The Newest Addition to the Romney Family

Romney's tweet of grandson Kieran

My facebook feed was suffering from split-personality disorder yesterday as folks reacted to the newest addition to the Romney family.  Kieran James Romney was adopted by Mitt Romney's son Ben and daughter-in-law Andelynne. Kieran is Black.  The name Kieran means "little black one" or "little dark one."  Kieran is also a relatively common name for this generation of kids, and it certainly isn't meant to be a racial epithet. 

I'm stating the facts of which we can be sure.  No one but the Romneys know whether Ben and Andelynne Romney knew what "Kieran" means when they chose the name.  Tho it does strike me as an odd coincidence.  If they had no idea what the name meant, then God indeed has a wicked sense of humour. 

Other people were more certain, however.  Some took it as further evidence of Romney's racism.  Others were just as certain that race was not an issue here and that liberals were just using silly reasons to attack the Romneys.  As one friend put it, "Unless there's a rational basis for believing the parents are unfit, the appropriate response to news of an adoption is 'Congratulations.'"

The problem is that we're focused on the name and whether the Romneys chose it intentionally - intentionally named their African American son "little dark one" - and if so, why.  But I don't need to know whether or not they chose the name intentionally to know that I am troubled by the adoption, and my heart cannot offer congratulations. I hope to God that my fears are unfounded but I am worried for the well-being of this child.

The same friend asked me whether my concern was due to the fact that the parents are Mormons or Romneys.  And I said neither. I said my concern was due to the fact that they are U.S.Americans.  He was probably a little stunned by this answer.  If the statement is taken without qualification it sounds like I'm against all trans-racial adoptions.  And I'm not.  I have friends who have adopted children of a race different from theirs and I've seen them dedicate themselves to raising beautiful, healthy, happy children.  How can anyone possibly be against that?  Not I.  But given a forced choice, I did not think it was accurate to focus concern only on Mormons or the Romneys, so I pointed to the component that I thought was missing.

In truth, my concern for Kieran Romney is additive - it includes all of the above.  I'm a little concerned whenever a U.S.American family adopts cross-racially, because there are going to be differences in identity between parent and child, and if the parents aren't aware of that it will cause problems for the child.  And I am more concerned whenever a white U.S.American family adopts cross-racially, because, frankly, in my experience white Americans are less likely to recognize racial identity as being important (in a positive way), more likely to claim they are "colorblind."  And I'm even more concerned when a conservative white family adopts cross-racially, especially if they are religious conservatives, because, well there is that whole "save the souls of the heathens" thing and for some reason they seem to focus on "heathens" of color.  And finally, yes, I am even more concerned than all that when a Romney family adopts cross-racially.  Because we've already seen how Mitt Romney responds to issues of race. And unless his son and daughter-in-law are substantally different from Grandpa Romney, and I've never read any indication that they are (different), everything adds up to me being worried for the well-being of this child. 

Let me start by stating clearly that I personally do not believe that Ben and Andelynne Romney adopted for sinister reasons. I believe that the Romney's adopted in good faith for the same reason as most adoptive parents, because they wanted a(nother) child whom they can love and cherish.  So the second-worst case scenario is that the Romneys love the child but still hold implicit negative assumptions about Black folks that then get transmitted to the child, damaging his self-esteem.  Why do I assume that they hold implicit negative assumptions when I just said that I believe they adopted in good faith?  Because nearly everyone holds them, especially against Blacks, even those who rail against racism (because they think "racism" means conscious bigotry).  Even so-called liberals who look upon children of color as kids to be "rescued" from their circumstances perpetuate a racial hierarchy.  But lets's asume that  Mitt Romney's son and daughter-in-law are different from their dad and hold no racial biases. The best case scenario that I can imagine then is that they attempt to be "colorblind" and treat him as if there were no difference, which is problematic for reasons I'll give below.

Of course there is a scenario better than that - one where parents are aware of the different experiences that their children of color will face, and make an effort to learn how to talk with their kids about it, and to establish relationships with folks of color who can help mentor the child. As I said, I have friends who've raised happy, healthy children of a race different than their own.  But I do not believe that Ben and Andelynne will be able to do that for their son, Kieran. Why, you may ask, am I being so obstinately negative about the future prospects for this child? 

Well first of all, I didn't just start off assuming negative things about trans-racial adoptions.  In fact, just the opposite, I assumed that everything was fine until I actually listened to the stories of people who were trans-racially adopted.  And secondly, because even under the best case scenario that I can imagine for Kieran, where the Romneys nurture him and love him unconditionally... Who is going to warn him about the police and "driving while Black" and how he should keep his hands visible at all times and even then he might get shot?  Who is going to explain to him what other white folks mean when they compliment him on being "articulate?  Or what other African Americans will mean when they call him an "oreo" and say that he "doesn't act black enough"?  (Because after being raised by the Romneys, you can be sure that he'll be culturally white regardless of skin color.)  Who is going to explain to him double-consciousness and code-switching?  Can you imagine the Romneys doing that?  Because I sure can't. 

Forum Activity

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 08:11
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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative