Problems inherent to the adoption discourse.

The problem with “days” and “months” such as National Adoption Awareness Month within American culture is that they are not, in fact, meant to focus attention on those in the minority; they are instead meant to further marginalize those who are outside of the dominant American cultural framework. Black History Month is thus not a focus, but a marginalization, a sign that “Black history” is somehow still not assimilated into so-called American history. Unfortunately, ethnic studies and the focus on narratives from those who are marginalized do not in fact expand on or create this enlarged history; they instead point up the failed “melting pot” or “beautiful mosaic” or “rainbow coalition” of American society. They simply further the dispossession of the Other that is the ultimate goal of Anglo-Saxon culture.

Giorgio Agamben, in his book Homo Sacer (Sacred Man), summarizes the philosophical debate on this subject as to how people are viewed in terms of who is given validity by the State (the polis) and who isn’t (those who simply maintain zoë, or “bare life”). To note is that this is premised on the work of Aristotle, and reveals in this way the patriarchal notions of existence that underpin liberal democracy as we know it today. Hamid Dabashi, in his book Islamic Liberation Theology, takes this one step further, moving beyond Agamben’s inability to come up with a valid praxis:

The entire function of Orientalism, and by extension Islamic Studies, or Chinese Studies, Indian Studies, Iranian Studies, etc., is nothing but “to explain” the foreignness of these languages and cultures to their “Western” readers. To explain something is ipso facto to constitute its foreignness, and thus by definition point to the quintessential inexplicability of the phenomenon in its own terms–and thus to constitute the foreign as the enemy and the enemy as the foreigner, as he who does not speak one’s language (literally, “the barbarian”), the enemy who speaks a foreign, estrange, and thus dangerous language, and thus acts in a strange and inexplicable manner, and is thus in need of a native informer (Fouad Ajami) or an Orientalist (Bernard Lewis) to explain him/her, and is thus outside the form of the political [polis] squarely in the realm of zoë or bare life. The singular function of Orientalism over the last 200 years has been nothing but to constitute the “Orient” as the enemy of “the West” by trying to understand and explain it–the same holds true for all Area Studies fields. They make strange and thus constitute as the enemy that which they seek to explain and make understood.

Here the point is that this alienation within a dominant culture fits into a functional aspect of that culture that seeks not to focus on or bring forward such studies and their represented minorities, but to eradicate their agents—the “constituted enemy”; not to bring attention to minority groups, but to co-opt and, ultimately and ideally, destroy them. In order to understand the scope of such destruction (literally or via incorporation), it will be necessary to refocus attention on dominant and dominated populations, in economic and political terms both inside and outside of the dominant culture, as well as the methods used for such destruction.

Adoptees, whether domestic or international, have been displaced; dispossessed; disinherited. They share with others in this realm of the zoë the nether-class citizen designation that is exacerbated and not denied by their adoption into the dominant bourgeois class. Such that when they speak up and out about their condition, they are told to “get over it”, or “be thankful instead”, or that they should “be happy” with their lives. No doubt this rings true to descendants of slaves, to those living in the shadow of the decimation of Indigenous populations in the Americas and elsewhere, as well as slave-labor immigrants.

The problem for adoptees arguing about their position in society is similar to what has been experienced previously by other marginalized groups looking to make a space within the hegemonic culture. Namely, how to expand out from what is considered simply a personal issue; an individual hang-up; a “selfish” focus on one’s condition; a psychological “illness”. The individualistic and solipsistic dominant culture ironically turns around and tells its absconded-with children to not be so “selfish” as to complain. Similar terms were used against other minority groups as well—”don’t be ‘uppity'”; “know your role”. We should literally be seen and not heard. Those days are over.

What follows is a reversal of roles. 30 answers to 30 questions that have come up in discussion boards and various “answer” web sites that pretend to be objective but more often than not stifle debate, delete contrarian posts, and disallow membership to those with a minority point of view. The web site Canada Adopts! is probably the most fascistic in this regard, but sadly many adoptee-driven web sites do the same thing. This is understandable, however, when we consider that the answers to the questions, when removed from a personal or individual emotional plane, and instead focusing on the economic and political realm, are harder to justify by those in power—or those seeking such power. This results in the retaliation, the backlash, and the twisted framing of the dominant culture of adopters as being somehow minority, victimized, and on the defensive.

Armed with this positioning of the argument, the anti-adoption movement is poised to join its brothers and sisters in other liberation movements of dispossessed and marginalized peoples the world over in the struggle for equality, true equality; the status of polis for all, and the end of the false positioning of the dominant mode of thinking as anything other than what it is: the political and economic destruction of those who don’t fit in to its view of the world. Nothing more and nothing less.


For starters, the follow question appeared on Yahoo!Answers:

Do people who have been adopted blame others all their lives for their adoption? I see it a lot on this section where a person will put the blame on others who choose to adopt, for themselves being adopted and having a bad experience. I also see a lot of I was treated like this, or THEY did me like that. And most of it is coming from adults. Why can’t they learn to forgive the people who hurt them and move on with their lives? When someone has done something bad to you, its not them who goes around letting it be a chip on their shoulder, its you. And that is not healthy regardless of rather you are adopted or not. To always play the victim card gets you no where in life, regardless of who you are. So why do it?

Reply: The trouble with this question is what is implied by it, and therefore what it requests of someone who answers—namely, that they defend themselves against this implication whether it is true or not.

It is like the question: “When did you stop beating your wife?” and therefore is not valid as a question for debate. Meaning, the implication that someone cannot get on with their lives because they are blaming someone for their misfortune is a loaded question, and is patently illogical from the outset.

Furthermore, it reveals the mindset of the person asking the question, and how they view adoptees. For I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if the people airing their grievances were, say, war veterans, or cancer survivors.

The true question here is why should anyone who goes up against systemic abuses of human rights by those of the dominant discourse—meaning, those who control and maintain power within a given society—are met with abuse, or told to “get over it”, or asked to “stifle it”, which is exactly what this question is attempting to do. It is no different than calling a Black American “boy”, or telling Native Americans to “get over” the genocide that occurred to their peoples, etc.

Anyone who goes up against the dominant discourse as defined by such people is set up for abuse of this kind. This is unfair, unjust, and unbecoming of anyone who in any way believes in the validity of human rights, and the right to one’s person, which, I would argue, includes the right to not be abducted from one’s family and community, as well as the right to not be forced to lose one’s language, culture, identity, and sense of self.

If the “complaining” by adoptees seems personal, it is because there is nothing more personal than one’s identity, one’s place in his or her family, community, society. This, however, does not deny the greater injustice, crime, and violence of adoption, nor does it give those who see adoption as a wondrous thing the right or the ability to shut down the debate, or to tell adoptees that they should get over it.


Debate Tactic: Before debating anyone on adoption, the first tactic should be to reframe the question and find what is being insinuated; effectively turning the question around. This works toward evening out the playing field. Removing the personal aspect of the question reveals the bigger picture that needs to be focused on instead.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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4 Responses to Problems inherent to the adoption discourse.

  1. Thank you, thank you for making clear how personal the issues are while how very aggressive and violent the responses of many of the public at large are to our feelings and grievances. I have been hurt, then angry, then sanguine about the inanity we come up against, all too often. Of course the ruling elite doesn’t want to see what we’re saying, or give up their power! And those who aspire to that power don’t want to admit that they’re playing the game. Having been around the block, I know the rhetorical ploys they use, so brilliantly parodied in Derailing for Dummies, and I appreciate your practical suggestions for mounting counter offensives.

    You are inspirational at a moment when I need it more than you know. Thank you for stirring me not to give up, as well.

  2. I appreciate your kind words more than you know as well! Thank you.

  3. Thank you so much for your posts this month. They are very important.

    I’m not a a transnational or transracial adoptee, so I’ll address what I see happening in white American adoptacujlture.

    I have been disappointed for years that many in the adoptee rights movement are not only ahistorical, but exhibit little interest in developing an intellectual underpinning in their analysis, interpretation, and activism. A couple years ago I was soundly trounced by a woman complaining unfortunately to a large internet audience of people who acted like she was a goddess, that when I brought this up I was trying to make her feel stupid and inferior. For some inexplicable reason she identified me with her first mother, which I guess explains her problem. (BTW, a long time ago a first mom friend of mine was kicked off a mothers anti-adoption list. Seems certain mothers didn’t ‘believe that she was actually a first mom because she was “too articulate.” She also made the error of holding a Ph.D. ) More alarming is that the vast majority of “activists” are too busy re-inventing the wheel or posting on FB to develop strategic thinking and planning. When called on it, they complain “you don’t understand.” Much of the movement is self-absorbed., argues in generalities, and dare I say bourgie in their belief that only their experience or pain counts. .

    Much of this disconnect, imo, is due to the traditional view that Americans have of themselves and the state. During the Great Depression, for example it was very common, especially for the middle class and formerly upward mobile, to blame themselves for their lack of work, money–their inability to function as they once had. They refused to blame their circumstance on the rotten social and economic and state structures that imploded, on them. Their circumstances were their own faults. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that therapy, which later developed into the full-blown therapeutic state, started to grow in popularity a little while after that. That mentality is still prevalent in the US in some ways, but there has also been an expansion of blame to other individuals or aabstract social players, (“my birthmother,” “my adoptive parents,” the church”, ‘social workers” and then make a major jump to the “adoption industry” with nothing in between or outside of it..For sure the industry is predatory. It is a marriage of the worse aspects of capitalism and socialism, but it wouldn’t survive if it didn’t serve a need of some sort on both ends–the producer and the consumer, both of whom can be exploited and jerked around..

    Speaking again of white middle class AdoptionLand, any discussion of domestic colonization, draws blanks. Any discussion of cultures that force adoption are met with blanks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard men attack girls and women for putting their newborns up for adoption, when in fact, the culture of the day simply didn’t permit any decent alternative for many. I’m old enough to remember when even adult divorced women (teachers and nurses in my hometown) were barred from certain professions much less housing if they had kids If If teachers and nurses with “legitimate” children were treated that way, how would a 14 year old make it? “Well, I would! cry the men.” Yeah, right. And don’t even get into a discussion of male (or for that matter, white, privilege.)

    Any discussion about how the professionalization of social work played into adoption culture as we know it today is met with blanks. “Oh, that’s interesting,” is about a wild as it gets. Most discussions of how social services has become the civilian arm of the police only gets play when it affects white families. And any discussion of the increasing role of the state in the intimate seems to be off the map. Since we still live in a society where the government is considered our friend, serious discussions on the badness of the state are viewed as incomprehensible and downright Republican

    Obviously activism doesn’t necessarily require day-to-day arguments to government hacks who have no idea what you’re talking about, but it’s essential to tie all the shit together to develop clear you own head and develop personal and political strategies.

    I’ve blathered on long enough. I wrote much more than I planned, and I don’t even know if I’m making any sense. Maybe I’m discussing a couple different things and trying to make the whole.

  4. Not at all! It is extremely important to have this discussion. It is interesting to me that you bring up the Depression, because it is in fact at this time that a certain kind of radical American culture was seeing its heyday. Not as a function of the apparatus of the State, which was more “borrowing from” a Soviet Union against which it posed itself as a competitive model in order to placate such internal radicalism.

    Ignorance of history is thus a desired aspect of the dominant mode–no one in the power structure wants us, for example, in the name of solidarity, to refer back to the coal mine strikes of Matewan, West Virginia, which saw a united front of white locals, Italian immigrants, and former slaves; the victory of such a preventive mentality can be seen today in the signs on the lawns of the impoverished of Appalachia today that read: “Stop the War on Coal”.

    So the adoption rights movement is not immune to any of the ravages that have taken place in every other movement looking for the establishment of civil rights. The New York chapter of ACTUP split along racial lines when the white guys got their meds and a welcome into the halls of power; now they are turning around and adopting children in a further effort to ingratiate and normalize themselves. The various aspirational groups during the Civil Rights era all were split by the promise of eating crumbs at the Master’s table instead of waiting for them to fall on the floor.

    Malcolm X states in On Afro-American History:

    The so-called liberal element of the white power structure never wants to see nationalists involved in anything that has to do with civil rights. And I’ll tell you why. Any other Black people who get involved are involved within the rules that are laid down by the white liberals. And as long as they are involved within those rules, then that means they’re only going to go as far as the liberal element of the power structure will endorse their activity. But when the nationalistic-minded Blacks get involved, then we do what our analysis tells us is necessary to be done, whether the white liberal or anybody else likes it or not. So, they don’t want us involved.

    History shows us that whether you Uncle Tom it in the Main House or plan your escape from out in the fields your fate is the same; both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X came to the same end. That we might ignore this fact, and smilingly enter the slaughterhouse door so kindly held open for us simply boggles my mind. And the “liberals” are the worst. I much prefer the abject racist or classist who at least admits to their individualized notion of supremacy than any one who thinks this same way but claims the opposite. This is a heinous hypocrisy.

    X was speaking at a time when class lines were much more clearly defined by race. Obviously in context we should be talking in terms of class difference and not racial difference. The issue is tied to the fact that we have–unlike immigrants, etc.–leap-frogged into a class status that otherwise would not have been afforded to us. This is our trap, and our straitjacket. It’s also an extremely comfortable place to be; I know, I was there, and I have much to make up for in my life along these lines. I try not to cast blame to much, because I understand how this functions.

    At the same time, I know who, in their zeal to be recognized by the power structure, will willingly throw us to the wolves. I think it is time to call them out, because we don’t have time to waste pretending to play a comfortable game of high-school debate or worse, a useless back and forth of being “entitled to our opinions”. Adoption, as we know, is one small part of a much bigger and horrifying world of displacement and dispossession. To understand our place in that world is to know what ties us to the rest of humanity, not to the class that adopted us. It also absolves us from having to go down the destructive path of “healing”–again, as defined by our society and culture, and a pathologizing of our behavior that serves no purpose other than to keep us docile and quiet.

    I would only add that this is a class which has no problem jettisoning us when we are seen to be rocking the boat, as witnessed by these questions posted for this month.

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