What audiences are saying

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.

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12 thoughts on “What audiences are saying

  1. I appreciate your persistence and energy toward this topic. I think I would have choked out the guy with the calling and the daughter from Africa.

  2. You have many allies John as this week in adoptionland has pointed up, racism is alive and well and racist adopters continue to raise children in racist ways.Is a mother who posts photos of a traumatised, anguished adoptee and of a Chinese adoptee making a racist gesture – the ‘slant-eyes’ gesture a wonderful caring mother? Many adoptees think not while adopters have risen to her defence in the usual way.There is a long way to go but as one adult adoptee said this week ‘we’ve got your back’.

  3. I think it’s dismissive and reductive to consider you simply “angry” or “resentful.” I would consider that a knee jerk reaction on the part of adoptive parents because they simply don’t know what to do with the information you are giving them. As some of the APs and foster parents said, they are, unfortunately, hearing about experiences of racism and isolation for the first time and it appears that many of them became defensive and made it about them instead of being reflective and mindful of how they can uplift and empower the children in their care. Those APs and foster parents should be grateful that you shared your experiences and knowledge with them and should be asking, “What next?” instead of saying, “It’s not my fault!”

    And you certainly handled the Jesus-role-model guy with grace. His poor children.

  4. Sorry that so many APs remain so ‘fearful’ that they are unable to hear your message. I say fearful because I think that is where some (not all—some is pure arrogance I am sure) of the ‘smugness’ you mention comes from. I think many APs go into adoption with purely good intentions, wanting only to provide their children with a happy, loving home and life. I think it is hard for them to hear about the grief and with transracial/transnational adoption, hard for them to hear about racism and how it will affect their children. Instead of listening with an open mind, some become defensive and miss your message or label you as being angry instead of passionate or even recognizing that there is a lot about adoption that does warrant anger. Even in the most appropriate circumstances that lead to adoption—there is still a root reason why a child becomes available for adoption and that reason is not going to be a ‘happy’ situation—it is likely a situation that warrants anger.

    Regarding the “Jesus will be my child’s role model” comment—really not much anyone can say to that.

    • It would be nice if another parent who identifies as a committed person of faith (for example, a Christian AP) would take on the responsibility for educating fellow Christian adopters. Ideally, I imagine there are committed APs of older kids (or of adult adoptees) who have shifted in their thinking about the primacy of religion. Such a parent who has learned from experience, and through watching their child navigate race and adoption issues as they matured, would be in a prime position to advise less experienced newbies on how their faith-based parenting strategy is likely to turn out.

      • I completely agree. I identify myself as a Christian, but there is a problem., Most Christians such as those who made the “Jesus will be the role model” comment, will not define me to be a ‘true’ Christian because I don’t believe some of the basic tenents of Christianity such as: original sin, I believe in Evolution, and the real biggie is that I don’t believe a person has to believe that Jesus is the son of God or even in God in order to go to ‘Heaven.’ I believe God is a very large being and being such a large being, there are many roads that lead to that path–not just one. None of the paths are right or wrong, none is better than the other– they are simply different. Chrisitans of the sort you mentioned– DO NOT like to hear this kind of stuff and they shut-down.

  5. Does he mean the Jesus that every Bible book and religious picture she may ever see will be depicted with brown-blonde hair, pale skin, and bright blue eyes? *sigh*

    It breaks my heard that there are adoptive parents with transracially adopted children who cannot identify racism and who would resist learning more about issues of race. Why don’t people realize that racism and race-based inequities are things you’re supposed to be angry when talking about? It’s the apathy and adjustment to these things that is bothersome. An unsurprising bi-product of White privilege.

  6. I am a transracially adoptive parent — and I love your work! I, too, get frustrated with the ignorance that I encounter with other AP’s. As a social worker and trainer of foster parents, I have used your video and work to challenge the assumptions and ignorance born of white priviledge, that many foster/adopt parents bring to my classes. You are intensely passionate and committed to improving the lives of children, like my own — and I, for one, truly appreciate your work. You, and others with your passion and courage, continue to make me a better parent!

  7. Hi John. (Long-time lurker, first time responder.) I’m a trans-racial adoptive parent (for 8 months now), and although I assume that these are answers you’ve heard a thousand time before, this is how I would have to answer your questions about why other parents don’t join you in your anger…

    The most obvious answer is because sharing your anger would require the adoptive parents’ redefining deep, often implicit, self-serving assumptions about the culture through which we all move. In my case, recognizing my own complicity in different elements of institutionalized racism was very hard. I could accept it pretty much immediately on an intellectual level, but each time I did, some self-concept-preservation instinct would kick in and I’d find myself rejecting the obvious conclusions on a purely visceral level. (“Nope! Feels too wrong/challenging/difficult. CAN’T be right!”)

    What ultimately committed me to the “ally” role you describe so eloquently elsewhere was the fact that I don’t ultimately have to answer to myself on all of these issues; I have to answer to my son. And while I’m pretty used to disappointing my SELF by now, the thought of my own son (rightly) judging me as anything less than the ally he needs/deserves is all the motivation I need to take stock of the world as it actually IS, and start doing enough to make it the way it SHOULD be that I can look my son in the eyes when he is grown and not have him be ashamed of me.

    I tend to agree with you that some people just can’t be argued with. I also think that those people will make horrible parents (regardless of race.)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the reactions you’re getting out there, and thank you for your continued work.

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