Adoptive parents – be sure to check YOUR parent’s racism

How nice for Angelina. I wonder how Grandpa Jon feels about his rainbow-colored grandchildren. No wonder she avoids him.

We, as parents, are well aware of the importance of our teachers who teach and program our children. We also know how important it is for our children to play with good-thinking children growing up. Sen. Barack Obama has grown up with the teaching of very angry, militant white and black people – the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, William Ayers and Rev. Michael Pfleger. We cannot say we are not affected by teachers who are militant and angry. We know too well that we become like them, and Mr.
Obama will run this country in their mindset…

quoted from his op/ed in the Washington Times. Thanks to Disgrasian for the tip.

Monday links

–  My interview about transracial adoption with Carmen Van Kerchove from Racialicious and Addicted To Race is available. You must be a subscriber to Addicted To Race Premium, but you can also listen to a preview of the podcast.

–  Stuff White People Do has an interesting link/discussion about the "g-word" which every adoptive parent of an Asian child should know about.

–  Two news links involving adoptees and deportation. First, this adoptee from El Salvador was deported. And also, this adoptee from India is being detained. Adoptive parents – especially if your child was adopted prior to 2000, and if your child was brought in with an IR4 visa – CHECK THE STATUS OF YOUR CHILD’S CITIZENSHIP!!! Read this post from Resist Racism.

Taking off the blindfold

Thanks to Lisa Marie for this photo of my presentation at Pact Camp.


In the article, Adopted children find comfort, culture at camp, this excerpt stood out:

It was at a special kind of summer camp where Noelle
Capone opened up about being ridiculed at school for being Asian and adopted…On Wednesday morning, Noelle’s mother, Deb Capone, who adopted her
daughter as an infant from China, recalled hearing Noelle’s painful
"I was shocked," Capone, 50, said. "I wanted to believe the fantasy that if I loved her enough, everything would be OK."

One of the things I did while at Pact Camp last week was to facilitate a parent-teen discussion group. I remember being a teen myself and how mortified I’d have been to have to share my deepest thoughts with my parents, and in front of my friends no less. So, I decided to use the Talking Circle format because I thought it would have resulted in the most open-ness from the teens, and I had this idea that I’d put everyone in two groups so that teens and parents were separate from each other. The point, in my mind, was to create a more non-threatening environment, especially for the kids.

Two questions into the circles, it wasn’t working. The teens kept craning their necks, trying to hear what their parents were saying in the other group and vice versa. Finally one of the groups suggested that we combine everyone into one group since the kids were interested in what their parents were saying anyway.

So that’s what we did. I was concerned that combining was going to make some kids clam up and in fact, one teen did. I also thought it would be boring for everyone since there were over 20 participants (most talking circles are limited to 8-10 people). But part of the sacred tradition of the Talking Circle is that there is no pressure to talk. One can hold the talking piece and think about the question, they can pass it on, they can talk. And it’s all respected.

After a few basic questions, like "Why did you come to Pact Camp?" (to which most of the teens responded, "My parents forced me"), I asked the question, "How has race affected you?"

The parents for the most part gave intellectualized answers, most of them acknowledging in some way that because of their Whiteness, they had experienced privileges that were unearned and which they had benefited from a la Peggy McIntosh. But what really blew me away was the honesty and integrity of the teens.

They shared some pretty awful stories of being targeted because of their race – in stores, in school, in the community. I think many of the parents were really shocked at the level of awareness this group of 13-15 year olds expressed. And the coping mechanisms that teens had to employ in order to survive.

I was really impressed with this group of young people. And I think (and hope) the parents got a lot out of it.  John Raible, who helped me co-facilitate this with me, commented that he wished we’d taped the session and shown it to all the parents who attended Pact Camp, because in discussion groups, some of the parents of the younger kids were saying things along the lines of "my kid doesn’t notice racism" or "my kid has never talked about being the victim of racism" or "I don’t think my kids will experience racism."

I think a lot of people are tied to that belief – that racism doesn’t exist any more. But, one of the 13-year olds talked about how a class mate told him this "joke": "What does an apple and a Black person have in common? They both look good hanging in a tree." This teen talked about how angry he was, and that his instinct was to beat down this kid, but as a Black kid HE would have been targeted by the school for fighting. He talked about how he went to his teacher, who told him "that isn’t racism." The other teens in the group nodded their heads; yes, they’d experienced those kinds of things too.

If anything I think the teens got one thing out of this exercise – that the others had experienced the same kinds of issues being targeted at school and in the communities because of their race. And the parents – well, if any of them had had blindfolds on, it was clear after this Talking Circle that they saw how their kids are affected by race and racism with clearer vision.

What does your world look like?

One of the exercises I do at adoptive parent trainings (and I've also done this in my class I teach at Metro State University) is the bead cup exercise. Basically, the object of this exercise is to explore one's social "world" through a clear plastic cup and assorted beads that represent communities of color. Yes, in many ways it is essentialist; however, it is a visual wake-up call and a call to action in terms of being real about the diversity (or lack thereof) in our social and community interactions.

The bead cup exercise (as I implement it) looks like this – using the following colored beads to represent the following racial and ethnic groups:

white = white               
black = African American, African Caribbean or African
yellow = Asian/Pacific Island       
red = Native American Indian, Aboriginal, First Nations
dark brown = South Asian Indian, South or Central American, Latino
medium or light brown = multi-racial, Arab

[As not every racial or ethnic category can be listed, improvise or choose a bead that you feel best reflects the racial or ethnic heritage of the person]

Place a bead that represents:

1. Your Self
2. Your mother
3. Your father
4. Your siblings
5. Your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/partner
6. Your two closest friends
7. Your neighbor (next door apartment, house next door, roommate)
8. Your primary dentist
9. Your primary dental hygienist
10. Your primary physician
11. Your attorney, if you have one
12. Your accountant or financial planner, if you have one
13. The mayor of the town or city you live in
14. The tellers at your bank are…
15. The television sitcom or show you most enjoy watching has a cast that is mostly…
16. The social clubs you belong to are mostly…
17. If you attend church/temple/mosque the congregation is mostly . . .
18.     and the pastor/rabbi(s) are . . .
19. Your co-workers are mostly . . .
20. Your direct supervisor is . . .
21. The President/CEO/Executive Director of your company is . . .
22. The people who come to your house (for dinner, etc) most often are . . .
23. The people whose home you go to most often (for dinner, etc) are . . .
24. Your favorite movie star is . . .
25. Your favorite singer/band is . . .
26. The movies you like to watch star mostly . . .
27. Your favorite tv news anchor you watch on tv or cable is . . .
28. The bands/singers you listen to most are of . . .
29. Your favorite author(s) are . .
30. If you have art/posters on your walls, they are of which culture?
31. Your child's favorite television show has a lead character that is:
32. The principal of the school your child(ren) attends is…
33. The teacher at the school your child attends is mostly…
34. Your child's teacher is…
35. Your children in your child's class are…
36. Your child's primary babysitter is…
37. Your child's Sunday School teacher (if applies) is…

38. Your child is… (and when I do this exercise, I have the parents hold their "child/ren" in their hands next to the cup and ask how the cup reflects their world, then I have them put those "child/ren" into the cup, and ask the parents to reflect and respond.

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Home again

(Me with John Raible and Susan Ito, the last day of Pact Camp)

I never quite get used to it. Despite growing up in a transracial adoptive family, and despite previous experiences working at a Korean culture camp, and despite working with transracial adoptive families extensively over the past 6 years, it is still a shock.

It is still a shock to my system to be in a closed environment where almost all of the adults are white and almost all of the children are black or brown.

Even after 37 years of experience, it still takes me aback.

I was invited to Pact Camp this year as an "expert." An expert as a social worker, and an expert in my life’s experience as an adult transracial and international adoptee. After all these years, I have started to believe that yes, I am an expert (that alphabet soup after my name says so, after all) and I welcome being able to finally have the credibility that for so long was refused by professionals and adoptive parents.

But I am also a student of life and incredibly open to new thoughts and new lessons. So, although I came to teach adoptive parents, in many ways I was the one who was learning.

I learned that in many ways, being around so many young transracial adoptees re-traumatizes me, because I see so much of myself in them and I fear for those struggles they are going to have. I ache for their pain and their identity struggles. I worry because I see that their parents are actually doing so much more for them than my own parents did, and yet they’re still experiencing the same things I did.

I learned that some adoptive parents are actually willing to do things like move to a diverse area; cut off ties with family and friends who are racist or who dismiss or downplay their efforts to provide racial and cultural role models for the children; I learned that some adoptive parents are advocating for adoption reform; that they are no longer keeping silent about injustices; that they are supporting relationships with their children’s birth families; that they are opening up what the definitions of family means; that they take race seriously – for their children and most importantly, for themselves too.

I learned that my fellow adult transracial adoptees are amazing teachers and inspiring human beings and that we are a diverse group of people. I learned that some of my fellow TRA friends and colleagues are far more generous than I. I learned that my fellow TRA’s are kickin’ it in their respective fields and that all together we are a powerful force. I learned that they are strong and resilient and I have learned to lean on them when I’m hurting or vulnerable.

There will be many more posts to follow about my experiences of Pact Camp, but I want to give some thanks –

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Russia bans 3 adoption agencies following baby’s death in U.S.

From Russian News & Information Agency

MOSCOW, July 11 (RIA Novosti) – Three international adoption
agencies, including one that failed to inform Russia of the death of a
baby in the U.S. this week, have been banned from operating in Russia,
the country’s adoption authorities said on Friday.

A 21-month-old baby adopted from Russia three months ago died in the
U.S. state of Virginia on Tuesday after being left by his foster father
for several hours in the back of a car, in searing heat.

The Russian Education and Science Ministry’s adoption commission said
in a statement: "The agencies to be banned from working on the
territory of the Russian Federation include a representative office
that violated the requirements of Russian law on swiftly informing us
of the death of an adopted child."

You can read the entire article here.

Boys and Girls

I attended a training yesterday, for professionals in the adoption world. The speaker was talking about what beliefs we as adoption workers bring to our work. I thought it really was an appropriate and timely discussion and I wish we talked about this more openly in our field.

One thing the presenter brought up was that in her experience (mostly with international and private agency domestic adoption) is that the majority of prospective adoptive parents want girls, and Asian girls specifically if they are adopting internationally. She says that in the international sphere at least (and she works for one of the biggest and most respected agencies in our area), they have to do special "marketing" for boys. The presenter wondered aloud why that was.

After the presentation, I offered my hypothesis.

1) Asian girls are seen as being submissive, obedient, and more easily assimilated. We’re cute, when we grow up we’re "exotic" and as one person in the audience today mentions, we’re "smart."

2) Little boys of color grow into MEN of color. And there’s nothing more fearsome than a Man of color. Unless it’s an Asian man, and then the stereotype is that of an emasculated man.

In my experience, the preference for girls (when adopting) is overwhelming, crossing all racial lines (same-race and transracial). Yet strangely, for people I know who have children by birth, the stated preference seems to be boys or no preference.

Summer Adoption Programs

I tend to have a hard time falling asleep at night, having suffered on and off with insomnia for the better part of twenty years. Late at night, I often flip through the channels hoping for some mindless show that will help me drift off to Nod. A few weeks ago, I was watching BET’s re-run of "A Different World," the spin-off of The Cosby Show that takes place at "Hillman College"

In the particular episode I was watching that night, Blues for Nobody’s Child, Freddie befriends a young boy named Alex who turns out to be living in foster care. She follows him to a "meet and greet" event – for those who aren’t familiar with this, it’s where kids and prospective parents interact with the hopes that a "match" will be made. If you think this is like speed dating, you’d be right. In this episode, Freddie is outraged when she sees this boy walking up to families, trying his best to get their attention, only to have the prospective parents fall in love with a younger kid.

Thanks to Rich for bringing this story about a "meet and greet" on steroids to my attention. This news clip brings a few things to mind. First it reminded me of the program in which Irish children are brought to the US for the summer and stay with a host family.

However, the point of this summer vacation is not to give children in a war-torn country a respite but to have them audition for a family.

I am disturbed by the "try out" aspect of this current story. When I worked for the County we often facilitated these kinds of "matching events" where kids and prospective parents interact (let me add as an aside that the kids are almost always teenagers). On the one hand, I have a huge ethical problem with them. As much as you prepare prospective adoptive parents that the focus of these events is to get to know kids beyond a piece of paper and a photograph and that the idea is to get to know who the kinds of kids in foster care are, inevitably there is always a PAP who blurts out to a kid, "Would you like me to adopt you?" And there is always at least one kid who goes up to a PAP and asks, "Would you adopt me?" There is no way to honestly and compassionately prepare these kids for the kind of rejection they are likely to face.

It’s heart-wrenching and yet, there are almost always at least a few adoptions that happen because of these events. Because for many PAP’s, they look at the kid’s profiles and can’t really get a sense of who these kids are. Because some have opened their hearts up to tough, tough kids after spending an afternoon getting to know them. In fact, last week I attended an adoption move-in ceremony for one of my former kids, who met his adoptive father at one of these events.

Ethically, I really struggle with these things – the photographs and descriptions of kids on web sites and flyers; the "matching events," and all the ways in which children are marketed for adoption. One of my youth on my case load told me, after watching his "Thursday’s Child" segment, "I feel like I’m being sold to the highest bidder, like I’m for sale."

How could these kids in these orphanages in Taiwan deal with knowing
that they had spent the summer with a prospective adoptive family only
to find out later the family didn’t want them? Just like one of my kids asked me, as we were driving to one of these events, "I wonder which one of these people will adopt me?" As it turns out, none of them did. And still today, a year later, he waits.

I know the result of these marketing efforts and programs means some children get adopted

— but at what cost to their dignity?

— And what about all the others who put themselves on the line and never get adopted?