Recently a friend of mine discovered that her colleague is an adoptive parent and is currently in process waiting for their second daughter from China. He had seen my film clip at the Race exhibit, due to their work, and knowing we were friends asked if I’d provide some resources. He was referred to Outsiders Within and after reading the introduction, he told my friend, "They are some angry adoptees."
This is nothing new; many of us who speak up about adoption as differing from the "sparkles and sunshine" are often called "angry." It has been my experience lately that anything that is critical is mistaken for angry. I’ve been called an angry adoptee many times. And what I think is humorous about that label is I’m far from being "angry." Critical, yes. Unsentimental? Absolutely.
I proudly consider myself to be critical but to me, critical and angry are two different things. Anger, according to the American Heritage dictionary, is "a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility," while critical is defined as "a critical review or commentary; a critical discussion of a specified topic."
One can be angry and critical, for sure. But being one doesn’t necessarily equate that one is both. I’ve known many people who are critical about a certain issue but not angry, just as I’ve known plenty of people who are angry but not critical. And sometimes you do find people who are both.
Calling people who dare to critique something that has long been presented in one way – no matter what that issue is – as angry is an easy cop-out. It’s the lazy person’s way of dismissing what might be very valid moral, ethical or social problems with an institution, practice or policy.
But don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to dismiss those people who
truly are angry about adoption either. I think our society has very
much tried to get people to stifle anger and sometimes I think a little
anger is completely justified. Do I think that those who have been hurt
by adoption should be able to own their anger? Absolutely. When I hear
angry people talk about their experiences, I listen. Usually, if you
can listen between the words or tone you find the hurt and sadness
underneath, the oppression and abuse they’ve suffered.
I also think that anger is useful in getting people’s attention. How
many of us listen to composed, thoughtful, critiques versus loud,
heated exchanges? My own kids don’t listen to me if I give them a
hundred gentle reminders but the minute my voice raises, they’re at
attention. Of course, I’d prefer to be able to get their attention
without raising my voice – and many of us who are advocating for change
in the adoption industry would prefer to have thoughtful dialogues with
others too. But sometimes, damnit, we just need to shout a little bit.
There have been a lot of practices that we humans have forced upon certain populations that needed some activated anger from those oppresssed groups in order to effect change. In any situation where some people have all the power and others none it may be necessary for the powerless to express and act on their anger in order for the power to equalize.
Recently on an adoption agency’s forum, an adoptee expressed a
critique and in the post, used some profanity. Immediately, this
adoptee was jumped on by adoptive parents and although the adoptive
parents refrained from using profanity as well (which soon became a
bigger issue than the critique itself) I noticed that there was a lot
of anger expressed by these adoptive parents too. Instead of focusing
on the topic of the critique, the adoptee was dismissed and chastized
for being too angry. In the process, as an observer of this exchange of
dialogue, I have to admit that I felt the majority of the adoptive
parents were lazy and relieved to have the reason to attack the adoptee
rather than deal with the very insightful critique that adoptee pointed
out to begin with. I’ve used this analogy before but it seems to me
like putting a bandaid on a sore without looking underneath for what
might be a raging infection that needs to be addressed.
Behind anger there are often other feelings; sadness, despair, hurt, resentment or fear. Sometimes anger is the emotion expressed when all our other feelings are dismissed. And sometimes anger is just anger.
Is it possible to acknowlege anger as being a justified emotion? Can we look beyond the expression of emotion and dig deeper to what is propelling those feelings?
Because dismissing, patronizing and attacking adoptees because they express a differing view –
Now that makes me angry.