By Isaac Butler
Longtime readers of this blog probably remember that my family is formed through transracial adoption. My older brother and sister are both adopted and both black. My younger brother's son (that'd be my nephew) is also adopted, and is also black.
I was pretty shocked when Melissa Harris-Perry decided to do a segment on Mitt Romney's grandson (who is, like my older siblings and nephew, adopted and black). I was further shocked-- and, I'll admit it, hurt-- when I saw what felt like mockery of the Romney family for adopting a black child.
A couple of years ago, in response to a small-minded piece about transracial adoption by one of my favorite writers, I decided to write my own essay about the subject. It was the first time that I discovered that, unlike most political issues I care about, transracial adoption is one of the few areas where most of the people against it, most of the people who view it as controversial or wrong, are fellow travelers of mine on the left. It may in fact be the only issue I care about in which I've been routinely hurt by liberals and radical leftists, rather than conservatives.
And to some extent I understand-- and even sympathize with-- the controversy. There is an international history of white people stealing the children of black and native peoples. There is a history in this country of social services applying a double standard to white and black parents that results in more children being taken from the homes of African Americans. I'm not ignoring this. But antagonizing parents who seek to give a child a loving home and the families that result is still wrong.
Part of me feels that the biggest problem with Melissa Harris-Perry's segment about the Romneys is that it simply wasn't funny. She apparently meant to humorously celebrate the diversity in the family of the recent Republican standard-barer. But in the segment's clumsy construction, it certainly came across as mocking the family for the particularities of its make up, and was thus inappropriate and hurtful. Which was surprising to me, given the source, a talk show host I greatly respect and admire, a woman with a clear and obvious ethical center.
That's why I was so relieved to read Harris-Perry apologize so graciously, with such obvious integrity and care earlier this week. I don't ask that people never fuck up. I ask that they acknowledge it, apologize and try to do better in the future. Harris-Perry did not try to dodge the gap between her intent and its reception. She did not apologize if people "misinterpreted" her as so many have done in the past. She instead said, "whatever the intent, the segment proceeded in an inappropriate way that was offensive. Without reservation or qualification, I apologize to the Romney family and to all families built on loving transracial adoptions."
I saw nothing in that apology that made me think that Harris-Perry was disingenuous or that she harbors some animus against transracially adopted families. She herself comes from an interracial family, and I could see how having that kind of biography made the jokes seem okay. Lord knows, I've gotten in trouble in the past for thinking that the particularities of my background give me some kind of pass for behavior I should know better than to do.
This is why I stand with Melissa Harris-Perry. Not because she did nothing wrong. But because she recognized her mistake and swiftly apologized.
In the wake of the firing of Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin (firings that were, in my opinion, totally justifiable), it appears that Right Wing political operatives and media figures think it's open season at MSNBC and want to claim another trophy for their well appointed dens. Mitt Romney appears poised to milk this for everything it's worth, and given his record as an opportunist and lack of ability to convincingly portray any emotion other than anger, perhas I shouldn't be surprised.
I find this whole game odious, this fake offense-taking, this cheap point scoring, particularly on an issue that cuts so close to my particular bones. Melissa Harris-Perry has apologized. Twice. Only the first was really warranted, and now she's been forced to do it again. Meanwhile, Romney will get to resurface on Fox and crow as the wounded party. Using his adopted grandson as a prop to score political points is as if not much more odious than the original segment that got Harris-Perry in such trouble. It's time to wind this charade down already.
UPDATE: Coverage of the Mitt Romney segment on Fox News where, depending on your feelings about the man he either decently accepted MHP's apology or allowed Chris Wallace to be the stalking horse so he (Romney) could appear decent and reasonable here.