Is there a difference between an adopted and a “Western” child?

This is the 19th question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following reply was emailed to Counter Punch online, in response to an article by Dave Lindorff (“David Brooks’ White Guy Nightmare”) that tangentially mentions adoption:

I might add, as the parent of a son adopted in China, that there is for me, and for any adoptive parent, absolutely no difference in terms of thoughts of my own posterity, between my hopes and fears and dreams for my biological daughter and my adoptive son. In fact, if for some reason the entire population of North America and Europe were to suddenly be rendered sterile, the single most predictable result would be a huge surge in adoptions from other regions of the globe that had been sheltered from the solar flare. (And despite what the “birthers” are implying, those adoptive children would be every bit as “Western” when they grew up as biological offspring would have been.)

Answer: I realize there is no Letters to the Editor section, but I felt the need to write and say that I was a bit taken aback by the recent article critiquing a David Brooks editorial concerning the possibility of the entire “Western” world being rendered sterile entitled: “David Brooks’ White Guy Nightmare”. Mr. Brooks is of course guilty of assuming that Western culture is in danger (yet again) of not surviving; to do so requires that he maintain the fictions of civilization, modernity, and objectification of the subaltern that are the hallmark of imperial thought as we experience it today and as your web site documents and exposes so well.

Unfortunately, in arguing his point, the author ends up painting a picture that is just as arrogant and “First-Worldist” if you will in terms of its presumptions as to what it means to be adopted from the “nether” regions of the planet. He seems to be stating that the “First-World” has the right to abscond with children based on its needs; that this is its purview and its privilege. This, however, ignores the fact that the conditions of these countries are a direct result of the political and economic excesses of so-called modern civilization in the first place. He also makes the naïve mistake of assuming that internationally adopted children are to be considered just as “Western” as anyone else in the “West”.

For those of us who grew up far from our lands of birth, the experience of coming into adulthood in an Anglo-Saxon culture is anything but this seeming given, and it is fair to say that we are seen as anything but “Western” (reference Obama’s “birthers” here, as well as the experience of most minority groups within the United States, including those now seen as “white”). We are considered “Western” only when we “know our role”, removing ourselves from any cultural or other allegiance to the places whence we come. This, however, leaves us stranded in the paradoxical non-place of attempting at all costs to fit into a dominant culture, while at the same time it estranges us from our diaspora communities within this culture, as well as from our original homelands. In this regard, we have more in common with the dispossessed globally speaking than we do with the minority bourgeois class we are adopted into and which we are expected to imitate as de facto “Westerners”.

The reminder of our ostracism comes every time we are asked, “Where are you from?”; every time we are told, “Love it or leave it”; every time it is assumed we don’t speak English; every time we are stopped at the airport on arrival and demanded, “Who was the petitioner for your naturalization?” (the suggested example for me was “you know, the woman you married to get into the country”) or “How did you obtain your citizenship?”; every time we receive the “SSSS” stamp on our boarding pass; every time we are put in what I call the “brown people party” at the back of a plane on a domestic flight, or in the “seeming Muslim and male” line of interrogation when passing through border control.

Perhaps it can be argued that I grew up “Westernized”, but since my return to my native Lebanon, I’ve found in this place a resonance with how I see things, feel things, sense things, on levels too complicated to get into here. I’m slowly shedding the burden of imposed and affected identities and starting from scratch, and it is a hugely liberating experience (and, admittedly, an excrutiatingly painful one). Much of my effort now is concentrated on regaining my nationality, and hopefully paving the way for other adoptees to do the same. I am also working to convince local opinion as to the intrinsic value of its children remaining in their place of origin. I’ve written an article that appeared in the local newspaper al-Akhbar to this effect.

What I would like Counter Punch and the author to consider is that the “huge surge in adoptions” alluded to in the article would not in fact happen because many of us have become activated in our homelands in an effort to stop the human trafficking that we genteelly refer to in this day and age as “adoption”. By this I mean to say that the article does not ascribe any agency to the source countries of the global south, which is a statement I would more likely imagine from the pen of David Brooks. This is a grievous oversight.

I think deep down we can all admit that the practice of adoption is an imperfect solution in an imperfect world. Further, it has reached a crisis situation in which the efforts to market it and convince the world of its beneficence is meeting up with a greater and growing awareness of and resistance to the toll it has taken on human populations not just in terms of children and their psyches, but in terms of their families and communities far outside the mediated reality of the “West”.

It’s time to admit that Pearl S. Buck was just as much a cheerleader for U.S. imperialism, conversion, and the nuclear family via adoption as David Brooks is in this article being critiqued. For the familial aspects of adoption and the arguments in support of them, as emotional and personal as they might be, nonetheless ignore the political and economic injustices that result in so-called “orphans” and their displacement from their lands of birth, their families, their cultures, and their local communities. I find it interesting that this should appear on your web site when previously you have published articles that speak from this point of view, namely the article entitled: “Celebrity Colonialism in Africa”.

It is high time that adoption be called out for what it is, and that the battle to end adoption in this world be seen as part of the greater struggle for human rights and dignity for all on the planet, even if this be only maintained as a “utopian goal”. Anything other than this goal is a recipe for failure. Many of us adopted from the opposite side of the globe have lived a “White Guy Nightmare” of the title of this piece all of our lives, but perhaps not in the same way implied. It is distressing, however, to see it emphasized in places such as your online magazine that we have long considered safe havens.


Race, Nation, Class, by Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Debate Tactic: This touches back on what was posted yesterday, in terms of those who consider themselves politically progressive, or “enlightened”, yet who place adoption in a category defined by these concepts. To understand is that such politics reflect a luxury and privilege of those who insist on maintaining a class position that distances them from those effected by their policies and decisions. In a private email response, the author dismissed my rebuttal, saying the child temporarily in his care lived a “multicultural” lifestyle with friends of “all races”. That someone writing for Counter Punch cannot see that diversity should also mean of class and not just race is deeply distressing. This “cosmopolitan” mentality is a function of neo-liberal globalization, and taking advantage of this to enlarge one’s family while condemning it at the same time is a great hypocrisy that need be called out.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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2 Responses to Is there a difference between an adopted and a “Western” child?

  1. ‘Till awe the seas gang dry, and the rocks melt with the sun, Daniel Ibn Zayd, you will touch the hearts of mums, the son lost, who has now come HOME.

    There is a tapestry in the soul of those seared by adoption, woven by the most beautiful threads of life, from the darkest to the brightest, telling the story of roots, belonging, causing you to soar, and dance on the rainbow of life, God grant you Daniel, to always see that rainbow, and oft dance on its beautiful bow. Once again Daniel,thank you for your article above, as a mother of loss to adoption, to read Daniel, of you, a son of loss to adoption, that has found his way home to where HE BELONGS, is a priceless gift to us mums.

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