What can adoptive parents do to change things?

This is the 21st question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following reply was posted to a Yahoo! support group for international adoptees, in response to an adoptive parent’s reply to some articles written by international adoptees:

This extremely well written article makes me feel like a pariah. Hard to read from the AP viewpoint, but impossible to argue against. I can take the personal out of it and say, “Yes! There must be changes in the system.” But I can’t really see a coalition of adoptive parents being able to get behind these truths.

Answer: By definition, a “pariah” is someone outcast for reasons considered essential to that person, like a lower caste member in India (to get to the root of the word). To state that one feels like a “pariah” is to buy into this notion of something inherent and unchangeable, which allows in turn for a kind of passive and tacit acceptance of the status quo, which I sense in your words, and which I would like to challenge.

For this to me is the biggest problem, as [the adoptees] state so well here: You don’t get to assume this position, given your place in society. At the same time, to accept this class entitlement, or the idea that one is unable to step down from one’s class position, or that one can make no change in one’s life in order to better the common good is, in and of itself, the problem.

Because we know this is not true.

These are all changeable, malleable, mutable aspects of our lives; they are affected and are not shared by all; they are not “essential” to us. This is given stark proof by those of us who have returned to our lands of birth; or who otherwise challenge the mythologies of adoption, or who are striving to cast off other affected identity markers.

Because if it can be argued that there are government policies that are inherent to a given cultural outlook that in fact do much to create the poverty, the wars, the conditions that have always resulted in so-called orphans, and one chooses to apply Band-aid solutions to these symptoms and not the disease, then one is complicit in those policies.

If it can be argued that it is a non-relative cultural outlook that allows for the imposition of the notion of nuclear family over those cultures that are more communally based, and one decides that individual happiness is more important than the happiness of all, that “nuclear family” is more important than “community”, then one is complicit in the destruction of the community that one is adopting from.

If it can be argued that it is a power differential between those of different classes, walks of life, and living conditions; that an inherent inequality is the engine that drives adoption on all levels and at great profit; that the willful leveraging of this differential economically, politically, and culturally has nothing to do with family creation but everything to do with exploitation and extraction of profit; that in this can be seen the destruction of cultures that do not echo the dominant and prevailing one in a direct correlation with the historical approach to the “Third World” by the “First”, with the result being that one comes to the conclusion that “nothing can be done”, then one is complicit in this status quo that has wrought nothing but destruction worldwide.

Given our life experiences, I doubt highly that it was our desire to make anyone feel like a “pariah”. We are stating a case that has precedent in James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, and more recently Dorothy Roberts, Mike Davis, Edward Said (among many many others), and which is not about drawing more lines, but establishing a new coalition, based in human rights, and human dignity. Inherent to this argument if you will is a desire to change the status quo, yes, but an understanding too that to go up against the status quo—the very economic and political systems that are the basis for inequality in the world—is more of a challenge than an accusation. A challenge assumes equality of starting point based on common goals; an accusation assumes the opposite.

And thus to accept the basic tenets presented in this article is the first step in making changes in one’s life, in one’s family, in one’s community, town, state, country, region, world. For each decision concerning everything we do can be framed within a notion of equality, or based on the premise of whether it comes at the expense of someone else. And having previously adopted does not “opt one out” of this. A coalition of adoptive parents with adopted children, to me, is one of the most logical and one of the most powerful coalitions that might come from understanding these words.

It’s a decision to be made between passivism and activism.

We are acculturated to be passivist, we have been systematized and cajoled and placated by a worldview that presents itself as a Whole Truth. As adoptive parents of children from outside of this worldview, or indeed targeted by this worldview, you know better, and this is your first major step. The second major step is being here, and listening to these words. The third major step will be to feel empowered by what you already have, not disempowered by what you have done, and from there, to act. Whether tentatively or decisively, but to act all the same. There is no audience, or spectator remove. We are all players on the same stage. And however we might deem such judgment, we shall be judged based on our actions.


No Name in the Street, by James Baldwin.

A Dying Colonialism, by Frantz Fanon.

On Afro-American History, by Malcolm X.

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein.

In Praise of Barbarians, by Mike Davis.

Culture and Imperialism, by Edward Said.

Debate Tactic: I have been in contact with one adoptive family that made the socially speaking excruciating decision to move to the neighborhood of the children they adopted from foster care in an effort to have them be closer to their family and originating culture. This decision made of them outsiders; it made a huge change in the schooling of their children; it radically altered their lives. That adoptive parents might be horrified by this idea, but yet have absolutely no problem perpetrating such change on a child in the other direction, reveals in spades the power differential we are talking about here. To claim “there is nothing we can do” is thus a mind-boggling bald-faced lie, and an insult to those who truly understand what the word “pariah” means on a day-to-day basis. To remember is that those who will not willingly step down from their class position will, one day, be unwillingly stepped down from it against their will, one way or another. The game we play is thinking we can “out-wait” this long overdue Correction. Now, the bill has come due. And the time has come to collect accounts. In the words of a Russian proverb: “Injustice is like having an eye gouged out, but looking away is losing both eyes.” Take the personal out of it. Put the iPad down. And then activate yourself.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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3 Responses to What can adoptive parents do to change things?

  1. 我是收养 says:

    A coalition of adoptive parents with adopted children, to me, is one of the most logical and one of the most powerful coalitions that might come from understanding these words: Yes, yes, yes! Like every other movement in which an oppressed group of people were granted rights, (key figures may have been of the marginalized group) but help from the dominant class was needed. Since so much of the current adoption system is adoptive parent centric, their voices are a powerful source for change. Additionally, what a beautiful gift for an adoptive parent to give to an adopted child. With adoption, parents agree to unconditionally love and support this child and to walk with them through life. Walking next to adoptees in the activist movement is a way of showing adoptees continued support, care, and a desire to understand this complex issue.

    • There’s so much that can tie in here. What if adoptive parents also decried the inequality in the American public school system? I think Vermont is the only state, for example, which apportions property tax revenue to all districts state-wide equally. What if they were to acknowledge the agro-industry that brings food to their table, keeping millions enslaved, and radically altering the environment? It wasn’t so long ago that César Chavez was boycotting grapes, for example. If I can remember those days, then certainly adoptive parents my age can as well. The power is literally in their hands as a class and as a community. Choosing not to act is a criminal action on their part.

  2. dmdezigns says:

    As I’ve learned more, I realize how much as an AP I don’t get. How much I didn’t understand before. I can’t change what has already happened, but by listening to the voices of adoptees, I can begin to empathize, I can accept, and I can begin to change my corner of the world. While a coalition of APs could potentially make an impact, I’m bothered by the idea that we need a coalition to start. Why not instead begin by joining our voices to adoptees arguing for change and reform? Why not instead now join the fight to unseal OBCs? Why not instead look at our own adoptions and ask the very hard question of what could have preserved this family? In our son’s case, it’s 2 fold. It was drug use and poverty. I can’t do anything about the drug use. That affects people in all walks of society. But I can start to work for better resources and safety nets for those in poverty. I can contribute to organizations that help those in poverty and especially those that work for family preservation. I think that sometimes it seems to take so long to get from the view of maybe this isn’t right to what can I do. I know your post was more on the thought processes and changing those. But some people are truly clueless and could benefit from more concrete examples.

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