Its been a long, cold and busy busy summer. I just came back from visiting my parents in WA state and it was warmer up there than it has been in the Bay Area all spring and summer! I just hope we don’t skip what is usually a warm fall for us and head straight into the rainy winter season.
I’m in full, unabashed production and promotion mode for the October 6, 7 & 8th shows of “Ungrateful Daughter: One Black girl’s story of being adopted into a White family… that aren’t celebrities” at La Pena Cultural Center here in Berkeley. I’m thrilled that for the first time, other than excerpts of the show, I’ll be performing the entire piece for my East Bay family. I also have a history of producing work at La Pena, so I’m doubly excited that they believed in my work enough to commission and fund the piece to help me get it up.
There’s gonna be stage, light and sound design – yeeee! I’m continuing my collaboration with local activist and visual artist Isaac Ontiveros for the further development of the multi-media aspects of the show and also with the talented dancer/movement artist Colleen “Coke” Nakamoto on choreography. There so much more, but ultimately, I just hope you all come out and check the full, finished piece. I hope this will be one of the final iterations before I do a full run in 2012 and head to festivals around the globe. Please let people know and buy your tickets here!!
What else is up? Well, its that time of year when AFAAD is in full swing planning mode for the Fourth Annual Gathering, November 11,12 &13th this year at the 2100 Building in Seattle, WA! For all of my supporters, all of you parents of black, brown and multiracial children, we continue to develop this organization for your child! and we continue to do this as an all volunteer board. Please spread the word to any Black/Multiracial/African/Caribbean – adoptee of African descent over 18 that you know and tell them to join us in Seattle!! Here is the Call for Sessions, so people can submit panel or discussion ideas and also so potential participants can understand the depth of the weekend! Finally, here is the full information about this year’s Gathering. Don’t forget, if you know any families or organizations in Seattle that support adoptive families and foster care alumni – let them know about our Education Event that is open to EVERYONE on Saturday night, November 12th!
In addition to spreading the word – WE NEED YOUR FUNDING SUPPORT!! Please, please DONATE TO THE FOURTH ANNUAL GATHERING! The only way we are able to continue our work is through generous donations from people like you. We need at least $15,000.00 to cover basic expenses, and what is especially important for this year, to cover special guest speaker travel, hotel and honorarium fees, to keep our Public Education event low cost and accessible to everyone in the adoption triad, and to provide scholarships to at least two Foster Care Alumni who otherwise would be unable to make it to join us and have access to the network and the activist space of the weekend. We have 28 days! Please help us spread the word.
Crazy busy my friends. School has started, teaching, students, academic work as well as balancing my creative work. You know how artists do. I have two or three other creative projects in the works and all I will say about that is one is adoption related and the rest, thankfully, are not! In academia, we call it “racial fatigue”, I think we adoptee writers, activists, scholars need to come up with the right phrase for us. “Adoption fatigue”? I don’t know. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much my personal life is part of my professional life, and its great, but its also very tiring. I look forward to the weekend of the AFAAD Gathering where we will spend time talking together about being and adoptee or foster care alumni and being a professional and ensuring we are engaging in ‘self-care’, so we don’t burn out.
What seems contrary to what I just wrote, (ha!) I recently noticed that my subscribers to the blog have increased. I’m so excited about this – welcome to the blog. I look forward to engaging in conversation with you and answering questions! I’m here as a resource for parents as well as for my fellow adopted folks.
Finally, I have a special gift for the first 10 people who donate $50.00 or more to the AFAAD Gathering Campaign! I’ve recently finished a writing project that I want to share with folks who support AFAAD, its a secret, so you will be privileged to it before anyone! Donate, and I will get it to you in the mail asap!!
AFAAD’s 3rd Annual Gathering (Mini)
Saturday November 13th, 2010.
Hosted by Georgia State University
in Atlanta, GA
3rd Annual AFAAD (Mini) Gathering for Adoptees and Foster Care Alumni of African Descent and screening of the film, “Off and Running” (co sponsored by PBS’s POV films) in Atlanta, GA.
1-day event, 2 sessions for AFAAD members only, film screening open to the public
FULL SCHEDULE AND INFORMATION HERE
Saturday November 13th
10am-5pm, with some evening activities
Announcing the 3rd Annual Gathering of adoptees (transracial / international and same race) and foster care alumni of African descent in Atlanta, GA.
This year our Gathering is a 1-day Mini- Gathering, with two sessions for adoptees/ fostercare alumi and our main event, Film screening and discussion of the recent PBS POV documentary, “Off and Running” from an adoptee/ fostercare alumni perspective, which is open to the public.
“Off and Running” tells the story of Brooklyn teenager Avery, a track star with a bright future. She is the adopted African-American child of white Jewish lesbians. Her older brother is black and Puerto Rican and her younger brother is Korean. Though it may not look typical, Avery’s household is like most American homes — until Avery writes to her birth mother and the response throws her into crisis. She struggles over her “true” identity, the circumstances of her adoption and her estrangement from black culture. Just when it seems as if her life is unraveling, Avery decides to pick up the pieces and make sense of her identity, with inspiring results.”
“Off and Running” is a co-production of ITVS in association with the National Black Programming Consortium and American Documentary/POV and the Diverse Voices Project, with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
AFAAD’s 2010 Gathering is being hosted by Georgia State University, ideally situated in the center of downtown Atlanta, GA, close to all forms of public transportation. Individuals visiting Altanta must make their own hotel reservations separately from AFAAD Gathering registration.
Events are held in the Urban Life Building, 10th Floor and the CineFest Film Theater at GSU
Please join us and share the info with the local adoption community in Atlanta!
Yesterday morning I got a call from CNN to participate in a panel commenting on transracial adoption, race and of course, Sandra Bullock. As a rule, I stay out of conversations that center around celebrities or that would seem to be looking at or critiquing one person’s life personally. However, they ensured me I wouldn’t be commenting about her directly, but was asked to come on as a scholar to comment on the overall climate in the web/ blogisphere. Supposedly everyone is all a ‘twitter’ and blogs are blowing up with comments from everyone who has something to say about her adoption of a black child. I had no idea people would care so much and also chose not to even really read anything around it, do you know why?
For many of us scholars who are adoptees / fostercare alumni, the questions that are raised by SB adoption, and that were asked in this interview / panel were the same questions people have been asking over and over since transracial adoption became more of a public issue politically and racially during the 50′s when the Korean War adoptions began and the 1970′s when the Vietnamese Baby Lifts happened. So for us, So Sandra Bullock is like one tiny bump in a long history of black and brown children being adopted by white families. The issues remain the same except now we have moved to a place where we aren’t only concerned with domestic adoption but with the connections between child exploitation, paper orphaning, continued resistance to family preservation, devaluation of families of color and the entire economic market of children of color that continues to exploit unwed mothers who if they had the economic means, societal approval and support, would otherwise keep their children.
So regarding Sandra, its not really about her or her choices. Its unfortunate they have to be all over the media, but for us, its about an entire history and continue replication of a specific narrative around adoption and race and one that usually never includes adult adoptee researchers. So first, I have to hand it to CNN for taking the leap on putting someone, specifically an adoptee, who is a researcher and scholar on adoption issues who actually knows what they are talking about on their programming.
So. . . back to me. Personally, the whole day was super surreal, but I had a great time. I had my first ‘superstar’ moment when CNN ‘sent a car’ to pick me up. I actually found this incredibly important because everything happened so quickly, I really needed the time from my house to the studio in SF to go over notes, focus and stop giggling with excitement with my other AFAAD board member, Lisa Walker, who went with me for moral and technical support.
First, I couldn’t see either Don or Wendy in while I was set up in the satellite room, so I had no idea what Wendy looked like. I don’t have cable, so I don’t even watch CNN, so I had no sense of what they were putting on screen while any of us were talking. Overall, I’m pleased with how it went down, I was nervous but it felt great when I was done. yay!
For the most part, I will let the video speak for itself. My only overall comment is that I think its incredibly important for us to recognize the distinctions between mixed race biological children who are raised by a white parent and transracially adopted children of color raised in white families. As much as adoptive parents want to act like race doesn’t matter, sometimes they want to forget that adoption matters just as much.
Certainly for the mixed race person or adoptee, issues of struggling with the whiteness of your parent, the privilege of your parent who doesn’t want to recognize you as a person of color is similar. But what people forget is how the negotiation of two family histories is always part of the adoptee history, whether or not that adoptee acknowledges it or not or has the support from their family to explore issues what it might be like to think about a connection to a birth family and how that connection changes the parent – child relationship. (its not a good or bad change, its just a shift thats important to recognize.) In other words, a mixed race person with a white mother IS connected to that mother in a way where they can see their origins, their heritage, their family history as DIRECTLY connected to them. In a TRA family where the parent or parents are white, that connection is NOT there. Its there because of shared memories, its there because of a shared history since the adoptive relationship began, but not because the adoptee can look at the family and say, oh, i look like Aunt Edna, my nose is my mothers, I look like my brother, or I understand how great grandpa came over on the Mayflower and that’s a part of me. For and adoptee, that part is missing. There is no mirror of recognition in the faces of our families, or a history that spans back generation. Imagine how powerful it was for me to find out after 40 years that on the Filipino side of my family my grandfather came from the Philippines to work in the fields in Hawaii, and how amazing it was to find out that on my Black side of the family had a few active Black Panthers. Two tiny details that have given a kind of grounding to place my feet in. I am from somewhere.
Finally, I’m concerned about Ms. Walsh’s comment regarding her and her daughters being a ‘welcome racial curiosity’. Its this kind of language that forces me to remind parents of children of color that what is cool for you, is certainly NOT always cool for your kids. You may get off walking down the street with your beautiful exotic mixed race kid, who gets stares and comments. But how exactly do you think your child feels about being on display, about being stared at, about having people think that you dont really belong to your family. This is where the connection between mixed race children and adoptees DOES cross. Its not either or. Try to hold both at the same time folks.
Please comment and share. I’d love to get your thoughts on Don, Wendy and I. Lets talk folks!
What a great day. oh and to my OAKLAND folks. dudes, I’m SOOORRRY okay? I was looking at the reflection of myself in the screen with the picture of the GG Bridge behind me and SF just came out, I love and REP Oakland folks!! lol!
I was interviewed on Monday by Gus T Renegade from C.O.W.S. blogtalk radio. Well, maybe it was more me just talking my ass off, but I look forward to your comments. In this podcast interview, I talk a bit about my childhood, my own development of my black identity, the development of AFAAD, transracial adoption as a global phenomenon, the issue of adoption of children out of Haiti and its position in the history of white movement of children of color during times of war and disaster.
Here’s the link to the video sketch i was talking about around 35:40.
Please download the interview here, check it out and leave me comments and questions here.
and by the way, here’s another one I’ve done.. in case you wanna hear this too.
Me on NPR in 2007 after the Chad child trafficking scandal.
I’m working on a longer post that will clarify my thoughts and my position on the rising number of Haitian children in need after the disaster in Haiti. AFAAD is also planning to release a statement soon.
Overall, I have to say, what’s happening for me is that the rhetoric of United States is reflective of the rhetoric they spouted during “Operation Baby Lift” in the Vietnam War. Its troubling and frightening, and its the same old story about the colonialist paternalism that appears whenever the US thinks they understand what a country and black people need better than the country knows themselves.
I continue to ask. Why is removal the only answer? I want to issue a direct challenge to the ‘good intentioned’, monied, Christian, white folks who are lusting after the “new crop” of Haitian disaster orphans.
Can you please, sit an rethink, can you TRY to re-imagine the discourse of ‘orphan’, ‘savior’ and ‘adoption’? Can you think of alternatives that can address the immediate and dire needs of these children besides removing them from their country & culture. What about utilizing your adoption fee to rebuilding infrastructure of the country? or one town? or support existing organizations IN the country that support keeping families & communities together? Removal is not always the answer!
My colleague and adoptee activist, Outlandish – has written a post that reflects my deep feelings about the language of ownership that is already being thrown around, that is a language of potential adoptive parents who are only concerned with their desire to have a child, and not with the trauma of separation and loss.
Organizations I know and have checked out to donate to:
Call for Volunteers – Please pass on to students or other folks you know would be interested in our work!
AFAAD — Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora is looking for qualified volunteers to work with our organization. We are looking for two interns who will work collaboratively with the existing board and founding members, as well as the larger community to assist with our annual projects.
About AFAAD: AFAAD is an adoptee and foster care alumni led organization that connects, supports, and advocates for the needs of the African diasporic adoption and foster care community on a global level through community outreach, legislative advocacy, research, and social gatherings.
AFAAD believes that providing connections for and creating space to make visible the adoption and foster community in Black/ African diasporic cultures worldwide will give support to those who otherwise remain isolated in their experiences. Another of AFAAD objectives is to ensure that conversations around adoption in both academia and in populate culture progress in a way that include contributions by adult adoptees. We support those who are conducting cutting-edge research, restructuring child welfare laws and policies, and creating new artwork, performance and films that reflect our unique experiences and perspectives. We place race, culture and connection at the forefront of our stories. We are committed to voicing a powerful message about kinship, family, race, survival, and global black identities.
Volunteer Position Commitment
5 -10 hours a week
July – Nov 2009
Location: Oakland, CA (but MN and ATL positions soon!!)
what we need:
- marketing and communication support (website, twitter, email lists, blog)
- newsletter development and editing
- website development support
- Nov 2009 conference planning
- fund raising campaign support
- someone with their own laptop / portable
- administrative support (mailing, database entry, editing)
what you will get:
- experience with a project from beginning to end
- experience with web marketing and communication
- development of professional relationships with a diverse group of adoptees and foster care alumni
- strong skills in a environment that respects your contributions
- volunteer appreciation lunch or happy hour
please contact Lisa Marie with a resume and brief letter of interest, stating your interest in the project at firstname.lastname@example.org by July 20th, 2009. QLGBT and people of color encouraged to apply.
For more info about our work:
I’m headed to the Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed conference in MN this weekend! I’ve never been to MN, which i hear has one of the largest populations of Korean adoptees in the nation.
Towards a Sustainable Transracial Adoptee Movement and Community: PTO Strategies + Experiments on Friday.
Friday night – the FIRST AFAAD dinner in MN. MN chapter here we come! oh yeah!
I’ll keep you posted with photos and reports from the conference!
Reprinted from an article I wrote for Pact’s newsletter in 08.
I recently met an African American woman who was really interested when I told her I had adopted from Ethiopia. The conversation was going well, but at one point it seemed the woman became offended that I identified my child as Ethiopian and not as African American. I am involved in a support group specifically designed for Ethiopian adoptees and parents, and I have reached out and made what I feel are good cultural connections to the Ethiopian immigrant community so my child will feel connected to her country and culture. On the flip side, some of the Ethiopian people I am getting to know have very disparaging things to say about African Americans and I am not sure how to respond to this. I don’t really understand the issues between these communities and I am not sure how to navigate them, let alone help my daughter do so. Can you help?
I meet more and more parents committed to supporting their children as anti-racist allies, and who are supporting their children’s growth as self-aware, strong, culturally connected individuals. So I love these questions from thoughtful parents who are really trying to understand how complex the issues get when race, adoption and parenting collide. I will first provide some historical context for your question, then explore how that context specifically impacts adoptive families.
Let’s begin by considering the term “black.” Understanding black in the diasporic sense acknowledges there is a global phenomenon of anti-black sentiment, not just reserved for American Blacks, but for African, Caribbean, and sometimes simply dark-skinned people who aren’t even of identifiable African descent. This diasporic blackness takes on different cultural meanings in different nations. Yet even if the “black” that is applied to a South Asian in England or the “black” applied to an Aborigine in Australia seems different, we can’t ignore the many similarities in the way racism operates locally and globally. So we have to think about how stereotypical “blackness” functions as an overarching racial concept that impacts any group of African descent, immigrant or not (and closer to home, will impact your daughter).
I heard someone say that when white parents adopt internationally it is because of “racism” and for many years white Americans adopting internationally adopted many more Asian and Latino children than African children. It seems reasonable to say that these choices reflect the existing racial hierarchy in this country. At the very least, it is certainly true some white parents choose not to adopt children of African descent because they do not feel capable of dealing with the racism they know these children will confront. I thought about that comment for quite a while, and after I sat with it for a bit, I realized that, yes, racism certainly can play a part in some parents’ decisions – but what kind of racism are we talking about?
Let’s talk about the historical tension between African, Caribbean, and African American communities. There is an assumption that because black people share skin color that somehow we will all get along or that we all have the same political beliefs and cultural values, but of course, depending on a multitude of things–class, geography, culture, life experience–beliefs and values vary across black diasporic cultures. But what is common, as I mentioned above, is an experience of racism.
After slavery, when immigrant African and Caribbean peoples began coming to the United States, in exile or in search of work, Black Americans who had been here for generations had been living in circumstances that distanced them from African cultures. And just like most people of all races in the United States, many African Americans have limited or inaccurate ideas about Africa and its people. Similarly West Indian/Caribbean and African people have been fed images about black people in the United States that are not true. So when African and Caribbean people come to the United States they may not be privy to the complex dynamics and beauty of African American cultures and fall into the same trap as any other immigrant group who accept racist assumptions about Black Americans. For a complex combination of reasons, including a desire to maintain their own cultural identity or the wish to avoid being targeted by racists themselves, some African immigrants in the United States have found it advantageous to distance themselves from Black Americans and Black American cultures. Further, some African immigrants perceived as “exotic” may more rapidly gain access to privileges or class mobility long denied to African Americans burdened with less flattering stereotypes.
Interestingly, there are extensive histories of Black Americans and other diasporic Africans working in collaboration with African and Caribbean peoples during the anti-colonialist movements of the early twentieth century. Pan-Africanism and Negritude are key movements in African Diasporic history. People like W.E.B. Dubois (United States), Marcus Garvey (United States/ Jamaica), the Nardal sisters (France), Aimé Césaire (Martinique), and Jessie Fauset (United States) are only some of those who participated in global African political work during this period. It is important for you and your daughter to know and understand Pan-Africanism and that the Pan-African community is still strong and doing major political and social work.
How does this history relate to adoption? The reasons prospective parents choose to look overseas to adopt a child have long been discussed in adoption circles. Many myths persist about the domestically-born children of color who are available for adoption, including birth parent drug use, poverty, “bad” family history, and, perhaps most significantly, intrusive/needy birth parents. Sometimes there is the mistaken assumption that international adoption is somehow different from domestic transracial adoption. There persists a belief that in international adoption there will be no birth family emerging unexpectedly because “all” international adoptees are “orphans”.
If we place these ideas about international adoption alongside the pattern of immigrant exceptionalism and exoticfication discussed above, it changes the way parents need to think about the dynamics between African-born (or Carribean-born, etc.) and African American-born adoptees. If a parent hears a voice inside their head that say, MY child won’t be like that, my child won’t be like those other American black people then it is possible they need to confront the fact that their child is now a black person in America, and think about what kind of messages they will teach their child about other people of color. Will they reinforce stereotypical images that pit more recent immigrants who “make something of themselves” against American-born blacks who “won’t get off welfare”? Or will they place the tensions between these communities in historical perspective and emphasize the common experiences they share?
It’s important to ask yourself, what are your child’s multiple communities, how do they intersect and differ, and how can you support your daughter becoming comfortable moving in and among them? An immigrant shares many similar experiences with a native-born person of color in the United States, and adoptees of any origin share some common issues with immigrants (loss, disconnection from home). The reality that must always be acknowledged for your daughter is how Americanization and racism play out in the United States. They impact any of us with black bodies in very real and sometimes violent ways. Ask yourself, what does your daughter have in common with African Americans, and with Ethiopian immigrants? And what about second-generation Ethiopian American children who have their own specific ethnic/cultural experiences? If your daughter lives here the majority of her life then is she a Black American? She will be American, living in the U.S., going to school, dating, going to church, speaking English from birth (or the very young age she came to you), and having experiences that can only be called American experiences, so it will be important to make sure she feels entitled to create connections with both communities. Sometimes parents make the mistake of narrowing their children’s connections by limiting them only to their child’s ethnic heritage, but this can set them at odds with American-born Blacks in a way that does not serve them. Finally, what about their own comfort with the African American community leads some parents to make connections only with Africans and not with African Americans? What does it say to a child when a parent does not model connecting with people of all cultures?
So while calling your daughter “Ethiopian” isn’t untrue, not acknowledging Ethiopian American or African American as parts of her identity is problematic, because it doesn’t fully acknowledge all of the identities your child will hold. Because the parenting goal is to have children confident enough to move through each of these cultural groups with comfort, parents of African-born adoptees must consciously encourage and participate in relationships with African Americans as well as Africans living in America.
Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora – AFAAD dinner.
Its time for another AFAAD Bay Area dinner! If you are an adult adoptee or foster alum from the Diaspora, we hope you will join us! We had such a great time last time, this time we plan to chill a bit, then eat dinner and make a night of it! So, even if its just about getting together and being in one another’s space, I hope you roll through. For many of us – it will be the FIRST time we’ve been in a room with this many other black adoptees. Wow.
Please bring other adoptees and foster alum that you know!!
DINNER and Drink Details –
Friday December 7th
Dinner and Chillin 8 – on
Oakland, CA (Restaurant Details to be announced over our email list)
To join AFAAD email list:
We just keep comin out the woodworks.
Whoa. ummm. Damn. (in my best Wil Smith voice)
Can anybody connect me with this young man? No seriously. In respect to the young man in the video who I need to find, I wont comment on the narrative around this video. (also because the vomit around the back of my throat is choking me.) Sorry.. oops.. can anyone help me find him?
Shameless plug for AFAAD Fundraiser! Please Support!
AFAAD has teamed up with the The African /African Diaspora Film Society in Oakland, CA to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of “Struggle for Identity: Issues in Transracial Adoption”. Struggle is the first documentary film to feature the perspectives of Black and Asian adoptees who grew up in white families. The film also includes a new addition – a look back from 10 years later. (This event is also supported by Pact, An Adoption Alliance)
Our post-film discussion will include a panel of Adult Adoptees from the African Diaspora and include members of the audience who are Korean and Chinese transracial adoptees. This conversation will not explore the debate over transracial adoption, but push past whether or not its ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but will argue for an understanding of adoption’s role in the politics of a global racism and examine the need to reform the social welfare system and the welfare systems connection to the prison systems.
This event is also the first fundraiser for AFAAD. We really need your support for a basic start up budget. We need a P.O box, we need a web site, we need a database and a mailing budget to get the word out about the organization! If you can donate any of these or any other services to us – please contact us. Every dollar counts! Your donation is tax-deductible. For more information on our needs – please visit our website below.
Please join us!
Sunday August 5th, 2007
Parkway Speakeasy Theater
1834 Park Boulevard, Oakland, CA 94606
September 13, 2007 at 7pm is our first official AFAAD dinner. If you are an adult adoptee of African/ Black/ Mixed descent, and you live in the Bay Area and can get to us – we invite you to come and join us! For information please contact email@example.com or join the AFAAD email list — firstname.lastname@example.org
Lately it seems to me that people continue to confuse the term “multi-racial” and use it interchangeably with the terms ”multi-cultural” or “multi-ethnic”. I just want to open a discussion of these terms and place them alongside a discussion of transracial/ international adoption. Because this is a blog entry, I’m going to try to be brief, but I’d love it if ya’ll chimed in with other theoretical texts and novels that display elements of these discussions that I may miss. Finally, this entry is the beginning of a longer piece I am doing on blackness and trans-racial adoption.
When I say “race” or “multi-racial”, usually I’m making a reference to blood, genetics, etc. Example:she is multi-racial, African and Japanese, but it does not follow that because she is half black and half Japanese that she identifies with her blackness AND her asian-ness. Which culture was most prevalent in her life? How do people see her when she walks down the street?
Being “racialized” – is something different than a discussion of ‘race’ as blood lines. The process of being ‘raced’ or ‘racialized’ is a very specific and historical process. For example, the rationalizations of the capture and enslavement of African bodies were made possible by the process of ‘racing’ these African bodies in a particular way that distanced them from the European body. In the eighteenth century, scientists dissected and named the black body in a particular way that first, made direct links between biology and mental capacity, cultural production and of course social/civic mobility. (3/5 of a man)
What that means is that because a black body is ‘different’ or an ‘other’ from a white body supposedly there are specific characteristics that ‘belong’ to black bodies. The difficulty is that these characteristics get confused and ‘essentialized’ or naturalized and then become part of an internal and external dynamic that began in slavery, but continues today. Specifically, these characteristics have become equated directly to any black body. (eg. “all black people are poor, so all black people have to steal or be on welfare to feed their children.” or “black men are scary and large black men are violent” or “black women are promiscuous and have lots of children, so they live on welfare” or “all black folks live in the ghetto, so if I want to find black mentors for my child, or make my community multi-cultural, I have to live in the hood)
online reference: Baartman
Culture – reference to cultural influences. When I talk about culture I talk about it in both a broad sense of culture and a racialized sense of culture ( i.e. cultural production, traditional culture, etc.) In other words culture doesn’t have to just be “African culture” or “African-american culture” or “american culture”. Cultures of technology, visual culture, theatre culture – etc.
When we say multi-cultural what do we mean? I mean that I have been impacted deeply by multiple cultures. I have been impacted by “white” culture – my Afamily’s culture. I grew up in a white community, went to private, all white schools, was surrounded by all white people. I have a particular understanding of both a white, European descent cultural practices (foods, dances, communication patterns, judeo-christian attitudes and values) and a racialized sense of whiteness that functions in concert with how white bodies are positioned in relationship to black and brown bodies. (Ji-in also comments on this)
I have been impacted by Mexican/Chicano culture,having lived in Southern Cali for so long, having spent time in Mexico and coming to understand the deep cultural traditions of Mexican and Chicano familias that are directly intertwined with a history of colonization and slavery of black bodies. I’m impacted heavily by the multi-cultural, hybridity of Caribbean culture and of course, Im heavily influenced by African-American culture. I cook foods that are traditionally African American foods, I listen to music that is specifically African American or stolen from black cultures. All of these cultural influences create for me what I consider to be a particularly ‘diasporic’ cultural black identity.
Why do I attempt to distinguish between ”African-American-ness” and “blackness”? Primarily because I think that thinking about the distinctions assists us in thinking about how our multiple identities function. African American culture is a particular cultural identity (that yes, is racialized) and a smaller part of a racialized political identity that I have come to identify as ‘diasporic blackness’. Blackness (in the global sense) is a racialized and political identity that understands the way race functions on a worldwide scale (a global Anti-black sentiment/ Anti-African sentiment) and has particular material effects on the local scale, on ME and how I am percieved, treated or identified by other people as I walk down the street in the U.S. as “black woman”(vs. why an Indian woman in Britian is considered ‘black’). Those material effects are the key to how we need to think about how race and racialized ideologies function differently than culture. These material effects are also are the things that shapes my poltical identity as a black body living in the U.S.
In other words – why are there so many black kids “languishing in orphanages”? Mother’s categorized as ‘unfit’? Mixed-race children hidden because they are part of a race that is undesirable? All those black women drug addicts? Can it really be that simple?
These kinds of distinctions are one way I think to provide a gaze on to the relationship between international and domestic adoptions. How racialized images of ‘foreigners’ or of ‘impoverished African Americans’ both contribute to the ways in which, say for example, The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, utilize white privilege and class to push for the opening up of the doors of adoption to let those who have the privilege and the money to basically get whatever the hell they want. (but that’s another entry . . . right?)
One final note, this isnt the end all, be all conversation around race vs culture. I definitely at times say something like ‘thats a part of black culture’ when I am talking about whatever diasporic cultural thing – like ‘call and response’ or playing the dozens, (these are diasporic cultural practices, descended from Africa and reshaped in the new world) but again I really think that the idea of an “African American” culture really means just that – a way to describe the particular way that blackness functions in the U.S. – not how blackness functions for example in Britain or Canada. But the common theme here is that blackness (racial/political) runs through all of these conceptions.
A bit ago, I spoke with an AP who was very concerned about his ability to ‘teach’ black culture to his newly adopted son. He was very vocal that he would not feel comfortable taking his child to black churches or doing things that he knew nothing about. Despite my irritation that he was more concerned about his own discomfort than that of his child’s overall ability to be comfortable in life – I’ve been pondering this question deeply.
“Its not my culture, so how can i teach it? My culture will be his culture”. Ahhhh the idealistic dream of colorblindness. As Ji-in and others of us have commented, oh yeah, we know white American culture, sometimes white ethnic cultures because we were raised in isolation from any other cultural frameworks. And yeah, sometimes its fun to giggle at show tunes or listen to rock, folk or country music, have memories of barn or square dancing, shoveling manure or to enjoy scarfing down strudel or sauerkraut. (ack)
So the question is: Are you able to teach ‘culture’ even if it is not ‘yours’?
One of the things that many TRA’s vocalize is that we are clear that most AP’s do not have the tools, whether it be experience or basic knowledge about what it means to be a person of color in a white world. So if you do not have people of color in your life when you are considering adopting a black or brown child, how will you be able to navigate the sometimes extraordinary racism your child will encounter?
What about first, admitting that there may be things that you aren’t able to teach your child? The saying “its a black thing, you wouldn’t understand”, used to piss me off. But there is some truth in this flippant phrase and the truth is – unless you have some experience being a body that is interpreted as a ‘raced other’ (Asian, Chicano, Latin, Black or in global terms – ‘black’) it is going to be extraordinarily difficult for you to ever ‘understand’ what your child is going through.
Also – consider thinking about how race functions – ‘whiteness’ isn’t just a word. It has meaning. The ‘white’ in ‘whiteness’ is similar to the ‘black’ in ‘blackness’. There are particular characteristics that get applied to white folks that don’t apply to white folks globally – right? (except for the privilege part and even whiteness as a concept here trumps class)
I’m not privledging experience over education here, I may be suggesting a few things, one of them – without a multi-racial and multi-cultural immediate community – how can you call yourself concerned with the best interests of your child? Having a child growing up in isolation, no matter how much love and understanding is supposedly there, is simply wrong. Are you prepared when your child comes home devastated, or confused, or angry, or afraid because of something someone has done or said to them?
do you tell them to just ignore those ignorant people?
do you tell them to not be so sensitive and that they may have been imagining the experience?
Yes, it would have helped to have a parent schooled in racial politics, who understood how race functions to position black bodies directly against white bodies, how racalized ideas of blackness make white people afraid of my friends when I bring them to church. Yes it would have helped to have a parent who read African American Literature and who attempted to at least understand something outside their own cultural framework.
Yet, sometimes intent isn’t enough, sometimes love isn’t enough. I needed mentors, someone to explain to me why people treated me like shit because I was a black girl surrounded by all white people. Why I became the object of all ridicule. Someone to assist me in coping mechanisms when boys told me that no one liked me because they were afraid of getting black on their hands. When people said things about my hair and it was too painful for me to share these things with my mother. When someone called me ‘black’ and made it sound like the most horrible thing to be. When someone told me ‘they don’t see me as black’, when someone told me I was black and ugly.
Removing your child from ‘those people’, distancing your child from ‘that culture’ that ’I dont understand’ does not help them grow to be comfortable with themselves. Or to understand the diversity, beauty and complexity of it. If you are uncomfortable, they will sense that discomfort and internalize it. You better get comfortable, or at least be willing to struggle with that discomfort.
Here’s an article about Mr. Banda, the baby’s father. I cant even respond to this yet. More soon.
Let me start off my saying – this is NOT an opportunity for all the AP’s or other well-meaning white folks who read my blog to give commentary about “those black folks” or to talk about whether or not my friends are ‘real friends’. If anything what I want you to get from this post is about what the distance from black culture does to TRA’s, and I simply need to express that at times people are insensitive to adoptee pain.
I just came from reading one of my homegirl Ji-in’s blog entries, and as I was sitting and reading, nodding my head vigorously, laughing about the 2 pairs of Birkenstocks I owned my damn self, and thinking about my own cultural ‘discrepencies’. (ok so what -I hate chitlins, I know every song to Annie, The Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady, and - and… so what if I owned every freakin Amy Grant album from “Amy” the debut album in 1977 until about 1986 when I officially stopped believing the church had something to offer me. )
While I was reading over her entry, it came to my attention that I was having a recent flashback (of like 2 weeks ago) to two conversations that happened within one day of each other, and during the time they happened, I was like, what the hell is going on?
and I promptly put them out of my mind.
I was in the kitchen both times, (which at this moment makes me also remember a blog entry I’ve been meaning to do about black women, adoption and food) and both times, I was cooking something. The first, I was making some soup, and one person who is very, very close friend of mine said something about the way I was collecting things to put in the soup. There were some leftovers from something else in the fridge, something that had NOTHING to do with the kind of soup I was making and this person said we could just add that stuff to the soup. I was like, ummmm, first of all, ewwww and also hell no because those left overs should have been thrown away 2 days ago, so my bad for leaving them in there. My friend looked at me and said, “As my daddy used to say, was you raised by black folks or white folks?” and laughed. Now I know what the laughter is, and culturally, I know that she meant that black folks dont throw away good food (but neither do poor white folks..but thats another entry) – but the comment first, rendered me speechless and second, hurt me so deeply that I could only stay silent.
what are you tryin to say?
The second incident, was also centered around cooking, and also with someone who is very close to me. I cant remember the circumstances in the same way that I could with the first incident, but they said, “well, thats because my momma is black“. the first thing that came to my mind. . .
what the hell is going on?
Both of these comments came within like a 2day period. I was so hurt that I said nothing. I wont next time, it just totally caught me off guard. Lisa, you’re being too sensitive. am I?
So, what are you tryin to say? I’m not black? I can’t cook? My momma cant cook? You wont eat my food because my momma cant cook? or because my momma’s white I cant cook? but my birthdaddy’s black so doesnt that count?
fuck you. and take your ass out of my kitchen. and dont talk about my momma.
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.
she is stark blue
in her school uniform
starched and clipped tight
class picture day
she is all bubbles,
sun and fire smiles with glossed
and combed pigtails
waiting for the camera man
to line her up with the other girls
she is brown skin turning to fire
eyes full of thunder
as he lines her up on the boy side
a tornado of pain
a copper heart
like a cold penny taste.
I got a card from G*** for my bday and I've been recieving emails from her as well. The birthday card was nice, but I have to admit it felt a little strange. But it seems like it never stops being strange.
This past weekend I saw my family for the first time since "contact". It was actually a great weekend (except for the car crash, sliding off the mtn at stevens' pass) and it was just a great stabilizer for me, to bring me back down to an emotional grounding that is safe and loving. The biggest thing about my mom and dad is that they are so full of love.
There were the usual questions – "Are they your in-laws?" – "How are you related?" – and my personal favorite – "Are you all on the same check?". (roll my eyes)
"I have made it my task to reconstruct the text of a family with contextual clues, and my intent is this: to trust in the mysterious; to juxtapose the known with the unknown; to collect the overlooked, the debris – stones, broken mirrors, and abandoned things. With these I will sew a new quilt of memory and imagination, each stitch a small transformation, each stitch my work of mourning."
from The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka
I went to this talk today on campus by Alondra Nelson who is already someone whose work that I admire (see Technicolor: Race Technology and Everyday Life). But today, she did a talk that examined the rising usage of African American's and Black British families utilizing DNA testing in an attempt to 'trace their roots' to find out where in Africa they may have come from.
I find this study fascinating, not because I think that knowing where you are 'from' in Africa is important, but because of the cultural and political value we place on obtaining and claiming 'Africa'. When I put Africa in quotes here I really mean just that – the IDEA of the fantasy, homeland Africa that still is used as a symbol in so many different circumstance, not the reality of Africa. One colleague mentioned that this idea of Africa continues to be reproduced just by the simply buying into the fact that there is a root somewhere that we think we can find. Its a powerful imaginary – yes?
And it is this desire that fascinates me. Particularly because of the process/ moment I have been going through/ immersed within. Some argue that this desire to find a home is rooted in the actual dispersal of black bodies across the Atlantic, and others argue that it is the attempt to cut off and remove cultural, spiritual and community identities that cause this trauma to the black body across the globe.
There is something about this rupture of removal from home, something about Treong's 'language of blood' and something dangerous and simultaneously 'so right' about the biological thread – yet why does this connection to Africa become so important – especially if we are trying to express the difference and hybridity of 'blackness' that refuses a monolithic idea of racialization. We (black folks) are NOT all the same, we are diverse in powerful ways – ways that include the ways we imagine ourselves, the way we create our stories and how we come to know our own personal identities. (and we know the dangers of a language of biology that gets used to make us inhuman..)
Is my racial specificity important? does it change who I am? how I already imagined myself political and culturally? I don’t know. Does it legitimize me in a weird way? yes. But I'm not sure I care about that – I already moved with the knowing, the creating – the dreaming.
Spoke to the birth mother last night for about 50 minutes. I'm still reeling a bit, but what I’m getting from the situation is that I was given away because I am black. Its ironic that I was adopted under the assumption that I was Asian/not black and I’m wondering if her decision to put R***/Not BF as the BF on the certificate was deliberate to keep me from knowing that. I’m not sure why the first thing I have to put up here is some negative shit – but I'm dealing with that and looking within to attempt to figure it out.
My mom and dad are excited, and it seems that this is supposed to be exciting news. and I cant figure out why every part of me is just skeptical and cautious and nervous. It may be a defense mechanism, to try to protect myself. I haven’t told anyone else yet except for two people really close to me. again – possible protection.
I got an email from her that sounded urgent and so for some reason I chose to call her instead of R****
I called about 8pm and spoke with her. The first few seconds were awkward in that neither of us knew what to say and so we ended up just crying for the first 3 minutes. She is 56, was pregnant with me when she was 19, had me when she was 20. So that makes sense in terms of my age. I'll be 36 in March. She remembered my birth being in 1969, but … it could be so.
Now every piece of my feminist/gender sharp mind is ringing right now as I'm about to write this down. And I want to be clear, that I do NOT in any way want to diminish her experience, or claim that she is not telling me the truth about the circumstances of my conception. However, like I mentioned at the opening of this entry, I'm feelin skeptical and since this is my blog….
G**** told me that R**** is not the father. She said when she saw my picture, she knew who the father was. The father was a black man, P*****, who lived in the same black area in Seattle that she grew up in. She said he was tall, handsome and possibly had 2 or 3 kids already. She said he was around 19, and was at some point married to a black woman in Seattle. She also tells me that R**** used to sell dope, he sold P**** some bad drugs, P**** and his boys came looking for R**** and P**** raped her.
So now, before I get into the surrealness of having to deal with being a product of rape (and HOW to deal with that is quite a question), I want to mention that from our conversations, its clear to me that G**** has issues of her own with black folks, and is clearly a product of her growing up with a white mother. He mother was French, German, English and Irish.. although I'm not sure how that came about – and her father was Filipino and Spanish. From what I understand from this conversation, she lived with her mother and not her father. But I’m getting some clarification on that. Her father was one of the first Filipinos to come over to Hawaii in the early 20th century. I have a history people. ok.. so that made me a little excited.
back to the circumstances of P****/R****. She mentioned that she had never been with anyone except for R****. She didn’t specify if the rape had anything to do with the divorce, only that R****was so fucked up on drugs that she felt she couldn’t take care of me without him. She said that when she found out she was pregnant, she didn’t tell her mother, flew to NY to stay with some friends and ended up back in WA once she couldn’t get state aide. She stayed with her mother during the pregnancy, and she says she didn’t got out of the house or call her friends. So clearly I was a secret to some. But, I ask you – if she was married to R****, why then did it have to be a secret if she didn’t have any doubts about me being his child?
Which brings us back to a comment she made, after she mentioned that she stayed in the house during the pregnancy, I said, yes – I understand that because it was 1970 and the attitudes about unwed mothers is messed up. but she added "well, it was also the racial situation that made it worse". I didn’t catch it right away, but I should have said, why would the racial situation make it worse? But clearly, what I am inferring from this situation, is that she knew that I wasn’t R****'s kid.
so.. what to do with that in terms of the 'truth' of the story. It just brings me back to the speculation part. What if, for example, I am a product of an affair, a short lived affair that broke up the marriage, and her Catholic training, and her white mother were 'ashamed' of the situation…. and you get the idea. But I repeat – if a rape is what happened, then I am sad and angered for her trauma.
On that note – what if I am a product of violence? It makes it much more difficult I think to walk up to a brotha and say, 'hey – I’m your kid'.
oh and Let me just say it out loud.. I KNEW I was freakin black!!! lol…
Oh yeah… did I mention she freakin requested that I be placed with white people? What is THAT about? I was like.. so YOU did this to me? lol….
I called my mom and dad and let them know what is going on. right about now, I’m NOTHING but thankful and sending up MUCH love to the Creator for her hand in my life. My parents are … I have no words except – I love them, and I am blessed, blessed, blessed.
more soon. my head feels like its gonna explode. lol.
Dear Adoptive Parents of African American, Black, mixed-Race children -
(and you know what… anyone who isnt black – listen UP)
unless you are involved in a conversation with a black intellectual about the changing nature of self-naming and the black body – or on the same lines – unlesss you are involved in a conversation about the distinctions between 'nigga' and 'nigger' -
its is NOT – I repeat NOT okay for you to say 'nigger'. ever. ever. ever. ever. I dont care if you hear your black children say it. i dont care if you hear 50 million black people say it.
dont freakin say it.
just hold your tounge.
last night was the premiere of my work in progress "Ungrateful Daughter" at Off-Market Theatre in SF! Man —- after not performing for 4 years.. i think it all came out last night. I feel SO good and so much of what needed to be put out there … was put out there. I didnt miss ANY of my lines and it was GREAT!!
The piece is a piece I've been working on for the past 8 weeks and last nights show was only the first 15 minutes. It touches on the painful and joyful aspects of being transracially adopted. I hope to get some reviews of the piece up soon.
I'm planning on producing the show again soon. But in the East Bay. At some point I hope to travel with the piece and take it to a few places around the country. I hope you all can come!!