Jumping the Broom Review and, huh? Adoption?

I just came from seeing the new romantic comedy, Jumping the Broom. As a lover of Romantic Comedies, I liked the film, and actually had been looking forward to seeing it since some of the trailers sometime earlier in the year emerged. I like Paula Patton (I thought she was comedy in “Just Wright”) and of course, I adore Angela Basset (I mean, who doesn’t?), Loretta Devine and the comedic styling’s of Tasha Smith. I don’t really have any feelings for or against Mike Epps or Laz Alonzo (who is positioned to be the next Morris Chestnut, but who is also not my type. meh.) The rest of the cast is just amazing and lovely to look at, and with the good costuming, great scenery and lighting, and eye candy wise, good stuff. (Pooch Hall, Gary Dourdan (woof), and of course the amazingly hot Meagan Goode.)

The plot is simple Romantic Comedy fodder, girl meets boy, they fall in love, 6 months later they are planning a wedding and the mother of the groom hates the new bride = hilarity and evilness ensue.

The class issues that everyone keeps mentioning that are the basic conflict in the film are definitely there. After watching it, I discussed the film with my girl who I went with. She mentioned that yes, we expected caricatures, (we aren’t expecting depth, its a RomCom!) but it was interesting that there really was such a heavy handed theme of ‘questioning the blackness’ of educated, wealthy black people that both of us noticed, and didn’t like. I added that the reveal of a family secret in the film is what ‘brings them down to the level’ of the working class black people in the film, so they are able to see that they are ‘not so different after all’. awwww.

I enjoyed Loretta Devine’s character transformation over the film, and Mike Epps was clearly there for comedic relief, because the film really could have worked without him, and pushed it more toward a drama, but I know Hollywood ain’t ready for critical or black drama with character depth. (deep sigh). I could have done without the TD Jakes cameo or the ‘way to easily’ wrapped up ending.

But again… I’m there for the love and the romance. One of my favorite parts in the film was the relationship between the Angela Basset character and her husband, the sexy Brian Stokes Mitchell. I liked the depth of their relationship and how it was a great representative of black love, forgiveness and partnered commitment on screen. I also adored the opening sequence of the film that showed black and white photos of black weddings since what looked like the advent of photography in the early 1900’s.

Overall, I want to encourage folks who love “Rom-Com’s” to see and support the film. It’s about 20K times better than “Something Borrowed”, which I also saw this past week. (I’m outing myself, but I read the book during a forced self care time away from cultural theory. I like the book, but do not like the film, at all really. Meh. But that, is another blog post). Let me also be clear that I’m writing this first part of the review from that genre’d perspective. The deeper analysis is below.

So, In a world full of Tyler Perry films as offerings to those of us who want and need a romance flick with an all black cast, without someone bursting into gospel music or being overly heavy handed on the Christian themes, this film definitely filled that happy, hetero, escapist, fun space for me.

Go see it!!

    Down to business: THIS NEXT PART CONTAINS MAJOR FILM SPOILERS. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FILM AND ARE PLANNING TO DO SO. THIS WILL RUIN THE FILM FOR YOU.

I actually didn’t know that there was a family secret that was going to be revealed during the film. I was completely thrown off sitting in the theater when suddenly, the two sisters, mother of the bride, Angela Basset’s character and auntie of the bride, Valarie Pettiford’s character (whom I love from “Half and Half”) are fighting about the fact that Valarie gave Angela her little girl when she got pregnant as a young woman in Paris, and Angela and Brian raised Paula as their daughter.

What? Really? I’m sitting inside a theater watching an escapist film that is unknowingly about adoption? Of COURSE it is!! gah!

Okay, okay. deep breaths. This film is loaded with themes of same race and kinship adoption in the African American / Black community. First, a disclaimer, I just came from the film, so I haven’t had time to think about these things in a deep theoretical way, this is a blog posting and is just me writing some thoughts down, introducing some issues connected to adoption that I hope to put up for discussion, but also because I plan to explore them deeper at a later time.

Onward: I have to say that Loretta Devine does an amazing job of making me hate her in the film. From her irrational dislike of the bride and the brides family, to her crazy selfish and absolutely horrible, just… mean –lashing out when she reveals that she has overheard the fight between Angela and Valarie, and that, whoops, Paula – you need to check yourself honey, because these people who you think are your parents, don’t even love you enough to tell you that you aren’t their kid!

Ouch. That shit was cold, Loretta, cold.

But what is important about this moment, the moment she lashes out and actually does turn Paula’s life upside down, is the way that things unfold and how the themes of adoption, secrecy and notions about shame and the Black family play out in the storyline.

One of the more powerful issues for me is that aunties, grandmothers, uncles raising other family member’s children, happens ALL the time in our families and in our communities, but nobody connects them to adoption. Further, no one connects the secrecy and shaming aspect of unwed parents to the overall historical discourses of adoption, reproductive justice, family and who is and who isn’t an ‘appropriate’ black parent. This is the kind of discourse that continues to impact our notions of what is and isn’t neglect, and moments like this in Jumping the Broom offer an opportunity to either uphold or push back against a society that relies on a social welfare system that was set up not to support black mothers and fathers, wed or not.

The model of ‘keeping it in the family’, is an adoption model I prefer over a model that doesn’t put family preservation first, and as we know, the keeping it in the family model has deep connections to the history of slavery in the African Diaspora and models of family outside western colonial ideology. For hundreds of years black families both domestically and internationally have been taking care of our own children, even as over and over colonization and the social welfare system continues to attempt to take them from us. Yes, to take them from us for white desires, (historically, for more slaves or, contemporarily, trafficked for adoption or to fulfill infertility or ‘savior’ desires.). But I digress. (do I?)

The way that Paula’s birth mother, Valarie, is shamed over and over by her sister, Angela’s character (adoptive mother) to keep quiet about telling Paula the truth of her heritage is totally driven by Angela’s fear of losing a connection with her daughter, and somehow of Valarie taking ‘her rightful place’ as Paula’s ‘one and only’ mother.

I understand perfectly that the reveal of adoption / parentage was a script device that put an obstacle in front of the bride and groom to overcome, but its clear to me, that the script writers have no clue as to how life changing, and how much being adopted in general, (let alone the ‘late reveal’ that seems to be a common pattern in same race adoptions) has a life long, major impact on our lives as adopted people.

These are people she is supposed to trust? I have heard stories over and over from same race adoptees (White, Black, Asian) whose parents kept the fact that they were adopted a secret, when there were people in the family who actually knew, and either kept the secret from them, or assumed that the adoptee knew and that the family just never talked about it, or that it was private. These same families have a moment like the moment in the film, where a cousin or someone outside the family reveals to the adoptee (child or adult) that they are adopted. Do people think that these moments aren’t life changing? Or that the solid ground beneath your feet when you are told something that changes who you are forever doesn’t earthquake and have everlasting tremors on your body and heart?

What about having adoption NOT be a secret? What about Angela and Valarie’s characters working together over a lifetime to ensure that Paula does indeed feel loved and secure, by never keeping her adoption a secret, by embracing the fact that her family is so loving and caring that they support one another by parenting collectively. What about Valarie or Angela and Brian as a couple, explaining to Paula from birth, year after year, whenever she has questions about her mother or her situation, but always, always being truthful and supporting her through the complicated nuances of the circumstances.

The model of ‘ownership’ adoption, connected to the nuclear family is the model that is portrayed in this film. There is no room for an extended family where mother and father roles are blurred, where the entire family takes on the parenting of a child. The non nuclear model is unable to exist in this film. I saw in Angela’s character the very real fears of dis-attachment that I see in adoptive mothers who choose to adopt internationally instead of domestically, because they are afraid one day the child will leave them, or that the mother will come searching for her child and take them away. Uh, if you lie to your child, or hide their history, or are afraid of how they are different from you so you deny it, what, I ask you, can you expect? Why not believe in love enough to know that your child understands that what you are doing is loving them enough to let them have love from multiple places in their life?

What about a world where Paula’s character is respected and not left unprepared for such a moment of reveal, pain, distrust and for her entire life as she knows it shifting under her feet?

and… Really? One conversation of explanation with her birth mother after the reveal is enough to get her back on track to the wedding? Her father isn’t even her father! Who is her father? Where is he? What does he look like? Paula’s character has half siblings and a whole other family to consider now. but of course, the film doesn’t go there. Why would it?

During the moment when Valarie’s character is sitting with Paula after the reveal, telling her, “I’m glad I gave you to (Angela), she could give you so many things that I wasn’t able to give you”, my stomach had a moment where I flashed back to hearing my own birth mother on the phone. She told me that she asked for me to go to a white family, and she was so proud of her decision, because look how I turned out. What? Ok, I get it, you need to tell yourself that to cope with the situation as it stands but realistically, you gets no props for how I turned out. That’s ALL my moms and pops. But then, is that an argument for the fact that she was right? That she should have done what she did? I’m not sure, but my circumstances aren’t like Paula’s character, no one could hide the fact that I was adopted from me, I’m black, my family is white, its not a secret.

Ugh. But backing away from the personal, I had an extremely hard time with the ways in which the depth of adoption and disconnection from roots was swept away in the film. I’m sorry, but Loretta’s character would have been kicked the hell out my house. I’m not saying that the messages of forgiveness, or moving on, or even the one about family accepting each other regardless of all our faults are bad ones. I’m saying adoption is a lifelong issue. I’m saying that an adopted person, even if they are a kinship adopted person, deserves to know who their parents are and that they deserve the respect of knowing upfront, their entire lives, so these moments of emotional devastation don’t happen. I don’t think that people who aren’t adopted actually understand how important knowing your heritage is.

I’m still pushing against the narrative of gratefulness that tells adoptees they had better be grateful for our lives, because ‘it could have been so much worse’. I’m looking for a black community and a larger world that wants to embrace unwed parents who need support to keep their children, instead of stigmatize them and make them feel ashamed.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you all think and in the meantime, I’m gonna go see Thor. There better not be one dang thing about adoption in that film or I’m cracking skulls!

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Jackie Kay new autobiography “Red Dust Road”

I’m already a fan of Jackie Kay’s book of poems, “Adoption Papers” so I was very excited to hear about a new autobiography from her about her search and reunion with her birth family.

from: The Guardian
Red Dust Road opens in the Nicon Hilton Hotel in Abuja. Jackie Kay is confronted by the man who is her natural father. He is a born-again Christian and self-styled faith healer who prays over her for two hours. He is disappointed by her failure to give herself to Christ, the condition required by him to acknowledge her publicly as his daughter. “I am sitting here,” writes Kay, “evidence of his sinful past, but I am the sinner, the living embodiment of his sin.” Kay resists. They do not meet again.

For the previous 40 years Kay’s existence had been kept secret from the families of both her natural father and her birth mother. Kay was born in 1961 in Edinburgh to a Scottish nurse and a Nigerian student. Soon afterwards she was adopted. Red Dust Road is Kay’s 20-year search for her birth parents and for her existence to be recognised.

From Abuja, Kay returns us to a 1960s Glaswegian childhood with her parents John and Helen, delightful people, communists who spend their summer holidays singing in the car, who cross Russia by train, and raise her surrounded by caring comrades. Her mother tells her the little she knows about Jackie’s birth parents and imagines what she does not know: they were madly in love, but he was already betrothed to another, they were heartbroken to give her away. These moments are offered as shared reminiscences, and are interspersed with other memories taken from different times, mainly of Kay tracing and eventually meeting the real people behind her mother’s fairytales.

READ THE REST HERE

Also, check this audio clip where she reads an excerpt from the book about meeting her birth mother for the first time.

Review: Stolen From Our Embrace

Stolen from Our Embrace is an important book in both adoption /foster care dialogues, and as a strong historical corrective action to histories of First Nation communities in Canada. This book chronicles the extensive history of aboriginal children from the early moments of European expansionism across Canada, the ‘civilizing’ projects of the Indian residential schools in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and the more recent “Sixties Scoop” of First Nation children from all across Canada. The book positions the capture and movement of indigenous children alongside the 1950’s Korean baby importation efforts and the “Operation Baby Lifts” of the 1970’s during the Vietnam war. This positioning is important when we consider how adoption, whiteness, privilege and paternalism are part of larger critiques of international adoption. These parallels are also useful when considering the policies and practices of our own social welfare system here in the States, and drawing a connection between domestic adoption and our own shameful history of Indian residential schools and child removal.

One of the authors of the book, Ernie Crey and reveals in chapter two the story of his own family’s history. He recollects his father’s life as a child on a Sto:lo reservation before priests, police or social workers came and forcibly removed him and placed him in St Mary’s Residential school in Mission, British Colombia. Across Canada and the United States, the legacy of Indian residential schools are a major segment in First Nation community histories. After the Civilization Act of 1857, the residential school was designed to strip, most times violently, aboriginal children of any signs of native culture and language and to ensure the influence of Christianity to create ‘good Christian homes’ and eliminate the ‘contamination of Indian spiritual practices’.

Crey’s story grounds this book in an understanding of the suspicion of governmental agencies that during his childhood in the 1960’s utilized ‘child protection’ as a way to

exercise the jurisdictions given to them by the federal government to go into Indian homes on and off reserve and make judgments about what constituted proper care, according to non- native, middle-class values.. (30)

The authors encourage First Nations adults to tell their individual stories of violence and racialized sexual assault in Indian residential schools, and the subsequent years of pain along with the eventual process of healing. The combination of oral accounts with facts and supporting documents is quite a painful read, yet the larger questions of how institutional policies concerning the discourse around adoption, foster care and who is an ‘acceptable’ parent or guardian are themes that emerge in a very real way. Almost every chapter is filled with an account of a mother or father whose children were either stolen without reason, or were taken simply because of poverty or difficult timing,

Additionally, the conversation about how early colonizing efforts and later institutionalized racism shape and maintain the many times forcible removal of children from reservations dominates Fournier and Crey’s writing in their examination of how religion and religious institutions play a major role in the separation of families and shaming practices of punishment and abuse.

Significantly, and perhaps surprisingly, healing the mind, body and spirit is a major theme in Stolen. In chapter four, Fournier and Crey examine multiple cases where after years of sexual abuse in adoptive homes, residential schools or foster homes, the men and women impacted by these years of violence discover how important utilizing the justice system is to their healing process. In addition to bringing cases against their abusers, engaging in traditional healing practices such as entering the sweat lodge, spiritual cleansing, druming and pipe ceremonies. These practices, combined with therapy and other more contemporary healing practices have begun to create a strong culture of children and adults in First Nation communities that are active in resisting the generational child abuse and allowed for a reconnection to a home culture that had either been beaten or shamed out of their lives.

Stolen From Our Embrace is an exceptional historical and oral account, I recommend its reading to deepen your understanding of how aboriginal communities have been impacted by the polices of social welfare systems and why contemporary discussions of Indian child welfare and transracial adoption and foster care are ultimately shaped by their histories. For me, this book was also another example to help me make parallels between of the ways in which colonization that impacted First Nations communities and the ways in which colonization and slavery impacted the stolen and sold African peoples and the consequent ‘civilizing’ projects that changed African Diasporic communities forever. I’ll be commenting on this in my presentation in Atlanta.

Nalo Hopkinson Appearance

Sorry Ive been MIA for a minute. It seems that I just keep getting busier and busier. Im TRYING to write my dissertation people! I’m queen of procrastination lately. I decided to break up this section from the comic/ cartoon blog even though they are entwined, but I have so much to say I cut them down.

On March 5, I had the fortunate experience to meet and listen to novelist Nalo Hopkinson, as she presented her new novel, The New Moon’s Arms to the world. Hopkinson is the author of 3 novels, several short stories and is a celebrated contributor to the genre of science fiction. My favorite book by her by FAR is Midnight Robber, which of course I’m writing a chapter of my dissertation on.

Nalo read excerpts from her new  novel, spoke about her construction of the storyline, and dove right in to a conversation about black women, hybrid identities and speculative imaginings. One of the things I’m exploring in my dissertation is the way that black women novelists who are writing science or speculative fiction, utilize the genre to think about new identity formation for black women that aren’t stereotypical or constructed by western ideology. We talked about the black women who are appearing in science fiction film and other media – Zoe on Firefly, Storm in X-men, Angela Bassett as Lornette “Mace” Mason in Strange Days. Of course during this conversation about the possibilities of science fiction, the question of a race-less future is always raised. Somehow, when people think about the future, they think about science fiction and our imagined future worlds, they imagine a place that doesn’t have race, gender or sexuality as inhibitors to the body. I think part of this comes from our own attempts to imagine a utopian world without any pain or oppression. But I think if the long history of science and fantasy fiction has taught us anything – its that human nature is a messed up thing. Power, greed and selfishness take over and posit that the individual is more important than the collective – and there you have it.

Nalo bristled a bit when a white woman, claiming Native American ancestry (sigh), mother to a black and white daughter began her question with “I’d love it if you could talk about how you think race functions in your novels and in the future, you know, I have a bi-racial daughter who I tell not to check any boxes she doesn’t want to. I tell her to check warrior or princess”. I felt myself hold my breath because it really is so close to home with me, white women telling their bi-racial daughters they don’t have to claim their blackness. I swear Nalo rolled her eyes inside, and said, “well, I really have not alot of patience for folks who talk to me about race not mattering in the future, its actually kind of irritating. I mean, how boring would that be? A world where we all looked the same and we all had the same culture? No I like worlds where there are culture clashes and diverse lives meeting one another.” I wanted to freakin stand up and start clapping. Lady – I know we were in Berkeley and everything, but DAMN – do you seriously want to sit in a room full of black women and tell us that you don’t want your daughter to claim her blackness? That she doesn’t have to if she doesnt want to? or that its not going to matter one way or the other? Look lady – no matter how much we want utopia, no matter how much money we get to hide ourselves in the hills of Berkeley – we DONT live in that world. Call me old school, call me militant, but just because I see myself as a mixed race black woman – doesnt mean that when i walk down the street in rural Texas or Central California, that someone is gonna see me, take a step back and say – “oh well, she’s mixed with white so I’m not gonna call her a nigger.” My whiteness does NOT protect me the way it protects my mom.

Nalo was awesome. She also spoke about the tremendous loss of the beloved Octavia Butler and how imperative it is for us to keep calling her up, and remembering her as an pioneer in science fiction writing. If you dont know Octavia – you betta ask somebody.

I’m looking forward to reading the book and I had her sign my old copy of Midnight Robber.

Article Response – Its Not Just about White Parents

Thanks to Susan Ito for passing on this response to that NY Times Article from yesterday!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
South End Press

…………
Press Release
…..
South End Press Announces
Transracial Adoption: It’s Not Just About White Parents

Cambridge, MA – Aug 17, 2006 In today’s New York Times the frontpage headline “Breaking Through Adoption’s Racial Barriers” introduces an in-depth article about white
Americans who have–or are looking to–adopt children of color. But in the inches devoted to the “growing number of white couples pushing past longtime cultural resistance to adopt black children,” we find a series of unasked questions: Why are the so many children of color available for adoption in the first place, both in the US and abroad? How does transracial adoption affect adopted children of color–and their communities? Here and elsewhere, the voices of transracially adopted individuals fall to the margins, voices that are essential to a genuine understanding of this complex issue.

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What’s missing?

Jeni Wright paints some of the missing picture with her words: “I lean over the sink so my nose is almost touching the glass and mouth to the ugly girl staring back, you look like an ugly African bush girl, over and over until my breath clouds over my face. I start to write ‘jungle bunny’ in the steam but I am crying too hard to finish. Why hadn’t anyone told me I was so ugly? I don’t even look like a real girl” (Outsiders Within, 27).The difficulties of transracial adoption go far beyond self-esteem, far beyond cultural literacy, infinitely deeper than individual discomfort. As Kim Diehl writes in Outsiders Within, transracial adoption is inextricable from long-standing power imbalances that extend from the personal to the institutional. “I did not have any power in the decision to seal my records; I did not have any power in the decision to take federal money away from social service programs that might have prevented family breakup; I did not have any power in the decision to make it a child placement agency policy to ignore race; I did not have any power to keep from being the physical embodiment of a political process that stamped its approval on transracial adoptions in a country founded on the enslavement and oppression of people of color” (32). Also entirely overlooked is the harm incurred before each transracial adoption ever took place. As Shannon Gibney, a biracial black adult adoptee, puts it, “Once again, the focus is all on the white adoptive parents, and their pain. Once again, adoptees are presented as objects, as children who apparently never grow up, and therefore do not have the capacity to analyze the geopolitical issues that have shaped their identities. Once again, we don’t hear the voices of birth parents or adult adoptees.”  Gibney goes on, “As this article presents it, the only people who are really affected by adoption are white adoptive parents and agencies.

Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption tells a different story. Where the Times reports “More than 45,000 black children were waiting to be adopted from foster care in 2004,” contributor Dorothy Roberts explains that the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, passed to “break through adoption’s racial barriers” has resulted in more black children being permanently severed from their families, adding to the growing list of waiting children. Sure, more white families have access to black children. But at what cost? People are led to believe that because more white families can adopt, that means more black children will have families. The opposite is true. In reality, there are now more black children than ever who will never have a family, stuck permanently in foster care limbo. As the Times reports “in 2004 … about 4,200 [black children from foster care] were adopted transracially … up from roughly 14 percent, or 2,200 in 1998.” In other words, of the 45,000 black children then needing homes because, under federal mandate, the state permanently severed them from them their families of origin (often including grandparents willing and able to care for them),white people adopted 9 percent. The Times quotes Rita Simons, a leading advocate of white adoption of children of color, as saying that this “is a significant increase,” even though what has increased most significantly is the private adoption of black infants placed immediately for adoption, not the adoption of children who have been removed from their former homes for legitimate reasons, let alone the legions removed for the number one reason black, Latino, and Native American children are removed–poverty. Writes Roberts, “the number of white families adopting older children of color, those most ‘in need’ of adoptive homes, remains very low. These children are most likely to be adopted by single Black women” (Outsiders Within, 53). Advocates of transracial adoption frame the debate as one that is about the rights of black children to homes, and making it possible for white parents to provide them. As Outsiders Within reveals, the issue is far more complex. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
About Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption
Healthy white infants have become hard to locate and expensive to adopt. So people from around the world turn to interracial and intercountry adoption, often with the idea that while growing their families, they’re saving children from destitution. But as Outsiders Within reveals, while transracial adoption is a practice traditionally considered benevolent, it often exacts a heavy emotional, cultural, and even economic toll.  Through compelling essays, fiction, poetry, and art, the contributors to this landmark publication carefully explore this most intimate aspect of globalization. Finally, in the unmediated voices of the adults who have matured within it, we find a rarely-considered view of adoption, an institution that pulls apart old families and identities and grafts new ones.
Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption
Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah, and Sun Yung Shin, editors
(South End Press, 2006)
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About South End Press:
South End Press is a nonprofit, collectively run book publisher with more than 250 titles in print. Since our founding in 1977, we have tried to meet the needs of readers who are exploring, or are already committed to, the politics of radical social change. Website: http://www.southendpress.org

Available for interviews:
Shannon Gibney, Sun Ying Shin, Julia Chinyere Oparah (contributors to Outsiders Within and transracial adoptees) and Asha Tall (publisher at South End Press and a transracial adoptee) are all available for comments and interviews.

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Asha Tall
South End Press
Editor/Publisher
email: ashatall@southendpress.org
phone: 617.547.4002