Laurie Toby Edison

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Framing and Being Framed

Laurie and Debbie say:

On Rachels Tavern, Rachel is writing about transracial adoption. She neatly outlines how transracial adoption stories are written, and then perfectly deconstructs the framing techniques. (See her article for an explanation of framing.)

1) love vs. race consciousness–The White adoptive family is viewed as loving, kind, and pseudo-colorblind. Black people are not even discussed in a family context. Individual African Americans are interviewed to give their professional opinion about whether or not race matters. When African Americans express reservations about the idea that love conquers all, they are viewed as indirectly attacking the love and commitment of the individual white families who transracially adopt.

2) black vs. white– One thing that is rather striking is that many of these articles is that they do not talk about all of the White families who adopt Chinese, Korean, or other east Asian children. These adoptions are framed as international adoptions, which is true, but they are also interracial. By the NYT’s own admission Euro-American families adopt Black children 1% of the time. Yes folks 1%, compared to 5% who adopt Asian children. Transracial usually means Black/White.

3) white savior vs. black nationalist–In many cases, the authors present the white adoptive parents saving the black child from some combination of “drug addiction,” “incarceration,” HIV, and/or impoverished mothers. (The NYT story is actually notable for not doing this.) Those who oppose transracial adoption or express concerns about its implementation are viewed as valuing racial solidarity over the well-being of children.

We don’t have a damn thing to add to Rachel’s article, but it got us thinking about how omnipresent this kind of framing is, and how hard it makes it to have real conversations about anything, or to learn about what’s really going on.

Laurie says that it’s the curse of being bilateral–if we had five limbs, or ten, we wouldn’t always be saying, literally as well as metaphorically, “on the one hand/on the other hand.” Duality is deeply implanted in the human psyche, and some level of it may be unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that we have to settle for simplistic either/or explanations. The ability to think in complex ways is one of the things that defines our humanity.

One thing Rachel does particularly well is offer alternative dualities. Instead of love vs. race consciousness, we can talk about love vs. the adoption industry. Or the difference between race consciousness and racism.

Examples of the kinds of framing Rachel is talking about turn up everywhere: the stories that prompted our recent post about transgender athletes all framed the story in terms of “real women” vs. transwomen, where it could have been framed as transwomen vs. men (actually a more interesting story), or as national records vs. international records, or (gasp!) as a not especially dualistic examination of the role of fluid gender identity in sports.

Virtually all newspaper articles are framed in ways that are comfortable to the majority of readers and that blur difficult questions. To get out of the body image arena for a moment, think of how the war in Iraq is framed as “should we stay or should we go?” as if “staying” was one clearly marked course and “going” was another. Or how climate change articles are phrased as “can we fix this or are we stuck with the situation?” as if there was no middle ground.

Trans-racial adoption is an important, rich topic, and Rachel does a superb job with it. We appreciate at least as much the way she framed the whole concept of framing.

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2 Responses to “Framing and Being Framed”

  1. betsy Says:

    i am hoping to become a single adoptive parent sometime in the next few years, and i am reading frantically on the subject of tra. i hope to adopt a healthy infant, and that means, due to the adoption “market”, that i will likely be adopting transracially.

    i don’t want to rescue a kid. i don’t want to save them. i just want to have a kid of my own, and for various reasons in my life, adoption looks like it’s going to be the way to go.

    so, step one, right now is: learn how to not fuck up the kid any worse than is strictly necessary. (everyone ends up messing up their kids. i would just like to give my kid my fears of bugs and thunderstorms, instead of a need for twenty years of intensive therapy to deal with having me as a mom, you know?) learn how to give the kid the tools it will need to survive in the world. learn learn learn learn learn. that’s my plan.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Those were some good examples….I like the “transwomen vs. real women” example.

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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