Its been a long, cold and busy busy summer. I just came back from visiting my parents in WA state and it was warmer up there than it has been in the Bay Area all spring and summer! I just hope we don’t skip what is usually a warm fall for us and head straight into the rainy winter season.
There’s gonna be stage, light and sound design – yeeee! I’m continuing my collaboration with local activist and visual artist Isaac Ontiveros for the further development of the multi-media aspects of the show and also with the talented dancer/movement artist Colleen “Coke” Nakamoto on choreography. There so much more, but ultimately, I just hope you all come out and check the full, finished piece. I hope this will be one of the final iterations before I do a full run in 2012 and head to festivals around the globe. Please let people know and buy your tickets here!!
What else is up? Well, its that time of year when AFAAD is in full swing planning mode for the Fourth Annual Gathering, November 11,12 &13th this year at the 2100 Building in Seattle, WA! For all of my supporters, all of you parents of black, brown and multiracial children, we continue to develop this organization for your child! and we continue to do this as an all volunteer board. Please spread the word to any Black/Multiracial/African/Caribbean – adoptee of African descent over 18 that you know and tell them to join us in Seattle!! Here is the Call for Sessions, so people can submit panel or discussion ideas and also so potential participants can understand the depth of the weekend! Finally, here is the full information about this year’s Gathering. Don’t forget, if you know any families or organizations in Seattle that support adoptive families and foster care alumni – let them know about our Education Event that is open to EVERYONE on Saturday night, November 12th!
In addition to spreading the word – WE NEED YOUR FUNDING SUPPORT!! Please, please DONATE TO THE FOURTH ANNUAL GATHERING! The only way we are able to continue our work is through generous donations from people like you. We need at least $15,000.00 to cover basic expenses, and what is especially important for this year, to cover special guest speaker travel, hotel and honorarium fees, to keep our Public Education event low cost and accessible to everyone in the adoption triad, and to provide scholarships to at least two Foster Care Alumni who otherwise would be unable to make it to join us and have access to the network and the activist space of the weekend. We have 28 days! Please help us spread the word.
Crazy busy my friends. School has started, teaching, students, academic work as well as balancing my creative work. You know how artists do. I have two or three other creative projects in the works and all I will say about that is one is adoption related and the rest, thankfully, are not! In academia, we call it “racial fatigue”, I think we adoptee writers, activists, scholars need to come up with the right phrase for us. “Adoption fatigue”? I don’t know. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much my personal life is part of my professional life, and its great, but its also very tiring. I look forward to the weekend of the AFAAD Gathering where we will spend time talking together about being and adoptee or foster care alumni and being a professional and ensuring we are engaging in ‘self-care’, so we don’t burn out.
What seems contrary to what I just wrote, (ha!) I recently noticed that my subscribers to the blog have increased. I’m so excited about this – welcome to the blog. I look forward to engaging in conversation with you and answering questions! I’m here as a resource for parents as well as for my fellow adopted folks.
Finally, I have a special gift for the first 10 people who donate $50.00 or more to the AFAAD Gathering Campaign! I’ve recently finished a writing project that I want to share with folks who support AFAAD, its a secret, so you will be privileged to it before anyone! Donate, and I will get it to you in the mail asap!!
I’m thrilled to share that three of my poems, “Applique”, “Opposite of Fence” and “From the Tree” have been published in the new anthology: Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out
(edited by Adebe De Rango-Adem and Andrea Thompson – Inanna Publications). The Anthology was released Dec. 2010. Pick up a copy!
This year my word of the year is “Purpose”. I got the tradition of “word of the year” from my good friend and AFAAD Board member, Lisa Walker. I have never been a person who made new years resolutions, so when Walker shared with me her 20 year tradition of choosing a word to focus on and make part of your intentional life, it hit me in a way that I knew this was a fitting tradition for me. This will be my third year ‘working my words’. Last year, my word of the year was “Determination”. It was and always is simply amazing the ways the word of the year emerges in my emotional, spiritual, physical and work lives. It seemed like the year was all about testing my ‘mettle’, and seeing if I had the courage and strength to be determined, to determine my future. It hit me especially hard at the end of the year, when it seemed like my writing deadlines were not going to be met. I’m now here in 2011, with my new word and whats funny is that I dont really let go of “Determination”, its with me and informs my daily thinking now. This year, Im am considering my Purpose, considering being purposeful in my choices, actions, goals, and the things I set energy & intention upon. I can’t wait to see how this plays out! Here’s to you as you enter your year of goals and intention. You can DO it!
Of course, I’m also still working on the final development stage of “Ungrateful Daughter”. Right now this is what is scheduled, but there is much, much more coming to the stage soon with a FULL run to look forward to in October!! This also means that of course, I’m booking now for Spring through Winter 2011 (Women’s History Month? Black History Month?) for poetry readings, solo performances, writing, poetry and adoption and adoptee support workshops, writing and performance coaching at your conference, school, non-profit, etc.! For a press kit and info about all the things I offer, email me directly.
Announcing the 3rd Annual Gathering of adoptees (transracial / international and same race) and foster care alumni of African descent in Atlanta, GA.
This year our Gathering is a 1-day Mini- Gathering, with two sessions for adoptees/ fostercare alumi and our main event, Film screening and discussion of the recent PBS POV documentary, “Off and Running” from an adoptee/ fostercare alumni perspective, which is open to the public.
“Off and Running” tells the story of Brooklyn teenager Avery, a track star with a bright future. She is the adopted African-American child of white Jewish lesbians. Her older brother is black and Puerto Rican and her younger brother is Korean. Though it may not look typical, Avery’s household is like most American homes — until Avery writes to her birth mother and the response throws her into crisis. She struggles over her “true” identity, the circumstances of her adoption and her estrangement from black culture. Just when it seems as if her life is unraveling, Avery decides to pick up the pieces and make sense of her identity, with inspiring results.”
“Off and Running” is a co-production of ITVS in association with the National Black Programming Consortium and American Documentary/POV and the Diverse Voices Project, with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
AFAAD’s 2010 Gathering is being hosted by Georgia State University, ideally situated in the center of downtown Atlanta, GA, close to all forms of public transportation. Individuals visiting Altanta must make their own hotel reservations separately from AFAAD Gathering registration.
Events are held in the Urban Life Building, 10th Floor and the CineFest Film Theater at GSU
Please join us and share the info with the local adoption community in Atlanta!
My solo theater show, “Ungrateful Daughter” is up for the “People’s Choice” award for 510Arts.com for the East Bay here in Northern California! Please please go to the website and vote for this important work to win this award!!
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.
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-you ingenuity 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 White Supremacy,” 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.
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.
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.
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?
“This statement reflects the position of an international community of adoptees of color who wish to pose a critical intervention in the discourse and actions affecting the child victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. We are domestic and international adoptees with many years of research and both personal and professional experience in adoption studies and activism. We are a community of scholars, activists, professors, artists, lawyers, social workers and health care workers who speak with the knowledge that North Americans and Europeans are lining up to adopt the “orphaned children” of the Haitian earthquake, and who feel compelled to voice our opinion about what it means to be “saved” or “rescued” through adoption.”
“We understand that in a time of crisis there is a tendency to want to act quickly to support those considered the most vulnerable and directly affected, including children. However, we urge caution in determining how best to help. We have arrived at a time when the licenses of adoption agencies in various countries are being reviewed for the widespread practice of misrepresenting the social histories of children. There is evidence of the production of documents stating that a child is “available for adoption” based on a legal “paper” and not literal orphaning as seen in recent cases of intercountry adoption of children from Malawi, Guatemala, South Korea and China. We bear testimony to the ways in which the intercountry adoption industry has profited from and reinforced neo-liberal structural adjustment policies, aid dependency, population control policies, unsustainable development, corruption, and child trafficking.”
“For more than fifty years “orphaned children” have been shipped from areas of war, natural disasters, and poverty to supposedly better lives in Europe and North America. Our adoptions from Vietnam, South Korea, Guatemala and many other countries are no different from what is happening to the children of Haiti today. Like us, these “disaster orphans” will grow into adulthood and begin to grasp the magnitude of the abuse, fraud, negligence, suffering, and deprivation of human rights involved in their displacements.”
“We uphold that Haitian children have a right to a family and a history that is their own and that Haitians themselves have a right to determine what happens to their own children. We resist the racist, colonialist mentality that positions the Western nuclear family as superior to other conceptions of family, and we seek to challenge those who abuse the phrase “Every child deserves a family” to rethink how this phrase is used to justify the removal of children from Haiti for the fulfillment of their own needs and desires. Western and Northern desire for ownership of Haitian children directly contributes to the destruction of existing family and community structures in Haiti. This individualistic desire is supported by the historical and global anti-African sentiment which negates the validity of black mothers and fathers and condones the separation of black children from their families, cultures, and countries of origin.”
“As adoptees of color many of us have inherited a history of dubious adoptions. We are dismayed to hear that Haitian adoptions may be “fast-tracked” due to the massive destruction of buildings in Haiti that hold important records and documents. We oppose this plan and argue that the loss of records requires slowing down of the processes of adoption while important information is gathered and re-documented for these children. Removing children from Haiti without proper documentation and without proper reunification efforts is a violation of their basic human rights and leaves any family members who may be searching for them with no recourse. We insist on the absolute necessity of taking the time required to conduct a thorough search, and we support an expanded set of methods for creating these records, including recording oral histories.”
“We urge the international community to remember that the children in question have suffered the overwhelming trauma of the earthquake and separation from their loved ones. We have learned first-hand that adoption (domestic or intercountry) itself as a process forces children to negate their true feelings of grief, anger, pain or loss, and to assimilate to meet the desires and expectations of strangers. Immediate removal of traumatized children for adoption—including children whose adoptions were finalized prior to the quake— compounds their trauma, and denies their right to mourn and heal with the support of their community.”
“We affirm the spirit of Cultural Sovereignty, Sovereignty and Self-determination embodied as rights for all peoples to determine their own economic, social and cultural development included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Charter of the United Nations; the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The mobilization of European and North American courts, legislative bodies, and social work practices to implement forced removal through intercountry adoption is a direct challenge to cultural sovereignty. We support the legal and policy application of cultural rights such as rights to language, rights to ways of being/religion, collective existence, and a representation of Haiti’s histories and existence using Haiti’s own terms.”
“We offer this statement in solidarity with the people of Haiti and with all those who are seeking ways to intentionally support the long-term sustainability and self-determination of the Haitian people. As adoptees of color we bear a unique understanding of the trauma, and the sense of loss and abandonment that are part of the adoptee experience, and we demand that our voices be heard. All adoptions from Haiti must be stopped and all efforts to help children be refocused on giving aid to organizations working toward family reunification and caring for children in their own communities. We urge you to join us in supporting Haitian children’s rights to life, survival, and development within their own families and communities.”
Please contact the Adoptees of Color Roundtable by leaving a comment on the statement page if you would like to endorse this statement, and keep checking back as the site will soon be expanded.
I’m working on a longer post that will clarify my thoughts and my position on the rising number of Haitian children in need after the disaster in Haiti. AFAAD is also planning to release a statement soon.
Overall, I have to say, what’s happening for me is that the rhetoric of United States is reflective of the rhetoric they spouted during “Operation Baby Lift” in the Vietnam War. Its troubling and frightening, and its the same old story about the colonialist paternalism that appears whenever the US thinks they understand what a country and black people need better than the country knows themselves.
I continue to ask. Why is removal the only answer? I want to issue a direct challenge to the ‘good intentioned’, monied, Christian, white folks who are lusting after the “new crop” of Haitian disaster orphans.
Can you please, sit an rethink, can you TRY to re-imagine the discourse of ‘orphan’, ‘savior’ and ‘adoption’? Can you think of alternatives that can address the immediate and dire needs of these children besides removing them from their country & culture. What about utilizing your adoption fee to rebuilding infrastructure of the country? or one town? or support existing organizations IN the country that support keeping families & communities together? Removal is not always the answer!
My colleague and adoptee activist, Outlandish – has written a post that reflects my deep feelings about the language of ownership that is already being thrown around, that is a language of potential adoptive parents who are only concerned with their desire to have a child, and not with the trauma of separation and loss.