FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
South End Press
South End Press Announces
Transracial Adoption: It’s Not Just About White Parents
Cambridge, MA – Aug 17, 2006 In today’s New York Times the frontpage headline “Breaking Through Adoption’s Racial Barriers” introduces an in-depth article about white
Americans who have–or are looking to–adopt children of color. But in the inches devoted to the “growing number of white couples pushing past longtime cultural resistance to adopt black children,” we find a series of unasked questions: Why are the so many children of color available for adoption in the first place, both in the US and abroad? How does transracial adoption affect adopted children of color–and their communities? Here and elsewhere, the voices of transracially adopted individuals fall to the margins, voices that are essential to a genuine understanding of this complex issue.
Jeni Wright paints some of the missing picture with her words: “I lean over the sink so my nose is almost touching the glass and mouth to the ugly girl staring back, you look like an ugly African bush girl, over and over until my breath clouds over my face. I start to write ‘jungle bunny’ in the steam but I am crying too hard to finish. Why hadn’t anyone told me I was so ugly? I don’t even look like a real girl” (Outsiders Within, 27).The difficulties of transracial adoption go far beyond self-esteem, far beyond cultural literacy, infinitely deeper than individual discomfort. As Kim Diehl writes in Outsiders Within, transracial adoption is inextricable from long-standing power imbalances that extend from the personal to the institutional. “I did not have any power in the decision to seal my records; I did not have any power in the decision to take federal money away from social service programs that might have prevented family breakup; I did not have any power in the decision to make it a child placement agency policy to ignore race; I did not have any power to keep from being the physical embodiment of a political process that stamped its approval on transracial adoptions in a country founded on the enslavement and oppression of people of color” (32). Also entirely overlooked is the harm incurred before each transracial adoption ever took place. As Shannon Gibney, a biracial black adult adoptee, puts it, “Once again, the focus is all on the white adoptive parents, and their pain. Once again, adoptees are presented as objects, as children who apparently never grow up, and therefore do not have the capacity to analyze the geopolitical issues that have shaped their identities. Once again, we don’t hear the voices of birth parents or adult adoptees.” Gibney goes on, “As this article presents it, the only people who are really affected by adoption are white adoptive parents and agencies.
“Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption tells a different story. Where the Times reports “More than 45,000 black children were waiting to be adopted from foster care in 2004,” contributor Dorothy Roberts explains that the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, passed to “break through adoption’s racial barriers” has resulted in more black children being permanently severed from their families, adding to the growing list of waiting children. Sure, more white families have access to black children. But at what cost? People are led to believe that because more white families can adopt, that means more black children will have families. The opposite is true. In reality, there are now more black children than ever who will never have a family, stuck permanently in foster care limbo. As the Times reports “in 2004 … about 4,200 [black children from foster care] were adopted transracially … up from roughly 14 percent, or 2,200 in 1998.” In other words, of the 45,000 black children then needing homes because, under federal mandate, the state permanently severed them from them their families of origin (often including grandparents willing and able to care for them),white people adopted 9 percent. The Times quotes Rita Simons, a leading advocate of white adoption of children of color, as saying that this “is a significant increase,” even though what has increased most significantly is the private adoption of black infants placed immediately for adoption, not the adoption of children who have been removed from their former homes for legitimate reasons, let alone the legions removed for the number one reason black, Latino, and Native American children are removed–poverty. Writes Roberts, “the number of white families adopting older children of color, those most ‘in need’ of adoptive homes, remains very low. These children are most likely to be adopted by single Black women” (Outsiders Within, 53). Advocates of transracial adoption frame the debate as one that is about the rights of black children to homes, and making it possible for white parents to provide them. As Outsiders Within reveals, the issue is far more complex. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
About Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption
Healthy white infants have become hard to locate and expensive to adopt. So people from around the world turn to interracial and intercountry adoption, often with the idea that while growing their families, they’re saving children from destitution. But as Outsiders Within reveals, while transracial adoption is a practice traditionally considered benevolent, it often exacts a heavy emotional, cultural, and even economic toll. Through compelling essays, fiction, poetry, and art, the contributors to this landmark publication carefully explore this most intimate aspect of globalization. Finally, in the unmediated voices of the adults who have matured within it, we find a rarely-considered view of adoption, an institution that pulls apart old families and identities and grafts new ones.Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption
Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah, and Sun Yung Shin, editors
(South End Press, 2006) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
About South End Press: South End Press is a nonprofit, collectively run book publisher with more than 250 titles in print. Since our founding in 1977, we have tried to meet the needs of readers who are exploring, or are already committed to, the politics of radical social change. Website: http://www.southendpress.org
Available for interviews:
Shannon Gibney, Sun Ying Shin, Julia Chinyere Oparah (contributors to Outsiders Within and transracial adoptees) and Asha Tall (publisher at South End Press and a transracial adoptee) are all available for comments and interviews.
South End Press
Thanks to Julia for this one.
New Article today in the NY Times, “Breaking Through Adoptions Racial Barriers”.
Wait a minute…. is that one of our beautiful PACT TRA’s on the front page? Deep. I have a lot to say about this article, but I hope you’ll read it and leave comments even though I dont have time to write today.
Since things have been so active here at A Birth Project and with the interest in Ungrateful Daughter and other positive things, Ive been spending a bit to much of my writing time here. Ive got a huge mess of some of my academic work to complete before grad school picks up again in a bout 2 weeks. AAAAAAA!
Ok.. one comment – how about that last section titled “Trumping Race”. Whats up with that? So its still about ‘overcoming’ it. hmmmmm.
Ummmm.. ok. Am i late on this one? Somebody let me know. I was forwarded this story from a friend – its from People mag rag.
Ahhhh Brad, Angelina and Shiloh. Immortilized in wax at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in New York City. Madame Tussauds will give $1 to UNICEF for every Pitt-Jolie family photo that visitors purchase. Such a beautiful family. (sigh).
but wait… where is son Maddox and daughter Zahara? Arent they part of the Pitt-Jolie crew? Isnt the eldest the heir to the throne? Apparently not in the eyes of Madame Tussaud who has made global who is and who isnt worthy of royal recognition. Who is and who isnt visible. Who is invisible.
Lets just go ahead and reinforce the fact that even royal TRA’s arent part of the family, after all, they arent born into the bloodline. …the hell? ok… send your pissed off letters – here.
Someone needs to check Madame’s curators before I go up there with a freaking blowtorch.
As Ive been slowly decompressing from PACT camp, Ive been mulling over the fact that Ive had virtually no contact (except one mother) from any of the AP’s I met. When I did the last panel for PACT, I had about 6 AP’s email me with questions, comments and also to just have general conversation. So its become an interesting dilemma as I try to continue to write. Is anyone reading? And did people email me because I didn’t write about that first panel? Am I just an ‘angry black girl’? and that + ‘angry adoptee’ = we cant ask her anything? I know my fellow TRA’s are reading. Did the show freak the AP’s out? Its not a story about the numerous happy moments in my childhood. hmmmm. dilemma.
I mean, I want AP’s to read this. Its like the show. It is for me, but its also a comment on race, TRAdoption and black diasporic womanhood. I want AP’s to see it and discuss and I hope that when it’s done it will raise more eyes and discussion. But neither the show or the blog are instruction manuals. Most of us TRA’s are so done trying to teach people about ‘what to do’, much like as a scholar of African Diasporic culture, I am many times frustrated and ‘done’ teaching people about race. But while we are many times overwhelmed, frustrated and angry, I still want the AP’s who are trying to reach out to me. I’d rather have them ask and try to struggle through, than to make stupid assumptions about what it means to be black in the U.S.
and add adoption to that – messy, messy.
So I wanted to take a moment to make some suggestions about – ”What can I do?”. and this is for the record and will probably be one of the few times I actually say stuff like this. (ha!) and finally, – ummm each of these could be an entire dissertation -so clearly, this is the short version.
1. Make a concrete commitment to making your close community multi-racial and multi-cultural. And i mean a daily, weekly, yearly, lifetime commitment to making sure your child is comfortable and never feels isolated or alone. and yes – if they are the only black person for 100 miles – they are isolated and alone – even if they cant find the words to articulate it. I think the example I gave at the last panel was a white woman AP who I know who takes her black son to baseball. She lives in Oakland where there are basically a few leagues – the white leagues and the black leagues. She lives near the white leagues, but she makes a concerted effort to take her son on a weekly basis to a place where she and her husband are the only white people. She talked about how uncomfortable it was at first, how out of place she felt, but after people knew whose mother she was, they were completely supportive of her presence in a space that is traditionally a black space. And her son – is thankful and is comfortable around other black folks. Oh and when I say close community, I mean your friends and people you consider your family, not just random folks.
2. If that means you have to move, or drive 50 miles to a black/latino/chicano/asian or multi-racial church, school, or other social institution – then (duh!) move or drive the 50 miles.
3. Read, read read read. Dont just read kids books even though some of those might be good for you too. Dude – just go to the respective section in your local independent bookstore (and if you dont have one .. i guess you can go to the big store… and if your indy store or your big store doesnt have a section. ummm. yes.. ask about it and start having them order books for you!). If you like fiction, start with fiction. Not crap fiction - actual literature. Read more than just the canon. yes, Dubois, Toni Morrison and Angela Davis are all gravy, but push yourself. Do you know Edwidge Danticat? Octavia Butler? Audre Lourde? what about current contemporary poets and writers? yes – go take a class. (And lets add music and films to this as well – get netflix if you dont have a good video store!)
4. Coming to a “culture” camp once a year is NOT enough. You are not interacting with any adults of color. Hello – its not just about your child’s community, its about you being able to understand what it means to be white, in an all white community, with all white friends. Its called “white privilege” - you dont have to think about race if you really dont want to and really, the saying ignorance is bliss has meaning here. Its much funner to live life as if race doesnt matter. Its much nicer not to think about how your child might have people tease them, or say hateful things, or treat them with disdain or isolate them in the classroom . . . you get my point.
5. On that note- Be willing and committed to struggle with the notion of “white privilege” and understand that race and the idea of “being racialized” is not something that you or your kids ‘finally get’ and then everything is cool. Living in a black/brown body is a life long thing. Yes it sucks, but yes black people learn how to live with the pressure or we slowly die. So yes, since you have a child of color – you cannot live your life anymore like race doesnt matter. sorry people.
6. Be willing to make mistakes and check yourself. Do you notice a pattern here? Yes – most of these comments are about YOU – not about your kid. Because your kid is not where the work needs to be done. Its not enough to just say “Im not racist” because you aren’t in the Klan or you aren’t physically cracking someone over the head with a bat or draggin them behind a truck. You must be willing to sit in the hair salon (sometimes all day!) where you are the only white person, or find a multi-racial salon. You must be willing to push yourself and strive to be anti-racist. We all do this work – no matter who we are. Its just harder for white folks because you dont have an understanding of ‘racialized’ bodies to begin with.
7. Rap and Hip Hop music is not the enemy. Yes 1/2 of it sucks and most of it that sucks is the crap on TV. But I am a hiphop head. I was raised on hip hop. But I seek out and support positive, poltical rap and hip hop music. When your kid is a teen… The Roots, Flipsyde, The Coup, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Saul Williams, Sunni Patterson, Agua Libre, Damien Marley, the list goes on and on… seriously.
8. Intent doesnt matter. Intent doesnt matter. Intent doesnt matter.I seriously dont know how many more times I can say this. Just because you didnt mean it – doesnt make it NOT freaking racist!!!! Just because you didnt mean to say that your son’s friend must come from a good home because he gets good grades, or you didnt mean to say “but i dont want to move the ghetto” (duh! all black people dont live in the ghetto you dumb ASS!), or wow she is so articulate…. But i didnt mean it. I didnt mean it.
well. it. STILL. hurts.
Thus endeth the lesson.
P.S. I just remembered one other thing. Make sure as you are reading, that you are reading everything abou race and adoption, race and the social welfare system, race and politics, race and …race. It is your responsibility to understand the (sometimes very, very f-ed up) circumstances that made it possible for your child to come to you. That idea that if you read about ‘positive’ people like wack ass Conde or other supposed ‘leaders’… thats crap. Its not about ‘overcoming’ race, its about understand how it functions.
Some of the best (& 1 worst) things about TRA camp!
Meeting an entire posse of fab women TRAs!! (LtoR – Amy G, the Ungrateful Daughter herself, Susan Ito, Ji-in, Robin R.)
Me thinking *really* really hard at the Adult Adoptee panel! Ummm.. yes you SHOULD move out of your all -white community, yes you SHOULD come out of your comfort zone and address your own racism. duh!
Me and Amy G., newest soul sister TRA! This woman is freakin amazing. Im so glad i met her, and that she was put on this earth.
Me and some of the amazing teen TRA’s at the poetry reading of their work!
One of the mothers I actually thought was CAH! (cool as hell)
Amy G and I in a candid with one of the amazing counselors, Kiki. One of the cool things that the counselors did was have a “hair clinic” for AP’s. None of the AP’s came. So the 3 of us tried to assist one of our young sistas. Her mother said, “You know, I always have black women coming up to me to tell me ways to do my child’s hair”. Ummm , then do you think that possibly your child’s hair is messed up, and before she gets a complex when kids start baggin on her you might want to find her a salon, a hairdresser and start her on a regimin? ..tha hell? Ummm. Did i mention the other woman who tried to tell the three of us that she knew more about black hair than we did? I’ve been black all my life lady. Jezuz. How much more do i need to say? Attention AP’s. Black women’s hair is a VERY big deal. It is cultural and spiritual. I can explain if you like.
Meeting and comiserating and being able to thank Ji-In *superstar!* This woman is a serious blessing.
On the way home, trying to catch my breath/heart at Half moon Bay.
I just got back from PACT camp. It was both very very hard and very fulfilling at the same time. Its going to take me a few days until I am able to articulate some of the emotions I had while I was there – but of course they include rage, comfort and well… rage.
Things I promise to write about soon:
- The precious and for me – the first time ever – fellowship with fellow adult adoptees Ji-in, Susan Ito, Amy G., Heather and Robin Rasbury.
- The adult adoptee panel madness
- Going to little kid, ‘tween’ and teen sessions and my interaction with the kids during each (oh HELL no – no she didnt!)
- My poetry workshops with the Teens
- My ability to call upon my superhuman strength to protect AP’s from getting choked in public and in front of their kids. (even tho some of those kids probably would have joined in the choking)
- Where this all puts me in relationship to my own birth search.
- oh – and dont let me forget to tell you about the woman who actually challenged my relationship with my own AP’s, saying – wow, you and your mother must not have much to talk about, making sure we all knew SHE wasnt like that. woman- dont talk about my momma! dont you know betta than to talk about a black womans momma?
so i am left with this – my own poetry piece that emerged when I did the workshop with the fabulous TRA teens, who I at this moment pledge to protect and serve until … I cant stand thier parents anymore and I need to take a break.
I am a head full of silence
I am an arm weak with fighting
I am a heart bloody with tears
red hot from explaining
we are lost children
red cold from the refrain of we are lost
and simultaneously found
we are safe and at the same time in constant danger.
Until we find another safe space
until we wake and we are home
until we sing a round of songs that lifts our
souls up high and washes out the dream
that continue to make us tired of hearing your lies
about our lives
about our mornings
our times alone
our strengths, my weak arms,
constantly trying to continue to move move move
to breathe, to groove
all i need is a story of my birth
the reclamation of how i am connected
to this earth
not just an unfamiliar silent head.