Racist M/Paternalism at its Best

Ahhh the NYTimes. So much for responsible journalism. I had so much hope when I read sis Sume’s beautiful piece Reclaiming Ownership of My History.

Then – BAM! There’s just so much irresponsible journalism to choose from nowadays its actually becoming too easy to spot the well meaning white liberal who continues to think they know better than those irritating people of color who are actually experts in the field. As many of you know, this month the NYT’s has a series going on adoption called Relative Choices. Ignoring the easy blast at the cheesy title, I have to take aim (along with other AD’s) at this week’s columnist, Tama Janowitz. Here is one choice excerpt:

A girlfriend who is now on the waiting list for a child from Ethiopia says that the talk of her adoption group is a recently published book in which many Midwestern Asian adoptees now entering their 30s and 40s complain bitterly about being treated as if they did not come from a different cultural background. They feel that this treatment was an attempt to blot out their differences, and because of this, they resent their adoptive parents.

So in a way it is kind of nice to know as a parent of a child, biological or otherwise – whatever you do is going to be wrong. Like I say to Willow: “Well, you know, if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!”

And she says — as has been said by children since time immemorial — “So what, I don’t care. I would rather do that than be here anyway.”

Ummm. Say what? Did this mother of a Chinese girl seriously just use the “you would just be oppressed in your own country and since I know for sure that your life is better because you are with me because I am your mother” argument? Seriously? Did she really in such a joking manner make a mockery of those folks who are working under the conditions of economic slavery imposed by the U.S. that actually admits that the black, brown and yellow folks they utilize as a labor force don’t deserve basic human rights? And does she forget that ‘those folks’ are her daughters people? Does she really expect us to take the step of comparing refusing to get your child a dog at their demanding whim to a white parent refusing to acknowledge how race plays a major factor in the healthy identity of a TRA child? Oh Hell NO.

Ok, wait.. wait.. I thought most folks understood how m/paternalism plays a huge factor in discourses of colonialism and white privilege, but clearly folks need me to spell this shit out. Does anyone remember how manifest destiny or just general white supremacist rhetoric historically has a place in the circumstances of transracial/international adoption or is it just me? Paternalism: refers usually to an attitude or a policy stemming from the hierarchic pattern of a family based on patriarchy, that is, there is a figurehead (the father, pater in Latin) that makes decisions on behalf of others (the “children”) for their own good, even if this is contrary to their wishes. So just in case we’ve forgotten boys and girls, paternalism is also responsible for slavery, for colonialism, for going into those ‘savage’ countries and ‘saving’ those ignorant natives from themselves, because clearly they don’t understand that I know whats best for them. I’m their mother after all! Motherhood is the most important thing and since I am the mother, what I say goes! So what if I have to beat, rape and shame your Indian-ness out of you! As long as you understand that you are safer and will have more opportunities in my world than you would have ever had in your world. Your own religion? Pshaw! Your savage people worship a pantheon of gods and goddesses – we know there’s only one true God! Your ancestral connection? Oh that old thing? Wait.. did you know they left you in an orphanage? I mean, you would be over there just languishing away if I hadn’t found it in the goodness of my heart to answer the call to become your mother. You are SO much better off here. I mean, at least I let you have a Game Boy because you don’t need those pesky birth relatives hanging around like domestic adoptees.

Let me note here that as an Adoption Educator, I completely understand her point about wrestling with the crazy dynamics of an adolescent screaming at you, “you’re not my real mother!” in the context of parenting. AP’s have to deal with the guilt that comes along with punishing a child at this moment – and the very painful implications for how your child views you at the moment of vocal impact. Yes, you still have to be a responsible parent and handle your business and not get sidetracked by a demanding child. But what comes along with this responsibility? Is there a responsibility to not be racist in my responses to my adopted child of color?

TRA Jeopardy question: The ability to put my needs and wants over that of my child’s without regard for the racist implications.

Answer: What is – the ultimate white privilege, Alex.

Tama. Tama. Tama. You should know better. (Shouldnt you?) Your complete dismissal of adult adoptees who are working to share knowledge with other adoptees and with parents to hopefully change these relationships for the better is inexcusable.

But oh.. I forget.. your child is different. Because you say so. Because you know that for your child – race wont really matter. Love is enough. . . and I’m just an angry, bitter TRA in my 30’s and 40’s.

Careful Tama, you’re startin to sound like the ‘charity workers’ in Chad.

Additional Note: Please also be sure to read Harlow’s Monkey’s critique of this NYT’s article, and note that responses from adoptees and parents alike have been denied/ censored posting in the comments section!!!!

Update: 8:59pm. A group of Adoptees are looking for other folks (adoptees, adoptive parent allies) who have attempted to post on the NYT’s article and have also been censored. Please send me a note or post here. We’re working on a collective response to this censorship.

Update: Nov 14 12:17pm Its become more and more clear that the NYT’s has indeed censored the responses to this article. I just want to provide some links to voices who have also responded. I’m posting some more adoptive parent ally responses too. It aint just us who are upset!
Twice The Rice

readingwritingliving

resist racism

According to Addie

Heart, Mind and Seoul

Racialicious

Sun Yung Shin

Outside In…And Back Again

15 thoughts on “Racist M/Paternalism at its Best

  1. hi there. tried to post – twice. nothing too critical even. just pointed out to the two responders (who DID get through) who wrote about “people joke to work through sensitive issues blah blah blah” that it’s fine to laugh at your OWN situation or WITH someone who appreciates the jokes but that the “sweatshop” line didn’t fit the criteria for either.

  2. Natasha, thanks for posting the link to your response here! Actually there have been a few responses, but alot of parents who have gotten censored have emailed many of us to let us know. I’m hoping to post more soon! Its crazy! Sarah and Ji In.. thanks so much for comin by and givin love.. Good to see you back J! the blogsphere missed you. Harlemjd – I love your comment about how a question of humor has a place in this conversation. Im a huge fan of stand up comedians and print comics for the way I feel they can provide a sharp critique of the world. But when comics miss.. they miss! So does this article. ugh.

  3. I’m new to the adoptee blog world… and am totally psyched! I also like your focus on neo-colonization (what I’d call m/paternalism). Great entry. I’m so excited to read more!

  4. Gawd YES, Sume’s piece was wonderful. Then came Tama.

    I am not a TRA. I’m a “domestic.” I am white, my adoptive parents were white. I consider myself fortunate that I have only once had to suffer racism (I tan very dark, was turned away from a “Whites Only” restroom in the 50s). So, why is it that I relate to nearly all that you have said?

    Could it be that classism and anti-feminism (and psychological/emotional abuse) are distant relatives where the adoptee experience is concerned? I was raised by a rabid misogynist who made it clear that I would be picking rags behind a supermarket on the “wrong” side of the tracks had they not adopted me. When I read Tama’s comment to Willow about the factory in China, that is what I heard again.

    I, too, wrote a comment that was never published. I didn’t say anything like what I’ve said here – I was extremely diplomatic. I guess I made the mistake of saying I am an adult adoptee.

  5. This adoptee/adoptive parent wrote in response to Tama Janowitz’ piece and it was totally not published. I voiced outrage just as you have here. It’s very disheartening and defeating to know that the pitfalls of adoption that are so common, as in, the adoptive parent privelege go straight through to the New York Times.

    Tina

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