On the new adopter narratives.

As adoptees, we are used to this drill. Adoptive parents, in a fit of what they believe to be enlightenment, deem themselves worthy of writing up our adoption experiences. These narratives are designed to be consumed by those of the very class which allowed our adoption in the first place. Ironically, we are left out of this equation, and this becomes the flip side of a double-edged sword should we decide to try to turn this narrative around. This results in our further rejection, the inscribing of our “outlier” status, and the realization that “flipping scripts” is as useless as it is impossible. We need to learn from our own histories, as well as those of every other group that has experienced such a thing. Our Voices on some level have been heard, and the response to it is as strategic and tactical as it is silencing. Despite being brought into another family and often society, we remain, for all intents and purposes, Outsiders.

I’ve explored this at length previously, and I don’t mean to retread anything here. I do wish to point out that such writing now forms a trend, and this is of no small import. What remains most disturbing in this new genre of adopter narrative is how removed from reality the authors are. Like previous exemplars of the genre, such as rehomers who then peddle their tears online, or else their supporters who come to their defense, or the NPR stars and their stories of Adoption Success [link: “Racism, Class, and Adoption”], I understand perfectly that we the adopted, transracially or otherwise, will have to put up with the narcissism, megalomania, and sheer privilege of the adopting class which still, still, tries to pretend that it is somehow “progressive”, or that adoption is a kind of liberal “activism”, and that they will “win” in their quite individually waged battles against racism. Unfortunately, this is a “battle” in which we have become unwilling pawns and secondary bit players. In this surreal simulacrum of the real world, we have no role to play.

These adoption myths are legion, and they are of course based in the economic needs of those who maintain power, as well as those who are coddled and sustained by such myths. The article I am referring to here, written by Betsy Berne, [link: “More excerpts from Single White Mother”] reveals all the telltale signs of such mythology. For starters is the myth that adoptive parents have some kind of unique agency and free will outside of the society in which they acculturate the children temporarily in their care. By this I mean to say that adoption, as an institution born of and reflecting its roots in indentured servitude, racism, and class warfare, does not suddenly “shift” into a tragedy based on the adoptive parent’s “awakening”. It did not just “happen”, divorced from very real economic and political incentives placed on those adopting. It is a tragedy, and a criminal one at that, from the get-go. It has never had any other purpose than this, and especially not family creation, its biggest myth. That some of these tragedies individually speaking have more-or-less better or worse endings doesn’t change their status as, communally speaking, tragedies and failures of society.

Until such a time that adoptive parents realize the power structure they are part of which incorporates and manifests forward via their actions these core and founding conceptions of slavery, racism, and class animosity, there can be no absolution of the guilt of said actions, simply because they believe themselves to be of a “progressive” class, or members of a “civilized” society. They are neither, and they need to be as honest with themselves as we have become among ourselves, as well as with them. If we can admit the Truth, why do we allow such Delusion? Instead they wish to butter their bread on both sides, have us be abettors to the charade, and thus we have to put up with this Pabulum. One adoptee in a conversation on Twitter described it as “triggering”, and this is quite an understatement. Again, we need to keep in mind that we are seen as external to this discussion; that we are not even considered to be part of the reading audience of such drivel; that we can never compare to the perfectly raised adoption case studies currently in the care of those who sell this dreck.

I no longer believe that the only valid response is to counter-air our points of view, as much as I wholeheartedly believe in our narrative potential, the worth of mass witnessing, in oral histories, etc. Something much more sinister is transpiring, and this shows up how unequal our words are when spoken on corporate-sponsored platforms equally bent on painting a Happy Gotcha Day for all involved. In terms of such a discussion, the fact remains that washing one’s hands after a murder does not efface the crime nor absolve the criminal. Sending a slave off to a “better” plantation does not lessen the crime of the original enslavement. That adoptive parents might pat themselves on the back after actively participating in this trauma and tragedy needs to be called out loudly and without equivocation. That their “journey”, supported as it is by every aspect of their society, needs to thus become the one and only narrative, eclipsing the Voice of those they claim to “save”, demands more than a rebuttal. Their actions (and their speech is “active” in this linguistic sense) in the bigger picture paint them as members of a bourgeois class that continues to peddle the very discourses and mythologies of adoption that created the problem in the first place, one which we seem bent on discussing endlessly, year in and year out. It does us no good to either uphold that class structure in any way, or claim to be a part of it, or to add to a conversation in purely defensive terms.

What I want to say to Betsy Berne is the following:

You are of the dominant class, as expressed via race privilege. You follow in the footsteps of gentrifiers, usurpers, colonizers. Like them, you have the entirety of a billion-dollar industry supporting everything you say and do. You have the legal, governmental, medical, religious, and media-based systems of support at your back. You have mediated adoption into a realm of “no arguments allowed”. You are like every other oppressor before you, bent on shutting up and shutting down those who go against you (plural) in any way. Do you really think we have not tried to be the docile, acquiescent, “good” children you thought we would be when you cut the ties to our families and brought us to your home? It doesn’t matter that the child in your home calls you her “white slave”. That you can’t even imagine the offense of such reverse role-playing only reinforces what I am saying here. For nothing is as racist as your original adoptive act; and nothing you write can absolve you of that action.

The difference between you and those you glibly dismiss is two-fold: First, you will win on the local front and in the short term. You will erase us, our Voices, our presence, from the online realm, from your memory. The second major difference is that unlike you, we would much rather not be discussing this subject. We would much rather the reasons (whether you ignore them or actually manage to face up to them) both political and economic that form the reason why we are speaking out never existed. We would much prefer the injustices that resulted in our trafficking had been dealt with by you, the dominant class, in a noble, just, fair, and equalizing manner so that all might have a reason to speak joyfully of their birth and childhood, of their upbringing.

But this is where you make the biggest mistake: We are not going away. And we are organizing in those places which you don’t deem worthy: on the ground and in the streets. And those children temporarily in your care will one day be joining us. And we will all be going home to our families one day, in one way or another, and this with or without your consent, with or without your approval. In this light, what you say doesn’t even matter; you have no role in this greater conversation, taking place among those to whom you cannot be bothered to ascribe humanity. And the great question that everyone wishes you would answer instead is: What will you say to the child temporarily in your care when she echoes them, and voices such sentiment? Where will your “big heart” and “open mind” be then? You are a hypocrite, and your “article” is a function of your blatant hypocrisy. Don’t worry though. Sadly, we’ll likely still be around when the child temporarily in your care turns around and needs to speak for herself.

There is no real point in discussing this unless two questions are going to be posed: First, are these “liberals” who are simply acting true to their class position, willing to equalize their class standing so that adoption might not be necessary? Second, as critics of the practice, are we willing to go to the logical conclusion that adoption need be abolished, even if purely in a utopian-goal sense? If the answer to either of these questions is “no”, then this is a useless spinning of wheels; a bogus tilting at windmills; and our critique simply acts as an impetus for more of this genre of writing, and yet another (another!) generation of adoptees yet to come of age. The dilemma we face in replying, in a world of “no publicity is bad publicity”, and where the most vile of rehomers are given precedence in the so-called newspapers of record, is not to be misconstrued. The fact that some of what I’m posting here is cut and pasted is testament to how tired I am of saying the same thing over and over again.

Beyond this, there are two points I wish to bring up in conclusion. First, we need acknowledge there is an Adoption Marketplace now, and our words and narratives become as much a commodity as we ourselves were decades ago. This brings up a choice to make, in terms of taking part in the same market forces and using the same neo-liberal principles that brought us adoption in the first place, that are now at the root of our resistance. It also demands a recognition that there is no “owning” this discourse, if this comes at the dismissal of those who don’t fit the “branding” or the “marketing strategy”. Second, like everything that is taken up and sold within such a marketplace, our “content” has no value, only our “form”. All of this has resulted in splits within activist communities as concerns who is “too radical” to be considered, well, I guess, “sellable”. Given the difficulty of the razor’s edges we already walk, I prefer not to add this particular one to the mix. In this view, adoptees can be just as “triggering” as such parents.

Finally, I want to talk about the sheer exasperation of continuously replying, rebutting, answering, discussing; defensively re-enacting the Power Play that would have us remain indirect objects of someone else’s action. When do we activate? It’s not like the precedent is not there in our own histories as well as from previous eras of adoption activists. It further exists in our countries of origin; in places of the Disappeared such as in Spain, Chile, and Argentina; among those at the other end of the empowerment spectrum, such as immigrant mothers; among African and other communities demanding an accounting of their missing children; everywhere except in the places of our acculturation, but for a few glimmers of hope here and there.

Here we accept and enact the status quo. Here, we play their game and pretend that our narratives have individual weight that somehow balance things out. Nothing is further from the truth. This is a self-deception as destructive as thinking we are “of” this class for having been adopted. The recent realization that ten percent of Korean adoptees are not actually “citizens” should be a wake up call in this regard, as should be the deportation of two million Mexican immigrants, or the proposals calling for internment camps for Muslims. We remain Outsiders. The only role for us inside is that of “House Adoptee”. Again, this is a function of every activism ever waged on the planet, and can be analyzed based on this precedence.

Despite all evidence to the contrary we still think this is simply a “war of words”; a simple changing of minds. It’s not. The “adopter narrative” is morphing and adapting in order to silence us; it is stealing the power of our words and the weight of our tropes in order to render us harmless and pointless. And the correct response is not just more words, but, at long last, union; and beyond that, words that form a framework for praxis; for action. When all is said and done, when our silly hashtags are forgotten on the dustheap of history, there will be an accounting of our accomplishments, and how successful we were in “scripting the flip”; in paving the way for a revolution of all those displaced, dispossessed, and disinherited. For it begs the question: if not now, when, exactly, do we see this happening?

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
This entry was posted in Adoption resistance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to On the new adopter narratives.

  1. I’m not adopted but I share your exasperation. I feel a rush of pride for my friends who are featured in mainstream news, until I see them described as anti-adoption activists, put back in their place. I used to think that the institution of adoption left no place for such words and ideas, but now I realize that it matters less than I thought. Whether happy or bitter, I am stuck within the inconsequential slot that adoption provides me. Just another natural mother bitching. I can’t break free or move beyond what is allowed. There is no room for true rebellion or even discussion, just a pitiful illusion!

  2. Joan Joyce says:

    The lack of empathy for any person involved in this narrative, much less the child, is astounding. The self-absorbed emptiness of a middle class person, coopting the experiences of some less privileged person in a desperate attempt to lend some interest to their boring life story, and doing so without even craft or skill…I predict she will soon be writing for the New York Times.

  3. pammcrae says:

    This makes me feel guiltier than I already did. I’m a natural mother, but that’s not what I want to address here. I’m also the adoptive mother of a now-grown Vietnamese son. I have come out of the adoption fog and now realize all too well just how damaging adoption is, even when its intention is to save a life, as it was in mine. Adoption is always the result of tragedy. For adoptive parents to pretend it’s anything else is absolutely wrong and delusional. Not only do adoptees and natural mothers need to speak out against unnecessary adoption (and most are, I maintain, unnecessary) but adoptive parents need to stop being so defensive and own up to the part they’ve played in this dreadful business. I love my son and believe I did “rescue” him from a dismal life on the streets of Danang (he’s half African-American), but only he knows the true extent of how difficult his life has been. I would never presume to speak for him.

  4. Pingback: On the new adopter narratives. | The Life Of Von

  5. It sure is tiring, trying to get our point of view across. I’m just a simple, suburban woman, who was adopted. No one sees a problem with that, except me!

    No one sees that I suffered a loss. They see a normal person, but they cannot see inside. When I try and explain, they don’t want to listen. But I still try.

    And I’m getting older, and more tired.

  6. Just finished reading Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehsi Coates. It exemplifies all that you have written. I am usually such an optimist but this all leaves me so sad & hopeless.

  7. Thanking everyone as always for the replies! I’ve received some emails that also seem to take what I wrote personally. I want to go on the record and say that this, I think, is a faulty reading; I’ll try to clarify what I mean. All of the words in reply that reflect in any way a sense of the personal aspect of the discussion require a re-reading, and a filtering out of this personal aspect. Meaning, things like “guilt”, “point of view”, and various emotional or physical states are more or less besides the point. I’m not dismissing their validity, I’m trying to say they have no place in this particular discussion.

    By that I wish to say that if we as mothers, adoptees, and adoptive parents can set the personal aside, in terms of motivation, reaction, etc., then there is some hope of honestly tackling adoption as a practice, as an industry, and as the juggernaut that it is. There is a tiny segment of the population that supports adoption as part of a class-based status quo; the vast majority reflect a much different perception of it. We waste our time and our energy trying to convince this minority to “change”; this is like asking someone to reframe the very house they are quite comfortably living in.

    Ta-Nehsi Coates is an excellent reference I think. I admire his ability to speak uncomfortable truths to the cosmopolitan class. But over and beyond them are those in Ferguson, Detroit, Oakland, etc. who are much more primed to understand his words. He is making equal efforts to reach them, for example, a Black Panthers graphic novel. This shift is not easy. I understand the need for literal “class comfort” after lives uncomfortably lived. I’m suggesting that just perhaps, trading in one discomfort for another might actually get us further along the road to some kind of useful societal change as far as adoption is concerned. It makes for fatigue, to be sure, but it just might make for less “hopelessness”.

  8. Pingback: On the new adopter narratives. | Musings of a Birthmom

  9. Lara/Trace says:

    As much as I know about the adoption racketeering business, they will find the happy adoptee and use them exclusively and their words. It is a business and the traffickers are well aware of us. But adoptees can’t lose hope or our voice.

  10. Pingback: On the new adopter narratives. | FORBIDDEN FAMILY

  11. The only problem the adoption of my kids solved was our need to be parents. It opened up as many if not more problems than they already had. I do try not to let my guilt rule my life and theirs. I try to listen (one talks freely, the other declines.) Thank you for your clear, confrontative words. I was mortified by the piece to which you are responding but in some ways that mom is also me.

  12. Pingback: 2016: Time to Rev Up | lara

  13. Pingback: On the new adopter narratives. | wsbirthmom

  14. Samantha Franklin says:

    My eyes, mind and heart were opened and deeply impacted during a recent tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, to the blatant truths you speak.

    The only tired I was, was tired of giving in. ~
    Rosa Parks

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