Romney, Perry & the politics of transracial adoption

Melissa Harris-Perry's insult to Mitt Romney's grandson contoversy also opened opportunity to discuss unspoken issues related to transracial adoption Photo: (Mitt Romney via Twitter)

WASHINGTON, January 8, 2014 — Adoption and politics became an issue last week during Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC political panel show. During one segment, Perry showed a Romney family Christmas photo, which featured the former Massachusetts governor holding his youngest grandson, Kieran Romney.

“One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t the same,” one of Perry’s panelists, Pia Glenn, sang about Kieran who is the black adopted child of Romney’s son Ben and his wife Andelyn. “And that little baby, front and center, would be the one.”

Following the quip, Perry chimed in, “My goal is that in 2040, the biggest thing of the year will be the wedding between Kieran Romney and North West. Can you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?”

At the end of the segment Harris Perry teased the panel’s next topic: a year in review of “Is that racist?”

Many called the jokes racist and insensitive. Children should be off limits when it comes to political jokes. Perry later apologized on air and Romney accepted the apology this Sunday on a Sunday show on Fox.

However, the controversy illustrates the politics of transracial adoptions.

For example, black babies are less valued than white babies, monetarily that is, in terms of the administrative costs associated to adopt them.

Last summer, one article in NPR’s The Race Card Project series, “Six Words: Black Babies Cost less to Adopt,” dug into the disparity in the adoption process, noting that black babies are the cheapest. The segment featured Minneapolis mother Caryn Lantz who discovered that the total administrative cost to adopt a white baby was $35,000, but black babies were available abundantly at heavy discounted rates of $18, 000. They could get a biracial baby for $24,000. 

Lantz learned that the process for adopting biracial, Latino, Asian or Caucasian child was slower than adopting black children because more parents wanted them. American Adoption Online claims it could take as little as 6 weeks to adopt a black baby.

Given that Lantz struggled with fertility before deciding to go the adoption route, it was a no brainer. She and her husband adopted two African American children.

 The Atlantic did a follow up response article which largely objected to a dollar value assigned to children based on race. But that piece and other previous also included some background clues to why this is so:

  • Blacks were less likely to adopt, and the theory of supply and demand applies. There is an ample inventory of black women giving up their babies for adoption or black babies in the foster care system, approximately half of all children in Foster care.
  • Caucasians, like the Romneys,  are more likely to prefer a baby that shares their same race or close to it rather than a child from another race.
  • Blacks tend to adopt within their own families.
  • There is a negative perception about the backgrounds of the black babies who are up for adoption. A  Michigan study showed that adopting parents believed that white “children came from ‘better stock’ with ‘greater moral fiber’ than children placed in the US who are predominantly black.
  • A 1997 Princeton Survey report noted that 69% of black Americans preferred a teen raise a baby herself than go the adoption route, revealing an overall general cultural attitude against the adoption process.

There are varying opinions about transracial adoption.  The underlying jab at the Romneys adopted child speaks to the perception among some in the African American community that a black baby is better placed in a home with a black family that can teach him about his culture, as was expressed by some of the comments to a recent piece in For Harriet Blog.

The adoption process is emotional and those who endeavor to adopt a child do not do so lightly and without thorough forethought and consideration. But recent events bring light to the fact that doption is also very much political.

If anything, the Romney-Perry controversy opens up an opportunity for dialogue on these matters. 


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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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