Fraternizing with the “enemy”

One of the more interesting developments for me at the Ethics and Accountability conference was meeting some awesome adoptive parent allies. Yes, you read it and it’s true. I talked to adoptive parents!

I won’t name them all, but they know who they are, and it was refreshing for me. I tend to be very guarded when talking to adoptive parents and sometimes I think I come across as being rather, er, terse (to put it lightly). That is because I have endured years of talking to adoptive parents only to feel exploited, used, grilled, attacked, or on the receiving end of a punching bag when I challenge myths about adoption.

I understand that often this is a case of "I’m rubber, you’re glue" and that it’s the result of an adoptive parent’s feelings of guilt/defensiveness/intimidation/insecurity or maybe it’s just the idea that I might represent their child’s feelings some day and it’s easier to make me the scapegoat rather than imagine that your child might some day grow up and question adoption.

This is one of the reasons I don’t read adoptive parent blogs much anymore, or engage often in on-line discussion forums. I do have those certain blogs or web pages bookmarked, though, because I want to understand what is going on in the community of adoptive parents. That’s often how I know what to discuss at a training or when I’m on a panel. So I check in once in a while to see what’s happening there. But most of the time, especially on the forums, I get angry. Yep, I used the "A" word. Angry. That is when I become the dreaded "angry adoptee."

Although I hate traveling on airplanes, it is a chance for me to
catch up on my big pile of reading. This conference gave me the chance
to read two anthologies – en route to the conference I read most of "Adoptive Families in a Diverse Society" edited by Katarina Wegar and en route home I read most of "International Korean Adoption: A Fifty-Year History of Policy and Practice edited by Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, M. Elizabeth Vonk, Dong Soo Kim and Marvin D. Feit.

Studies about adoptive
parents made me want to pull my hair out. Some of the comments these
adoptive parents of kids transracially adopted stated were so disturbing that
I had to take several deep breaths, and try to remember all of the
intelligent and thoughtful discussions I’ve had with some really
thoughtful adoptive parents. Some of the comments I heard during the
conference by adoptive parents were maddening too. I think one of the
things that is so hard for me, as a person who was adopted, to hear
from adoptive parents is the tendency to simplify things into reductive
polarized positions in which it "seems" there is a "best" answer.

Statements like, "How does providing a child’s
culture of origin compare to the rights of a child to a permanent,
loving home?" (asked by an adoptive parent at the conference) – as if
each is mutually exclusive of the other. Am I the only one who thinks
this is a set up here? Why can’t a child have access to his or her
culture of origin and have a permanent, loving home? And why
does it follow that said permanent, loving home has to be a
heterosexual, middle class, white family in the United States?

In the article, "Transracial adoptive parent’s thoughts about the importance of race and culture in parenting" in International Korean Adoption,
the numerous parents who opted to not teach about race to their
children in favor of Christian teachings makes me again wonder why a
Christian home would have to be at the exclusion of teaching about a
child’s race and culture and the importance of eliminating racism. Why
are these thought to be mutually exclusive? (One parent’s comment was
"The most important message regarding race . . . is the fact that God
chose her for our family and our family for her." Another comment from
a parent was "Our daughter knows God has a special plan for her life
that racial prejudice will pale in comparison to . . . that [plan] will keep
her appreciating the privilege of God rather than her focusing or
whining over real or imagined racism."

Call me crazy, but I thought a just God would want to eliminate racism, not perpetuate it.

Another theme is the precedence of "American"
over their birth culture. Statements like, "My daughter is American,
not Korean" are common. Why can’t a child be both? Why not Korean American?
Is the idea of having a Korean American child really that threatening?
Because if it is, I would really question whether it is appropriate to be
adopting a child from another country.

Why does there always have to be a "right"
answer, and why does that "right answer" always have to be the adoptive
parent’s view? Why aren’t adult adoptee voices just as legitimate?
Because we’re "angry?" Believe me, I’ve met plenty of angry adoptive
parents in my lifetime too.

At the Ethics and Accountability conference, we
talked endlessly about "the best interests of the child" and I don’t
disagree with that view. I just fear that when we say "best interests"
we are really talking about the adoptive parents interests in being
able to adopt who ever, when ever they want. Do I think adoptive
parents are getting ripped off? You bet I do. I don’t think adoptive
parents are always served with their best interests in mind. Many are
treated shabbily and unethically too.

But "best interests" doesn’t have to be reduced
to pitting the "best interests of the child" against the parent.
Wouldn’t a true discussion of "best interests" really include everyone?

I purposely titled this post, "Fraternizing with the ‘enemy’" but I don’t see adoptive parents as the enemy.  I see unethical adoptions as the enemy. I see ignorance or privileging one group’s rights over another as the enemy. When adoptive parents talk to adult adoptees and first families without defending their right to adopt or by attempting to make their pain trump ours, then I am truly willing to listen and work along side of them.

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14 thoughts on “Fraternizing with the “enemy”

  1. I have been reading your blog for months now. I link to it all the time. I hear and agree with everything you are saying in regards to transracially adoptive parents (and I am one). I am really searching for ways to talk to/reach White parents of adopted children of color. Ways to talk to them without losing my cool. Because I appear to be White (I am multiracial) I hear many comments from other White parents that I, well, I don’t even know where to begin.
    Your voice is SO important in the discussion out here, in the education of transracially adoptive parents. Keep up the good work. And any advice on keeping the conversation going (instead of me shutting down) would be greatly appreciated.
    Peace and blessings.

  2. Thanks, again, for sharing your perspective. I aspire to one day become what you refer to as an “ally.” However, my journey is only beginning, and I will have much to learn and relearn as the years pass.

  3. Once again, thanks Jae Ran. Your’s is the clear voice of reason.
    I am constantly amazed at how little white adoptive parent’s understand about race and, well, adoption even.

  4. Who is this parents social worker? “How does providing a child’s culture of origin compare to the rights of a child to a permanent, loving home?” (asked by an adoptive parent at the conference) – Mine would have slapped my hand and not signed my paperwork if we’d had that attitude. You’re so right Your voice and reasoning so so right on.
    As a white adoptive parent of a latina, your blog is so educational and affirmative – though scary at times – hitting upon those nerves and challenges I fear I will not be equipped to manage no matter how much I read.
    The adoptive parent comments from International Korean Adoption you found irritating certainly are, but are they really about being an adoptive parent? I read those statements as an individual coming from a hyper-religious standpoint of the world and probably almost anything in their life is based on God and so-called Christian values. Since so many christian organizations are involved in adoption it seems to perpetuate the myth that adoption is about “saving” a child. Which it isn’t.
    keep up the good commentary and I can only hope to become one of your allies.
    amy

  5. Amy, good question about the Christian adoptive parents!
    I do think this is about being an adoptive parent because many adoptive parents who are Christian think that spirituality is mutually exclusive when compared to being a multi-racial and racially sensitive home for their children and teaching their transracially adopted child about race and racism.
    The question that led to these responses was about how the family valued multiculturalism, race and racism as it would affect their child and their family. I think to make comments that it won’t matter because Christian teaching is more important is problematic. One can be a Christian AND be anti-racist at the same time.

  6. From the point of view that transracial and international adoption needs to be questioned, the “sides” make sense to me.
    And when considering the issues that adoptees have, it does too.
    But from the point of view of our adoptive families, this all too often fells less than constructive to me.
    Given all of the things that matter, and of course I believe the children and their birth families come first, this family of MINE that was formed by marriage and adoption matters too.
    I don’t defend its right to exist, but that is what most of my energy and effort for the rest of my life has to go into. That includes my children’s very complex lives. But mine as well.
    I will admit I have never really met fellow adoptive parents that I felt I saw eye to eye with. And I try very hard to be a thoughtful and considerate father. I can take the heat of questioning my role and what we have done.
    And yet, all of this, and I do not mean this blog in particular, seems to mostly about what separates us. And that makes me sad sometimes.

  7. I thought this was very interesting and very sad about these Christian parents who are so clueless about race and culture. I am a Christian, but I take my Chinese daughter to a Chinese Baptist Church as well as to Chinese language school and Chinese dance. She is a very happy kid who feels very comfortable at home in her culture. Everyone in the Chinese community has been so good to us. I think it is sad that those adoptive parents think so wrongly. Unfortunately, they will find out when it is too late. Hopefully they will be enlightened before then, but I am not optimistic.

  8. I found myself sighing at the Ethics Conference – I hate becoming cynical yet I have heard all the rhetoric before – yes yes yes all “in the best interest of the child” …. yet nothing changes. The needs of parents are still paramount as far as I can see.
    My first adoption was in 1975, domestic adoption of an 11 year old. (Yes indeed I am older than dirt), the other was 1984 the adoption of a toddler from Korea and finally 1986, a baby from Korea. It seems we have not advanced very far since those adoptions. I have been attending conferences about adoption during those decades and the messages are all about the children and need for homes etc. The voices of parents expressing their desire for children are louder than the voices of adult adoptees who are trying valiantly to be heard – at least this is how it seems to me.
    The same words are still being said, the same practices continue and we promise to do better in the future – yet things don’t really change. The countries change but things don’t change. We still haven’t found the answers and I am not sure anyone even wants to.
    I will keep going to conferences and keep hoping that adoption will one day truly be about the children. But in the meantime when I look around at the participants I see lots of agency people, lawyers, lots of parents and a few first mothers (this is a happy change from years ago!) and a few adult adoptees (another wonderful addition). So maybe things are getting better – maybe one day the voice of experience will be louder than the voices of people who are interested in preserving the system.
    It was an honor meeting you.

  9. “Am I the only one who thinks this is a set up here? Why can’t a child have access to his or her culture of origin and have a permanent, loving home? And why does it follow that said permanent, loving home has to be a heterosexual, middle class, white family in the United States?
    You’re most definitely not the only one who is frustrated by this line of thinking. I find it incredibly frustrating to be literally blown off by a-parents who buy into the concept of “love conquers all.”
    I certainly believe in the power of love, but it has to be active, accountable, humble, and respectful. Without out those, it’s just fluff.

  10. You’re right-on about the Korean-American identity point (and the rest of this post too). The false dichotomy that gets set up is that “doing the culture stuff” is somehow *not* part of an American identity. That way of talking reifies the idea that whiteness is what’s “normal” and “American.” I hope that my daughter will not feel that her Chineseness is necessarily something separate from Americanness. That America is not *my* America, anyway.
    Thanks, as always, for your blog. I really do need to check in more often!

  11. “(One parent’s comment was “The most important message regarding race . . . is the fact that God chose her for our family and our family for her.” Another comment from a parent was “Our daughter knows God has a special plan for her life that racial prejudice will pale in comparison to . . . that [plan] will keep her appreciating the privilege of God rather than her focusing or whining over real or imagined racism.””
    It sounds to me like these people are speaking from egocentric fear. They are blinded from living/growing up in a racist society. Not only do they not understand much about adoption, they don’t understand the gospel either.

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