New article on “Lost Daughters” : Rachel Dolezal and the Privilege of Racial Manipulation

This madness around #RachelDolezal has me and many other transracial adoptees and transracial families squirming and a bit angry. Please check out this article I wrote for Lost Daughters about the whole debaucle.

Transracial Lives Matter: Rachel Dolezal and the Privilege of Racial Manipulation

“The commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling. Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.” bell hooks — Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance

“They love our bodies, but they don’t love us.” #BlackWomensLivesMatter #SayHerName

“Everybody wanna be a nigga, but nobody wanna be a nigga.” Paul Mooney. 

I was doing my best to ignore this story. It wasn’t until one of my fellow adult adoptees alerted me to the fact that Twitter (which I use religiously, but avoided specifically the past two days) had begun to use the term “Transracial” to refer to Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who has been outed as hiding her whiteness and living as a black woman that I paid attention.  I discovered that Twitter had also begun a hashtag as a sarcastic taunt — #TransracialLivesMatter. Then, I read an article that argued that “transracial identity, is not a thing.” Um. No.

For those of you who don’t know, and clearly there are a lot of you, the term “transracial” is used in scholarly research, creative writing and cultural work to denote a particular “state of being” for people adopted across race. It also describes a kind of family unit / type of parenting. In other words, it IS a ‘thing’. It is disheartening and disconcerting to see this term used dismissively as if it does not encompass an entire population of Black, Brown, Native and Asian people across the globe. For the past 35ish years, I’ve considered myself to be a transracial adoptee. The “trans” in transracial for me, never meant my race changed. It meant I was a multiracial black girl, adopted into a white family. It meant I was taken without my consent from one home, one place of origin and put inside another family, another culture, another race, one that didn’t belong to me. It meant I had to learn how to navigate my blackness and my black girlness, inside an often times racist, religious, violent and rigid white world. It meant living in a house and community that simultaneously erased me, racialized me and tokenized me. It gave me a language to articulate what was happening to me. But you know what it didn’t do? It never actually changed my race.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

“My Grandmother” by Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay’s work is a major part of my dissertation. While reading / researching her work, I found this poem written by her. I thought I would share it, as representative of the conflicting emotional and political relationships that many of us adoptees of color who are transracially adopted have with this weird thing, “National Adoption Day” that argues ‘any family’ is better than ‘no family’.

and me? I remember the day, at my grandmother’s 85th birthday party, she patted me on the knee and said, “you’re just a little white girl, Lisa”.

nah.

—–
My Grandmother

My grandmother is like a Scottish pine
Tall straight-backed proud and plentiful
A fine head of hair, greying now
Tied up in a loose bun
Her face is ploughed land
Her eyes shine rough as amethysts
She wears a plaid shawl
Of our clan with the zeal of an Amazon
She is one of those women
Burnt in her croft rather than moved off the land
She comes from them, her snake’s skin
She speaks Gaelic mostly, English only
When she has to, then it’s blasphemy
My grandmother sits by the fire and swears
There’ll be no Darkie baby in this house

My grandmother is a Scottish pine
Tall straight-backed proud and plentiful
Her hair tied with pins in a ball of steel wool
Her face is tight as ice
And her eyes are amethysts.

———-
Jackie Kay is a black Scottish poet who was born in Edinburgh and raised in Glasgow. She has published her poems widely and her volume The Adoption Papers won an Eric Gregory Award in 1991. She has also written three plays, Chiaroscuro in 1986; Twice Over in 1988; and Every Bit Of It in 1992. Her television work includes films on pornography, AIDS and transracial adoption, and Twice Through the Heart, a poetry documentary for BBC2.

This poem was first published in 1991 in That Distance Apart, London: Turret Books.

I’m on CNN with Don Lemon!

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.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/apps/cvp/3.0/swf/cnn_416x234_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=us/2010/05/09/nr.adoption.races.cnn

Talk back: 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!

M.I.A Born Free

I usually don’t post music. I will be posting something about the passing of HipHop Legend Guru and what his life and work creating powerful music meant to me as a black girl living in an all white community. I’m sad and pained by this loss.

I also know influential, potent art when I see it. M.I.A is an woman vocal artist I’ve been listening to for awhile now, her first album being my favorite. I had to post this to support her and her work. Its incredible. I’ve learned that youtube pulled the video. I’m amazed they had the audacity to do that considering all the other useless, racist and misogynistic crap that’s in their database. It makes no sense.

This song, what it did was make me think of the ways in which Arizona is becoming a police state. Are we really “Born Free”?

Warning: This video contains graphic images. But its all TRUTH.

M.I.A “Born Free”
for a full screen movie of it.

“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.
and
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.

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.

Racist M/Paternalism at its Best

Ahhh the NYTimes. So much for responsible journalism. I had so much hope when I read sis Sume’s beautiful piece Reclaiming Ownership of My History.

Then – BAM! There’s just so much irresponsible journalism to choose from nowadays its actually becoming too easy to spot the well meaning white liberal who continues to think they know better than those irritating people of color who are actually experts in the field. As many of you know, this month the NYT’s has a series going on adoption called Relative Choices. Ignoring the easy blast at the cheesy title, I have to take aim (along with other AD’s) at this week’s columnist, Tama Janowitz. Here is one choice excerpt:

A girlfriend who is now on the waiting list for a child from Ethiopia says that the talk of her adoption group is a recently published book in which many Midwestern Asian adoptees now entering their 30s and 40s complain bitterly about being treated as if they did not come from a different cultural background. They feel that this treatment was an attempt to blot out their differences, and because of this, they resent their adoptive parents.

So in a way it is kind of nice to know as a parent of a child, biological or otherwise – whatever you do is going to be wrong. Like I say to Willow: “Well, you know, if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!”

And she says — as has been said by children since time immemorial — “So what, I don’t care. I would rather do that than be here anyway.”

Ummm. Say what? Did this mother of a Chinese girl seriously just use the “you would just be oppressed in your own country and since I know for sure that your life is better because you are with me because I am your mother” argument? Seriously? Did she really in such a joking manner make a mockery of those folks who are working under the conditions of economic slavery imposed by the U.S. that actually admits that the black, brown and yellow folks they utilize as a labor force don’t deserve basic human rights? And does she forget that ‘those folks’ are her daughters people? Does she really expect us to take the step of comparing refusing to get your child a dog at their demanding whim to a white parent refusing to acknowledge how race plays a major factor in the healthy identity of a TRA child? Oh Hell NO.

Ok, wait.. wait.. I thought most folks understood how m/paternalism plays a huge factor in discourses of colonialism and white privilege, but clearly folks need me to spell this shit out. Does anyone remember how manifest destiny or just general white supremacist rhetoric historically has a place in the circumstances of transracial/international adoption or is it just me? Paternalism: refers usually to an attitude or a policy stemming from the hierarchic pattern of a family based on patriarchy, that is, there is a figurehead (the father, pater in Latin) that makes decisions on behalf of others (the “children”) for their own good, even if this is contrary to their wishes. So just in case we’ve forgotten boys and girls, paternalism is also responsible for slavery, for colonialism, for going into those ‘savage’ countries and ‘saving’ those ignorant natives from themselves, because clearly they don’t understand that I know whats best for them. I’m their mother after all! Motherhood is the most important thing and since I am the mother, what I say goes! So what if I have to beat, rape and shame your Indian-ness out of you! As long as you understand that you are safer and will have more opportunities in my world than you would have ever had in your world. Your own religion? Pshaw! Your savage people worship a pantheon of gods and goddesses – we know there’s only one true God! Your ancestral connection? Oh that old thing? Wait.. did you know they left you in an orphanage? I mean, you would be over there just languishing away if I hadn’t found it in the goodness of my heart to answer the call to become your mother. You are SO much better off here. I mean, at least I let you have a Game Boy because you don’t need those pesky birth relatives hanging around like domestic adoptees.

Let me note here that as an Adoption Educator, I completely understand her point about wrestling with the crazy dynamics of an adolescent screaming at you, “you’re not my real mother!” in the context of parenting. AP’s have to deal with the guilt that comes along with punishing a child at this moment – and the very painful implications for how your child views you at the moment of vocal impact. Yes, you still have to be a responsible parent and handle your business and not get sidetracked by a demanding child. But what comes along with this responsibility? Is there a responsibility to not be racist in my responses to my adopted child of color?

TRA Jeopardy question: The ability to put my needs and wants over that of my child’s without regard for the racist implications.

Answer: What is – the ultimate white privilege, Alex.

Tama. Tama. Tama. You should know better. (Shouldnt you?) Your complete dismissal of adult adoptees who are working to share knowledge with other adoptees and with parents to hopefully change these relationships for the better is inexcusable.

But oh.. I forget.. your child is different. Because you say so. Because you know that for your child – race wont really matter. Love is enough. . . and I’m just an angry, bitter TRA in my 30’s and 40’s.

Careful Tama, you’re startin to sound like the ‘charity workers’ in Chad.

Additional Note: Please also be sure to read Harlow’s Monkey’s critique of this NYT’s article, and note that responses from adoptees and parents alike have been denied/ censored posting in the comments section!!!!

Update: 8:59pm. A group of Adoptees are looking for other folks (adoptees, adoptive parent allies) who have attempted to post on the NYT’s article and have also been censored. Please send me a note or post here. We’re working on a collective response to this censorship.

Update: Nov 14 12:17pm Its become more and more clear that the NYT’s has indeed censored the responses to this article. I just want to provide some links to voices who have also responded. I’m posting some more adoptive parent ally responses too. It aint just us who are upset!
Twice The Rice

readingwritingliving

resist racism

According to Addie

Heart, Mind and Seoul

Racialicious

Sun Yung Shin

Outside In…And Back Again