Decolonizing transracial adoption

For me, the time we are living through right now is a decolonizing moment. I realize that I need to do more to decolonize my mind from the grip of the global adoption industry. I think we all could use some decolonizing. Our minds have been colonized. In saying this, I mean that the way we think about adoption–even the way we picture kids and childhood–has been shaped and molded. Basically, so that somebody can make money. Transracial adoption will never get better until we decolonize it. This is what I believe: We have to decolonize our minds before we can empower ourselves as transracial adoptees.

It reminds me of watching women become empowered during the feminist movement of the 1970s, when I was a teenager and going off to college. It was a little unsettling, as a male, but I got why women felt they had to talk to each other without men interrupting all the time. Women met together to talk about their lives and their problems, including their relationships with men. By doing this, women were able to get some distance and some space that was free from the male energy that tended to dominate. They weren’t necessarily saying that they hated men—mostly, the women I knew still loved their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers. But without men butting in and making women take care of them all the time, women were able to reclaim their power. Ultimately, I think our society benefited and moved forward because of the self-empowerment that women went through.

What’s happening in our transracial adoptee community also feels like a parallel movement to various ethnic studies and identity politics movements, where African Americans, Natives, Latinos, and Asians organized for self-determination. I experienced these exciting movements as a youth. People of color in different communities woke up and said, “You know what? The white people have been in power long enough. Now it’s our turn.” Again, they weren’t necessarily saying that they hated white people, just because they expressed their righteous anger about the way some white people had been treating them over the years. But people of color needed to tell the story of our nation’s history from their OWN perspective. No longer was the story told just going to get told by the winners and the descendants of conquerors and slave-owners. Now it could be told by the victims and the oppressed themselves, the survivors of genocide and slavery and cultural destruction. Incidentally, this is where multicultural education came from, from the need to expand the narrative voices and tell the story from multiple perspectives. While using schooling to advance anti-racism and social justice.

Are we oppressed as Orphans and transracial Adoptees? Absolutely. Does this mean that we hate our adoptive parents? Not necessarily. It depends on whether adoptive parents act like our allies or our oppressors. I don’t blame parents for adopting. After all, I am an adoptive parent myself. But I do hold APs accountable to do right once their eyes have been opened to how unethical and corrupt the adoption industry really is. But regardless of what parents do, transracial adoptees need to acknowledge our oppression for ourselves in order to overcome it. Just as women and people of color did in their respective consciousness-raising movements before us.

Adoptee oppression started when, as children, we did not have any say in what would happen to us right when we  were born. We didn’t vote for relinquishment or to be separated from our birth mothers. None of us chose to be abandoned. We had no say in whether we would get to stay with our birth fathers or extended family. We didn’t decide whether we should be left in a dumpster or go to an orphanage or into foster care or be placed for adoption. All these life-changing decisions were made by adults without our participation and without our consent. These decisions about our fate as little powerless kids set in motion a series of events that we now have to deal with for the rest of our lives.

Remember, Orphans, adoption is a crisis response. Plain and simple. It kills me to see people running around trying to pretty up adoption by making it sound cute and sentimental. “Happy Adoption Day!” Bring home your little angel! “Happy Gotcha Day!” It’s actually quite sickening. Adoption is a crisis intervention. The fact that some mother felt so desperate that she believed that her only move was to give up her baby –her flesh and blood—should give us pause. The fact that this world accepts the widespread separation of mothers and children almost without blinking an eye should tell us something. When we talk honestly about adoption, there is no avoiding this tragedy, this awful moment of relinquishment or abandonment. The separation of a mother and child is painful and heart-breaking. It should be remembered and honored in a deeply serious way. People need to recognize that what we know as adoption is built on this painful, heart-breaking scene, multiplied a million times, over and over and over, all around the world.

One amazing thing to consider is that many people actually benefit from our loss and our sorrow. That’s why I don’t like to celebrate “Gotcha Day” or “Adoption Day.” The winners in the adoption game experience adoption as a joyous event. (I get it. I mean, why wouldn’t they? After all, they got us!) But at whose expense? And why should their happiness at adopting a child outweigh our sorrow at losing our mothers?

Other beneficiaries are the adults who literally profit off our sorrow. Adoption agencies that charge fees (not all of them do, remember), and adoption facilitators and lawyers and others who “arrange” private adoptions make tons of money. It’s criminal, when you think about it, that people can make money off the buying and selling of children. But they don’t call it that. It’s as if the adoptive parents and agencies and social workers all wink at each other as they exchange cash, telling each other that this is for the good of the children. Children are being rescued. Lives are being saved. And adopters get to feel like saints for doing a “good deed.” Like they just bought a rescue dog down at the animal shelter.

Decolonizing transracial adoption means exposing it for what it really is. When the survivors of adoption trauma tell the tale, our perspective as Orphans will never sound like the perspective of the winners in the adoption game. We are survivors, Orphans. I am an adoption survivor. I am a former foster child and an adoption survivor. It is a trauma that I experienced as a small child. Adoption happened to me, happened to all of us.  But somehow we survived, and are still surviving. Thank goodness we found each other.

In stating it so bluntly, I am not saying that I don’t love my adoptive family, because I do. But I lived through something they will never understand as non-adoptees. I live with the aftermath of my relinquishment and my stay in foster care and my adoption every day of my life. It’s all part of one long experience. The joyous moment of adoption—when I got to join a new family—cannot be separated from the whole trauma. Adoption is part of what we have suffered. I don’t celebrate it and I am not happy I had to be adopted. I’m glad I have an adoptive family that loves me, don’t get me wrong. But I am still grieving the loss of my birth family, while missing the connection to my foster family, and suffering the effects from the whole traumatic experience.

Decolonizing transracial adoption also means we have to tell the truth about race. We must use the R word—and talk about racism. Even if it makes the white people in our lives—our families, friends, and teachers—uncomfortable. I will get to that in my next post. Until then, stay strong, Orphans. Stay up. Get on top.

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9 thoughts on “Decolonizing transracial adoption

  1. Couldn’t agree more, we had no choice, we survived and we’ll keep on surviving.Hopefully more and more will find their voices and tell their stories and their truth.

  2. I hate the term “Gotcha” Day. *shivers* Seems like it’s saying, “Hey, look, I bought you from a store at a discount.” Some other obnoxious ones are “Stork day” and “Airplane day” Which just further makes the adoptee sound like a package to drop down the Earth.

    I’ve heard of Adoptive Parents turning the day of adoption around to remember and thank the Foster parents and parents that gave up their child. Not so much celebrating the victory, but honoring the loss… so I think there is a camp like that.

    For those families they tend to go over the events that lead to the adoption, etc. And also discuss adoption issues, race, etc. So I think the APs have matured beyond the original, let’s celebrate the heartbreak and loss you suffered to our benefit. They call it usually, “Family Anniversary Day” which is neither happy nor sad, but looks at how the family reformulated and remembers it.

    @Angela I learned the very hard way that you can’t make people do what they don’t want to do. If your parents won’t communicate with you about your adoption, your difference in race and won’t accept your culture(s), it’s not likely to succeed. You can try reaching through that fog, but nothing on this Earth can make them an ally for you. If they aren’t willing, that’s it.

    As for recovery–I think that’s a personal thing. Forgiveness and Reconciliation are not the same thing–and both are journeys through yourself. The pain we feel is shared, but individual at the same time. People grieve in different ways. For me, though, I think it’s important to not label yourself as a victim, but more of a survivor and activist. People don’t respect victims after they whine and whine about problems, but take no action. When you survive, you recognize that bad things happen and when you become an activist, you try to make changes to the world around you through your actions–even if it’s not your exact responsibility for the problems you have, you at least try to change the future of other human beings. This gives you power and respect because it takes strength to be on the front lines and listen to the other side.

    But I think one can be content to be a survivor–to overcome the pain and look and learn from it in your own personal way.

    • Hold on a second… Angela could be an adoptee wondering how to repair her relationship with her parent… I took it as insulting, at first. Then I reconsidered. Stay tuned for a post that addresses her questions as an adoptee. (Even if she turns out to be a parent, I will address it as if it were asked by an adoptee!)

  3. Thank you for this post. For all of your words. I am an adoptive parent-of a TRA Black son, and a Biracial biological son.

    When I birthed my second son, I experienced the most altering grief for the loss that I now imagined more deeply, that my first (TRA, adopted) son and his first mom experienced at his birth, (or shortly there after when I arrived at the hospital). As an adoptive, new mother I had NO IDEA what she was going through. Although I believed at the time, I was tapped into her sadness.

    But it wasn’t until three years later, while I was wailing and holding this new baby, that I arrived somewhere else in my grief understanding. I ached to hold my first son. That ache came from a new fathoming of all the loss around his birth. The nurses thought I was having post partum depression. I was, but it wasn’t mine!I wanted to hold her, (his birth mom) and him. I wanted to go back in time, and feel it again.

    I recalled how my first son’s first mom and I talked about her choice to place him with me. I was overcome by the grief. She said; “I need you to give this baby only your joy. Save all the sad part for me.” Hardly a day passes that I do not recall that moment on some level. Her maternal/selfless plea to me, was to give him relief from this devastating sad. She instructed me to leave the hospital and come back with joy…

    I was writing about that tonight actually, when I took a break to poke around some of my favorite blogs. So grateful to land here tonight.

    (My sons are six and three by the way.) Thank you for the call. Again. The wake up call. I hope this response isn’t too confusing. Decolonization is destabilizing. Feeling it tonight.

  4. Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’m an adoptive parent and i appreciate insight into the minds of adoptees.

  5. Hi, that’s for tweeting this, I hadn’t read it before.it reminded me of when i was finishing work for our first adoption and being a bit upset that no one so much as gave me a good luck card, when births were celebrated with flowers and cake. I guess us adoptive parent feel like second class citizens in the parenting world, so celebrate where we can. 3 adoptions in, and I get it, so now we celebrate achievements and progress.

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