t have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage. In fact, I exult in them. It’s a slander” to suggest otherwise. “This is just below the belt. It’s a purposeful misreading of what I wrote.”

Wait. What?

So, Mr. Cohen, you’re not a racist, but the “extreme right-wing Republican tea party people” are?

I’m a lawyer for the Tea Party. In fact, I (along with my ACLJ colleagues) represent 41 tea-party and other conservative groups in 22 states as we sue the IRS in response to its systematic targeting of conservative groups. Arguably, it would be tough to find a conservative litigator who represents and works with more tea-party groups. In other words, I’m “right-wing.” Even worse, I’m Evangelical right-wing.

Oh, and my family is interracial.

In 2010 we adopted Naomi, our beautiful youngest daughter. She’s from Ethiopia.

For those who have not adopted, it’s difficult to fully communicate the immediate intensity of the connection. I remember looking at her sleeping in her crib the night we arrived back in America and feeling indescribably blessed — the same feeling I had with our older, biological kids (just with more jet lag). And she is one incredible, joy-filled little girl. We grow more thankful for Naomi every day. She is the light of our lives, and we pray every night for the strength and wisdom to be the parents God intends for us to be.

And we include her in almost everything we do. We’ve taken her with us to CPAC, she’s met Mitt Romneyshe’s been to my wife’s book-signings with Bristol Palin, and she was right up there with us on stage when I was honored to receive the American Conservative Union’s Ronald Reagan Award.

The response? Love and acceptance. In fact, within the conservative movement, we’re not unusual at all. Interracial adoption is so common within the Evangelical community, it’s triggered a bizarre backlash from the Left. In my own (quite conservative) church, adoption has transformed a historically-white congregation into a veritable rainbow coalition.

What about the response from the left? Well, we were audited (along with roughly 70 percent of other adoptive families) by the Obama administration’s radical IRS, and we’ve been subjected to vile comments online, hateful private messages, and crazy in-person statements from self-described progressives who believe that white Christians can’t be trusted to raise a black child. I detail some of these incidentshere, and the frequency of the comments caused my wife to write her own defiant statement. Here’s the bottom line:

During years of activism prior to adoption, no one questioned our suitability to raise our biological children. But we treat Naomi exactly the way we treat Camille and Austin [our biological children] and we get hateful messages claiming that we can’t raise her, threatening to call child protective services, and accusing us of actually adopting her as some kind of perverse trophy or symbol. Why do they single out Naomi? One reason: her race.

Of course not every liberal reacts this way to our family, and our liberal friends are every bit as loving and accepting as our conservative friends, but we’ve still experienced first-hand the fury the Left directs at those who don’t follow its prescribed racial script.

In other words, Mr. Cohen, when it comes to racial intolerance and “gag reflexes” in the face of certain kinds of interracial families, look to your own allies — not the Tea Party. To defend yourself from slander, you’ve slandered us.

  • Zeke

    Sure, your family is interracial, but of course this is not the same as interracial marriage which is what Cohen caricatures. Survey Tea Partiers and liberals on the how they feel about interracial marriage – do you have any doubt that Tea Partiers will more critical?

    • cadranni

      Stuff a sock in it ;). Apparently you haven’t heard of Mia Love – a black VERY conservative woman in Utah who came close to unseating our only Democrat U.S. Representative, who has a white husband and biracial children. And yes, the Tea party loves her.

      • Zeke

        But of course one example of tolerance does not a survey make:

        • cadranni

          Nor does one survey in Mississippi represent the entire country.

          • Zeke

            No, but it’s certainly a better indication of the truth that a single story about a black conservative in Utah and the random comment “the Tea Party loves her”.

          • cadranni

            Yeah, because campaigning with Allen West ( a black former congressman and Tea Party leader) and receiving massive support from the national Tea Party organizations in her run for office, not to mention coming within 800 votes of unseating a well established incumbent in her first run for national office doesn’t have anything to do with how racist the Tea Party is.

          • cadranni

            Because after all, we all know how racist they are. MSNBC said so!

  • http://bastardette.blogspot.com Marley Greiner

    You fail to note that a lot of criticism of transracial adoption comes from transracial adoptees.

  • http://bastardette.blogspot.com Marley Greiner

    BTW, do you consider adoption reform and particularly the adoptee rights movement to be “leftwing?” Do you believe that adopted adults have a right to their own original birth certificates without restriction?

  • http://www.rozyhomemaker.blogspot.com/ Rozy

    When are we (the world community) going to grow up and realize that there is only one race and it is called the HUMAN RACE. Within which there are many variations of skin, hair and eye color, but underneath it all, we are the same race. And if you believe in God, we are all his children. Interesting that it is the “liberal left”, who generally don’t believe in God, that make trouble about interracial marriages and families.

  • Deborah Bee

    These days the people on the Right (Tea Party/Conservatives/GOP supporters, etc), repeat this phrase like a mantra:
    “If you’re calling me a racist, then that means I’m not one.”
    I suppose that replaces the tried and true:
    1) “I’m not a racist, but…”
    2) “I have black friends.”
    Mr. Cohen, seems to have walked out of the 1950s, and into our world. A world that he feels uncomfortable with.
    For so long we’ve seen black men with white women, that it became part of the norm. Now, there’s been a shift, more and more white men are marrying black women. That’s an idea that he himself cannot and will not grasp.
    His attitude reflects no change in the prejudice that we hear, see and read spewing from the Right. Views that are shared by the KKK (protect the white race, etc.). He would fit in perfectly at Fox News.