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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The paralysis of the privileged (Part 2)

In truth, all of us currently living in what is now known as the United States must come to terms with the legacy of profoundly troubling human relations that has infected us with false and distorted notions of superiority and inferiority.

Our first task: Own our privilege

The main idea I want to leave with you is that those of us with greater degrees of power and privilege cannot keep treating people who are different as “inferior” and expendable. This is especially important when we claim to care for members of marginalized groups, as neighbors, fellow Americans, and even family. Ignoring their human suffering does violence not only to the people we say we care about, but to the notions of faith and love that we hold sacred.

This is why, as an adoptive parent, it angers me to see how transracial and transnational adoptive families are continually touted as preferable. Why not work harder to find homes among extended family in the kids’ communities of origin, whether on reservations, in the ‘hood, or in the countries of their birth?

It also bothers me to consider what happens when Americans keep adopting children from overseas, especially from non-European nations. What is the overall message to the rest of the watching world? Are we stupid enough and arrogant enough to think that everyone around the world agrees that U.S. homes are superior?

News flash: Adoption does not equal absolution

Adopting a child of another race does not absolve us of sin. Ironically, it points to our voluntary participation in systems of oppression, which some people of conscience might consider sinful. What’s more, adoption underscores our self-serving exploitation of our privilege.

Transracial adoption highlights our personal unchecked superiority complexes that make it possible for us to participate—joyfully, ignorantly, and self-righteously even—in the heart-wrenching misery of less privileged women who suffer the loss of their kids. Throwing salt on the wound, it makes us complicit in the all too frequent post-adoption suffering of their long-lost children—now our children—whom we typically insist on raising in racial and cultural isolation, because that’s where adopters feel most comfortable.

Delusions of grandeur, delusions of privilege

No wonder we can’t see Dylann Roof for what he really is. Our unexamined superiority complexes are so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that they shield us from the realities of our domination of others. Our bloated sense of superiority prevents us from noticing the ongoing pain caused by every person of privilege.

Furthermore, our superiority complexes feed the self-delusions that maintain the status quo. From cowardly opinions about the flag controversy, to our muddy thinking about the Charleston killer, to our tacit approval of the global adoption industry, our delusions bolster our self-image as innocent or neutral participants. In our arrogance, we get to render a verdict for ourselves as “not guilty” of any wrongdoing.

But instead of clinging to our delusions, we can choose to think for ourselves, and move beyond knee-jerk responses.

We can see the killer for what he truly is—not a freak created out of nowhere, but as one of our own misguided children: a resentful, scared son of the nation, an imperfect, wounded soul born into the unresolved human relations nightmare that has plagued these United States since Day One.

We can admit that it is time to retire the Rebel flag, once and for all.

We can stand as allies with activist adoptees and birth mothers to call for real change in the way adoption is thought about and practiced. We can work to reduce the need for adoption. We can commit ourselves to better supporting struggling families so that adoption doesn’t have to happen.

We can sow the seeds of peace by working diligently for social justice.

We can stop acting as if our way of life is the only way and our religion is the right way. We can stop pretending that our experience of the world is the best, that our families are the superior families.

Our second task: Root out every superiority complex

Dylann Roof represents nothing less than the ripening of an unhealed superiority complex taken to the extreme. His ideology about inferiority/superiority is the same ideology that we continue to pass on to all our children with each succeeding generation.

The same superiority complex that exposes our youth to dinner table diatribes about “niggers” and “illegal aliens” is the same superiority complex that celebrates the purchase of so-called orphans in the marketplace of adoption. And it is the same mentality that normalizes (and profits from) the separation of birth mothers and their children, twisting it into some grand act of charity, turning adoptive parents into heroes and saviors.

Our sick and fractured nation remains ill-prepared to offer social justice to adoptees and their natural families. And we have yet to bring social justice to other marginalized communities yearning to have their lives count as much as anyone else’s.

The Confederate flag will continue to be debated, and in our lack of clarity we will squander the opportunity to offer leadership, education, and healing, as long as we are paralyzed by our privilege.

Tragically, black, brown, and other marginalized lives will never truly matter until we root out the superiority complexes that grant us our privilege. The question remains: What will it take to force the necessary changes?

White adoptive parents and Ferguson’s mayor

It occurred to me that readers may be wondering about the connection between my recent posts about the rebellion taking place in Ferguson, Missouri and the main topic of this blog, which is transracial adoption. For those who still haven’t figured it out, it can be summed up as the huge gap in perception and experience between people of color and whites.

stop lynching1Whether we are talking about race relations in a multiracial suburb such as Ferguson or in the microcosm of transracial families, when people of different races try to dialogue about their very divergent perspectives, things can get tense really fast. In this post, I will comment on the mayor of Ferguson, who reminds me of many white adoptive parents I have encountered over the years. This will offend some people, of course, but keep in mind, I am writing this in solidarity with the young people demanding justice, and as always, with transracial adoptees.

Regarding the growing rebellion of Ferguson’s black community, recall that the police shooting death of Mike Brown was merely the spark. The unarmed teen’s body was left chillingly to lie in the street for five hours. An ambulance was never called. The callous treatment of Mike’s body in the aftermath of the shooting sent a clear message of intimidation to the witnesses and neighbors gathered around. It wasn’t just the cold-blooded killing of another black youth that sparked the furor. But Mike Brown’s death set off the spark for a rebellion that now won’t go away quietly.

 The mainstream media has been a mixed blessing. The problem for me is the constant parade of talking heads who provide running commentary on the unfolding drama. Some of these individuals have no legitimacy to speak about the rebellion. For example, why Mark O’Mara is touted as a credible consultant is beyond me. As the lawyer who exploited the laws so Trayvon Martin’s killer could get away with murder, it is insulting to Trayvon’s parents and supporters to have to see O’Mara’s face during this time of grief. I have already complained to CNN, and I urge other allies to do the same.

But the main problem is this: The media’s reliance on police leaders for information and insight muddies the waters when we are trying to define the problem. It’s not hard to understand why: The police are the reason for the protests in the first place.

Let’s say your community was repeatedly wounded, harassed, and disrespected by another group with tons of power to treat you however they want. I will use a non-controversial example instead of police. Let’s say coaches were notorious for harassing, intimidating, and even murdering young people in your community. Would you appeal to coaches as a group for help? Would you trust coaches to hear you and to fix the problem? I highly doubt it. I think a more intelligent move would be to look elsewhere for assistance. To engage in dialogue with coaches, the very group that has been harassing and oppressing you, would seem pointless and futile.

And if coaches, of all people, were then assigned to monitor and patrol your protest gatherings as you organized to redress your grievances against coaches, you would have to be damn near a saint to stay respectful, calm, and dignified in the face of such blatant disregard of your grievances. Especially when those coaches pointed loaded guns in your direction, mounted armored vehicles, and lobbed teargas at your group for no apparent reason, in an attempt to provoke a violent reaction.

To continue with the analogy, putting coaches in charge of patrolling protests against coaches just throws gasoline on the fire. Smarter local community leaders would say, “Okay, apparently we have a problem between coaches and youth. Let’s give the two sides some time apart, and send in some mediators to calm the situation and hear their grievances. We can’t have coaches and protesters battling it out every night in the streets.” But this is not what has happened, is it? Don’t you wonder why?

And to top it all off, the media then cozies up to coach experts and spokespersons for the coaches, as if they have any legitimacy or ability to comment on the situation. The people are clearly at war with coaches, and for good reason, yet the media relies on coaches for commentary, statistics about arrests, insight into the problem, and so on. Every time they put a coach spokesperson on the air, the media betrays the community. If I were a protester in the struggle against coaches, I would be furious and want unsympathetic media out of my neighborhood.

It is hard to raise public awareness of police abuses when so many Americans have an almost knee jerk loyalty to the police. Over-identification with law enforcement makes it difficult for many to sympathize with the protesters. Add to that widespread ignorance about what it feels like to be policed by an occupying force that fears and despises you, and there is little basis for cross-racial dialogue.

I almost wanted to laugh the other morning listening to the mayor of Ferguson once again state with a straight face that there are no racial divisions in Ferguson. How can he be so out of touch with what is happening to the African American members of his community? For the same reason that many white adoptive parents can’t relate to the racial hostility their kids of color experience. Unbelievable that this is the sort of ignorant political leadership the black community has to put up with. And equally sad that many transracial adoptees have to put up with clueless family members.

The mayor sounded like some old plantation owner, as if he were boasting that “Our darkies are happy. None of them ever wanted to run away until now. Not until those trouble makers came in from the outside.” Ignorance might be laughable, or even forgivable, if the consequences weren’t so deadly.

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HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT!

NY Times Op-Ed

Click to download Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White Parents – NYTimes.com, Frank Ligtvoet’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, the one where he mentions yours truly in flattering terms. I am honored to receive mention in such a prestigious, widely read publication. Thanks for the shout-out, Frank!

I do take issue with a number of assertions he makes. For one thing, it’s not clear how he knows that “for many transracial adoptees, every time they look in the mirror it’s a shock to see that they are black or Asian and not white like their parents.” Really? Every time we look in a mirror we are shocked? Based on what evidence?

His claim that “a Korean or black kid raised in a white world has lost his or her culture” sounds sensitive and caring, but what exactly does he mean by a “white world”? The world I live in is peopled by many cultures, and I feel free to move in and out of and through all of them. Does he mean “in a white family with parents who don’t have any black or Korean friends and who avoid any opportunities to mingle with people of color on a regular basis?” If that is the case–and many adoptive parents are guilty of this kind of diversity avoidance– then I would say that the kids have lost out on exposure to different cultures. But how does he know what specific culture was “lost,” or even whether it ever felt found, owned, or claimed in the first place?

And if he means that the kids have lost ties to their homelands or birth communities, say so. Don’t bandy about the word “culture” so loosely. It confuses people. The way Frank uses the term makes it sound as if “cultures” are essential things to be possessed, rather than fluid and dynamic relationships, emotional identifications, and lived practices developed with others over time.

Lastly, I have to correct his appropriation of the term I devised based on my research with white non-adopted siblings of transracial adoptees. His article states, “Even if adoptive parents started out naively… as a white family with kids of color, many of us end up as a nonwhite family. Or in the terms of John Raible… a transracialized family.” I use the term transracialized to describe the ways individual white identities can shift in response to long-term caring relationships with people of other races.

Transracialized is NOT synonymous with nonwhite. Transracialized suggests that some (rare) white members of transracial families reach a new awareness of race and racism to the point where they enact whiteness in creative and unpredictable ways, rather than reinscribing more typical performances of whiteness. In their actions, transracialized individuals participate in race discourses as allies against racism. They are not colorblind or post-racial; they are committed anti-racist allies to people of color in general and to the transracial adoptees in their multiracial families.

But I do appreciate Frank’s attempts to pay attention to his children’s experiences with racialization. For me, to worry about lost “culture” is not as useful as a clear analysis of race and racialization. Racialization refers to how each of us learns to “do” race and participate in keeping it going as a social construct. Rather than speculate wildly about how black people are perceiving and relating to his kids, I hope that Frank starts paying more attention to how he himself is relating to individual people of color and the communities he and his family feel close to. Focus on how you are performing and transforming your inescapable white identity, Frank, and people of color will no doubt take notice. Especially if you look, sound, and act like someone they can count on as an ally. It’s not so much about what “cultures” claim your kids, or which ones they claim. It’s about who they will turn to whenever the racist you-know-what hits the fan.