David French is a writer at National Review who I often enjoy reading. At some point in the last year or so I because aware that he had an adopted daughter who was black and that he was taking a lot of heat on social media from people who consider this a sin of some kind. Yesterday, French wrote a piece for the Atlantic describing his experiences being harassed, sometimes on social media and sometimes in real life, by both the left and the right. As French explains, this story started with personal convictions based upon his faith:
I’m an evangelical Christian, and ever since I was a young man, two Bible verses have tugged at my soul. The first comes from the Book of James, and defines “pure” religious practice in part as looking after “widows and orphans in their distress.” The second, from the Book of Galatians, declares an eternal truth: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As a result, my wife and I not only felt called to adopt, but we believed that race was no barrier to unity for a family of genuine faith.
And so, in the summer of 2010, we journeyed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to pick up our youngest child, Naomi Konjit French…
French adopted in 2010 but he describes the cultural backlash that began to build soon after on the left:
In 2013, Kathryn Joyce, a writer and journalist who studies and reports on American evangelical Christianity, published a book called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. It was a blistering attack on the evangelical adoption movement, claiming that the adoption industry was rife with corruption and that Evangelicals were in the grips of an ominous “orphan fever” motivated primarily by a desire to evangelize orphan children. The book received significant coverage. Joyce wrote essays in The New York Times Sunday Review and Mother Jones. She was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.
We quickly discovered that if you’re the white parents of an adopted black child, and you’re in the public eye at all, men and women will viciously criticize you for having the audacity to believe that you can raise your kid. At times, the criticism was direct and personal—most of it directed at my wife. It was one thing to face hostile comments on blogs or random tweets. It was another to face angry direct messages and sometimes-tense personal encounters in public. Family and friends were aghast. Look at what the left does and says to loving families, we remarked to one another. Look at what they believe about faithful Christians.
Back in 2013, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry made waves for mocking Mitt Romney’s black grandchild. She apologized on Twitter and then issued this tearful apology on the air:
More recently, the attacks from the alt-right have been even more vicious:
The attacks on our family came less and less from the left, and increasingly from the so-called alt-right—a vicious movement of Trump-supporting white nationalists who loathe multiracial families. They despise international adoption. They call it “race-cucking your family” or “raising the enemy.” Heaven help you if they find you online, and find us they did. In part because I criticized their movement directly—and in part because I refused to support Donald Trump in 2016—they came after us with a vengeance.
They lifted pictures of my then-7-year-old daughter from social media and Photoshopped her into a gas chamber, with Donald Trump pressing the button to kill her. They put her image in slave fields. They found my wife’s blog and filled the comments section with gruesome pictures of dead or dying African Americans. They made me wish for the days when the left came after us; at least progressive critics didn’t want my daughter to die.
The good news is that French’s daughter has so far been spared all of the cruelty the left and the right can dish out. She has no idea this is happening. But the abuse has changed French’s opinion about where the country is heading. While he once held an idealist view of how people would respond to his family’s decision to adopt a child without regard to race, he now believes things are trending in a different direction.
My own take is that there seemed to be a consensus forming in America for most of my life that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a culture in which people are judged based on character rather than skin color was the ideal we should strive toward. But that has changed somewhat, at least at the margins, in recent years. The left has increasingly embraced an identity politics which views everything in terms of ongoing power struggles between groups, and the right has been plagued with racists whose own brand of identity politics leads them to the same conclusions but from the other side of the dividing line.
I don’t know what percentage of the right or left buys into this sort of identity politics at the moment, but I believe it’s still a minority. The problem for French, as he points out, is that he has a relatively high profile job talking about some of these issues and that makes him a target for the extremists on both sides. Still, his story is a reminder that there are some really unpleasant consequences to the ideas being promoted on the fringes.