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.

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I will be giving two talks in the Washington, DC area in late February. You can catch me at the Barker Foundation’s annual conference on Saturday, Feb. 22 in Rockville, Maryland.

Talk 1: Preparing Families for the Complexities of Transracial Adoption In this session geared to professionals, participants will learn about the special issues that must be addressed as adoptive parents prepare to raise children in transracial placements. Included topics: Assessing the “preferred qualifications” of potential parents, pre-placement and post-adoption issues, and helping families understand what works and what does not work in transracial parenting.

Talk 2: What Works and What Doesn’t Work in Transracial Families

In this session, Dr. Raible shares research-based strategies that support the development of healthy individuals and relationships in families formed through transracial adoption. Participants will come away with a “To Do” list of practical steps that families can take to address the complexities of race and adoption.

One of the best Adoption conferences…

AI-CONFERENCE-POSTCARD-page-0

It’s time to plan your trip to NYC for the Adoption Initiative Conference hosted by St. Johns University and Montclair State University. We’ve moved it from its usual spot in October to the Spring of 2014, and to a new site, the Queens campus of St. Johns. Mark your calendar for May 29-31!

If you want to present at this amazing conference, click here to submit your proposals. The link takes you to the conference website.

This biennial event promises to deliver another round of thoughtful, critical perspectives on adoption for researchers, students, clinicians, social workers, adoptees, family members, and others interested in understanding the complexities of the adoption experience. See you in New York at our new conference location!

What audiences are saying

You might be interested to see what a recent audience had to say after hearing my presentation at a one-day conference for foster parents and adoptive parents in Nebraska. I showed the movie “Struggle For Identity” and talked about what we now understand about race and adoption, and what transracial parents need to understand in order to be effective parents. Here are the evaluation comments sent to me following my  presentation:

“Information was eye-opening and concerning, definitely made me think.”

“This topic deserves more time to cover.”

“We are mid-western/excepting real issues can’t be understood.”

“Not enough time was given to audience commentary or discussion.  He seems angry.  Some placements with foster children are immediate without looking at race; We need to balance that with offering experiences for all cultures and races.  This is Omaha, Nebraska – not all black placements can be with black families, we don’t have an unlimited number of foster homes.”

“Transracial parents-thought provoking to see his perspective.”

“Great speaker! I appreciate his honesty and his knowledge.”

“I liked this guy a lot.  We need more guys like this at these conferences.  Very exciting and easy for me to stay focused.  Only negative is that John seems a little angry about what happened in the past.”

“This is huge for us.  We are fostering Native American kids under the age of 2.  We haven’t even considered these issues.  Much to think about.”

“Very good and true information, something we all need to keep in mind when adopting.”

“Great thoughts. Really got me thinking.”

“Was good but seems he has a lot of resentment still for being raised in a transracial family.”

“I expected this to be the least relevant part of the day for me.  Instead, I got useful information for potential future placements, but also it opened my eyes to how many transracial families there are around me and how to better support and help them in their parenting.”

“Even thought I understand what Dr Raible was presenting, I really felt angry that I was stereotyped because a child of color was placed in my home and I came to love that child and chose to raise a child of color.  I would not be able to afford to move my family to a place where they might be with other people of color.  I do not do this because I want glory – or money.  I do this because I love these children.  I would like to see other people step up for these children.   And now there aren’t enough foster parents for all these children.  If I had seen this movie or heard this lecture I would never have become a foster parent.”

“Very useful information.”

What amazes me is how few parents who hear me speak choose to join me in my “anger.” Apparently, they’d rather attribute my passionate stance about race, adoption, and anti-racism to their diagnosis of “how I was raised” or to my supposed “resentment” towards my adoptive parents.

They choose not to see or hear what I am truly angry about. Why are other parents not as angry as I am about the persistence of racism?

Why are they not angry at the poor preparation of and support for families who take on the huge responsibility of raising vulnerable children?

Why are they not angry at the ongoing second-class treatment of adoptees and foster youth?

Why are they not angry at the racism that kids of color are exposed to on a daily basis?

Why are they not angry that 50 years into the transracial experiement, transracially placed children in 2011 STILL experience the same racial isolation that children were forced to endure in previous decades, especially when kids are expected to integrate all-white communities all by themselves?

Why are they not angry that the Indian Child Welfare Act is too often blatantly ignored so that Native kids end up being placed in hostile situations with non-Natives?

Why are they not outraged that so many kids of color end up “in need” of adoption and rescue in the first place?

The sense of urgency I feel propels me to keep going. I’ve never been about trying to win some popularity contest with adoptive parents. I’ve always been about trying to educate anyone who will listen about the complex intersections of race and adoption. Being the bearer of bad tidings, being assigned the task of sounding the much-needed wake-up call, is not exactly fun or rewarding. I continue to do this serious and dreary job because I care about children, particularly vulnerable children of color.

What makes it so challenging, in part, is the predictable wall of denial I encounter everywhere I go. The wall of denial is usually coupled with the smug certainty that the “white way” is the right way. The smugness of unexamined white superiority leads to a kind of sanctimonious arrogance that tends to deny the reality of racism and white privilege. It makes the message of critical transracial adoptees like me nearly impossible to be heard.

This same arrogance allowed an adoptive father in the audience to dismiss my message about the importance of joining a community where people look like adopted children of color. After telling us how he felt called to adopt a little girl from Africa, he stated proudly that “Jesus will be my child’s role model.” It was fascinating to watch as nobody challenged him or offered a different perspective. I guess they were waiting to see me poke holes in his blissful ignorance all by myself. But that would have looked and sounded too angry, and I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. So I thanked the dad for his comment and moved on. I’ve learned through experience that some people you just can’t argue with.

Yet if we fail to connect the dots between race issues and adoption issues, too many transracial parents will be left in the dark clinging to sentimental color-blind fantasies that leave children at risk and unsupported. I refuse to stand idly by knowing that many children will suffer due to the inadequate preparation of their ignorant though well-meaning parents. And so I continue to speak out, when invited, and to share what I’ve learned as a scholar and as an adoptive parent, former foster child, and adoptee.

Clearly, Orphans, we have a lot of work to do. The struggle continues, and I am always looking for another ally.