This was my first piece for Land of Gazillion Adoptees [link to article] originally published in September, 2014.
TRACING POPULAR VOICE
In a project I give in my illustration classes, I have students deconstruct a Lebanese proverb literally and figuratively in order to illustrate its meaning. In the ensuing research, we examine how proverbs condense and resonate historical and cultural roots that still carry forward. Students are often amazed at what is gleaned from interviews with grandparents and other relatives as to historical meaning. Many of the proverbs examined comment on the role of children in society. For all of the proverbs I’ve come across that speak to me concerning my adoption, there is one that readily stands out 1:
إلي ما بيربى ع سفرة أبوه ما بيشبع
Translated, it reads, “He who is not brought up at his father’s table shall not be satisfied.” A corresponding note states, “Reference to the hard life which orphans and adopted children often meet with.” There are a few resonances that don’t come through in translation. First is that of “foster child” found in the verb “raised”. Second is that of “satisfied”, both in terms of food as well as spiritual or psychological hunger. Acknowledged here is the valid role of caring for others’ children, but also the difficulties experienced by those so raised. Such proverbs reflect colloquial speech, and in this populist statement is a candor, a frankness; a psychological salve against the more disparaging pronouncements that come from elsewhere in society.
Such popular voicings exist within my adoptive culture, as well. These common expressions give witness to a historical understanding of adoption, and evoke its more negative aspects, as perceived from the “source” side. For example, when we say: “to put up for adoption”, we elide the prepositional phrase “[up] on the block”. Referenced are children from the days of the Orphan Trains, advertised and auctioned off as slaves were. When we say: “he’s a lucky bastard”, we refer to the “luck” of a salvation from ignominy, or survival of the poorhouse. When we hear: “she’s adopted”, we understand this perhaps as an epithet; a taunt. It sums up the age-old taint of unknown genealogy; of being outside the societal family tree.
The vernacular further abounds in references to thievery of infants and stealers of children, kidnappers, and abductors in an archetype that is ever negative: The Pied Piper, the witch of Hansel and Gretel, the Coachmaster of Pinocchio, the Child Catcher of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 2. Further afield, we might add “Dzunukwa” of the Pacific Northwest’s First Nation’s Peoples and “Abou Kiis” (the Bag Man) in the Southwest-Asian context. In and of themselves, they reveal the universality of this archetypal bogeyman.
Given the weight and scope of populist culture, adoptive parents as archetypal “predatory agents” are now showing up in sub-mediated films and theater dramas with adoption as a storyline. The adoptive “Westerner” becomes a stock antagonist, contrary to their self-ascribed role as savior, and reflecting a popular cultural understanding of what adoption truly represents 3. It should not surprise us then that adoption advocates ineffectively go to great lengths to correct these perceptions and shift their meaning to be supportive of this practice.
A HISTORICAL RIFT
Adoption mythology, aimed at counteracting these omnipresent cultural tropes, seeks to eradicate an implicitly understood connection to family. The normal interpretation is thus “children with their families”; not “children with a(ny) family”. At the end of World War II, adoption as a process of sourcing indentured labor shifted to serve the economic requirements of burgeoning nuclear families and suburban expanse. It necessitated that contrary popular voice be censored, quieted, and stifled. It demanded that former references to the children of the poor and indigenous as “feral” and “beastly”, as needing “conversion” and “work therapy”, be changed to allusions of “salvation” and “a better life”.
Other changes in perception from within the adopter class include a shift in need from the child to the adoptive parent; the move from the “inscribed mind” to the “blank slate”; as well as the preference for leapfrogging one’s class level, contrasted with the slower process of assimilation. The increasingly international nature of adoption bore witness to growing political and economic globalization and unipolar imperialism 4.
Former popular notions were thus linguistically altered to phrasings that mitigate these realities of adoption: “Born in my heart”, “paper pregnancy”, “the adoption triad”, ”the red thread”, “forever family”, etc. Such changes did not alter more popular conclusions; they merely occluded and occulted them. Our popular sayings are not archeological clues uncovered from some remote past or teased out of obscure cultural references; they are absolutely present, but we are simply alienated from them. Here we have a twofold duty. First, to analyze this popular voice to bring a true balance to discussions concerning adoption. Second, to actively advocate for and join in with this voice as well.
For our adoption and acculturation is into the very class that would write off these popular voices, which is also responsible for the growing disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots”. This historical rift between the classes linked to each other via the child adopted is a function of distancing adoptive society’s self-image from the vestigial remnants of its previous cultural ideals, which include eugenics, denigrating religious views of the poor, anti-miscegenation, and outright ethnic cleansing of indigenous populations.
Such fabrications concerning adoption are noticeably absent from more overtly fascistic societies. This face-value honesty of more fascistic societies reveals a basis of understanding for what “democracies” sought (and continue to seek) to accomplish via adoption, although they are loathe to admit their intentions outright. These ethnically utopian ideologies have no qualms about vociferously rejecting the abject Other; the only difference is in the level of applied mythology, propaganda, and marketing. And thus, the “Lebensborn” program of Nazi Germany; the theft of children during the reign of Franco in fascist Spain; the absconding with the children of the “desaparacid(o|a)s” in Argentina; as well as the kidnapping of Yemeni Arab-Jewish children in Israel.
A DEVIL’S BARGAIN
Adoption historically reveals some of these prevailing truths concerning the view of source and destination families and communities. The inherent inequality between these sides in terms of economic and political existence is explained when we note that on the adopting side, we have an actively “bought-into” recognition of “polis” or full citizenship. On the adopted side, we observe a passive relegation to an existence of “zoë”, or “bare(ly existing) life”.
These terms are borrowed from Giorgio Agamben, making reference to Aristotelean Greece. They currently evoke the division between a bourgeois cosmopolitan class, fully vested as political entities, and those wholly outside of this designation, deprived of voice, agency, or valid existence. Adoption moves those from one realm to the other (but not vice versa) without “getting one’s hands dirty”. It takes advantage of the legal, medical, social, cultural, and religious foundations that prop up the dominant (adoptive) class, as well as the similar means and modes that keep down the (source) underclass.
Adoption practice previously acknowledged this latter group, and yet made no secret of its desire to eradicate it. This most trifling of recognition is no longer forthcoming. Entire swaths of the population are denied existence semantically, if not physically speaking, in a rather fascistic perfection of this worldview. We recognize this difference historically when we speak of “the other side of the tracks”, or “down in the hood”, or “slumming it”, or in the mediation of these nether classes in terms of minstrelsy and court jesting 5.
I often refer to this synecdoche as “Facebook reality”. A certain subset of the global population—in fact, a minority—is perceived as being the “whole” of global society. This has been invoked most recently as the “99 percent” by the Occupy activist movement, and previously as “the wretched of the Earth” during the era of “Third-World” liberation movements 6. From this point of view, the adopted child acts as a zoological stand-in for the human debris she is claimed from. As such, her salvation allows for their annihilation.
Agamben, in his book Homo Sacer which defines these terms, does not provide any practical activist follow through for his theoretical pronouncements. His co-conspiratorial affirmation of this global state of affairs is thus a devil’s bargain. The one so aware of these two sides still chooses the fully vested “me” (in terms of individual political embodiment) over the non-vested “them” (those relegated to the edges of society as the detritus of history).
Agamben is often classified with post-modern philosophers such as Michel Foucault 7. Foucault, it should be noted, borrowed many of his ideas from meetings conducted with members of the Black Panther Party 8. In this intellectual “adoption” as it were, dipping into nether cultural realms for street cred, or to slum it, or from which to create palatable cultural or academic product is a time-honored enterprise. To re-align and focus our activist efforts, we need re-evaluate these sites of supposed alliances and sources of activist thought.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
In the mediation, discussion, and communication concerning adoption, the dominant mode, our status quo, reigns supreme. The polis as a class owns media channels, control their means of conveyance and delivery, oversees the language and its use, has leverage of education and a technological know-how required for participation. They also maintain the luxury and privilege to theorize concerning this state of affairs. The zoë is kept in line by class-based attitudes that govern how they speak, who has the right to speak, and the manner in which they speak, which all take precedence over what is actually said.
Our own alignment or leaning regarding such positions defines the greater issue at hand. If I choose to quote or acknowledge Foucault (realm of the polis) as opposed to the Black Panther Party (realm of the zoë), the choice I make is not devoid of political will or agency. If I abide by rules which inherently favor those who control a discussion, I am complicit in that silencing. On the other hand, to actively seek out or support the historically silenced provides a means of inherent activism along these lines.
I have often recommended such a shift in “leaning”—whether theoretical or practical—to parents with transracially adopted children temporarily in their care. That which is defined as binary “white” speaks often of assimilated formerly resistant cultures. To research one’s “resistant” immigrant roots or those of the children in one’s care, shifts one’s understanding of foster or adoptive care back to a popular conception. To consider relocating to the neighborhood or place whence children are sourced psychologically rebalances the equation in their favor. Our incredulity and self-defensiveness in reaction to these suggestions—imagining ourselves aligned against our class standing—show how forceful our inherent lean is.
SEEKING MEDIATED APPROVAL
Alignments that don’t call our class standing into question don’t bother us in the same visceral way. “Citation activism” has shown up in modern academic circles, advocating for particular scholarly citations from “within the ranks”. Twitter hashtag swarming is another recent example, forgotten as soon as implemented. Again, the binaries availed of/imposed on us of gender, sexual identity, race, etc. are invalid. Furthermore, they reductively ignore our class privilege, and by extension, our identification with the polis 9.
More notably, the very institution of the “academy” (or Twitter, or the corporate workspace, etc.) carries with it “leanings” of power not swayed by internal actions 10 that do not question its structural embodiment. It is crucial to contrast more superficial manifestations of activism with inherent leanings of class interest that might contradict them; and to understand that this “lean” is functional to our technology, language, systems of communication, etc.
An example: In January of this year, National Public Radio eschewed the voice of transracial adoptees for that of a white adoptive mother discussing the black children temporarily in her care. She was promoting her book on the subject 11, as Scott Simon did during a previously aired program concerning his own adoption of a Chinese girl—a media power–structure “synergy” at work. The valid reaction from many in the adoptee community was recognizing this slight in terms of valid voice. Yet this slight was also perceived as one of class and polis. It brought out a “personal umbrage” at the exclusion of the adoptees promised arrival into the same class, via their upbringing, language, and acculturation.
The actual zoë would be the original families and communities of the children in this woman’s care. Reconfiguring the equation, the questions then become: How is NPR a valid medium for the transmission of this information with an audience of the class of our adopters, as well as those who control and promote the adoption industry? What economic, political, and cultural incentives drive us to seek the mediated approval of this class?
Why should this “side” or “tendency” or “lean” weigh more heavily over that of the zoë? Why is it next to impossible for us to imagine such groups in charge of the mediation of their own voice (as the Black Panthers were) 12? This facade of “alliance” manifests a much truer connection to the cores of power that give us adoption, and is difficult to suss out for our very adoptive acculturation into that class.
A MUDDLED EMPOWERMENT
Another recent example: An adoptee originally from Paraguay “represented” her place of birth in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Adoptee mediation focused on a class-similar individual narrative. Paraguay’s absence of snow or ice was overlooked. The creation of this team was a direct consequence of her attained luxury and privilege as a United States citizen. Reductive arguments focused on her “right to a(n adoptee) narrative”.
This common identification between her advocates and herself as individualized members from the realm of the polis ignored those of the zoë—her family and community in Paraguay. Also disregarded were the displaced and dispossessed of Sochi; the poor and indigent who were relocated to make way for the globalized Olympics spectacle. Historically known for their destruction of the urban poor 13, the Games are avidly consumed within the “First World”. The Olympics, like Facebook, reflect a false reality of a minority position promoting itself as the majority.
Recent mediated “observations” concerning an “anti-adoption movement” likewise reveal this inversion, a further slivering of voice from within our proper class acculturation. It is possible to document decades of activism in terms of adoption reform, the push to obtain birth certificates and medical records, the bills and legal proposals before a variety of state legislatures. It is also possible to list actions on behalf of mothers, their dispossessed children, and the communities they are taken from.
This activism is of late mislabeled under the rubric “anti-adoption” 14 as opposed to “pro-justice”, pointing up a two-fold threat to valid resistant voices. First, in the validation of only the narrow spectrum of permitted activism that stems directly from the polis. Second, in marginalizing voices from this polis in an effort to banish them to the zoë. Such voices are targeted as class traitors for “biting the hand that feeds them”. Anyone who would say to an adoptee activist “know your role (so you don’t ruin it for the rest of us)” reveals much more about their class leaning or alignment than the targeted activist’s radical nature.
Malcolm X labeled these the “smiling foxes”, much more dangerous for what they obfuscate than the snarling wolves whose bared fangs we know inherently to avoid. Such “wolves” are expert at undermining our efforts, via legal threats, frivolous lawsuits, slander, false accusations, workplace marginalization and discrimination, etc. These are functions of the centers of power that they oversee and maintain.
How to then frame similar rebukes from supposed allies: rejection from within particular circles for being “too radical”, “too angry”, or “too marginal”? Like the in-my-face racism I dealt with when I lived in France, I readily admit to preferring this wolfish honesty to the overwrought antics of the foxes. The latter are much more tiring and debilitating, and most importantly, limiting in terms of a true discourse on the subject, as well as any true activism.
A DECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALITY
This, the fallout of our individualizing and competitive acculturation, should not surprise us. Like a puzzle piece whose shape is known even if it goes missing, we are defined by the strictures of our polis, while imagining ourselves will and agency along lines of identity and self-awareness. The dominant acculturation seeks from us a synecdochic affirmation of its greater self, and it does so by defining us as individual and, if need be, exceptional cases.
We thus embody narratives to dismiss (“well, that’s your situation”; “everyone is entitled to their opinion”) or else individual stories that prove a desired universal (“there are happy adoptees out there”; “slaves were better off on the plantation”). No matter our stance from within the realm of this polis, we lend power to the very class that allows adoption to take place.
The only exit from this Catch-22 is the inclusive parity of our narratives with those who come from the realm of the zoë. This would move us from our flat, individual, two-dimensional puzzle plane to a holistic fully dimensional portrait of humanity. How our stories echo, align with, resonate, and likewise bring forward such communal witnessing is a truer empowerment than waiting for our narratives to be recognized by those whose vested interest has always been in suppressing them .
This forces us to leave our comfort zone, to reach out: to think communally and not individually, to seek out what are active “sites of resistance”. This common cause with those who remain without the luxury and privilege of what we take for granted in terms of rights, voice, access to the technologies and tables of power, education, and validity of self 15 is vitally important to our work as a movement.
SITES OF RESISTANCE
Such “sites of resistance” have always existed: As long as there has been adoption, there has been resistance to adoption. When sited within the realm of the zoë, such resistance tends to be quite radical, yet largely unheard. That of the polis, though relatively louder, is often fleeting and comparatively toothless; the function of an alignment of the class of both source and audience with “the powers that be”.
An example of shifting along these lines: The goal of obtaining original birth certificates. Our limitations for legal, political, social, and cultural reasons frame the argument reductively speaking: adoptees vs. mothers, with the business end of adoption calling the shots. Notably, the direct objects of the adoption contract (seen as inherently of the zoë) are pitted against each other. The class of political embodiment is entreated to find a resolution that runs counter to its class interest, as well as to its mythology of adoption.
A more general shared and communal reframing of our position within this class hierarchy would go far to reveal the inability of such a class to restore the rights of those it does not admit into the realm of citizenship to begin with. In this light, the alteration of names, dates, and lineage ties us as adoptees with our mothers (absent a false class identification on our part), as well as to every other individual and community targeted with such tools of displacement, dispossession, and disinheritance.
Examples along these lines of identity erasure or diminishment include: reparations for former slaves, voter disenfranchisement, illegal stop and frisk, adoptee deportations, migrant worker exploitation, etc. This greater perspective might lead to an expansion of cause, a grassroots change from below. I sometimes imagine what decades of such organizing might have accomplished, as opposed to the infinite wait for state legislatures, leaning in the direction of their class interest, to impose or allow from above legal remedies reductive in scope, and therefore of subsequently limited or impaired benefit.
THE SECOND FOG
This overview makes reference to Frantz Fanon’s rather elliptical remark about adoptees in The Wretched of the Earth. Here he refers to the adopted child as “resistant” until a modicum of “security” is sensed within the adopting realm 16. Fanon’s comparison is made as a French-trained psychologist, working with both the colonizers and the colonized during the Algerian War in the early 1960s. The former seek him out to find solace and answers to the moral and ethical dimension of what they have wrought. The latter he describes as wrongly but understandably seeking comfort from within the realm and through the cognizance of the colonizer.
This recognition is embodied by a proffered acceptance, or bestowed equality, which takes legal, cultural, political, and economical form. More importantly, it comes with a plethora of strings attached. The “colonized mind” is therefore that of one who manifests “an acceptance of his acceptance”, or “a tolerance of her tolerance”. This formulation further reflects the description offered by Tobias Hübinette who refers to Korean adoptees as “eventually learning to identify as white and perform whiteness” 17, as well as Jae Ran Kim when she speaks of “the model minority of the model minorities” 18.
“Model” here becomes a synonym for “acquiescent, quieted, conformist, pliant”. The awakening from our “fog” is more an awareness of separate realms and class difference dividing adopter from adopted; a tremulously navigated “razor’s edge”. There still remains an acculturated “lean”, and this requires much more energy to deal with and overcome. This has certainly been my path, spending a majority of my years swilling my share of Kool-Aid, climbing corporate ladders, running academic gauntlets, fitting the square peg of my very self into the round hole of the acculturating class of my adoption.
Audre Lorde stated: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” 19. This is not a surrender to our situation. Instead it is a call to examine the tools available to us, understand their use and their drawbacks, and then forge them anew if need be in an effort to activate and bring about societal change. Our first step, however, is to retune our hearing and refine our thinking; to become aware of these previously discounted voices.
EXAMPLES OF ADOPTION RESISTANCE
Voices from the realm of the zoë tend to speak using media that are likewise popular in the sense of craft, art, music, theater, communication networks, etc. They presage a return to a “more real” less-affected world, beyond the virtual cages and online ringed circuses we’ve constructed for ourselves that falsely define and delimit this debate. These are not “historical relics”, nor are they representative of “equivalent activism from the other side”. Humbly viewed, they are more valid examples to defer to and imitate for speaking in a popular voice, and demanding a hearkening from the minority polis. With this in mind, I’d like to present the following (hardly exhaustive) list of “case studies” as examples of adoption resistance:
The Foundling Hospital’s cloth collection 20 Mothers forced to give up children for reasons of poverty or out-of-wedlock births were allowed to include a scrap of cloth to be kept on hand in order to provide positive identification in the eventuality of reunion. It seems ironic that over a century ago (much more than today) mothers were allowed that this—literally the most “threadbare” of connections and hope of reunion—be kept intact.
Guatemalan mothers suing for extradition 21 Legally speaking, adoptees come hard up against the sheer finality of the adoption process. Adoptive parents speak of the distance of transnational adoption as weighing strongly in their decision-making process. The adoption industry assures parents that no reversal outside of their own agency is possible. Questioning of adoption from outside of this realm of luxury and privilege is attacked. The Guatemalan mothers attempting to reclaim their children are thus readily dismissed by courts in the United States.
The resistance of those impelled to indentured servitude 22 Our notion of kidnapping comes in part from the port-based traffickers who would coerce young men and women onto ships bound for the expanding settler-colonies of North America. Surviving are the sea chanteys and drinking songs warning of the perils awaiting the naive and unaware. In colonialist France as well, children were taken from the overseas territories of the Caribbean and Reunion Island 23 to work the fields of France. Graffiti compelling young people not to leave their true place and condemning the bureaucratic corruption that allowed for their dispossession and displacement revealed an ”anti-adoption” sentiment tied to nationalist expression, willfully undermined by this generation’s very expropriation 24.
The “mothers of the disappeared” 25 The women of Argentina strive to reveal the fate of their disappeared children and adopted-out grandchildren. An insidious Anglo-Saxon misogyny is revealed in the relative lack of such expression in Anglo-American culture. The misogyny that silences women at the dispossession of their children resurfaces should they later stand up for their rights. Their counterparts in Argentina, no less constricted by norms of patriarchy, stand out for their will to rise up. Not being ashamed of their zoë origin or categorization, as well as not identifying with the polis helps to explain this dichotomy.
The search for Spain’s “lost children” 26 Similar are the women of Spain, who, since the days of Francisco Franco, seek answers concerning the theft of their children. This occurred with full compliance of the fascist power structure and the Spanish Catholic Church. In terms of perceived gender roles, it is again important to consider what is protested by women in such societies compared to that of Anglo-American cultures. The backlash against women 27 in Anglo-American society when they dare to stand up and demand the “rematriation” of their children or their rights as mothers speaks further to this cultural discrepancy, as well as the class-based misogyny of women adopting.
Malawi theater play sends up Madonna 28 The narratives of adoptive parents who bring back “needy orphans” from Africa separate the realms of the polis and the zoë, an active and willed distancing. True parity would render their adoption illegitimate, and so the greater these distances—of place, culture, race, and class—the more seemingly valid the adoption. This play, in the (colonial) language of the adopters, gives us a small glimpse of what we are not privy to, for reasons of language difference, different modes of communication, absence from “Facebook reality”, etc. 29 It stands as a stark testimony to the growing global backlash against adoption, which maps onto the suffering and depredation of imperialism, colonialism, Orientalism, and neo-liberalism.
Moroccan-born adoptee raps on adoption 30 The rap artist known as “YÀZ” employs the popular cultural form of rap music to describe “L’enfant adopté”, “the adopted child”. He defines his attempt at return along with the psychological toll his adoption has taken on him. The accompanying video is filmed among orphaned children in Morocco, which has opened up to foreign adoption, due to class identification with the “West”, and contrary to Islamic precepts 31. The references to other works within the rap tradition which “kept him sane” while growing up connect him, via the medium, with Black cultural resistance in the United States. His expression also speaks of common cause with his compeers, the children of North African immigrants in France.
RAD: “Resistance Against Domination” 32 One of the most destructive aspects of adoption is the demand for biological bonding from the adopted child. Given a different perspective, namely, willingly fostering another’s child, there would not be this pressure on the adopted child to perform the impossible. The various psychological labels affixed to children thus become further markers of stigma, above and beyond the cultural ones discussed so far. In this light, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a quite normal rebellion on the part of a child absolutely refusing to give in to such societal pressures.
Chinese parents search for stolen children 33 Americans who are disdainful of foreign child trafficking obviously did not grow up staring into the faces of “MISSING CHILDREN” on the back of milk cartons. What is allowed to transpire in a given culture, and what is determined as being worthy of a response culturally speaking, are wholly determined by this differentiation between polis and zoë. The parents descending on Beijing to look for their stolen children are class-similar to minority-focused billboard campaigns in the U.S. used to bring awareness to the women missing from these communities; the “grown up” version of the above milk-carton advertisements. That the “First World” polis dismisses them both is very telling.
Encarnación Bail Romero 33 Encarnación Bail Romero attempted something similar to her Guatemalan sisters demanding the return of their children, except she did so from within the power structure itself. Given the amount of attention devoted to Dusten Brown, we see how class identification plays a role in determining “valid” cases to advocate for or activate around. Encarnación Bail Romero, unfortunately, maps too closely onto the cultural tropes of the recent immigrant, disparagingly seen as the stealer of jobs, the border crosser, the usurper of government services, etc. That adoptees might identify class-wise with adopters in this case speaks readily of the inclination to “lean” toward our adoptive polis.
Israel’s stolen Yemeni refugee children 34 The existence of adoption within a country maps onto that country’s hierarchies of polis in terms of gender, race, and class. When Yemeni Jews emigrated to Israel, they were seen as Arabs and thus outsiders. Their existence within the realm of the zoë was the determining factor in the theft of hundreds of their children without excuse or explanation, similar to the transfer of indigenous children within Anglo-American cultures. Most disturbing is the trumping of their religious “right of return” by their perceived racial difference. This is poignantly summed up in the movie Goodbye Baghdad in the words of an émigré from Iraq, who states: “I’d rather be persecuted in Iraq for being a Communist, than in Israel for being an Arab”.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE DIVIDE
What to derive from these case studies? Perhaps a resounding retort that, in fact, the subaltern do indeed speak—it is the self-superior who do not listen or seek them out. They voice an eternal resistance to displacement, dispossession, and disinheritance. This receives no traction for transpiring in a realm not given any validity by the dominant norm. The examples are dismissed as being disconnected, without value, for not stemming from the “class-similar” of the status quo. They do not map onto a security and a comfort zone that comes from the acculturation into the dominant class.
The push to dismiss literally, as well as figuratively, the realm of the zoë reflects a willed distancing of both geographic and economic spaces, and a resonance between local discriminations and their global manifestations. How might we expand the scope of our own activism across these imposed barriers of class? This requires of us an awareness of our lean, where prevalent gravities pull, where paths of least resistance lead; a repositioning of directions we tend toward. How can we challenge these, as part of an activist stance? Such a shift would go far in focusing our aims and actions, as well as seeking out common cause with others.
I recall a term I employed in the days of red ruby–encrusted AIDS ribbon jewelry, to wit, passivism: “a perceived facade of activism belied by the class basis of its source”. I remember when the activist group ACTUP–New York split along lines of race and class, polis from zoë. Given access to medications and entry into halls of power, members of the group stopped battling alongside the minorities and women who represented the bulk of HIV cases. I similarly remember taking part in the protest march for a young woman, Sakia Gunn, murdered in Newark, who was not given an equivalent mediation as that of Matthew Shepard in the New York Times (and other media), for being disconnected in terms of race and class from the media’s assumed audiences.
More recently, I have noticed the discrepancy between popular demonstrations in the streets of Beirut that are later mimicked in what I refer to as their safer “designer” candle-lit-vigil counterparts, taking place in neighborhoods far removed from the local “rabble”. I have witnessed the cavalcade of women Secretaries of State and United Nations ambassadors, both Democrat and Republican, affirming the destruction of place and the slaughter of children in the region I now call home 36. I observe Ferguson, and I compare it with Gaza. I listen to friends working in hospital ERs, on the front line of America’s war on the poor, and I see the racism and classism that targets for destruction those outside of what is considered to be “valid society”.
We should not forget that this is our source, though we were “raised at a different table”. My reaction is to first, caution us not to fall further into imposed/vaunted binary traps, to assume that such categories automatically translate into perceived “allies” simply for their congregating the superficially similar. This isn’t about choosing sides. An analysis of class interest leads me to a second caution, in which I echo Malcolm X when he warned us to “beware the smiling foxes” as defined by those who identify as “liberal” or “progressive”, yet who nonetheless in practice manifest the demands of their class interests in denigrating or destructive ways.
Adoption activism has a long and complex history. We do ourselves no favor by pretending that it is a recent occurrence, or that we are its vanguard. This exploration of issues relating to class identification resolves many paradoxes of the adoption discussion. For example, the epithet of “ungrateful” can now be seen as an accusation of class betrayal. It further points out an exile, an excommunication, a forced reversion of outspoken children to their feral and beastly roots; a willed devolving of this now-adult to the backwards and uncivilized state they were rescued from. It is a command to “abide or die” 37.
Here is starkly revealed our affinity with others also condemned to the realm of zoë: the refugee, the immigrant, the migrant worker, the gentrified, the ghettoized, the enslaved. Also disclosed are the various analogues to adoption found in surrogacy, donor embryos, sperm donation, as well as trafficked humans, organs, and DNA. The ironic fact that many of our adoptive parents, a few scant generations back and of immigrant stock, similarly came from such a realm should not surprise us, since “abide or die” was equally imposed on them by the dominant mode of their time.
Most importantly, it is here that we uncover the hypocrisy of adoption industry supporters, those who stand behind CHIFF and other conduits of humanitarian imperialism, in their silence concerning the masses they condemn to philosophical, as well as physical non-existence. The notion of unary salvation, condemning the global poor, now cynically represented by a few adopted (and thus “saved”) children, can only make sense if one willingly, oppressively, and arrogantly removes oneself from humanity.
For if these proselytizers found themselves on the “other side” even slightly, if they ascribed human dignity to those they might pluck a single child up and away from, they would not find it such an easy task to pat themselves on the back; to see themselves as God-like saviors. Their role as pyromaniac firefighters, spraying gasoline on a world ablaze would not, by any stretch of the imagination, be construed as valid. Their monologue is no different from what was heard in the days of poorhouses and child labor, and the world has wearied of it.
The painful exercise of challenging ourselves along these lines is upon us. I recall during the most recent Adoption Initiative Conference, with its theme of “Sleeping Giants in Adoption: Power, Privilege, Politics, and Class” 38, when it was noted (and quite correctly so) that despite our awareness of the issues listed here and our efforts to plan accordingly, that aspects of hierarchy and privilege, luxury and class, are not so easily done away with, much less overcome.
Given a different level of self-awareness, this might have subsequently resulted in divisions and separations among us. Such internal divisions, the fissures exploited by a strategy of “divide and conquer” as employed by the dominant mode are, sadly, the hallmark of activist groups throughout history, which often end up destroying themselves from the inside. Instead, there was a much needed “clearing of the air” on multiple occasions, both public and private, and in this was a sign of hope; a moving onward, upward, forward. There is much work to be done along these lines.
For we are long past the point of needing to debate or discuss adoption within the rarified realm that seeks simply to maintain its supply of children and source of revenue, while condemning much of humanity to its predestined lot. Despite a century of propaganda and effort, the world does not see adoption as a given, but rather as a “peculiar institution” of an elite minority. It is not viewed as a valid means of social welfare, but rather as the sign of terminally ailing societies. The world at large, the Great Majority, demands entry into the conversation for the simple reason that it has so long suffered of its consequences. Not just in terms of adoption, but where adoption intersects with every other injustice inflicted upon those of the zoë.
This leaves us with a few imperatives: The power and gravity of what we hope to accomplish communally as activists is more important than what might be individually gleaned, or noted, or placed on a resume. Any internal critique is no less valid a step than any energy directed toward the cause itself. Internal discussions need take notice of those already taking place in the communities referenced. The absolute deference toward the communities of those absent due to their status of being from the realm of zoë is a pre-emptive priority. True power lies with the true majority, and their day is come.
And so we have a choice of wielding waning power or positively empowering others. Not by assuming their eventual ascent to the realm of polis, but by acknowledging the false nature of our embodiment of it. This determines the manner in which we will be remembered as a force for activism concerning adoption and the welfare of children. The world has long been agitating along these lines. Our psychological salve is found in the political engagement with our very source, not with those who mirror the class that delivered us from one realm to another. The chasm that separates us from our roots is as purposefully upheld as it is false. The time has come for us to bridge this false divide. And to accomplish this, we’re going to have to get our hands dirty.
1. A Dictionary of Modern Lebanese Proverbs; Anis Freyha.
2. Recently made reference to in Kathryn Joyce’s book: The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.
3. For just one example: Mercy Madonna of Malawi, staged in reaction to Madonna’s adoption of African children: http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/19027-mercy-madonna-of-malawi/
4. See: Children for Adoption by Pearl. S. Buck, as well as its corrective: Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961 by Christina Klein.
5. See: “Sacha Cohen and Arab Minstrelsy”; http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/05/sacha-cohen-and-arab-minstrelsy/
6. Interesting to note is that Frantz Fanon’s title in French—Les damnés de la Terre—evokes more the desired destruction of this global underclass.
7. Also found here are echoes of current academic trends of intersectionality. See: “A Marxist-feminist critique of intersectionality theory”; http://thecharnelhouse.org/2014/02/07/a-marxist-feminist-critique-of-intersectionality-theory/.
8. “Foucault and the Black Panthers”; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13604810701668969
9. This is the very danger of seeing, say, the election of Barack Obama as a sign of “post-racial” America, or the possible election of Hillary Clinton as a similar advance for the cause of women’s rights. See Cornel West on the subject: http://www.salon.com/2014/08/24/cornel_west_he_posed_as_a_progressive_and_turned_out_to_be_counterfeit_we_ended_up_with_a_wall_street_presidency_a_drone_presidency/
10. See: The Politics of Knowledge, Richard Ohmann.
11. See: “Racism, Class and Adoption: Facing Off With the ‘Smiling Foxes’ of NPR”; http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/16/racism-class-and-adoption/
12. See: The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service: 1967–1980, David Hilliard; and Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas.
13. See: Olympic Industry Resistance: Challenging Olympic Power and Propaganda, by Helen Jefferson Lenskyj.
14. See: “The anti-adoption movement…who knew?”; http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2013/09/the-anti-adoption-movementwho-knew.html
15. See: “On radical ‘psychology’ and adoption.”; https://danielibnzayd.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/on-radical-psychology-and-adoption/.
16. “Like adopted children who only stop investigating the new family framework at the moment when a minimum nucleus of security crystallizes in their psyche, the native intellectual will try to make European culture his own.” For a fuller examination of Fanon in this regard, see: “The New Abolition: Ending Adoption in Our Time”; http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/08/the-new-abolition-ending-adoption-in-our-time/.
17. See: “Annotation: Tobias Hübinette’s ‘Asian Bodies Out of Control’ (2007)”; https://emergentia.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/annotation-tobias-hubinettes-asian-bodies-out-of-control-2007/
18. As postulated during a presentation sponsored by Adopted Korean Connection: http://prezi.com/emekfhoeoxqj/korean-adoptees/
20. “Threads of feeling”; http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/oct/09/foundling-hospital-museum-threads-feeling
21. “Breaking: Guatemalan Court Revokes Passport for Child Adopted to US Under Name ‘Karen Abigail’”; http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/48097
22. “Fatherless and Friendless: Factors Influencing the Flow of English Emigrant Servants”; Farley Grubb, The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 85-108
23. See: “France’s lost children fight back”; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1818995.stm
24. See: L’avenir est ailleurs (The future is elsewhere); http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm_gen_cfilm=119563.html
25. “Argentine grandmothers determined to find ‘stolen’ babies”; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-22004491
26. “Families Search for Truth of Spain’s ‘Lost Children’”; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/world/europe/01franco.html?_r=0
27. Miranda Devine in Australia, for example.
28. “Mercy Madonna of Malawi”; http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/aug/18/mercy-madonna-of-malawi-review
29. See also the rebuke from Malawi’s state house: http://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/04/10/malawi-state-house-responds-to-madonnas-outbursts-full-text/
30.“L’enfant adopté”; https://danielibnzayd.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/lenfant-adopte-yaz/
31. See: Orphans of Islam: Family, Abandonment, and Secret Adoption in Morocco, Jamila Bargach.
32. “Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): the alienation and resistance of the adoptee.”; http://transracialeyes.com/2013/01/01/reactive-attachment-disorder-rad-the-alienation-and-resistance-of-the-adoptee/
33. “Parents descend on Beijing to hunt for China’s stolen children”; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/parents-descend-on-beijing-to-hunt-for-chinas-stolen-children-2098822.html
34. “Delayed Justice for Guatemalan Mother Encarnación Bail Romero”; http://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/blog/1098-delayed-justice-for-guatemalan-mother-encarnacion-bail-romero
35. “Daughter Learns Of Stolen Past, Reopening An Israeli Mystery”; http://articles.philly.com/1997-08-28/news/25566342_1_adoption-agency-baby-daughter-yemenite-jews
36. According to Madeleine Albright, the hundreds of thousands of deaths of Iraqi children due to continuous presidential administrations’ applications of sanctions and war against Iraq were “worth it”. See: http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/we-think-the-price-is-worth-it/
37. For a discussion of this topic, see Transracial Eyes: “Adoption: Abide or Die”. http://transracialeyes.com/2014/08/08/adoption-abide-or-die/.
38. Adoption Initiative Conference 2014; http://adoptioninitiative.org/wordpress/.