Negotiating Guilt, Activism/Performance and Family

This post is mostly for other adoptees doing activist / social justice work around adoption and race to encourage you. This post is also for adoptees (and anyone else) who don’t understand how I can say and do the things that I do either in my performance, scholarly or activist work, and who are constantly writing to me to say, “I’m black (or Asian or Latin American) and I DON’T feel the same way as you, I love my family and I’m grateful for my life and glad that I didn’t end up growing up in an orphanage.”

I’m writing this to encourage those of us who are constantly fighting with ourselves around the guilt and fear we sometimes carry when we do this kind of work.

I’m also writing this to ask any of you to consider why its important for you to keep sending me these emails to tell me that you love your parents, as if I don’t love mine. Im also asking you to consider why its important for you to keep telling everyone around you that you are grateful. What happens if for a few days out of the year you are sad? or angry? or feeling the loss of your other family? what . . . that’s not okay?

Let me say, for the record. I love my parents. I love the HELL outta my parents. I would not be able to do what I do with out my parents and without my aunt and uncle who provide me with emotional, financial and spiritual support. My family is the shit. You don’t know me, so don’t assume I can’t love my parents and also have a social consciousness. One does not preclude the other.

I am grateful. Even as I counter, resist and push back against the discourse of gratefulness in adoption, I am thankful, I am blessed that my family is my family. I like who I am. I like my life. and I resist and push back at the same time, I can be both, without shame.

So, what?

Me loving my parents and my larger family, doesn’t preclude me from critiquing their racism, (and the racism of their geographical and church community) and how their and their communities personal racism and white privilege is microcosm of larger systems of white supremacy around the globe. It doesn’t make me able to forget or excuse the completely messed up stuff that happened to me as a child, the white boys that fucked with me, the white girls who betrayed me, the complete isolation I felt in an all white community, or the fact that my parents and family and their community still just have no idea what its like to be black person (let alone a black adopted person) in the U.S.

My love for them helps me forgive, but it doesn’t make me forget, ignore, or deny. Not anymore.

Most of you know I have a show called, “Ungrateful Daughter”. It’s funny to me how people respond to this title, but just so you know, the show is not about ‘actual’ ungratefulness toward my parents. It’s a comment about the discourse of gratefulness in adoption as a whole. Duh. Buy a ticket. Come see the show.

As an activist and performer who writes and speaks regularly about my family in my work, like most writers who tread into this territory, I carry a ridiculous amount of guilt that I am hurting them while I am working through my own demons around this. I’m sure the things I’m saying make them feel guilty, or angry at me or maybe shocks them, sometime they didn’t even know. But they still love me, just like I love them. They still support me, just like I support them. Even if I don’t understand them and if they don’t understand me. That’s what family does. and I will kick your ass if you talk about my momma, my daddy or my brothers. :)

If I would have waited until everyone dies or not written anything at all – I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been able to heal at all around anything!! and for me – more importantly – outside of just the me in all this — I wouldn’t be able to hear from people who are in so much pain that they want to commit suicide, and that they read my blog and knew they weren’t crazy, or that tell me when they see my story on stage, they cried because that they never have spoken these words to anyone about how they felt. I wouldn’t be able to sit with the adopted youth that I work with, and tell them I actually do know how they feel when they tell me they got pulled over right in front of their own house in their all white neighborhood.

Healing wounds sometimes causes pain. Sometimes truth has to be spoken in order for true communication and healing to begin. What keeps me doing what I am doing is other adoptees, who tell me that what I am doing keeps them sane.

Ya’ll keep me sane too, you – telling me your stories, telling me about your struggle to find your birth parents and their rejection or inability to accept you. Your pain around not hurting your aunt who raised you and wont talk about your birth mother. Your parents who have lied to you about what they know about your birth country and your birth circumstances because they are afraid that you will reject them. Your sibling who raped you. Your uncle who says ‘nigger’ like it doesn’t mean anything. Your teachers in school who treated you like crap. The gym teacher who told you – you were an ugly black girl, and no one would ever want you, but then felt you up one day after class. Your fear of telling your parents they can’t say “Oriental” because its racist and hurts people. Your fears of being written out of the will if you even hint of thinking about searching for your birth family. These stories keep me sane. I am not alone.

Ya’ll keep me sane. Because I still struggle, even today, after doing all the healing I have done around this, the purging from the past, the exorcising on stage with poetry and stories, the academic research; I still struggle this very moment with what it means to be living in an in-between space. This space that is a part fully loving and being loved by my family, but still acknowledging and accepting myself as partially and always separate from them, and a developing part of myself that includes my birth family, but still separate from them – so where does that really leave me?

I’ve been able to partially negotiate this by creating “family” on my own, in my own community and by recognizing family in my global community of adoptees.

and really, more importantly what happens if I don’t talk? What happens if we don’t fight back? If we stay silent?

Haitian Baby Lifts, that’s what.

and you know what I have to say about that.

11 thoughts on “Negotiating Guilt, Activism/Performance and Family

  1. When people (adoptees or otherwise) assume that all adoptees had such a good life that they should be grateful, it completely negates the experiences of adoptees where their adoptive families Haven’t provided the minimum amount of the emotional, spiritual, or even financial support needed. There’s a whole lot of “myths” and “assumptions” that go into this attitude that we must be grateful.

  2. Too lazy to change my log-in. You know who this is. And you know this is one of the best posts I have ever read in my life and I just wanted to climb on the roof and yell YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! just now.

    YOU keep ME sane. oxoxo

  3. Thank you for keeping myself (and I’m sure others) sane too. I’ve lately felt as though my ‘TRA issues’ haven’t been an issue for me but once in a while (like this whole Haiti business) I can’t help but not think about it. Thanks for keeping these issues known.

  4. Thanks for going there and inspiring us all to speak out so there is a public consciousness and debate around what’s going down in adoption and foster care.

  5. Wow – powerful, wonderful stuff. I’m not an adoptee, but my daughters are. They are not black, but Asian – one a teenager, one on the cusp. I try very hard to give them a safe place to feel everything, good and bad. We talk – and we’ve cried together about the enormous loss and the pieces of their lives I can’t begin to understand. They are two very different personalities – my oldest speaks her mind, my youngest listens. I try to always be mindful of the white privilege I know exists. We live in a very racially mixed neighborhood, and I see it all the time. The black kids around here are not treated as well by the cops – I see it, and I hate it. My girls see it, and hate it. And then they get treated badly by the black kids who tell them they don’t belong with their momma, and they walk home, confused. But we talk through it. Last time, they told me the boys were young, on their bikes, so I walked back down the street with them and found the boys who’d said really stupid things. We talked. I asked them how they’d feel if I told them they didn’t belong, and they were upest that they’d made my girls feel that way. So we talked, and ended up teaching them how to say hello and goodbye and water and butt in Chinese. They taught me how to say the same things in Spanis, which they were taking in school. We laughed. Tiny little lesson learned, tiny change made? Maybe. Friends made, anyway. Now they wave and stop by and I pay them to shovel my steps on snow days. But it is pervasive – racism. And the idea that adoptees should be grateful. Which I find funny, (a) because I am the one who feels grateful to be able to parent such amazing girls, and (b) because my own parents, who birthed AND raised me, expected me to be grateful to them – not because they were my parents, but for the life they afforded me. Maybe all parents feel that way? I admit, living with a mouthy teenager right now, there are days I feel like she should be grateful I don’t kick her butt right out of the house. But that feeling passes, right along with her hormonally-laced moods.

    Thanks for what you do – I’m in awe.

  6. Just getting started with your blog. I’m wondering how much we’ll have in common. I am transracial, but I was adopted by black parents. I love my mom, and pretty much hate my dad who was an abusive alcoholic. I was always proud of how well I “turned out” considering my circumstances, but I’m starting to realize how jacked up my head really is. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the street. It would be easy to go from one side to the other and back if it weren’t for all that damn traffic in the middle.

  7. White privileged male, here, and my wife and I are in the process of adopting two children from Africa. Thank you for putting this together and being so brave to share!

    I will someday be wondering what my child is thinking, and even in the best of circumstances, there will be so much they won’t / can’t share with me. Your insights will provide some insight, and help me engage in meaningful conversation / understanding with them. Thank you.

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