They’re talking about Me

I am involved in a work group that is attempting to bring an adoption certification program to our state. This certificate program would be a year-long curriculum for professionals working in the field of adoption, such as adoption social workers in counties and private agencies (both for the children and the adoptive parents) and for therapists and mental health professionals who work with adopted children or other members of the triad. The University will be housing this program so MSW students could get credit or professionals in the field can earn CEU’s (Continuing Education Units, necessary for licensure).

There is definitely a need for this. Among the three core classes that a participant would take is one focused on the history and practice of adoption; one on the specifics of mental health issues around adoption; and finally a whole course on “diverse family systems” that would definitely include transracial, international, GLBT and other “diverse” issues around adoption. Plus, electives that would dig deeper into some of the more needed issues.

Of the core work group, I am the only person there who is an adult who was adopted. And, I am the only non-white person as well. And, it goes without saying that I am the only person who was internationally and transracially adopted (of course there are a few adoptive parents in this group).

This is not to say that this is not a good work group, or that they aren’t attuned to the “issues” of adoption. They are. I’m pretty quiet in this group. As I tend to be when I first get to know people. I’ve only been part of this work group for a month-and-a-half; a latecomer. Most of the hard tasks have already been completed. We are now ready to launch this proposal to the larger community and begin to raise money to start it. I tend to observe mostly, when I’m first part of a group. I really like to see how the group dynamics are, who speaks, who says what, those kind of things. Once I get a sense of the players, I begin to participate.

This latest meeting was typical, for the most part, of the other meetings. But I have to say there was for me this moment when I realized in a very salient way that everything that was being discussed was about me. And in a very real and personal way.

About the adoptee.

And there I am, sitting in this group of talented and smart professionals who (mostly) get it. And I had this “a-ha!” moment of clarity.

I was thinking about how it would be for each of them to be in the reverse. For example, what if each of them were in a work group about how to “work” with professional, white social workers. The group was made up of all people of color who were adopted adults and they were discussing all the ways in which white social workers (and therapists) need help. Of course, we had the individual white social worker there so they could advise the rest of us on the particular needs of the white social worker. On the white board we’d list the psychology of white social workers, the “culture” of white social workers, and how we can train people better so they can work with this cultural group of white professionals. We’d “unpack” the “culture” of white social workers. We’d talk about the assessment tools we would create to assess the mental and emotional behaviors of the white social workers. We’d talk about their brain chemistry and how they developed through their childhood and adolescence; how they might have been exposed to pre-natal traumas or stressers that affect the way they work with people of color. We’d talk about what it was like for them to grow up in all-white communities and how that affected their mental health. We’d bring out theoretical models of white social worker behaviors and flow charts. We would discuss the latest trainings we attended on helping white social workers realize their potential and the best therapeutic methods that are available for treating them. Then we would create a year-long program for people of color who interact with white social workers, so that they could have more impact on the lives of these white social workers.

I wonder what it would be like for the white social workers to be the subject and object of all this scrutiny. I wonder what they would say if a whole program was built upon their pathology. I wonder if they would feel comfortable speaking up if they felt the work group made assumptions. I wonder if they would cringe if someone in the group said, “I have teenagers, I’d be open if anyone wants to adopt them” to the chorus of chuckles from the rest of the group. I wonder if any of them would not think it’s funny to joke about putting your kids up for adoption.

I wonder if any of them noticed I wasn’t laughing.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

13 thoughts

  1. Perhaps there should be a book written on the pathologies of white social workers, it sounds very useful!
    It’s hard for me to chime in here because almost every single one of the social workers I’ve dealt with has been black.
    It sounds extremely depressing and difficult to be in a fishbowl as you describe. Nevertheless I’m sure you’re getting a lot of good stuff done in exchange for the sacrifice.

  2. ugh! I’m sorry to hear about the lacking dynamics of this group – but glad the group is here & thankful your voice is among them. Nice comment about the teenagers – that woman should be voted off the island instantly. I can’t believe how ridiculous people are some times. I was on the phone with co-workers the other day & I know these folks really well. With seemingly no care in the world, one of them said “I feel like the adopted kid on my team – my boss doesn’t know what to do with me.” Then I was on the line with my boss recently who said in response to me telling her that my kid left the house in mismatched clothes because dad was in charge this morning – she said, “Oh I know, when my husband dressed our kids they would look like little poor orphans.” I was shocked and horrified as an adoptive mother, but mostly I kept thinking about how my daughter will hear this crap when she’s older & if you can’t count on your friends/co-workers to be respectful with their language, it’s an uphill battle with the public at large. Sorry – I’m ranting on your blog.

  3. An interesting perspective. I hope your contributions to the group are well received.
    Reminds me of when my wife was in graduate school working on her MSW. She was very often the only (apparently) white person. She’s hard to pin down because she doesn’t look like what her ancestry would indicate to most people. A side effect of most of her people not surviving WW2.
    I’m pretty sure she was uncomfortable at times. Mostly because she felt that she was excluded whenever possible. But she persisted and things improved.
    Hang in there!

  4. Very interesting and you’re right–not real funny when you think about it. On a even more serious note, Bell Hooks,(writer, media critic, intellectual) writes about the importance on cultural and psychological studies of whites. Not in a “revenge” way, but in a way of understanding a Dominant culture in our country.

  5. It’s hard when everyone else is talking about you and you are in the room, the only one of your background. I know how I feel when my co-workers freely say in front of me how they hate socializing with white people. I don’t think they are trying to hurt me. I wonder sometimes if they want me to just understand them (and partly, I do) or explain white people’s behavior. I mostly just pretend like I don’t hear.
    It must be very hard for you, but hopefully you will be able to speak up and get across to them.

  6. Yay! Your words sing. I would love to see white social workers, and white adoptive parents be the subject and object of scrutiny. I’d love to be within the scene you described in reverse.
    Thank you!
    Sincerely, Terra (who is part white, part AP) whose goal is aimed at the day an adoption program and mindset is built upon “their” pathology)

  7. Since this is a group of people who (mostly) get it, might it be worth actually doing such an exercise- discuss and analyze the white social workers as if they were not there? I was once in an intentional role reversal situation like you described (nothing to do with adoption, it was during teacher training) and it was incredibly eye-opening.

  8. I love this. The reverse scenario. Sometimes it takes writing it in this way to help people “get it” and to possibly grasp what it’s like to be under the microscope, and/or to be the underrepresented person in a group.

  9. I’m not quite sure how I’d pull it off in this scenario, but another possible tack is to pretend you don’t “get” the joke and respond as if you believe these adults really are on the verge of relinquishing their children. E.g., you would respond with alarm about your colleague’s situation. Then when the joker has to explain herself, she realizes how ridiculous (and offensive) the joke was.
    It doesn’t even matter that it might be unbelievable that you don’t “get” their joke – it may be appropriate to respond as if you don’t get it, since the joke is so un-funny. This type of approach can work with various types of offensive jokes. But it does take nerve to pull it off; I can’t always do it.

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