You might be interested to see what a recent audience had to say after hearing my presentation at a one-day conference for foster parents and adoptive parents in Nebraska. I showed the movie “Struggle For Identity” and talked about what we now understand about race and adoption, and what transracial parents need to understand in order to be effective parents. Here are the evaluation comments sent to me following my presentation:
“Information was eye-opening and concerning, definitely made me think.”
“This topic deserves more time to cover.”
“We are mid-western/excepting real issues can’t be understood.”
“Not enough time was given to audience commentary or discussion. He seems angry. Some placements with foster children are immediate without looking at race; We need to balance that with offering experiences for all cultures and races. This is Omaha, Nebraska – not all black placements can be with black families, we don’t have an unlimited number of foster homes.”
“Transracial parents-thought provoking to see his perspective.”
“Great speaker! I appreciate his honesty and his knowledge.”
“I liked this guy a lot. We need more guys like this at these conferences. Very exciting and easy for me to stay focused. Only negative is that John seems a little angry about what happened in the past.”
“This is huge for us. We are fostering Native American kids under the age of 2. We haven’t even considered these issues. Much to think about.”
“Very good and true information, something we all need to keep in mind when adopting.”
“Great thoughts. Really got me thinking.”
“Was good but seems he has a lot of resentment still for being raised in a transracial family.”
“I expected this to be the least relevant part of the day for me. Instead, I got useful information for potential future placements, but also it opened my eyes to how many transracial families there are around me and how to better support and help them in their parenting.”
“Even thought I understand what Dr Raible was presenting, I really felt angry that I was stereotyped because a child of color was placed in my home and I came to love that child and chose to raise a child of color. I would not be able to afford to move my family to a place where they might be with other people of color. I do not do this because I want glory – or money. I do this because I love these children. I would like to see other people step up for these children. And now there aren’t enough foster parents for all these children. If I had seen this movie or heard this lecture I would never have become a foster parent.”
“Very useful information.”
What amazes me is how few parents who hear me speak choose to join me in my “anger.” Apparently, they’d rather attribute my passionate stance about race, adoption, and anti-racism to their diagnosis of “how I was raised” or to my supposed “resentment” towards my adoptive parents.
They choose not to see or hear what I am truly angry about. Why are other parents not as angry as I am about the persistence of racism?
Why are they not angry at the poor preparation of and support for families who take on the huge responsibility of raising vulnerable children?
Why are they not angry at the ongoing second-class treatment of adoptees and foster youth?
Why are they not angry at the racism that kids of color are exposed to on a daily basis?
Why are they not angry that 50 years into the transracial experiement, transracially placed children in 2011 STILL experience the same racial isolation that children were forced to endure in previous decades, especially when kids are expected to integrate all-white communities all by themselves?
Why are they not angry that the Indian Child Welfare Act is too often blatantly ignored so that Native kids end up being placed in hostile situations with non-Natives?
Why are they not outraged that so many kids of color end up “in need” of adoption and rescue in the first place?
The sense of urgency I feel propels me to keep going. I’ve never been about trying to win some popularity contest with adoptive parents. I’ve always been about trying to educate anyone who will listen about the complex intersections of race and adoption. Being the bearer of bad tidings, being assigned the task of sounding the much-needed wake-up call, is not exactly fun or rewarding. I continue to do this serious and dreary job because I care about children, particularly vulnerable children of color.
What makes it so challenging, in part, is the predictable wall of denial I encounter everywhere I go. The wall of denial is usually coupled with the smug certainty that the “white way” is the right way. The smugness of unexamined white superiority leads to a kind of sanctimonious arrogance that tends to deny the reality of racism and white privilege. It makes the message of critical transracial adoptees like me nearly impossible to be heard.
This same arrogance allowed an adoptive father in the audience to dismiss my message about the importance of joining a community where people look like adopted children of color. After telling us how he felt called to adopt a little girl from Africa, he stated proudly that “Jesus will be my child’s role model.” It was fascinating to watch as nobody challenged him or offered a different perspective. I guess they were waiting to see me poke holes in his blissful ignorance all by myself. But that would have looked and sounded too angry, and I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. So I thanked the dad for his comment and moved on. I’ve learned through experience that some people you just can’t argue with.
Yet if we fail to connect the dots between race issues and adoption issues, too many transracial parents will be left in the dark clinging to sentimental color-blind fantasies that leave children at risk and unsupported. I refuse to stand idly by knowing that many children will suffer due to the inadequate preparation of their ignorant though well-meaning parents. And so I continue to speak out, when invited, and to share what I’ve learned as a scholar and as an adoptive parent, former foster child, and adoptee.
Clearly, Orphans, we have a lot of work to do. The struggle continues, and I am always looking for another ally.