to the Japanese man
at the bar who asked me
if I knew that Filipinos
are the Black people
Im a nigger nigger?
I’m excited I’ve finally got some time and space to teach this workshop I’ve been wanting to create for a while. This is the first iteration of it, as I hope to eventually move to where I am able to host a weekend or 4 day long writing, meditation and healing retreat at a writing/ retreat center somewhere, each that will focus on different member of the adoption circle. Please join me this coming June!
The workshop is a one day, four hour workshop. I’ve been approached over and over about facilitating writing time for adopted people and adoptive parents. I really wanted each group of folks to have space and time to be with other people who are ‘like them’, and to have space to share what are very intimate and personal stories. We will be doing all kinds of writing exercises to get your juices flowing and to draw out stories you want to work on. Race, Class and Gender will be important parts of our writings and discussions. Even if you feel like you have no ideas, but you want to just come and ‘dump’ and use the time to write and express – you are welcome!
I’m so excited to be with other people who have been thinking about adoption, race and identity and doing my favorite thing – writing! I hope you will join me and if you can’t, please pass on to your networks of folks!
“Adoption, My Voice, My Body: A Writing Workshop”
Sunday June 5th (for Adopted People) and Saturday June 11th (for Adoptive Parents), Saturday June 18th (for Birth Parents.
11am-3pm, Oakland, CA
Do you have a story related to adoption and family you have been wanting to tell? Something to celebrate? Something you have been struggling with? Do you have a memory you would like to start writing down? A memoir you want to begin or keep writing on? This is an excellent workshop for both those who will for the first time be trying to consider how adoption has impacted their life and for those who have spent a lot of time considering their relationship to adoption. This workshop is for both experienced writers and those who have no writing experience. We will work from “where you are” to explore your stories, thoughts and ideas.
Week 1: For Adopted People (10 seats) – Sunday June 5th
This week welcomes all adopted people – same race, transracial / inter-country and kinship adoptees. We will spend time reading, discussing and writing our memories, our voices and our stories as adopted people and time focusing on our bodies as holding memory and histories that need to be spoken.
Week 2: For Birth Parents (10 seats) – Saturday June 11th
This week welcomes all Birth Parents, both mothers and fathers together to write. We will spend time reading, discussing and writing your stories, thoughts and ideas about your connection or disconnection to the children in your life who are also impacted by adoption and your body as it remembers the past.
Week 3: For Adoptive Parents (10 seats) – Saturday June 18th
This week welcomes adoptive parents to spend time exploring your stories. We will spend time reading, discussing and writing your memories, your voices and time with the concepts of family, mothering and fathering in a way that will focus on your own specific stories of the challenges and joys of adoptive parenting.
Other Workshop Details
Workshop Fee: $80 general, $60 (students & seniors. Email for discount)
Space for 10 participants
Reserve your space NOW!
AFAAD Panel Report from the USSF by Guest Blogger, new mommy and AFAAD MN chapter co-founder Shannon Gibney
Another World Is Possible for Poor and Neglected Children, and Communities of Color:
Are adoption and foster care social justice issues? During the first U.S. Social Forum (USSF) in 2007, the consensus seemed to be a resounding “no.”
I remember being in an elevator in my hotel in Atlanta with a number of fellow activists, discussing our workshops. The folks beside me talked about labor, gender equity, grassroots organizing, and solidarity economy sessions they were leading. When I mentioned mine on transracial adoption, I might as well have been speaking Greek. “What?” someone asked, while others looked on in confusion. “Transracial what?”
Luckily, the second USSF, held this past June 22-26, 2010 in Detroit, proved that adoption/child welfare activists and allies have been doing our work, and doing it well, because these issues have now made it on the radar screens of many participants I spoke to. And no one looked at me like I was attending the wrong conference when I told them about the workshop I was leading.
Our session was titled “Where Have All Our Children Gone? Linking Child Removal From Communities of Color to Larger Social Justice Issues,” and was facilitated by fellow members of Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD) Connie Galambos Malloy and Ian Hagemann, and Sahngnoksoo (SNS) member Sunny Kim.
It was attended by more than 30 people, who represented a wide range of backgrounds, ethnically, racially, culturally, regionally, and terms of class and age. There were a few members of the adoption triad present (adoptees, adopters, and biological parents), but the vast majority of folks attending work everyday on the frontlines of child removal, from a young woman who is starting up a reproductive justice center for Black women in Philadelphia, to an anti-racist workshop facilitator at the Peoples’ Institute of New Orleans, and a Native American activist who spoke about the catastrophic effect child removal has had on her community.
This was quite a different demographic than that of 2007, when the majority of participants were either white lesbians considering adoption to grow their families, white adoptive parents, or transracial adoptees (TRAs). Everyone was welcome, of course, but I really, really appreciated the input and expertise the adoptees present brought to the conversation – and in fact, took control of the workshop itself, steering it clear of the usual personal narratives into much more political territory.
But I am getting ahead of myself here.
For one thing, you are probably wondering what the USSF is, exactly – unless you attended, had friends or colleagues who attended, or are otherwise involved in the activities of the American Left. As I said above, the first USSF was held in 2007, in Atlanta, and represented a major breakthrough in grassroots organizing in the U.S. It was the first time such a large gathering of organizers and activists from the American Progressive Left came together under the guise of building a sustained movement for social change – and led by those most oppressed by neo-liberal economic policies (mainly lower-income, people of color). Over 12,000 people attended, which was amazing in itself, since many people thought that you could never get a Left as splintered as ours together to discuss the great justice issues of our time, coherently, and set an agenda of action, to boot.
This initial event, strategically held in the American South, the cradle of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, laid the groundwork for the second forum in Detroit. But the real roots of the USSF stretch way beyond our borders, to the Global South. Indeed, the mechanism that initiated the USSF was the World Social Forum (WSF) .
The first WSF, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, was primarily organized by laborers there, in response to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “which, since 1971, has fulfilled a strategic role in formulating the thought of those who promote and defend neoliberal policies throughout the world,” (World Social Forum India). Since that time, multiple WSF’s have taken place around the world, as have regional gatherings in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. For a list of Social Forums happening around the world this year, click here .
The World Social Forum website explains the Forum philosophy and methodology: “The World Social Forum is an open meeting place where social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organizations opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, to formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action. Since the first world encounter in 2001, it has taken the form of a permanent world process seeking and building alternatives to neo-liberal policies. This definition is in its Charter of Principles, the WSF’s guiding document. The World Social Forum is also characterized by plurality and diversity, is non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party. It proposes to facilitate decentralized coordination and networking among organizations engaged in concrete action towards building another world, at any level from the local to the international, but it does not intend to be a body representing world civil society. The World Social Forum is not a group nor an organization.”
The WSF’s slogan “Another World Is Possible,” asks participants to not just formulate responses to the newest global assaults on humanity, but to actually come up with viable and sustainable alternatives to the way the world is currently organized. With this in mind, those working on a variety of issues that often do not intersect are encouraged to do so.
There came a point in all this cross-sectional work that a critical mass of people from the Global South looked to we in the Global North who say we are committed to equity to organize our own Social Forum in the U.S., since so many of the most difficult issues the Global South is grappling with are actually the result of the behavior and policies of our government and corporations. This challenge was the first step towards the 2007 USSF, which organizers defined as “a movement building process. It is not a conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples’ solutions to the economic and ecological crisis,” (USSF website).
Selecting Detroit as the site of the 2010 USSF fit nicely into this vision. The city is a stark example of the shape of things to come if free-market capitalism is allowed to take precedence over community needs and relationships, and also exemplifies the kind of do-it-yourself, don’t-wait-for-someone-else-to-save-youingenuity that is at the heart of the Forum philosophy. Detroit’s consistently high unemployment, White Flight, decaying infrastructure and urban core, and failing schools are all the result of neoliberalism gone wild in some way, while its flourishing urban garden movement, and dedicated organizing communities inspire those facing similar problems around the country.
As someone who grew up in Ann Arbor, a smallish university-town about 45 minutes west of Detroit, the USSF was an amazing opportunity for me to really experience Detroit for the first time. Sure, our family frequented the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend every year when I was growing up, but Hart Plaza was just about as far in as I got. My perceptions of Detroit were largely formed by the media, and the middle-class friends and classmates I was surrounded with: Abandoned houses, corrupt politicians, rampant crime, and poverty. Detroit was seen as A VERY DANGEROUS PLACE in this context, some place to be avoided, and certainly not visited alone, or God-forbid, alone with a baby, as I did last week. And, to be fair, this is all of this is true in some way. Detroit has major problems that no one can reasonably deny. The issue is that this is only one reality, amongst many others.
Travelling from Cobo Hall to Wayne State University, back to Wayne County Community College (WCCC) on foot or on the bus during the conference, I was amazed by the hustle and bustle of folks all around me – despite boarded up buildings and houses. Trying to get my son and assorted baby paraphanalia on and off the bus was already a complete nightmare, and would have been logistically impossible, were it not for the assistance of fellow passengers, and the drivers themselves. But people were more than eager to help, and clearly adored my son (you don’t see too many infants being carted all over downtown Detroit). All of the faculty and students I encountered at Wayne State and WCCC were clearly in engaged in the business of getting educated, running their farmer’s market, and helping us directionally-challenged attendees find our way around.
Walking down Woodward Avenue during the Opening March, cars were honking at our signs for environmental justice, job equity, and hundreds of other causes, while people we passed on the street looked entertained, and asked us what was going on, and why.
That’s what wins you over about Detroit: No one puts on airs there, in the way that bristles me when I visit cities like New York, DC, Seattle, or Atlanta. Nor did I experience the coldness or overly-friendly-in-order-to-mask-the-fact-that-you-Black-people-scare-me behavior I have become accustomed to, living in the Twin Cities. Everyone is just out there in Detroit, on the street, doing their thing. There doesn’t seem to be room for a whole lot of pretense, because everyone is really just trying to live.
Was the city gritty? Yes. But that grittiness conveyed a deep sense of history and ongoing struggle that I could appreciate. So, that’s all just to say that the chance to get to know Detroit a little, and on a deeper level, the USSF’s approach to place, were huge highlights of the week for me.
It will probably come as no surprise that our workshop on linking child removal in communities of color to larger social justice issues was another highlight of the Forum for me. Collaboration is never easy, but it its rewards pay dividends. Working with Connie, Ian, and Sunny to facilitate a coherent workshop that would be useful to participants in their work and lives was daunting, but I think ultimately successful. We didn’t agree on everything, but came to a consensus on what we most wanted attendees to take away from the session: That adoption and foster care are major social justice issues. All of us have grappled in some way with the all too common idea that the American family is sacrosanct and beyond reproach – as are the institutions that create, define, and destroy them – so we were therefore committed to making sure we politicized them. We knew that we only had two hours, so there wouldn’t be time for much else. In this sense, depth was much more important to us than breadth.
We began by having participants respond to various images of child removal we had hung up around the room. This was a simple Popular Education activity, in which people wrote down whatever came to mind when they viewed each image, not worrying over any response was “right” or “wrong.”
The image below generated the following responses:
“It seems easier to love as children.” “Everyone is happy.” “Her eyes are so trusting.” “And will the brightness of her eyes fade when/if she takes time to think about the implications of ‘missionary’ work on adoption when she’s older?”
For this image, participants wrote:
“Happiness on a child’s face.” “Who is not in the picture?” “Where are their families?” “Do they know any adults who look like them?” and “Children create community in absence of families?”
This image from the Vietnam Babylift, generated these comments:
“War babies.” “Colonialism/imperialism.” “Forced removal.” “Terrorized children.” “Children lost their homes because of the war.” “PSTD normal.” “Whose tank? Whose bombs? Who’s funding? Then who is adopting?” “Old eyes, old story.” “How will the definition of ‘home’ and ‘identity’ change for them?”
Finally, a photo of a suburban-looking white woman, flanked by two young Black boys generated a flurry of discussion:
“White folks – no matter how well-meaning – are unable to provide children of color with what they need to survive in a white supremacist society.” “I agree.” “Where is the black male who created these young boys?” “I wonder what ‘lens’ these children see through?” “Role of white American women in child removal. Lady smile while kids don’t.” “Children finally have a home to go home to.” “Oh God…Reminds me of a friend’s aunt who is making a habit of adopting Ethiopian children. She is white. And liberal. So she doesn’t get her own racism.” “What makes a family. Sticky situation. Children seem to be in a loving home, but at the cost of losing identity.” “Makes me think of Angelina Jolie – WTF?” “Makes me think of Angelina Jolie – WTF?” “Missionaries ‘saving’ poc.” “Note their hands are all in the same position. Whose idea was that, and is that supposed to mean unity?”
As you can see from all of these comments, participants clearly had some familiarity with issues surrounding child welfare and communities of color – and plenty also had an emotional connection to it, as well. This made our time together all the more meaningful, as folks were eager to engage with the problem on a deep level. The photos made it easy for everyone to do so, as we used a few pictures and written responses to initiate discussions on the role that U.S. war and militarism play in opening up “new markets” for international adoption, the ongoing effects of Indian boarding schools on Native communities today, the Evangelical impetus towards adoption, and the underlying narratives that lie at the root of all discourse surrounding child removal.
“I feel like the idea underlying all of this is that poor, women of color are terrible mothers, and should not be allowed to parent,” said one woman. “That’s why all this apparatus is designed to make real. So that, if an environmental crisis like the one in Haiti comes along, or if there’s a war or something, this whole system can just swoop in, and take advantage.”
The rest of the session was taken up by going through, and responding to, a Timeline of Child Removal From Communities of Color, headed up by Ian. I am not going to include sections of the timeline here, as it is still very much a work-in-progress. The timeline is a project that many scholars and adoptees of color have taken on recently, including Jae Ran Kim, Lisa Marie Rollins, and members of the Adoptees of Color Roundtable. AFAAD is interested n creating a collaborative document – something that folks can contribute to online, through Open Source file sharing, not unlike Wikipedia. The issue is, as always, finding funding to do so. Please contact us if you have any leads on financial or human resources we could use to make this a reality, as seeing the sheer visual reality of child removal from communities of color forces us to grapple with how successful these policies have been, and then, hopefully, strategize on realistic interventions we can make in order to make families and communities less vulnerable.
Sunny gave an excellent summary of Andrea Smith’s “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of WhiteSupremacy,” in order to ground and contextualize the discussion during this activity, which was eminently helpful. I, myself, have been mired in the “oppression olympics” paradigm when attempting to organize or even discuss shared oppressions with other adoptees and people of color, so it is very helpful to have a framework to use that acknowledges the destructive and overwhelming power of white supremacy, while simultaneously acknowledging the very distinct ways that Native, Black, Latino, and Asian bodies are racialized in this country, based on our separate histories.
Although I attended, and tried to attend a few workshops and Peoples’ Movement Assemblies (PMAs…and I say try, because carting my son around the festivities was more or less successful, depending on his mood. But he was a trooper!), the one which affected me the most was called “Poverty Is Not Neglect and We Are Not Powerless: Mothers Reclaim Our Children Back From the Child Welfare Industry.” This workshop was organized by Every Mother Is a Working Mother Network, which self-describes as, “self-help, multi-racial action and support groups of mothers, other family members, former social workers, foster parents and supporters in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, working together against the unjust removal of children from their families by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Children are often snatched, not because of abuse or neglect, but because of poverty, sexism and racism. We fight individual cases, build public awareness, educate the media, work to change unjust policies and practices, and challenge discrimination against mothers throughout the system. We are part of a national movement,” (DHS/DCFS GIVE US BACK OUR CHILDREN flyer).
Although Every Mother Is a Working Mother Network put on the session, they invited other women and organizations who are fighting similar battles for their families to the table as well, including The LaStraw, Inc., Family Connection Center, Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor, and ODVAct. This openness was exemplified by the fact that several women from Every Mother Is a Working Mother came to our workshop on child removal, and contributed their thoughts and experiences to the discussion. I can say that I personally also really appreciated the fact that one of their members also watched my son during their session, so that I could participate and get educated.
One of the woman who came to our workshop also asked me to go to the microphone and speak about my experience and activist work as a TRA, at the end. I told her that this was their space, and I wanted to respect that, since I knew that they didn’t have many places to do so and build together, but she said that she thought it was very important for us to know about each other, and share. She was right, of course. Many of the women in the room approached me afterwards, and wanted to get AFAAD’s information, since they didn’t know we existed, and want to keep in touch with folks who are working on the other side of the issue. I have included their contact information below, because this is such a big and important issue, so please contact them yourself, to organize!
Beginning with a short film these women had produced, DHS – Give Us Back Our Children! (and I encourage everyone reading this to contact Every Mother Is a Working Mother, and get yourself a copy and share with friends and colleagues, as it is just $7), the session was hard-hitting, filled with energy, and inspiring.
Women told short but personal stories about how they had regrettably found themselves at the mercy of DHS and its paternalistic case workers, trying over and over again to comply with their unrealistic demands, only to have their children taken away and placed into foster homes, where they were often abused. One woman told the story of her physically abusive husband who almost killed her, and the subsequent DHS interventions, which were too little, too late. After more abuse, and years of threats, her husband finally kidnapped her child, who she has not seen for years. Another woman discussed the repeated harassment she received from DHS, when she called them and asked if they had any programs to help with food and utilities, as she had barely $150 left from her welfare subsidy after paying rent each month. In fact, a key issue that many of these groups are working on is reforming the new welfare rules, which have made it even more difficult for poor mothers to raise their own children.
A commonly heard refrain was, “I asked them [DHS] why they just couldn’t give me the money to pay for my rent and food, so that I could take care of my own child, instead of paying someone else in the foster care of child welfare system to do it?” This idea is further explored in a hard-hitting series the Philadelphia Daily News published earlier this year, featuring some of Every Mother’s members: “Group of mothers and its common foe: DHS and its ‘adversarial’ system,”
“Is home where the heart is? Should poverty and inability to find & keep housing tear mother from child?”
Attending the USSF is a priority for me every three years, as I find that the older I get and the longer I fight various social justice battles, the more important it becomes for me to be inspired. Otherwise, I start to feel completely overwhelmed and cynical. My perspective on the history and reality of social movements – that they are usually a series of crushing defeats, followed by very small gains – starts to become completely unmanageable. Somehow, remembering that it is these gains, no matter their smallness, that alone have the capacity to redeem any semblance of our humanity, becomes next to impossible when I am mired in daily struggle. But being around thousands of activists, organizers, and everyday people, who like myself are just trying to live a self-reflective life that harms as few as possible, reminds me that I am not alone. I begin to believe again that perhaps I really can keep along this path, despite the difficulties and heartaches. I keep coming back to the response of my good friend and mentor Rose Brewer, when I asked how she keeps on going as such a committed and engaged activist, all these years, and in the face of monumental challenges. We were in the midst of the Opening March, slogans and bodies weaving in and out of the small space between and around us. “What other choice is there?” she replied evenly.
I nodded. Exactly. How could I have forgotten?
Shannon Gibney is a 35-year-old domestic Black adoptee activist, writer, and educator. She lives in Minneapolis, where she co-founded an AFAAD chapter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is http://www.shannongibney.net.
To find out more about Sahngnoksoo (SNS), visit http://www.sahngnoksoo.org.
Contact Every Mother Is a Working Mother Network at (215) 848-1120, (323) 276-9833, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family Connection Center can be reached at email@example.com.
Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor is at (216) 321-1677, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ODVAct is at (216) 751-7150, or email@example.com.
I usually don’t post music. I will be posting something about the passing of HipHop Legend Guru and what his life and work creating powerful music meant to me as a black girl living in an all white community. I’m sad and pained by this loss.
I also know influential, potent art when I see it. M.I.A is an woman vocal artist I’ve been listening to for awhile now, her first album being my favorite. I had to post this to support her and her work. Its incredible. I’ve learned that youtube pulled the video. I’m amazed they had the audacity to do that considering all the other useless, racist and misogynistic crap that’s in their database. It makes no sense.
This song, what it did was make me think of the ways in which Arizona is becoming a police state. Are we really “Born Free”?
Warning: This video contains graphic images. But its all TRUTH.
M.I.A “Born Free” for a full screen movie of it.
I’m thrilled to be performing the full length version of “Ungrateful Daughter” this coming Thursday April 8th and in two weeks Thursday April 22nd at 8pm at StageWerx Theater in SF. This is the first leg of me getting it out there as a full piece in development. I can’t wait to hear what people have to say.
I’m super excited, I’ve been getting some press for it already, check it:Oakland Local — “Lisa Marie Rollins’ “Ungrateful Daughter” explores facets of transracial adoption”
by Irene Nexica
East Bay Express — “Asian Girl With a Secret” “Lisa Marie Rollins grew up thinking she was part Asian, part white, and part Latina. The truth was different.”
By Rachel Swan
Both of these articles came out today, and whats so interesting to me about them is the way that they are as wide as can possibly be in how they approach the story. Anyone who knows me knows that I (and most adult adoptees who have been doing this work for a while) am WAY past using “just” my own personal story to talk about the trauma and social justice work that must be done around adoption, people in foster care and for adoptees themselves. But its always amazing to me that no matter what, some journalists continue to focus on the fact that ‘back in the day’ adoptive parents had it all wrong and that today, adoptive parents have it all right because they’ve taken a few anti-racism classes or they are still, just concerned about providing a good home for the children. and whats wrong with that?
In Swan’s article, there is NO mention of my work that in global in nature and that it VERY much connects to the people who are adopting right this minute, and that Haiti and Ethiopia are on my radar when I’m writing creatively and doing social justice work. There is a mention of AFAAD, but only in a cursory way, saying I support adoptees who are looking to search. Okaaayyy… thats one thing I do, but its like one thing out of 50 that AFAAD focuses on. I get it, you cant do everything, and I am thankful for the press around my show, for real, but I also continue to be frustrated that the amazing press comes at the cost of my overall message about gender, race and the global politics of adoption.
And don’t get me started on the exotification of me as a mixed race girl in the Bay, and the title. Anyone who also knows me.. knows that I identify as BLACK/ Afropina and that I have deep, deep resistance to ‘mixed race’ identity politics that continue to claim transracial adoption as part of ‘their’ issues. WTH with the “Asian” in the title?”. No No. I get it, its about readers buying into the article and its the EBX, not Mother Jones. But hey, maybe I’ll get a date out of it. sweet!
The article itself is actually well written, strong in its emotionality and I’ve gotten LOTS of my friend commenting and emailing me who were very moved by the way that it was written. Overall, I like it. But to be clear, my critique is about the ways that media, writers and notably white adoptive parents continue to ignore the interests of adult adoptees, and actually many times fear that adult adoptee perspective.
Nexica’s article is brief, but certainly I appreciate the ways in which she attends to the context of our current moment and really understands that my story has implications beyond just some black girl whining about racist moments in her childhood.
Come to my show or please please – donate to the development so I can bring a fully realized piece to your city!!
**this post is rated R.
I know black people are never surprised when white people, ‘show they ass’, and I’m no different, especially having grown up around em, but I have to say I’m deeply disgusted with John Mayer.
I’m not even gonna lie. I love his music. I’ve defended him as a musician to a whole bunch of folks. I love his artistry, his guitar ‘gear-head’ sensibility and his apparent attention to and respect for the historical greats in blues music that his music is totally predicated upon. He’s never hidden the fact that he knows where the music he plays comes from and who his influences are – all black men.’
I’m not gonna repeat for you what he said, because you can read it anywhere.
Basically what this shameful display points out for me is the unfortunate and sad reality of white privilege and white supremacy. This, like Michael Richards, is a stark and strong reminder of no matter who the white person is, no matter if they are close to, work with, love, are in a relationship with, or adopt a black person, they have to be on a constant job, and always aware of how their whiteness is like a veil, no, a cloak that covers them from their ability to see the world and their position in it.
Two other thoughtful posts on the JM debacle that point out JM’s racism, misogyny and homophobia:
Its Impossible to Have a Benetton Heart and a White Supremacist Dick by firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Racefail Meets Playboy by Andrea (AJ) Plaid
And for me, (no surprise here, dude its an adoptee blog!) this incident is completely and utterly related to transracial adoption (and interracial relationships I might add). and I immediately thought of the multiple times in my life that the white people who were close to me, not just my family, people who I thought were friends, both girls and boys at one point or another when ‘the shit got real’ around race, revealed themselves to be racist, and basically betrayed me and our friendship or relationship.
It is completely possible for white people to love and respect black people and still say and do racist shit toward them. Its called white privilege for a reason! I’m not calling anyone out, but my brutha’s & sista’s who are in interracial relationships, don’t act like this doesn’t come up for you. Adoptee’s with white parents have it happen ALL the time. Even if their parent has been for years and years engaged in anti-racist struggles, there have been more times than not, that they trip up and do some racist mess and totally hurt, disrespect or devalue their child and their child’s culture. I can point out so many instances right now, in my work educating and working with AP’s, even one’s who think they ‘get it’, where they continue to display their internal and ingrained ideologies about race and blackness.
For me, it’s about protection, what is or isn’t my ally, my parent, my teacher, my friend doing to protect and assist me in fighting and coping with the constant barrage of racism that exists outside in the world? Now I’m not arguing that John Mayer is an active anti-racist ally, what I’m arguing is that the cloak of white privilege sometimes is so thick, you are completely covered with it, and you get comfortable and forget that you always, your entire life, have to be on guard with the ways you are fighting back. JM got comfortable with his relationship to blackness, and forgot that he was white. I’m totally irritated too, because much like most white celebrities who ‘make mistakes’, this fool will be forgiven and back in action like he didnt say anything. Unlike Isaiah Washington, who displayed his homophobia, he apologized and Hollywood has basically blackballed him. Will he be forgiven? Will he be given a pass for just, ‘making a mistake’ and given an opportunity to rectify his mistake? I doubt it.
The only thing I have to say about his video apology last night, is why did he feel the need to thank his band for coming on stage and playing with him? He’s thankin the negro band like he’s not paying they rent. You know what, John? Black folks have been workin for and with racist white folks forever.
My dear friend and fellow AFAAD Board member Karie Gaska, who is in ATL now for her Ph.D. and who is also a fan of JM, and I had a conversation today about his interview. Here’s what Karie had to say:
“I think the other bloggers LM mentioned above did a good job of pointing out all of the racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc in John’s comments so I wont pick it apart again. I’m moving from the understanding that this interview reveals underlying, latent racist, sexist, homophobic thoughts and am just sharing what I think we have to contribute to this incident as TRA’s who live in that place where we may really really love people who really really disappoint us in terms of understanding racism and validating our experiences.
I’m not as deeply disappointed in John Mayer in particular as much as I’m just sad and disappointed in what this represents. I don’t think that John Mayer’s comments are any different from what millions of other people think, he just happens to be famous so its easy to call him out on it. But this definitely has parallels to the transracial adoption experience for me. As a TRA who grew up around all white people, this reminds me of that day when you confront the reality that maybe all the people around you are really racist and talk about you behind your back (or in many cases in front of your back). Then you swear off white people and their racist attitudes for a while, only to be brought back and hold on to the hope that maybe you were wrong…. maybe all white people aren’t racist? Maybe you can have white friends and not tensely wait in fear for them to say something ignorant that makes you cringe and then find yourself not returning their phone calls. Then something like this happens and you remember….”oh yeah they really all are racist”. Not because they actively want to be racist, but just because we live in a racist society. If you are a white person and just live your life in America, you will live, breathe, and absorb all sorts of overt, covert, implicit and every other kind of racist, sexist, homophobic stuff. And if you never stop and examine your values, your life, or your thinking, you will just go along regurgitating it. So this just reminds me that America is a racist society and white privilege is powerfully alive yet seldom acknowledged. And too often it can be commonplace for someone to have a blatant disregard for others humanity and totally not see it. It happens everyday.
As a TRA growing up I faced this on an interpersonal level and I still see it with white adoptive parents today. A lot has changed but you know a lot has stayed the same. The John Mayer incident reminds me of how you can align yourself with Black people to the extent that it benefits you but divorce yourself from the part you don’t like. Like when JT exposed Janet’s boob at the superbowl. He can be involved, apologize and still go to the grammy’s but Janet is the “black whore”, “jezebel”, etc who is oversexed and must be stopped! The shit is ridiculous. and I’m not mad at JT…I’m just sayin that’s how it works. Align yourself with the Black people as much as it benefits you but then when shit gets real….where are you? That is white privilege…because you can do that…you have the option to divorce yourself from it. And I see white parents do that all the time. Align themselves with the struggle…enough to want to adopt a child, but not enough to help a family work toward reunification. Align themselves enough to move to a more diverse neighborhood, but not enough to change their own social circle.
And his comments resurfaced one particular memory for me that I’ll just give as an example of how white people think they are not racist (or insert another ism), but clearly prove their racism…. in their demonstration of their “non-racism”. When I was about 14 the same kind of incident that John was talking about with Perez Hilton happened with me. I was hanging out somewhere and there was a white-dude in another conversation near me talking about how he wasn’t a racist to another white dude. And then he randomly kisses me to “prove” his non-racism. And I remember how that felt…like I was a piece of meat, or an animal, or a joke, not a person. So you can just kiss someone and violate their physical space without permission and that proves you are not racist? No dumbass that proves you ARE racist. In the same way that John Mayer kissed perez hilton violated his space, and had no regard for him as a person…only as a joke…and then he used the word “fags” DUH! You are homophobic buddy! And the whole interview he is trying to counter the popular belief that he is a douchebag….ironic?
Anyway thats enuf rambling, the whole thing just leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth…. “
final word from LM:
When Karie and I were chatting about this and she recounted her story of the white-dude above, it also flashed me back to remembering hatred from white men and boys around me as a child, and the sexualized way it played out then. White boys in my school and church community would always deny publicly that they found anything about me attractive, and at the same time would express their repulsion/attraction to me in mostly sexually violent ways when they knew they wouldn’t get caught. It also worked in the reverse, a white boy would say they liked me, but then once other friends found out, he would reject me publicly an the verbal part of the rejection was always about me being a black girl.
(I cant help but think about this new group of young women coming up right now in all white communities.. sigh).
I cant even begin to talk about how angry I am over the Kerry Washington and “i dont date black girls” = “david duke penis” thing and how that relates to the continued devaluation of black women as desirable. What you can steal black music but you cant fuck a black woman? Oh right, you can fuck em, you just cant tell anyone. I can’t wait until there is a black girl who comes out sayin she slept with JM.
So John Mayer, I’m officially over it. and I’m pissed I have to make a decision about what to do with my albums, like I had to do with Chris Brown.
and let me remind everyone of what I said in 2005.
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.
Since yesterday I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with so many feelings around Michael Jackson’s death. I’m in the process of writing a blog from my perspective on this. Michael Jackson had a major impact on me as a black child who was a singer and performer growing up in an all white setting. I have much to say. soon.
I will miss him and will always love the music, passion and love he brought to the world.
until then read these:
Adrienne Maree Brown at Colorlines Blog
Michael Jackson – Who’s Loving You?
Jessie at Racism Review
Michael Jackson RIP
The Meaning of MJ at Feministing.com
Its been a painful and powerful trip home. Every time I come home I’m more and more overwhelmed with the isolation of my family and their community from the realities of people of color not only in their own backyard, Indigenous people, Mexicans and Islander peoples but people of color across the world. I continue to try my hardest keep myself separate from my parents friends who are evangelical Christians and who live in their white privilege, and live inside it in ways that are SO similar to the liberal, educated white folks of the Bay area I cant begin to talk about it. Its so time for me to begin to start speaking some truths around that again that I cant believe how long I feel I’ve been silent. I’m just now able to talk about how the past work I did doing adoption education has had an major impact on my relationships with white people. I thought I had worked through a lot of my anger, its been renewed with a vengeance and vigor I had forgotten. All I can say here is, AFAAD is my response, a response that is solely about the children who grow up in transracial adoptive families.
At the same time I’m channeling positive responses to the pain I feel when I am reminded of how deeply racist our world is, I’m more and more impacted by how much I love my family, my parents, my cousins and aunts and uncles, and how much they love me. It was actually evident to me this year that they really missed me being here since the snowstorm prevented me from being here for Christmas, and they like it when I come around. It was so nice to just be my immediate family and miss all the Christmas hullabaloo that forces me to have to be around a bunch of people I don’t give a shit about and who don’t give a shit about me, and who in every other instance would never be interested in knowing who I am. and for the most part, still aren’t. This may be a change in the way I spend my holidays. I’m just sayin.
Its such a contradiction to live inside such love and such pain at the same time.
I spent a few days in Seattle, networking for AFAAD and Third Root a little, but mostly just catching up with the new friends who I’ve made who are meaningful to me and hiding in a coffee shop for hours on University Ave working on my chapters.
One significant thing that happened is that I spend some time in the amazing Seattle Public School archives looking at high school yearbooks from the 1960’s. I was looking for my birth fathers photo, based on a name my birth mother gave me.
I got lost on the way to the archives, but it was in this great building, the John Stanford Educational Center, where it looks like the Seattle school district offices are located. Ah teachers. How do I love thee? I made it there about a ½ hour before they closed and a lovely young woman, with a rockin vintage shirt and cool ass glasses with a green tint, (I love Seattle!) Althea, came up to take me upstairs to the archives. I love the smell and look of historical archives. Being an academic, I have a healthy respect for history and the preservation of it. and to see the history of the Seattle schools being care for so lovingly and .. I always worry about funding for these things. If you can – after you donate to AFAAD (ha!) – donate some money to them or to your local school district historical archive!
Althea brought me the years 1966-1969. I had estimated that since he was supposedly 20 to 22 when I was conceived, that those were reasonable years to think he had graduated. I put on the white gloves and started though, reading over pages, laughing at hairstyles and clothes, while trying not to listen to my internal voice. In my head I kept saying, what if she lied to me to keep me off track? What if she doesn’t want me to know who he is? What if she just picked some random person? (which is still a possibility).
I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t anywhere! I kept looking over and over the pages, thinking I had missed something. Parrish, Patton, Peterman, Perkins, Peth. Pittman, Powell, Purvis, . . . nothing. Finally, after looking through 2 high school 4 years each, I stopped and started packing up. Althea came up and asked how it was going. I sighed and told her that I hadn’t found anything. She asked me a few questions about who I was looking for. I hesitated, because as an adoptee who has done mad reading on the negative responses to when we are searching for our birth families, we have been warned to be cautious about what we share with people.
I looked deep into her face, took a breath and said, “well, it’s a name that someone, well, it’s a name that my birth mother gave me for my birth father. Perhaps its not the right name. Perhaps it was just one of those leads that I have to live with not working out.” But inside, I wasn’t connecting to how much I was putting on this. I was really hoping to find something. I was disappointed, and it was starting to hurt. Althea’s eyes looked at me and she said, “why don’t we try 1965, just for the heck of it? Just to say you did it?” I shrugged, thinking, sure, why not, whatever.
When she brought back the books, she paused and then told me her story. A story about her own family, and so closely aligned with the narrative of lifelong secrets and lies, shame, truth, longing and have that impacts our adoptive families. I am always overwhelmed and honored when strangers can open themselves to me and share their stories.
I put the white gloves back on and began to thumb through the pages, starting with the seniors. It was a flash. There it was. 1965. on the bottom corner of the page. I felt the tears start coming, I took a deep breath, don’t cry, don’t cry, it may not be him, it may be a wrong lead, don’t cry.
Its him. His face looks light in the photo, but all of the photos at that time look like they are lightened, so I think he is medium or brown skinned. In another photo I found of him posing for the Dance planning committee, he look much darker than his senior photo. It lists some of his interests and his honors. I found it.
I wanted to start dialing a phone right then, but I didn’t have a middle name. Something that would distinguish him from all the other people in Washington state who have the same name who I have come across. We got copies, and I think I made it part way back to the elevator before I started crying and just had to be me and give mad love and a hug to Althea to thank her for the help.
I got back to where I was staying and checked my email and whaaaatt? Got an email from Althea, with his middle name and his birth date. Are you kidding me? Dammit, started crying again but with a big cheese smile.
Look people, if you are in a position of power, if you are an archivist, I want to just reiterate how important your job is and not just on the organizational, administrative tip. You being open to people, being non-judgmental about the people who come to your world – people who need histories, need truths, need the stories of our lives – your not questioning our personal motivations is SO extraordinarily important in an archivist and as someone who has ‘control’ over the archives. So many adoptees experience people being ‘gatekeepers’ and trying to keep us away from the truths of our lives. The narrative of the outside world is that we don’t need to know and that we shouldn’t want to know. and thats just bullshit.
I have no idea what I’m going to do next, knowing me I’ll sit on this for another 6 months to a few years. I still haven’t processed this at all, but I just wanted to share and thank Althea deeply and publicly for her consideration, patience and openness. Gurl, you rock, and you just changed my life.