Being an Ally
This blog began in the spring of 2006 when I was finishing up my MSW degree and discovered a group of transracial adoptee bloggers. I wanted to connect with these bloggers who were writing about their experiences that so closely matched my own experiences growing up as a child adopted from Korea to a White, Midwestern family. When I first began blogging, I noticed that several of my fellow adoptee bloggers had to move their blogs (or password protect them) due to harassment by adoptive parents. While I believe that people should be able to express different opinions here, I ask that everyone does so *respectfully* and *with manners.*
Keep in mind that this blog was not written for adoptive parents. I write to share my experiences and my thoughts for my TRA friends and those who are our allies. If you are here to learn and listen, I welcome you. However remember that my primary audience is adoptees. Therefore, I ask that if you visit this blog you respect everyone else who visits, particularly the adoptees’ perspectives. I ask you to read these posts with an open mind. I ask you to come to this space to listen and understand, not to criticize and judge.
When adult adoptees talk about their experiences, including the aspects of their adoption experience that were painful or difficult, adoptive parents often tell us we are:
ANGRY – BITTER – RESENTFUL – HAD A BAD RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR ADOPTIVE PARENTS – HATE OUR ADOPTIVE PARENTS – ARE PSYCHOLOGICALLY DAMAGED – UNGRATEFUL or MUST OF HAD ABUSIVE ADOPTIVE PARENTS
I find it revealing how easily some adoptive parents immediately try to shame and shut us down just for presenting an alternative view about adoption. When mean-spirited and un-compassionate responses by adoptive parents are thrown at adult adoptees, you can bet I am questioning how well you will be able to respond to your own child’s future feelings when and if they are brought to your attention. I would hope you would not invalidate their feelings and experiences too. My guess is that if you are projecting the same expectations about how “we” adult adoptees “should” feel on to your child then you will be promoting a family culture that won’t feel safe for your child to express any of their feelings. If you are feeling defensive and angry over something I or another adoptee has written, before lashing out with a mean comment I would ask you to reflect on your feelings and consider that this is a space for the adoptee voice. I will, and have, blocked and deleted comments by adoptive parents and the general public who cannot respond with an open mind and a willingness to learn. I’ve been doing this a long time, long enough to know that some of those very parents who swore up and down that their adopted child had “no issues” when their child was 8 are some of the very same ones who struggle when their child is 15 or 20 or 40 and can’t understand why their child won’t talk to them any more.
As you read through this blog, please keep the following suggestions in mind. I wrote this checklist for adoptive parents, siblings, friends and those who are in relationships with transracial adoptees.
Behaviors & Attitudes of Allies to Transracially Adopted Persons
Ways to be an ally
- Interrupt offensive jokes. Even if they aren’t about your child’s racial or ethnic group or adoption status, if you stay quiet you are “showing” your child it’s okay to make fun of people of color and adopted persons
- Educate yourself and support the social justice issues and causes of the racial and ethnic community your child belongs to, both in the US and from the country of origin
- Read books/articles/view films by adult transracial adoptees
- Interact and find support from other adoptive parent allies and likewise support other allies.
- Don’t judge others experiences, especially if they seem negative. Seek to understand their experiences. Don’t dismiss experiences of racism.
- Acknowledge the powers and privileges bestowed upon you based on your social group membership. Understand your privileges as a white person and as a parent, and help others understand their own privileges.
- Utilize your power to bring about social change that benefits all people, especially those underprivileged from your child’s community.
- Seek to understand all the different forms of oppression – gender, racial, class, GLBTQ, etc.
- Notice the numerous intersections between different forms of oppression.
- Let your actions speak louder than your words. Participate in your child’s racial/ethnic community because you value the diversity, not just for your child.
- Don’t make your child be the diversity “bridge” for you
- Don’t expect external rewards for your work as an ally – feel good and be proud about the work you do.
- Don’t expect your child’s racial or ethnic community to welcome you just because you want to participate, and especially if you want them to be invested in your child. You need to be invested in their lives as well.
- Walk your talk.
- Know there are different ways of doing and seeing everything.
- Be comfortable with criticism and feedback. Accept that others may stereotype you
- Don’t buy into stereotypes. Try to acknowledge your own prejudices and baggage. Take ownership in your own conscious and/or unconscious participation in oppression. Use examples that don’t exclude a particular group’s experience.
- Don’t get stuck feeling guilty for the oppression of the past. Know that the past is not your fault, but the present and future are your responsibility.
- Demonstrate your ally role through your actions rather than trying to convince others of it through your words.
- Don’t expect someone else to represent an entire social group, especially just because you are parenting one from their community.
- Remember to speak only from your own experience, and do not assume your child speaks for his or her entire racial/ethnic group.
- Don’t assume to know what support others want and what’s best for them.
- Recognize that no one form of oppression is more significant than another – there is no hierarchy of oppressions.
- Accept that none of us are experts in diversity.
I believe there is no way to lay out the path for every family’s journey in some prescribed way. Each one of us is a unique and creative individual who has a lot of hard work to do in their lives to get to where they need to be. I am not able to tell each of you what will garner the best outcomes in your own personal families. What I can say is that those who have open and compassionate relationships with their children – who can validate their struggles and help find ways to cope – will be more likely to have adopted children who will find their parents a source of support rather than a source of pain.
The reason I share on this blog is to encourage those in power to review and reassess their strategies, so that future generations of transracially- and internationally- adopted children have a safe and secure sense of themselves in an increasingly diverse and global world.
***[from Barnes, L., & Ederer, J. (2000, April). From agents to allies: Active citizenship in our multicultural communities. Workshop Presentation at the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Conference, Washington, DC.]
Materials adapted from: Ederer, Jeff & Barnes, Lori: Allies for Social Justice. http://www.wesleyan.edu/reslife/asj/, ACPA 2000