It’s November, and National Adoption Month is almost over. Thank goodness!

I am happy to share a link to my latest writing about adoption available online at Gazillion Voices Magazine.  If you get a chance to read it (by clicking here), I think you will understand a little better why I am not a fan of National Adoption Month or the even more ridiculous-sounding “Gotcha Day” celebrations that some adopters force on adoptees. You will also understand why I always cringe when I hear pet owners talking about “adopting” their “rescued” animals.

I am really pleased to see Gazillion Voices growing by leaps and bounds, and I am proud to be part of the writing team.

NY Times Op-Ed

Click to download Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White Parents –, 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.

Australia apologizes for adoption pain

Forced Adoption Logo (2)How many of us in the “adoption community,” particularly in the USA, know about the heartfelt apology issued in March 2013 by the Australian government?

I want you to read the short letter from Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Read the ENTIRE thing! In fact, read it out loud. It’s not long. But it does capture the pain and frustration that many TRAs, other adoptees, birth mothers and other first family members, and various adoption reformers (and let’s not forget adoption abolitionists) have been injecting into the dominant pro-adoption narrative. These perspectives go largely unheard or dismissed as “too negative” because they do not “celebrate” adoption.

Deeply moved as I read the apology, I found myself muttering, “Wow” repeatedly. Does it change the material conditions of living people’s realities? By itself, no, of course not. But as a symbolic gesture, the Australian government’s apology is a start in the right direction of dismantling the hegemonic influence of an adoption industry that woefully under-serves children and families. In other words, I read the apology as an act by a collective of individuals who are beginning to hold themselves accountable for participating in a corrupt, harm-causing, hugely skewed system that is rooted in systemic oppression.

PLEASE  DO READ IT. It is short and poignant. In fact, share it with the adoptees in your life, adoptees of all ages. I want my sons to read it. I think they will feel empowered, validated, and recognized. At last. It won’t take away their pain, but I am certain that it will  send a message that they are finally seen, that their experience has been affirmed by people in power.

That’s how I felt, as an adoptee and as an adoptive parent. Allies, I DARE you to read it to younger children and youth. And then ask them what they think. Don’t be surprised if they burst into tears. That should be a lesson. Be ready to bear witness to the accumulated pain from the trauma of relinquishment or abandonment, from foster care, and from adoption. And if you are too scared to share this letter of apology with adoptees, then ask yourself this: “If I am too afraid to bear witness to their pain, as an adult or as a ally, how can I possibly deny them access to and connections with individuals that are making sense of a similar experience?” The least we can do is encourage younger and older adoptees to connect with each other to form supportive relationships.

CLICK ON THE LINK TO READ THE APOLOGY NOW: Nationalapologyforforcedadoptions

Distribute it widely. Let’s have this sort of courageous conversation here in North America. Finally. And thank you, Australia.

TRA oppression: A word about the new blog banner

I decided to change the images across the top of the blog, even though I do love the  old  banner photo of me hanging out with two campers from Pact Camp taken a few years back.

In trying to counter the public perception of adoption as being “all about kids”—and the idea of adoptees as Perpetual Children that are never allowed to grow up—I felt like I should just use images of myself in adulthood. After all, adulthood is where adoptees spend our lives once childhood ends, and adoption and race STILL affect us in significant ways.

The first image is a still from the film “Struggle for Identity: Issues in Transracial Adoption.” Several people came up to me at the recent NACAC conference and thanked me for being in that movie. One person pointed out how many thousands of individuals have watched the film and learned from it. So, since many people associate me with that movie, I used the still (the one with the long curly hair back in 1995).

The second headshot was taken when I became a professor at UNL. Using this one symbolizes that I am no longer just another adoptee “telling my story.” Rather, I have become a serious researcher and scholar of adoption and race.

The two slides are from my July 2011 webinar on “Adoptees and Parents, Adoptees as Parents.” They represent my latest thinking about what’s wrong with transracial adoption. My analysis includes a discussion of oppression theory, and the way that all transracial adoptees are triply oppressed—through racism, adultism (the oppression of children and youth), and adoptee oppression (being treated as second class citizens without equal access to information and our histories, for example).

This triple whammy of oppression makes it extremely challenging for adult transracial adoptees to be heard, especially if we articulate a sharp critique of adoption and call for anti-racist action for transracial adoptees and communities of color. As Perpetual Children, adult adoptees can choose to side with children and youth to fight adultism. After all, as kids, most adoptees have no say in whether to be adopted, or whether to leave our original families and communities. We have no say about where we will grow up. As a result of this disempowerment and dependency, transracial adoptees live at the whim and mercy of often under-prepared and ignorant families, who, sadly, are  usually not in any position to help us navigate the complex race or adoption issues we inevitably face.

I have come to believe that the liberation of children and youth is a necessary component in any struggle to reform (or ultimately abolish) adoption. This means, first, that children must never be bought and sold. Next, whenever possible, young people MUST have a say in placement decisions when adoption becomes necessary. Remember,  adoption is a response to a crisis. Adoption should be primarily about finding safe homes for children in dire need, and NOT used as a  convenient solution for adults (for their infertility, family-building desires, or to get rid of unwanted pregnancies). Placing adoptees front and center will not happen without the liberation of children and youth (hence my call for “kid lib, an idea whose time has come”).

Working to dismantle adultism that keeps young people powerless and infantilized means sharing power with the young. It also means fighting patronizing adultist views that try to keep all adoptees in a child-like state as Perpetual Children.

Children, youth, and adult transracial adoptees are natural allies, then, as long as adult adoptees strive to incorporate social justice (and specifically anti-adultist and anti-racist) values into our work and practice. Young adoptees of color should have a say in where they go to school, what religion they follow (if any), what nation’s citizenship they claim (if adopted transnationally), and even where they will live as children and as adolescents.

The kind of community—monocultural and all-white versus multicultural and integrated—can make or break the spirits of transracial adoptees. Racial isolation and imposed segregation are wrong. Children of color adopted into white families, whether through domestic adoption or transnational adoption, deserve the support and understanding of adults of color who look like them and who share their cultural and racial designation. Transracial adoption is NOT about fulfilling the fantasies and desires of white adoptive parents. Transracial adoption MUST be about fully supporting adopted youth of color, who are already burdened enough with the twin tasks of navigating race and adoption. It’s high time that adoptive families stepped up and educated themselves on how to better support family members who are people of color, and who are doubly oppressed as adoptees.

This is what this blog is about: supporting the transracial adoption community through education and research. And even though I have paid a huge price  in speaking out to educate non-adoptees about transracial adoption, and to critique transracial adoption over the years, this is what my life’s work continues to be about: fighting so that younger transracial adoptee voices can be heard, fighting to empower transracial adoptees, and working to ease the triple threat of racism, adultism, and adoptee oppression.

Decolonizing transracial adoption

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.