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!