Things I wanted to say

As Ive been slowly decompressing from PACT camp, Ive been mulling over the fact that Ive had virtually no contact (except one mother) from any of the AP’s I met. When I did the last panel for PACT, I had about 6 AP’s email me with questions, comments and also to just have general conversation. So its become an interesting dilemma as I try to continue to write. Is anyone reading? And did people email me because I didn’t write about that first panel? Am I just an ‘angry black girl’? and that + ‘angry adoptee’ = we cant ask her anything? I know my fellow TRA’s are reading. Did the show freak the AP’s out? Its not a story about the numerous happy moments in my childhood. hmmmm. dilemma.

I mean, I want AP’s to read this. Its like the show. It is for me, but its also a comment on race, TRAdoption and black diasporic womanhood.  I want AP’s to see it and discuss and I hope that when it’s done it will raise more eyes and discussion. But neither the show or the blog are instruction manuals. Most of us TRA’s are so done trying to teach people about ‘what to do’, much like as a scholar of African Diasporic culture, I am many times frustrated and ‘done’ teaching people about race. But while we are many times overwhelmed, frustrated and angry, I still want the AP’s who are trying to reach out to me. I’d rather have them ask and try to struggle through, than to make stupid assumptions about what it means to be black in the U.S.

and add adoption to that – messy, messy.

So I wanted to take a moment to make some suggestions about –  “What can I do?”. and this is for the record and will probably be one of the few times I actually say stuff like this. (ha!) and finally, – ummm each of these could be an entire dissertation -so clearly, this is the short version.

1. Make a concrete commitment to making your close community multi-racial and multi-cultural. And i mean a daily, weekly, yearly, lifetime commitment to making sure your child is comfortable and never feels isolated or alone. and yes – if they are the only black person for 100 miles – they are isolated and alone – even if they cant find the words to articulate it. I think the example I gave at the last panel was a white woman AP who I know who takes her black son to baseball. She lives in Oakland where there are basically a few leagues – the white leagues and the black leagues. She lives near the white leagues, but she makes a concerted effort to take her son on a weekly basis to a place where she and her husband are the only white people. She talked about how uncomfortable it was at first, how out of place she felt, but after people knew whose mother she was, they were completely supportive of her presence in a space that is traditionally a black space. And her son – is thankful and is comfortable around other black folks. Oh and when I say close community, I mean your friends and people you consider your family, not just random folks.

2. If that means you have to move, or drive 50 miles to a black/latino/chicano/asian or multi-racial church, school, or other social institution – then (duh!) move or drive the 50 miles.

3. Read, read read read. Dont just read kids books even though some of those might be good for you too. Dude – just go to the respective section in your local independent bookstore (and if you dont have one .. i guess you can go to the big store… and if your indy store or your big store doesnt have a section. ummm. yes.. ask about it and start having them order books for you!). If you like fiction, start with fiction. Not crap fiction – actual literature. Read more than just the canon. yes, Dubois, Toni Morrison and Angela Davis are all gravy, but push yourself. Do you know Edwidge Danticat? Octavia Butler? Audre Lourde? what about current contemporary poets and writers? yes – go take a class. (And lets add music and films to this as well – get netflix if you dont have a good video store!)

4. Coming to a “culture” camp once a year is NOT enough. You are not interacting with any adults of color. Hello – its not just about your child’s community, its about you being able to understand what it means to be white, in an all white community, with all white friends. Its called “white privilege” – you dont have to think about race if you really dont want to and really, the saying ignorance is bliss has meaning here. Its much funner to live life as if race doesnt matter. Its much nicer not to think about how your child might have people tease them, or say hateful things, or treat them with disdain or isolate them in the classroom . . . you get my point.

5. On that note-  Be willing and committed to struggle with the notion of “white privilege” and understand that race and the idea of “being racialized” is not something that you or your kids ‘finally get’ and then everything is cool. Living in a black/brown body is a life long thing. Yes it sucks, but yes black people learn how to live with the pressure or we slowly die. So yes, since you have a child of color – you cannot live your life anymore like race doesnt matter. sorry people.

6. Be willing to make mistakes and check yourself. Do you notice a pattern here? Yes – most of these comments are about YOU – not about your kid. Because your kid is not where the work needs to be done. Its not enough to just say “Im not racist” because you aren’t in the Klan or you aren’t physically cracking someone over the head with a bat or draggin them behind a truck. You must be willing to sit in the hair salon (sometimes all day!) where you are the only white person, or find a multi-racial salon. You must be willing to push yourself and strive to be anti-racist. We all do this work – no matter who we are. Its just harder for white folks because you dont have an understanding of ‘racialized’ bodies to begin with.

7. Rap and Hip Hop music is not the enemy. Yes 1/2 of it sucks and most of it that sucks is the crap on TV. But I am a hiphop head. I was raised on hip hop. But I seek out and support positive, poltical rap and hip hop music. When your kid is a teen… The Roots, Flipsyde, The Coup, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Saul Williams, Sunni Patterson, Agua Libre, Damien Marley, the list goes on and on… seriously.  

8. Intent doesnt matter. Intent doesnt matter. Intent doesnt matter.I seriously dont know how many more times I can say this. Just because you didnt mean it – doesnt make it NOT freaking racist!!!! Just because you didnt mean to say that your son’s friend must come from a good home because he gets good grades, or you didnt mean to say “but i dont want to move the ghetto” (duh! all black people dont live in the ghetto you dumb ASS!), or wow she is so articulate…. But i didnt mean it. I didnt mean it.

well. it. STILL. hurts.

Thus endeth the lesson.

P.S. I just remembered one other thing. Make sure as you are reading, that you are reading everything abou race and adoption, race and the social welfare system, race and politics, race and …race. It is your responsibility to understand the (sometimes very, very f-ed up) circumstances that made it possible for your child to come to you. That idea that if you read about ‘positive’ people like wack ass Conde or other supposed ‘leaders’… thats crap. Its not about ‘overcoming’ race, its about understand how it functions.


24 thoughts on “Things I wanted to say

  1. That last statement – It’s not about ‘overcoming’ race, it’s about understanding how it functions – deserves a standing O.

  2. Nice!! Coming from a fellow TRA who is ‘done’ trying to teach, but hopeful that universally applicable truths may be gleaned from what I put ‘out there,’ just wanted to echo your thoughts, especially #1, 2, 3 … wait. OK, all of them.

    Not sure whether it’s a difference between the two audiences to which you spoke before at the 2 diff. panels (prospective APs or “in it” APs), or if it was the added ingredient of your show …

    … but I haven’t heard a single peep from any of the PACT campers either (good thing? bad thing? Hmmm.), despite having confirmed my e-mail address and blog URL to several folks. So maybe they’re decompressing, too. Traumatized, even. Heh. Or, maybe they’re busy absorbing what you’ve written so far. Or, maybe they’re busy, busy, busy packing up their belongings and looking for real estate NEAR YOU, so big sister Lisa can tell them how to do right by their kids! 😀

  3. I discovered your blog after returning home from Pact camp. I intend to spread the word to my white AP peers and I want to organize an encore performance of “Ungrateful Daughter” with a larger audience because you were amazing! I’m appreciative of this post, which expanded on comments you made while on the panel. I’d put stars next to some of your statements because they jumped out at me as I was listening to you speak. Highlights for me included: “I was completely unprepared for moving in the world as a black body.” One of my favorites moments was when you responded to a question by saying, “I was bred for this moment so I could answer your questions right now!” (Funny, but it highlighted for me the misguided notions of too many APs who believe God ordained the child’s loss so that adults could benefit by becoming adoptive parents.) Right now, I’m reading one of the many books I picked up at the Pact bookstore entitled “The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism.” From my perspective, books are a great method of distance learning. Reading and reflecting are important, but there is no substitute for living, working, shopping and playing in multicultural settings. I know that APs have a steep learning curve. There is no excuse for the fact that I subjected my eldest son to bad hair days when I was told in pre-adoptive trainings about the importance of hair care in African American communities. I regret that I delayed taking my sons to a black-owned barbershop. Now, I prioritize activities and relationships that build connections across cultures. I think that my white AP peers and I are accountable for making decisions in the best interests of our children. Ignorance won’t be bliss when the shit hits the fan in our kids teens & 20’s.

  4. Thanks for the list. Thanks for the thoughts, Thanks for the commitment. Thanks for the honesty. Thanks for continuing to speak, even if it seems that not many are listening. Thanks for keeping the kids in mind and working through the “I can’t believe I have to talk about this AGAIN” feelings. Thanks.

  5. Yayyy! It’s so great to see someone expressing these things so well. Nodding enthusiastically about your comment on teaching AP’s and blogs not being manuals. Did anyone bother to hand out a manual on how to be a TRA?! Did I miss something? Oh please.

  6. twicetherice – moving here? where? here? ack!

    Mollie – Im about to get to your email, i promise. 🙂 Thanks for the love on the show. I’ve been really thinking about the ways in which people responded, and psrt of me wonders if the panel beforehand nixed some questions for people. I’m glad some things I said resonated! I have to say, you best believe your efforts are working with your kids, even if you dont see it right this minute. They will be thankful.

    and Julie – *its all about the kids!!*

  7. […] 3. wkh wrote (about her plans to one day adopt from China), “I can worry how much she misses her birth mom, but she’s never going to see her again. I can worry about culture issues, but at the end of the day all I can do is be respectful and try the best I can.” Frankly, transracial adoption requires even more mindf*ckery (and worry) of adoptive parents. But don’t believe me, listen to transracially adopted adult adoptees like Twice the Rice, or Harlow’s Monkey, or Transracial Abductees, or A Birth Project. In other words, if you’re not prepared to spend just a wee bit of time obsessing about adoption issues, please do not adopt. And certainly don’t even think of adopting transracially. I’m not making these issues up to make my blog just that much more fun for my readers; I’m talking about them because my blog is the respository for my adoption thoughts as I tunnel through these things. […]

  8. Dear Lisa,
    just some thoughts in response from a PACT camp AP. I loved hearing from you at camp and I love reading your blogs now. And yes, I probably would be scared to ask you questions (see previous blog re: choking parents). But while I get over that, I can learn from your words. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Steve, Angel and I were wiped out from camp. It was very intense, good and painful at the same time. Steve said that, as one of the few parents of color, it was hard for him to sit and listen to the white parents. He and another dad of color kept threatening to tunnel out of camp with spoons. Angel got a lot out of camp, but she was also very drained by it. We hope she can continue to do playshops –having the adult TRAs at the camp participating in the playshops and being with the kids in between was AWESOME.

    I showed up for the hair workshop but didn’t see anyone. I must have been too late. I felt badly that the counselors had to bring it up but I was glad they did. Two years ago at PACT camp it was a workshop that was extremely needed and well-attended, and it is still needed. every time.

    I eagerly look forward to following your words and pictures. Thank you for letting the world hear you. Much power and joy to you. Lisa Marie.

  9. […] I am just so worried about infringing on the group or being rejected or, frankly, of making an ass of myself. But then I take a deep breath, close my eyes and say, “My god, Dawn, just do it you big hypocrite.” So yeah, I joined. […]

  10. Thanks for this post. As an AP in a transracial family I appreciate your effort and patience. I just found your blog from Dawn’s link above and I am going to keep reading you. I haven’t been to Pact camp but I like their books and website and have been a member. Sorry I missed your panel.

  11. Thanks for all your thoughts. I’ve been meaning to come here ever since I left PACT camp. Yes, it’s painful to see how far we white APs need to go to get ourselves educated, but the pain doesn’t compare with what our children will go through. . . .
    I am also here to apologize for a comment I made to you at camp (something to the effect– maybe your emotional response during the performance was because it was a safer environment to let down). How presumptuous of me! To the contrary, it was apparently a very vulnerable environment for you. And had you felt comfortable, the heading for this post would not be, “Things I Wanted to Say.”
    Thanks for your contributions, on so many levels–the panel, the performance, and the poetry. Oh, getting those kids to write. What a gift that was!

  12. Just discovered your blog through KimKim’s — I’m a white future AP of an Ethiopian child. I’ll be reading/listening/thinking lots thanks to you and other TRA bloggers. I’d love to get a chance to see your show — where can I see it?


  13. Thank you for this. I am a white AP with a Vietnamese daughter and currently am waiting to adopt a second child domestically. You are helping me find my voice as I advocate for my child(ren), explain my decisions and continue the conversation on race in my family and community.

  14. Sounds like it was tough for you being “black” in an all-white childhood. Very different from my experience. I’m light-skinned and grew up in a black neighborhood. Got funny looks from both sides, but eventually identified more with black kids. As an adult, I identify with both and now and say so on forms, check boxes, etc. When I was a kid there were many times when I wondered why I couldn’t have had a situation more like yours. Over time, I’ve learned that we all have different challenges and triumphs no matter where we find ourselves.

  15. I am a white man. You write “Most of these comments are about YOU, not your kid. Because that’s where most of the work needs to be done.” Amen 😉 So true. I appreciate your insight, and your anger. Really. Though it wasn’t for me necessarily, I appreciate the vulnerability that being willing to share your anger, for the umteenth time, with white folks, APs specifically in this case, takes, and experience that as a gift. And thanks for the humor 😉 I’m not an AP from Pact camp, but may be some day – my wife and I are considering adoption, want to work with Pact if we go that route, and she pointed me to your blog (she’s a sister, too). Looking forward to reading more from you.

  16. Oh my gosh this gave me chills and you are probably wondering why on earth I keep commenting on ALL your writing! Cause I am hooked!!! It is richness, Ms. Lisa! You have a gift! I love your statement about going to a culture camp once a year is not enough and your last point about intent!! I have talked about that on my blog as well, it does not matter what your intent is, words still have weight and they matter. Here is a link to my blogposts on transracial adoption:

  17. I, too, am very grateful for your blog. I truly hope that I am not intruding by adding my thoughts… I want to validate my daughter’s feelings whatever they may be and realize that her feelings are just that- her feelings and she is entitled to them! I truly appreciate anyone who tries to aid adoptive parents become better and more sensitive parents…and personally, one of my biggest beefs is hearing another adoptive parent whine that they “can’t” move because it would be inconvenient to drive an extra 20 minutes or so to work or are hesitant to step out of their own comfort zone to make their child more comfortable. As you say, it is always about the children. I look forward to all of your posts. Thank you!

  18. hey folks, thanks for all the new comments and the support for my work! I hope that folks can continue to ‘hear’ adoptee voices, no matter where we self position on the spectrum of ways to think about the intersections of adoption, race and support for your children. Post adoption support is critical for both you and your children. Thank you for hearing and considering what adult adoptees say as part of your parenting practices. and please – come see my show if I’m ever in your town – and say hi!!

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