Tuesday, January 23, 2007

outsiders within; Writing on Transracial Adoption

Edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah and Sun Yung Shin. I have been reading this book slowly, dipping in to one essay after another with plenty of time between to try to digest as much as I can. It is very hard going. This is a new kind of book on adoption, written by adult adoptees. It is not what we have heard about adoption before. I have read many of the adoption books in the past five years; Inside Transracial Adoption, Journey of the Adopted Self, In Their Own Voices, Primal Wound and others. outsiders within goes deeper and goes down harder. It is shaking me up and challenging everything I thought I knew about my motivations and aspirations for the adoptions of my sons.

I have had many conversations about whether white people can raise black children with a strong racial identity intact, and whether white people should be matched with black or biracial children in adoptions. I thought I had looked at it from both sides; the need for black children to have their racial heritage reinforced in their family and community as well as the overwhelming need for families to adopt waiting children of color in foster care regardless of the race of the adopting family. I thought I had been tutored in the weakness of the “love is colorblind” theory of combating racism. I thought I had found ethical adoptions in situations where the infants were waiting in foster care and no family other than me had been found for them. Their birth parents had made considered, desperate decisions and time had past. If they had regrets they had opportunity to change their minds. If they had the resources or the committed desire to raise their sons they could have done it. These boys needed me. I thought the alternative to me, a single mother adopting these little boys was that they would continue to wait in foster care. I felt lead to give myself to mothering them.

In this book I am reading straight talk that is challenging all that thinking. Perhaps in my acceptance of the surface situation these babies presented I have accommodated a deep and abiding injustice. Perhaps I should have acted or chosen differently. In the introduction to this volume Oparah, Shin and Trenka discuss the debate over same-race placements or transracial adoption. They conclude that
this narrowing of the discussion to a debate between two camps impoverishes our understanding of transracial adoption. It also prevents us from considering other possibilities.

How would the proposed remedies change if we asked about the right of low-income parents to receive adequate economic support to keep their children? …The contributors to this volume do not limit their concerns to the terms of the existing debate. They do not seek to present either exemplary stories of successful adoptions or cautionary tales of disastrous events. Instead they reveal transracial adoption as the intimate face of colonization, racism, militarism, imperialism, and globalization. In so doing, they direct our attention to the need for long-term solutions embedded in struggles for economic, racial, and global justice that address the root causes leading to children of color being removed from their families or surrendered for adoption. They call on us to demand justice for an entire community, rather than claiming to save a single child.

I am convicted by that because I know that white privilege contributes to my ability to achieve the high education and employment history that allows me to gather the resources to adopt these boys and provide a home, health care, material necessities and an excellent education for them. I know that white privilege contributes to my solid network of supportive family, friends and colleagues that back me up and enable me to do this. I think the first mothers of my black sons bore them without the advantages that I have been given. Had they had the benefits of white privilege they very well might not have chosen to give their sons up for adoption. I know racism has effected all of us and has impacted my sons and their families from before they were born. My loving them and giving myself to mothering them does not make up for that.

It is a little ironic to me because I also feel that it is my connections to black friends and community that gave me the confidence to parent my own first biological son born to me as a single woman. When I read the stories of other white young women who gave their babies up to adoption because of the pressure friends, family and church put on them to remain childless when single, I am grateful for the black single mother role models I had that told me I could raise my baby and have a good life as a single mother. In the black community my motherhood was validated and respected in a way that I don’t see reinforced for so many single white women that became “birthmothers”. Part of it may have been that I was in my late 20s, I had an education already, I had work experience. No one said I couldn’t have a successful career if I had a child. But also, I knew women who had children and no husband. I lived with single mothers whose role as mother was deeply valued and respected. I had mentors in the black community who showed me how to do it. The family values of the black community taught me important lessons in parenting.

Getting back to the book; I originally wanted to read it in order to learn what perspectives my growing sons may experience. There are many different stories here, different views and different reactions. There is much wisdom, anger, struggle and insight.

One of the essays in the book is called “Power of the Periphery” by Kim Diehl. She says:
“Being a transracial adoptee may be the most radicalizing force in my life, one that has coursed through me with an intense and raw power. I see parts of myself in so many humans. I share the pain and victories of other displaced, abandoned, and re-birthed people. We on the periphery, learning and watching from the outside, have a particular power with revolutionary roots.”

As I learn more about the history of adoption in the United States, I realize how profoundly and intimately the political forces of women’s rights, children’s rights, and he narrowly framed family values movement have impacted my life. To counter the religious Right’s strategy of stripping resources from already debilitated public services while giving tax breaks to adoptive parents, we have to ask broader questions about family structures. Who gets labeled a family member and who is property? Who really benefits from adoptions? Are children’s rights taken into consideration during the adoption process?

My separation as a brown child from my birthmother was much more sanitized and devoid of blatant political connections. However, I did not have any power in the decision to seal my records; I did not have any power in the decision to take federal money away from social service programs that might have prevented family breakup; I did not have any power in the decision to make it a child placement agency policy to ignore race; I did not have any power to keep from being the physical embodiment of a political process that stamped its approval on transracial adoptions in a country founded on the enslavement and oppression of people of color.

She says so much more I wish I could quote here for you. I read this article over and over and keep seeing new things I want to ponder. And this is just one article… there are others I long to discuss. I will post more on another day. Is anyone else reading this book? I would dearly, dearly love to have a book discussion or book club around this book. If you have any involvement in transracial adoption, please consider reading it. I want to hear what you think of it!


Dawn said...

I am so not ready to read this book right now. There are a bunch of bloggers I wish lived nearby so I could get actual face-to-face time and you are one of them! Especially after I read this book and need someone to talk to!! (Maybe when my proposal is done and I'm allowed to use all of my head again ...)

Kohana said...

This is so hard. Since adopting my son I've really been challenged in the views I held on adoption, pre-our-adoption. The Primal Wound is sitting on my shelf, waiting for all of my postpartum emotions to subside before I dig into it. I have a feeling this book would be the same. As I consider these issues I struggle with crippling guilt that I may have ruined my son's life by adopting him. On one hand, deep in my heart, I know that this isn't true. At the same time, I know that there is very likely truth in it. I'm working on being able to read and consider these hard things, while maintaining confidence in my mothering. There is no changing the fact that I am my children's mother. I've got to do that well. Sometimes it means reading the books, and sometimes it means letting them wait.

Third Mom said...

My copy is standing by, waiting for me to complete the three or four in the queue ahead of it. I'm anxious to read it, and would so much like to do an on-line discussion of it. Maybe a forum could be set for it, SoA perhaps?

cloudscome said...

I am so grateful to have you other women to share reading this book with! I know it is hard to get to it (so many other things call to our time) and hard to read... but if we hold hands and do it together we can keep taking little steps forward. Taking on a burden of (white) guilt and sitting in sack cloth and ashes won't do anyone any good. We have to gather our courage and listen to what these adult transracial adoptees have to say, with hearts open. Put aside the fear monsters and look for truth. Together we can learn new things and love our children better. I think a forum discussion is a great idea! I am going to keep reading little bits at a time; a poem, a story, a reflection... I invite you to join me and share your thoughts.

zoe said...

I'm almost finished with the book, and yes, it has been slow-going trying to absorb all the different perspectives and taking time to reflect on how these things affect my family. There is so much in the book I think I would almost have to re-read it in order to participate in a discussion - but I would love to. Keep me posted, please.

suz said...

In the black community my motherhood was validated and respected in a way that I don’t see reinforced for so many single white women that became “birthmothers”. ... I lived with single mothers whose role as mother was deeply valued and respected. I had mentors in the black community who showed me how to do it. The family values of the black community taught me important lessons in parenting.

This really hit home for me as it s something I discuss often with friends. I find it somehow very sad that our white racist society places so little value on our white daughters and children that we can freely and easily discard them. The latino, black and othr ethinc groups (imo) have much stronger female ties and parenting and frankly have greater respect for the tribes. Sad sad statement for white woman in America

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog through anti-racist parent. I'm also a librarian and a mother via transracial adoption. Thanks so much for this blog and especially for recommending this book. It's on order at my library and I hope to start it soon. I'm just now diving into the world of adoptees memoirs.

Cynthia Bostwick said...

I just found your blog. I'm thinking we need to build a community of single adoptive moms. You are a voice in the wilderness. Thank you. Perhaps we should think about publishing our own anthology of ideas, musings and poems?