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.