The Angrier Adoptee, part 1

The Angrier Adoptee: I have some feedback for you, Professor. Meaning no disrespect. But some of us think you haven’t gone far enough. I do appreciate the energy shown in your recent posts. But we thought we’d give you a chance to explain yourself further.

John: Um, okay? I always welcome feedback from other adoptees. Even the ones who might disagree with some of what I’m saying. And by the way, you can call me John. You don’t need to call me “Professor.”

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The Angrier Adoptee: Okay, cool. Well, John. To start with, do you think all the people at that rally in Nebraska voted against Trump? I was looking at the voting patterns data in your state. And I’m pretty sure there must have been a ton of people at that rally who voted for him. It could be that they just decided that their president crossed a line when he told ICE to lock kids in cages. Even though they disagreed with him on that one decision, they could still vote for him again in 2020. Especially if they mostly like the other stuff he’s doing.

John: Yeah, I didn’t think about that. And that would explain the lack of real outrage expressed at the Lincoln rally. We also have this dynamic called “Nebraska Nice,” where we don’t like to treat our neighbors disrespectfully. There may be a gendered and class-based element to that. I mean, it seemed like there were more middle-class female protesters, and speakers, at the Lincoln rally. I know some immigrant friends who told me they couldn’t attend, because it would violate their visa status. Or maybe they are undocumented. So the diversity among the protesters wasn’t representative of the level of outrage and anxiety throughout the community. But you make an excellent point. I wanted to believe that I was among friends and allies. Which to me means committed anti-Trump folks. Now that you mention it, the publicity for the rally did say that it was open to people of all persuasions, not just people in one political party.

The Angrier Adoptee: Next, I wanted to talk to you about gender issues. To start with, why are most of your images on your blog boys and men? I don’t see a whole lot of women. Or girls, or non-binary people. But you write a lot about women, such as birth mothers and grieving moms, for instance. Or in your example of the traumatized adoptee keeled over in the fetal position, why did you make her female?

John: That’s a fair observation. The reason that my original artwork features guys is because the people I ask to pose for my photos are friends, or people I know personally. As a gay artist, I tend to make art about other males. That’s just my preference, where my interest lies. But yeah, I could do a better job including more images of women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals. If that was your criticism.

The Angrier Adoptee: What about that traumatized adoptee? Why did she have to be female? You’re not female. As a male writer, isn’t it dangerous for you to talk about the experience of a female adoptee, as if you know what that feels like?

John: I guess I was thinking about the movie, Adopted. That movie, which everybody should see, by the way, was made by female adoptees,. You get to hear some powerful stories about adult adoptees. For me, the most poignant ones described the experience of adoptees who happened to be women. And let me add that I would hope that writers are allowed and even encouraged to write from various perspectives. We shouldn’t have  to limit ourselves to writing from one particular gender, should we?

The Angrier Adoptee: If you’re a good enough writer, yeah. Then maybe you could pull it off. Moving on, why don’t you come right out and offer people some concrete solutions? Where’s your sense of urgency? Your writing is very cerebral. It’s like you’re living in your head. What are readers supposed to do? Are they supposed to just think their way into social justice? When are you going to come down from your academic ivory tower? Children and families are suffering, yet you just blog.

John: I think about that, every day. I ask myself if doing research, teaching courses, and offering a few workshops and keynotes, when I’m invited, is doing enough. And I’m not sure what the answer is. I know that blogging is one action I can take to resist. But I also know that blogging isn’t enough. One thing I can do is put more energy into healing myself and strengthening my family. So I’ve been working on that, for a while now.

I did notice, at the rally, people seemed to get really riled up when a few speakers encouraged them to “remember in November.” As if voting for a better candidate will make much of a difference. They seem to forget that President Obama was the one who intensified the round-up of families by ICE. Obama deported so many families, and caused family separation when he deported thousands of parents out of the country. The Democrats have as much blame as the current administration, which calls itself Republican.

The Angrier Adoptee: But why don’t you tell people to conduct civil disobedience? If the adoption business is so immoral, as you claim to believe, how can you tolerate its existence? How can even you go to their agencies and give trainings? We should be chaining ourselves to the gates, and disrupting business as usual.

John: It could eventually come to that. But first of all, I try not to tell people what to do. And I tend to think we need to educate a few more people, first. Without education, our neighbors aren’t going to understand, or care to understand, why direct action is being used as a tactic. They’ll just write off the adoption abolitionists as a bunch of loudmouth anarchists and malcontents. I want people who have been touched by adoption to look inside their hearts. I want them to reflect deeply on what would be just, and right, and fair, if they found themselves in dire circumstances. Facing the kinds of decisions many desperate women have faced, that too often leads to losing their children.

The Angrier Adoptee: Did you ever stop and think that maybe some women don’t want to be mothers? They have a right to choose what to do with their bodies and the babies they bring into the world. Sometimes you sound like it’s okay to deny women their reproductive freedom.

John: I do struggle with this, I admit. It’s complicated. Setting aside the issue of abortion, for a minute. I will say that, as a feminist, I support a woman’s right to control her own body and destiny. As a parent, I have also tried to imagine what I would do if I found myself unable to care for my child. Or if I could not guarantee the safety of my child. Then, too, I think about my enslaved ancestors. We know that many anguished parents literally threw their children overboard on the slave ships. They must have thought their children would be better off dead than trying to eke out an existence as slaves.

But I’m here today because my ancestors did not make that choice. I am descended from survivors, from strong individuals, who endured and persevered. Our ancestors chose not to end the lives of their offspring. Instead, they raised children as best they could, under exceedingly difficult circumstances. They taught them how to struggle, how to conspire, and how to survive. So the next generation would have a fighting chance. I think that’s worth remembering.

The Angrier Adoptee: If my birth mother had aborted me, I wouldn’t be here, either. But thanks to her, I had to grow up with all the crap that comes with adoption: the trauma, the pain, the questions and insults, and the not knowing. The second-class citizenship. The denial of rights to our personal information. Some days, adoption trauma feels so unbearable that I actually wish I had been aborted.

John: Wow, that’s intense, Angrier. I want you to know that I can relate.

The Angrier Adoptee: Last question for now. John Brown or Harriet Tubman? Since you’re so fond of equating anti-adoption abolition to the anti-slavery Abolitionists, pick one to follow.

John: Hm, interesting choice. I have always admired both of those committed Abolitionists. John Brown, as a dedicated person of faith, and as a man of conscience, decided to lay down his life for what he believed in. He armed and then fought alongside enslaved Africans. He did way more than just give rousing speeches against slavery. To me, John Brown epitomizes what it means to be a genuine ally in anti-racist struggle. But Harriet Tubman was another incredibly brave and daring activist who led countless runaways away from slavery and into freedom. She risked life and limb, time and time again, to take those who wanted to flee away from the plantations on the Underground Railroad. So, for me, she’s another heroic example of what it means to be an ally.

I’d rather use the power of persuasion than violence in the cause of abolition. I do believe that history is on our side–the side of justice, which is the side of abolition. The tide of public opinion will turn against child removal and family separation. People are waking up to the crime of human trafficking, and making the connection to adoption. People will come to reject the entire child removal /foster care /adoption industry as an evil, money-making institution. Especially younger Americans, the children of the Baby Boomers.

The Angrier Adoptee: Real talk. At least we can agree on that. The Boomers have had their day. It’s just a matter of time until you Baby Boomers die off and relinquish power. Meantime, young people are making other choices about the kind of society we want to live in.

John: Right on. You all are going to figure out another way.

The Angrier Adoptee: Word. Alright, John, thanks for your time. I’m off to meet up with my DA posse.

John: DA?

The Angrier Adoptee: Yeah, man, direct action. We got work to do. Later.

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Family reunification & resistance

I went to the Nebraska state capital for the “Families Belong Together” rally. In this time of heightened fear-mongering that may well lead to a surge in state crimes against humanity, I felt it was important to be counted, and to stand with my neighbors.

The crowd, I have to tell you, was overwhelmingly white. Even so, it was heartening to witness people of all ages, from children to grandparents, apparently united in our opposition to Trump’s family separation and detention policies. It was empowering to feel so unified against Trump’s increasingly brash white nationalist agenda.

But let’s ask ourselves–were we really united? Unfortunately, I didn’t get the impression that most of my good white neighbors at the rally see the Trump agenda in such racially charged terms. It sounded like many of my fellow protesters mainly felt morally outraged and dismayed. And justifiably so. But from what I heard and witnessed, many of them lack the political clarity that would have been evident had the crowd consisted of a majority of people of color. For example, the rallies I saw on the news in cities such as Oakland, Chicago, New York City, and Atlanta sounded quite a bit rowdier and angrier than the largely white rally I attended.

It’s tempting to believe that those of us who didn’t vote for him are all on the same team, just because we “oppose” Trump. But we don’t even analyze the problems posed by his administration in the same way. That’s part of the problem of organizing an effective resistance.

Because I live in the Heartland, I mingle with many kindhearted white people of conscience, every day. Yet few of them have a highly developed analysis of oppression, even though many of them no doubt see themselves as allies. I daresay they represent the majority of white Americans across this vast country. I mean, I don’t think most white Americans are overtly racist. But I do think, unless they are intimately involved with aware people of color on a regular basis, they have no clue what’s really going on in communities of resistance (or what some people call “minority” communities).

I think we all could benefit from having more politically aware friends of color with whom to discuss what’s going on. The more politically-conscious individuals from oppressed groups in our social networks, the more likely we will be able to understand the anger and anxiety growing among communities of resistance. If aware people of color are absent from our daily interactions, I doubt if we will ever develop political clarity about the ways white supremacy governs daily life.

Let me try to be even clearer: Most good people of conscience and of privilege just don’t–or can’t–see Trump as a straight up white nationalist. But most of the people of color I talk to do. That’s the divide. For a long time, even I didn’t want to see him that way. Many individuals (like my working class, adopted African American sons, and my vulnerable immigrant friends), know that he’s a racist. Especially those who aren’t buffered from the more blatant effects of racism, as I am. In discussions of the current immigration debate, I have to own the privilege I receive, for instance, being a light-skinned, English-speaking, non-Muslim, middle class professional, U.S. citizenship-bearing male.

People who live immersed in communities of resistance understand implicitly that Trump’s policies reinforce a white nationalist agenda. I mean, there’s a reason he is the champion of nationalists who feel victimized by the growing brown menace. Why is that so hard for us as adoptive parents (and for some of us as highly educated, professional transracial adoptees, for that matter) to understand? Because our comfort numbs us. Our privilege blocks us from breaking through to a heightened level of  awareness, not to mention, a real sense of urgency.

If we are going to step up as allies, we all must learn to see Trump’s actions as a direct assault on parents who are simply trying to save their kids from dangerous situations in their home countries. They are under assault because they are poor, brown, and non-English-speaking. That’s classic American racism. Resisting oppression means refusing to go along with white supremacy, plain and simple. Resistance means refusing to take part in the roundup of “undesirables.” Resistance calls us to  unite our voices to proclaim, “No!” to family separation.

But after the rallies are over, resistance calls us to take up the ideological work of controlling the narrative. We don’t have to let the authorities of the white nation-state tell the story the way they want to. We can reject their dominant discourse. We can redirect it deliberately, and tell the story in our own words, and more importantly, in ways that reflect the concerns of the communities in resistance of our loved ones.

To allow the authorities, such as attorney general Jeff Sessions, to talk about the so-called “border” only in terms of law and order supports the dominant paradigm. To let them get away with talking about immigration mainly as a legal issue gives too much power to the white nation-state.

We can teach ourselves and our neighbors to take the side of the oppressed. We can learn to think of what’s going on as a humanitarian crisis. It’s not merely a question of politely standing in line to wait one’s turn to enter the United States “legally.” As the author, Mary Pipher, pointed out at the Nebraska rally, I’m pretty sure each of us would break the law –especially an unjust one–if it meant we could save the life of our child.

To empathize only with the suffering children, and not include their parents, is not resistance. Of course we want to take them into our arms and comfort them. It shouldn’t be surprising that many of us want to take them away from those awful cages and bring them into our homes. As North Americans, we tend to see ourselves as the great saviors of the downtrodden. The poem on the Statue of Liberty bolsters this identity:  “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” Our national identity as Americans remains wrapped up in sentimental notions of rescue and refuge. Focusing on the heart-wrenching images of suffering children feeds into our national savior complex.

I bought into it, and adopted needy children from foster care. So, I’m not pointing a finger at anyone, nor am I sitting in judgment of parents who open their homes to vulnerable kids. I’m trying to expose the way our good intentions, as parents–our well-meaning desires to do the right thing–are continually manipulated by what many of us have come to recognize as the racist child removal / foster care / adoption industry.

Resistance calls us to support family reunification. But reuniting the children of detained parents will be a messy process. Foster parents and adoptive parents who humbly received one of the children from the current crisis may find themselves in court, down the road. As more and more of these cases surface in the news, it will be a difficult moral dilemma to know whose side to take.

Will we stand with comparatively privileged foster parents and adoptive parents who were only trying to help? Or will we stand with the traumatized and deported migrant parents whose kids were ripped away from them, after they came to the U.S. seeking asylum?

Can foster and adoptive parents claim ignorance? Can we rely on leniency in the court of world opinion? Or will we be held liable for our part as accomplices in the historic, yet ongoing, drama of child removal and family separation at the hands of the white nation-state?

Resistance asks us to understand how the good intentions of well-meaning Americans have been used, time and again, by the self-appointed social engineers. It gives me no pleasure to point out any of this history of child removal as a tool of social engineering.  I’m simply trying to make amends for the role I have played in this shameful national tragedy.

I’m trying to hold myself accountable for any damage I may have caused, as an unwitting dupe of the system I once enthusiastically supported, and which I now view as fundamentally oppressive, and therefore, immoral.

I ask myself: How do I want to be remembered, as a participant in the historic legacy of ongoing child removal efforts that helped make America what it is today? It is easy to get caught up in the feel-good validation I receive, especially from other people of privilege, for being a noble rescuer. But now that I’ve started to see our nation’s history through the lens of child removal, it’s hard to close my eyes to the horror and the exploitation of vulnerable families that is suddenly obvious.

Paulo Freire warned us that conscientization was painful. The process of consciousness raising takes a heavy toll. Accepting responsibility for our actions, and securing liberation for ourselves and our loved ones, is not going to be easy.

But resistance calls us to shake off the shackles of ignorance and denial. Resistance requires us to be brave, and to stop making this about ourselves as foster parents and adoptive parents. Real resistance asks us to actually sacrifice for what we believe in, and live out the social justice we say we hold dear.

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An adoptee view of adoption trauma

We’re moving into the second week of Summer, at least for those of us here north of the Equator. So much is happening. It feels like something momentous is taking place. Does anyone else feel this, or is it just me?

Old issues are surfacing in new ways. People are trying to come together. It feels like communities are gathering strength and reaching out to other communities. In a few hours, I’ll be participating in one of the nationwide protests against family separation and the detention of refugees and migrant children and parents.

Our world spins in crisis. Trouble seems to be everywhere: Another black teenager has been murdered. Another Native woman has gone missing. Another youth is locked away needlessly, pointlessly.

Another grieving mother weeps for the loss of her child–to suicide, to drug overdose, to police incompetence, to deportation, to detention at the hands of so-called border protectors.

Somewhere, a wealthy adopted child, triggered by widespread discussions of family separations in the news and everywhere on social media, cannot find the courage to give voice to the words that would convey her acute anxiety. In her mind she may understand that it’s not likely to happen to her. That is, she tells herself she probably won’t lose her family.

Except that, once upon a time, she did. The little girl inside her remembers the feeling of utter panic when she lost her family the first time.

While concerned adults around her march to protest the detentions of migrant parents and the breakup of families, the adopted girl fears that she might once again lose her parents, this time, her “forever” family, her adoptive family. Just like she lost every other adult that ever told her they loved her: her foster parents, the kind ladies back in the orphanage, her group home parents, her birth mother.

But what can this adoptee say if she cannot find the words? Depending on her age, she acts out: She cuts. She hordes. She rebels. She hits. She wets the bed. She throws tantrums. She throws her toys. She pushes away the ones closest to her.

Or perhaps if she’s older, she runs away. She sleeps around. Or steals. If she’s off at college, maybe she isolates. She skips class. She skips meals. She fails her classes. If she’s living on her own, maybe she doesn’t return phone calls. Maybe she self-medicates. Maybe she stays in bed all day. Maybe she quits her job. Maybe she simply stops trying.

Sometimes, she’s curled up in the fetal position. But no one knows this, because outwardly, she’s a successful over-achiever. She has been taught that she’s special due to her “chosen” status. She’s been told to feel grateful that she got adopted. She hears, again and again, that adoption was the best thing that ever happened to her. She’s so lucky that she’s not stuck in some orphanage or group home. She’s blessed to be an American.

So the adoptee hides her tears and forces a smile. She shows up at family functions, feeling anything but functional. But who notices? Who really cares?

The caring people in her family are all out protesting family separation, while inside her adopted heart, she’s the one living with the separation from family. When no one notices her anguish, when nobody can help her name the trauma she inhabits, she wonders who her family really is.

But let’s keep pretending that all is well in Adoption Land. After all, adoption is always in the best interests of the child.

Or so we choose to believe. And so the delusion–sheer madness–continues.

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I mean this, Adoptees: I hope you are staying connected to your circle of support in these triggering times. Stay strong, and don’t hesitate to reach out.

Resisting family separation

Current events are calling us to respond with compassion and/or outrage. Here are some follow-up thoughts I’ve had since my last post.

World Refugee Day was observed June 20th. (Check out Democracy Now!’s coverage here.) Its observance, along with the media spectacle of the crisis at the U.S./Mexico border, have prompted much reflection and discussion.

One thing I’m clear about: The proper response to the current tragedy is NOT swooping in to “rescue” kids, as North Americans are prone to do, for example, after disaster strikes. Adoption industry professionals should take a hands-off approach and curb their self-serving child-snatching tendencies.

Predictably, at least one cable news anchor, Mika Brezinsky, voiced the naivete of many well-meaning Americans, when she said she is thinking about fostering one of the refugee kids, as if that will solve the crisis. Keep in mind how eerily reminiscent of the Native child-snatching “maternalists” (documented by Margaret Jacobs) such a naive  response actually sounds.

Our immediate goal should be to reunite families, and keep them together. Our goal is NOT to feed the adoption, foster care, and detention industries that profit from keeping kids “in care”.

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Free our kids, free our minds

As heartbreaking as it is to listen to the cries of refugee children who have been forcibly taken away from their parents, we should remember that the forced separation of families is nothing new, especially when it comes to communities of color.

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Source: AP via US Customs and Border Protection. An agent keeps watch as children file out of a cage.

Before I go further, I want to state the intention behind this post. I have been heartbroken and appalled by the lack of compassion being shown to desperate families from our neighbor nations to the south. My heart goes out to parents who seek respite from the dangerous circumstances in their home countries.

As a U.S. citizen, I try to recognize my nation’s complicity in creating the dire conditions these families are fleeing, whether in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, or Nicaragua. I am clear that part of the reason why so many desperate parents risk everything to bring their children north is directly related to the legacy of weapons, war, drug money, deported gang members, and political destabilization exported from the United States during my lifetime.

Furthermore, as the adopted son of immigrant parents, as a transracially adopted African American member of a multiracial family that includes refugees from the Nazi Holocaust, as a teacher educator of color, and as the adoptive father of black sons who survived the traumas of foster care, adoption, and incarceration, I must speak out.

It is tempting to feel powerless. I ask myself, What can I possibly do? Well, I know how to write, and I have loyal blog followers. Maybe my words, in some small way, will help strengthen our resistance movement. It is for all these reasons that I feel compelled to break my self-imposed blog silence and use some of my privilege and cultural capital to express my thoughts on child removal, family separation, foster care, adoption, and schooling–all topics that I have studied and personally participated in, for better or worse.

While I have taken a break from blogging for some time, I have been diligently working to make amends for the harm I may have caused through my involvement and participation in social institutions which I have come to recognize as fundamentally unethical and untenable. As a grandfather now, I feel more and more driven to work to hold myself accountable. These feelings are the genesis of this post. And so…

While it is shocking to witness, in our own time, media images of incarcerated children confined to oversized dog kennels, the roundup of children on the border is but the latest manifestation of an age-old government policy. Many Americans either don’t know or don’t care to think about how child removal has a long, shameful history as U.S. government policy. Even so, this policy can be understood as part of the larger attempt to manage the “problem” of diversity within the unfolding great American social experiment.

In terms of U.S. history, child removal has proven to be an effective strategy for domesticating communities that the power elites view as their enemies. Back during slavery times, enslaved parents had their children sold away, sometimes as a punishment for disobeying the master’s wishes, other times as intimidation designed to keep enslaved adults in line.

Later, long after slavery was abolished, child removal continued to be used to control black bodies. Think about it: It made a kind of sense for white authorities to fear the resentment, if not rebellion, of their former slaves. Systems were put in place to monitor and contain black aspirations for freedom, including the Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, the penal system, chain gangs, and “hyper policing” of black neighborhoods. Don’t forget about the lynchings, torch-wielding night riders, White Citizens Councils, etc. that used violence and intimidation to shore up white dominance. Want some documentation?  Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for an excellent analysis of how white power came to be maintained after slavery ended. Alexander shows how mass incarceration became a preferred way to keep watch over potentially rebellious malcontents, namely, African Americans and poor people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

As the social welfare and justice systems slithered their icy tentacles into African American communities, forced child removal was added to the arsenal of the surveillance apparatus. Why do you think there are disproportionate numbers of black and brown children in foster care? Why are so many black and Latinx youth living behind bars? After reading his autobiography in which he describes his childhood experience surviving both foster care and incarceration, you begin to understand why the legendary African American leader, Malcolm X, referred to social workers as “home wreckers.”

The long and valiant efforts to defend the Native way of life from encroaching “settlement” by hostile invaders ultimately ended in the military defeat of resistant Indigenous nations. Conquered Native Americans had to watch their children being forcibly removed from their families. The most resistant and defiant tribes had their children snatched first. Captured children were sent away to residential “Indian schools,” where forced assimilation into the white man’s way of life was foisted upon them.

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Carlisle Indian School (or indoctrination center, depending on your loyalties)

Even today, many Native and First Nations communities throughout North America struggle with the long-lasting effects of this historical trauma. Trauma today shows up in a complex of social problems, including alcoholism, child abuse, domestic violence, and high rates of youth suicide. It is not easy to “get over” and simply forget the deliberate breakup of families, which arguably serve as the backbone of vibrant, culturally intact communities. It is a testament to the resilience and beauty of their cultures that my Indigenous friends are still here. In gratitude for your example, in admiration of your courage, and out of a sense of moral outrage at the colonization you continue to endure, I rise in solidarity.

It is no exaggeration to say that child removal policy has been a primary strategy for building and maintaining the white settler nation state. If you need further evidence, study the work of historian Margaret Jacobs, my award-winning colleague here at the University of Nebraska. Her book, White Mother to a Dark Race, details the way self-appointed white women rushed in to Native communities at the end of the so-called Indian Wars to “rescue” children from what they saw as a barbaric, dying culture, by ripping them away from their supposedly “uncivilized” parents. Jacobs points out how Indian child removal by these ethnocentric reformers, even though they acted as if it were for the children’s own good, was actually part of a deliberate process of white nation-building during Westward Expansion. She also hints at the way the seeds were sown for the later transracial adoption experiment of placing Indigenous children in white Christian homes. Jacobs’ impressive book documents the same approach taken by similar white settler nation states, such as Canada and Australia, where white invaders snatched Indigenous children as part of their own nation-building process. I’m not making any of this up, folks. Go check for yourselves.

While you’re at it, read Joel Spring’s book, Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. In it, he discusses the uses and abuses of schooling, along with other U.S. government policies, to control minoritized communities. Spring systematically chronicles the treatment of Native Americans and former slaves, Asian immigrants, and colonized Latinx communities, including families living in occupied territory claimed by Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Separating children from their families was found to be an effective way to intimidate and coerce resistant adults of all ethnicities. Confining children in schools and other institutions continues to be used to manage diversity, principally by assimilating and socializing the next generation of conquered and resistant peoples into accepting their subordinate status.

Even the white children of European immigrants weren’t spared, back in the day. What we like to think of rosily as the “American Dream” is actually rooted in the nightmare of cultural imperialism, enforced through loss of languages and given names, Americanizing “foreign-sounding” family names, and erasing cultural identities. Europeans from different nations were coerced and bribed into leaving all vestiges of their respective motherlands behind in order to gain the privileges reserved for white Americans.

And even though we are not often taught this tidbit from history, it is a fact, nevertheless, that thousands of immigrants returned to Europe. Once they had a taste of the racist, misogynist, and unfriendly American class structure, not to mention the abysmal working and living conditions, they were like, “I’m out of here.” Don’t believe me? Check out James Loewen’s revealing book, Lies My Teacher Told Me.

Schooling has always been key to the assimilation and domestication agenda. (Read Paulo Freire’s excellent critique of what he calls the “banking model” of schooling in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In fact, it may be time to revisit his contemporary Ivan Illich’s ideas in his book, Deschooling Society.) Schooling is based fundamentally on removing children from their families, albeit temporarily, but for large and recurring chunks of time. (See award-winning educator John Taylor Gatto’s book, A Different Kind of Teacher for some great insights into how this all works.) Because most of us have been effectively tamed through schooling, it should come as no surprise that many of us timidly and obediently accept this process as a social good, even as a necessity. But given the emerging social and political crisis facing the United States, it’s time we ask ourselves: At what cost do we willingly submit our children to domesticating education?

We are currently living through a terrible period of scapegoating, demonizing, and dehumanizing particular communities, exacerbated but not caused by the current occupant of the White House. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, and the complexion of the nation’s youth generation grows darker with each passing decade, we are being encouraged, mainly through corporate media propaganda, to buy into an “us versus them” mentality. Some of our neighbors, friends, and family members are being labeled as undesirable and treated as expendable. That is unacceptable, and we must resist all efforts to pit us against each other.

Recognize how we are being conditioned and desensitized in order for the state to take steps to further contain and control the burgeoning brown youth generation through a  strategy of divide and conquer. Recognize how they are trying to break our spirits. But before we give in to sheer exhaustion, and before we give up in utter despondency, we must ask ourselves: How do we want history–and future generations–to judge our response to the current manufactured crisis?

Wake up from the desensitization! We have become too desensitized to the ongoing trauma of separating children from their families. We have been conditioned to think of it as normal. For example, most Americans accept sending our own children off to school, where they are taught by strangers, away from the watchful, loving eyes of parents and grandparents. We act as if rounding up the young and segregating them away from adult society is somehow “natural.” We force kids indoors for hours at a time, away from nature, in buildings that look and often feel like prisons, grouped unnaturally by age or “grade,” and we call that education. Then we wonder why so many kids hate school.

We tolerate other professional interventions into family life, for example, by social workers and other authorities. We allow them to physically remove children from any families they decide are unfit. We tolerate the psychic violence done by adoption agencies both at home and abroad, and their unethical trade in children. We make it seem normal and acceptable for a so-called “birth mother” to walk away from her child. We accept as a good thing the transnational movement of children from one “unfit” family to another “approved” family. We tolerate the breakup of largely disenfranchised, struggling families, often impacted by poverty. By accepting as legitimate the global institution of adoption, we tacitly endorse the wholesale destruction of families and communities, and render “birth parents” and other biological relatives largely invisible and powerless.

On top of that, we tolerate the mass incarceration of youth who, in past times, would not have been tried as adults or treated as criminals, but would have been forgiven their youthful mistakes, and probably given a second chance. We have become so desensitized, over the years, that we now accept without thinking that the “best interests of the child” are served by allowing self-appointed authorities to remove children and send them to live away from their families—behind bars, in detention centers, in group homes, in psych wards, in foster homes, or simply spending their days away at school. And now, we watch incredulously as frightened, already traumatized refugee kids are being corralled into kennels and tent cities along the U.S./Mexican border. I can’t help but ask, what would Jesus say?

When you step back and understand U.S. history from the vantage point of child removal, you begin to see the pattern. My writing partner, Jason Irizarry, and I have written elsewhere about the “ideology of containment” as a pattern throughout the history of schooling in the U.S.A. It’s all part of a corrupt continuum that shores up the white nation state’s apparatus for the surveillance and containment of young black and brown bodies.

From the harshest extreme of genocide and brutal slavery to mass incarceration, techniques of hyper policing, mandatory schooling, the coercion that underlies the foster care and adoption industry, to private prisons, youth detention centers, and other institutionalization processes, the elites who govern the white settler nation state are hell-bent on maintaining their power over an increasingly diverse (meaning browner and browner) youthful populace, by any means necessary.

I believe that our children are not expendable. On the contrary, I believe they are sacred. If we are serious about liberation and social justice, especially for young people of color, one of our tasks might be to answer, as honestly as we can, a few critical questions. I would suggest that these are important questions for all of us, but especially for white family members and adult allies who care about creating a multiracial society oriented towards justice and social harmony:

(1) In order to wrest our children’s freedom from the grip of institutionalized authority and the tyranny of experts who have the power to disrupt and displace families, to which communities must we remain especially loyal?

(2) Regardless of our academic fields, jobs, and/or civic engagements, in whose interests primarily should we work? Whom do we serve?

(3) Which structures and institutions need to be abolished–literally–in order for our children to go free?

(4) Lastly, before we can act as effective allies to the young, how do we begin to deinstitutionalize and decolonize our own minds?

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 “ … for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’

“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ “

Matthew 25

Acceptance speech

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Here I am applauding my “co-conspirators” right after my award acceptance speech. You can read the transcript of my 2-minute video here:

“First, I’d like to thank the founders of NAME for creating such a welcoming community of dedicated and inspiring activist-scholars. I’d like to thank the current NAME leadership and staff for their tireless labors to sustain an organization that I’m proud to be a part of.

I’d like to thank my friend and mentor, Sonia Nieto, for her support and encouragement over the 37 years that I’ve known her. She is largely responsible for me becoming a teacher, and she introduced me to NAME and what it’s all about.

I’d like to thank my UMass Amherst posse, as well as my colleagues at other institutions, because it truly does take a village to do any of this unglamorous work in education. I say thank you to my sons and my grandchildren, and to my students over the years, for reminding me why the struggle must continue.

And I’d like to say thank you especially to the Indigenous people and nations for allowing me to visit and live in their homelands, and for teaching me in different ways, and for reminding me. For reminding us all, of the debt we owe to their nations.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my different sets of parents: My foster parents, Mr. & Mrs. Kelly who were African American. They started me out in life until I got adopted. They showed me the true meaning of Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Childhood,” the one where she reminds us, ‘Black love is black wealth.’

I say thank you to my white birth mother and my black birth father, who gave me life. Even though I was not allowed to know them, I thank them for giving me the chance to experience life on planet earth.

And I thank my white adoptive parents, who are both immigrants, who showed me by their example that those imaginary lines called borders are for crossing. They’re bridges, not walls. I thank Mom & Dad for raising me in a progressive faith community, and for making it possible for me to go to college, so that I could join a community of awesome co-conspirators like the people gathered here at this conference.”

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Still hoping for change

A few days ago, I received a surprise email from a new student at the university where I work. Her heartfelt message touched me, and she gave me permission to share it with my readers.

I feel grateful that she wrote to me, because it reminded me that the work I have done over the years in the so-called adoption community has made a difference, at least to some people, which is something I often wonder about.

In her message, this student talks about being labeled as a ‘birth mother.’ She alludes to the anguish caused by the momentous decision to place her baby boy for adoption. She basically thanked me for my perspective that tries to bring to the forefront the frequently overlooked participants in the oppressive system that we have come to think of as adoption.

Now that I’ve given you some context, I will share the message sent to me from this birth mother. We agreed that I would not use her name on my blog, for obvious reasons. (And even that right there calls attention to the injustice created through this oppressive system…)

Dear Dr. Raible,

My name is _____. I recently transferred to the university as a nontraditional college student. I was elated to discover that you work for the university as an associate professor. Here’s why:

In 2014, I was pregnant with my first child. It was an unplanned pregnancy, and the only option I had ever considered before this was abortion. But as you know, things change in an instant.

I was contacted by a nonprofit organization in my town at that time that provides services for expectant parents as well as prospective adoptive parents. I soon learned that even before giving birth to my son, I was seen as a birth mother, and trust me, that is a title no one wants to have. Then one day, I came across a quote of yours (please see attached), and it gave me hope, hope that maybe one day birth mothers and birth parents like me will be respected, loved, and held in high esteem, like their children/our children are. Unfortunately, that has not happened for me yet, but I still love looking at your quote from time to time, still hoping for change.

Anyways, I would love to meet with you if you have some time in the next few weeks. Grab a cup of coffee, or whatever works for you. That being said, I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience!

All my best, ______

She attached the following quote to her email message:

adoption-quote

I plan to ask _______ where she came across the quote. I know that she was not aware of my blog, so I am curious to hear how she found it. I have a few other questions for her, as you might imagine, and I’ll be quite interested to learn more about her perspective and experience.

Anyway, I agreed to get together for coffee, and I will share with her the story of being found recently by my own birth family, thanks to my cousins in California, who took the 23&Me test that finally brought us together.

Damn the agencies, I say. Let’s use the latest advances in DNA science to get around their inhumane policies and the outdated laws they pushed through to keep children from knowing their parents. At the same time, we’ll keep working for justice for adoptees and our first families/birth families.

The power of the pro-adoption lobby that profits literally from the separation of children and parents is intensely hegemonic. The loudest voices in adoption discourse–adopters and those who prey upon them– adoption facilitators, adoption attorneys, and adoption agency executives– make it nearly impossible for us to envision a different way of meeting the needs of children and families in crisis. They make it difficult to imagine how women’s rights, even reproductive rights, include the right to keep and raise one’s children.

Even so, I have come to believe that the days of the pro-adoption lobby are numbered. Mark my words: There will soon come a time when society will eventually awaken to see the adoption business for what it really is: unethical, emotionally and psychologically violent, and essentially untenable from the perspective of human rights. Yet despite their best efforts to maintain business as usual, some of us are still hoping for change.