A letter I wrote to Harper’s magazine, on their worthwhile recent article on Russian adoptees [“Cold War Kids,” October] by Irina Aleksander, was published in the December issue [link]. I’m publishing the full text of the original here.
As an adult adoptee who returned to his place of birth some ten years ago (and in terms of full disclosure, a defendant in one of Mr. Ronald Federici’s recent defamation lawsuits against his many detractors), I feel compelled to bring forward what your recent article alludes to while not completely connecting all the dots.
Ascribing purely political motives only to Russian officials is a gross oversight of the political and economic use to which adoption has historically been put. We need break with the mythology of “family creation” as being the sole reason for adoption, when its roots are to be found in indentured servitude. More salient perhaps is its role as a “humanitarian imperialist” tool, functionally tied to colonialism and missionary practice, as well as the exploitative racism and classism that drives them.
In this light, American adoptive parents are not innocent yet duped charitable and benevolent couples simply yearning to expand their families, although this rather consumerist description is probably fair on some level. Much in recent adoption writing and critique points to the role of adoptive parents in the foreign policy goals of adopting nation-states. The remnants of the Cold War, despite the protests of President Obama, still play a major role in the targeting of former “Godless communist” Soviet republics as source countries. That such countries map clearly onto those nation-states targeted for political and economic destruction by the world’s unique superpower should give us great pause.
The implicit acceptance of diagnoses of questionable illnesses such as RAD—as well as the evangelist quacks whose practices, if applied to prisoners of war, would be considered as contravening the Geneva Convention—should not go without question or clarification. That I found myself among a group of critics of Mr. Federici’s practice in terms of a lawsuit of his does not mean I agree with them. On the contrary, I decry instead a variety of institutionalized practitioners who currently compete for the profits derived from defining adoptees as “blank slates” which have simply been “mis-inscribed”: an indoctrination gone terribly wrong.
It is time for us to admit what adoption truly is: A vestigial and failed afterthought of profitable privatized care; a loathsome and heinous institution based in the trafficking of human beings, the destruction of community and culture, the eradication of indigenous peoples, the elimination of the poor, and the population of foreign colonies. That a rising bourgeois class in the years after World War II fine-tuned this to its own economic and political ends should come as no surprise. In no way does this treatment of symptoms deny the still quite necessary curing of the illness, which remains capitalist imperialism and the societal ills it engenders.
The analogy buried deep in this article—comparing an adopted child to a rambunctious puppy destined to be put down—was, for me, the single most truthful trope to be found therein. From this angle, adoption deserves, at long last, to be submitted to a great Correction. Until we come to terms with adoption, it will be, as always, the children who continue to suffer for the sins of their parents. As one who, half a century ago, was described as a “child of sin” and therefore trafficked out of his birth country, I find the continued peddling of adoption mythologies to be a reprehensible state of affairs, one which deserves a much more critical treatment from a magazine such as Harper’s.