Reflections on Angela Tucker’s Red Table Talk

I’ll begin by saying that it takes a lot of courage for adoptees to open up and talk about their adoptions. There will always be people who say that we should only be grateful. There will be people who say that we shared too much. Or that we didn’t share enough.

On Oct. 21st, Angela Tucker sat down with Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter Willow Smith, and Jada’s mom Andrienne Banfield-Jones (affectionally called Gammy). Angela was invited to speak about her transracial adoption on the popular Facebook series Red Table Talk. Angela has been the face of transracial adoption for many years; she is the subject of the documentary Closure that chronicled the search for her birth mother. She also works to amplify adoptee voices through her site The Adopted Life. Angela also runs workshops, delivers keynote speeches, and consults families one on one about adoption.

Angela Tucker’s Red Table Talk about her transracial adoption has over 2 million views and over 8,000 comments. Clearly, adoption, especially transracial adoption is a topic that gets people talking. The discussion was in part, a response to an earlier Red Table Talk about adoption featuring Sex in the City actress Kristin Davis that aired on July 8th. The title of the show was “Should White People Adopt Black Children?” Many in the adoption community responded to the show, wondering why not speak to an adoptee? It seems too often that adoptive parents are centered in the discussion about adoption.

In the intro of the talk show, Angela’s back story is explained: she was born with spastic quadriplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. Her birth mother could not take care of her, and at 13 months old, she was adopted by a white couple. Angela grew up near Seattle, in a predominately white community, which led her to feel white and disconnected to her culture.

Angela explained that she was surprised to look in the mirror and see a black girl, since she was so used to seeing whiteness around her. She said, “I have no sense of strong identity without knowledge of my culture… I’m alive, but dead inside in some ways without knowing my culture.”

I could relate to many of Angela’s statements about knowledge of culture. For me, it is something that I missed growing up, and it’s something that I’ve worked to connect to . Later on, Angela’s interview took an interesting turn when she admitted she was fearful of black people. She said that she’s always felt more comfortable around white people, and she was afraid to meet her birth family because they were black.

I wish there was more time to dive into those statements. The fear of black people often contributes to violence, racism, and discrimination against the black community. I would be interested to know if this is something she still feels, and if not, what led her to abandon her fear.

Angela also said that she feels like she doesn’t have the right to assimilate into the black community. She said she’s chosen to live in a white neighborhood, and she feels more comfortable around white people.

There are parts of this I understand. From the outside looking in, popular black culture seems to be an invite only club. But I would also say, that there is not ONE form of black culture. Angela is a black woman. She doesn’t need to speak a certain way or have certain life experiences to qualify herself as a black woman. Perhaps there was more to this line of thinking, and I would have loved to hear more.

Mid way through the interview Gammy challenged Angela to immerse herself in a black community, explaining that if Angela is counseling white parents to socialize their transracially adopted children by moving into black neighborhoods and connecting with black people then Angela should consider doing the same. Jada Pinkett Smith added that we can’t keep asking white people to do things that we can’t do ourselves. I thought this was an important take. As adoptees we all have work to do when it comes to our identities. I think it’s a lifelong process to figure out who are we after many years of not knowing where we came from.

Towards the end of the interview, Angela’s adoptive parents came out and discussed their experiences raising Angela. Later on in the show, Angela was reunited again with her birth mother after a four month absence. You could feel a sense of peace at the table with Angela’s families on either side of her.

Front row: Angela Tucker with her birth mother (center) and adoptive parents (far right). Back row from left to right: hosts Adrienne Banfield-Jones, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Willow Smith.

The show ended with Jada Pinkett Smith saying “Love is Love.” For me, this meant that love is the beginning and the end. It’s everything: love for family, love for self, it’s the foundation of who we are. To her credit, Angela was open and honest with the hosts. It would have been easy for her to go on the show and present someone who is comfortable with her identity. Instead, Angela laid it all on the table, confessing that she still has work to do. Because of her openness, many adoptees and adoptive families may begin having conversations about identity, and Angela’s candor in sharing her adoption story with the world should be commended.

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