“Why John Why: John Mayer & Transracial Adoption?” with Guest co-Blogger Karie Gaska!

**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 latoya@racialicious.com.
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.


Negotiating Guilt, Activism/Performance and Family

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

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

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

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

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

So, what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haitian Baby Lifts, that’s what.

and you know what I have to say about that.

Me on the Radio!

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.