This is the 25th question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].
The following question originally appeared on Transracial Eyes, asked by another adoptee:
In adoptee terms, grateful has become synonymous with indebted for being “saved” or obligated to be thankful for being adopted. Obviously, it’s way more complicated than that. Can you transracial adoptees enlighten everyone on these complications? I’m tired of being viewed as an ingrate, just because I have criticisms…
Answer: On this topic I always go back to the basis within adoption of this religious salvationist sentiment as found in the many and varied references to Noah’s Ark within the adoption world. The basic premise of the Flood story is that some are saved, and some are not, and the grace of God determines this outcome. Given that the Biblical and Qur’anic accounts of the Flood are both predicated on the metaphorical ruin that comes from a willful persistence in sinning, it seems not just a stretch of the imagination but a fundamentally and stunning misinterpretation of this concept to apply it to children who are not of an age to manifest any kind of free will. This puts the adopter—the “savior”—egotistically speaking within the realm of a God figure, and I think this goes a long way to elucidate the mindset of those adopting, whether they are consciously aware of it or not.
Furthermore, at least in the Qur’anic account, being thus “saved” is not without concern for those who are left behind; Noah (peace upon him) grieves for his son who refuses to change his ways as it were; Lot (puh) pleads for those destined to be punished; and so the focus on those “saved” is not without acknowledging those who are metaphorically undone. The pinpoint focus of adopters on one infant thus becomes a mind-boggling remove from what would be truly an act of those of faith. I often look at the street children I see every day and I try to imagine: How do you, the adopter, choose just one? How do you settle on picking a single child from a population that is suffering the same? To turn around and say to an adopted child that they should be “grateful” when they had no choice concerning their supposed salvation is to assume a God-like judgmental position of power over those left behind. Adopters, in the very act of adopting, seem to be saying that these are the “rightfully punished”; their act condemns entire communities to the adopter-Savior’s willed punishment, which often takes the form of their country’s foreign policy.
Similarly, such a worldview makes a relativistic judgment that one kind of life is better than another; that white, Christian, individualistic, nuclear-family based, and capitalistic society is the sine qua non of all possible worlds. Personally, given that I am more and more living the life I might have led had I not been adopted, I can say that I don’t accept this kind of classist comparison any longer. Therefore I refuse to consider myself “saved”, much less “grateful”. No favor or justice is done when an act of so-called saving grace in and of itself perpetuates the economic and political deprivation that then becomes the reasoning behind this supposed “saving” in the first place. Worse still, it does not even consider extending the equality of such action to all those in need, in all of society. Instead, it selfishly—not selflessly—it selfishly focuses upon one child; an individualistic projection. Jesus (puh) did not say, “suffer the child (singular)…to come unto me.”
An overly rational and literal reading of any Holy Writ produces a list of check-off points that the one checking off uses like they would an Excel spreadsheet. “How is my Bill of Salvation coming along?” they might well ask. Here is the greatest hypocrisy of those demanding that we be grateful: This demand is for their salvation, not ours. They see their salvation as needing our acknowledgment. The problem here is the bringing to the fore of something which should just be. It is a given, in my mind, that one acts in a way that looks out for the common good, and especially toward those who might be dependent on one’s beneficence. To foreground this changes it to a question of accounting—“I did this, he didn’t thank me”. This completely undoes any concept of empathy or care, and what could be more selfish and narcissistic than this?
It reminds me of Westerners who come to this part of the world and who marvel at the “hospitality” of the Arab, as if it is an affectation, and not a function of the lived condition. I hate the word “hospitality” now, because it is taken advantage of when used in this way; it becomes an expectation without reciprocation, and to point it out is to show what is lacking from the culture of the one using such a turn of phrase. I likewise hate the word “grateful”, because it reveals what is not forthcoming from the one demanding my gratitude. If I am to be grateful, it is for something, not for nothing; not for this void of a non-action so egotistically centered in the one supposedly doing the saving. Thus for an adopter to merely speak the word “gratitude” is to reveal this negative, this vacuum, this very missing aspect. It’s not there. And if it were there, and was simply unstated, it has now been completely ruined by virtue of calling attention to it.
Re-evaluating Adoption: Validating the Local, by Daniel Ibn Zayd.
Daniel, Shouldn’t You Be Grateful?, by Daniel Ibn Zayd.
Debate Tactic: Those who demand gratitude know not the meaning of selfless action, beneficence, empathy, or charity. They condemn themselves with the very question.