Many adoptees who were adopted for charitable reasons discount barren-ness as being a valid motivation for adoption, as they feel that it puts too much pressure on the child to fill holes in their parents hearts and that no child can or should be asked to substitute for the first choice/dream child they can never be. However, other adoptees who were adopted because their parents were barren poignantly defend their parent’s need and discount people who adopt to “save,” since that puts too much pressure on the child to be grateful. In the case of a transracial adoptee there is – apart from whatever motivations the adopting parents had – the added pressure of having to be a walking poster child for international aid or liberal ideas about rainbow families. It all puts the child in an unrelenting position of having to deal with (or not) being responsible for the expectations of their friends, family, and society in general.
Speaking with a couple adoptees the other day who were both in the saved category and who discounted the barren-ness motivation, I realized that often the table is turned and at that table, the parents of these chosen ones could also be dismissed by them. It seems to me like a very hard thing to rationalize adopting internationally, and that really the only choice an adoptee has in order to live a peaceful existence is to champion the reason their particular parents had to acquire them.
Which made me think of this video. In it, a young John Raible asks adoptive parents what their motivation was. I recall watching this with my grown children just over three years ago, when I was first exploring these ideas myself and then being stunned and humbled by my daughter’s reaction to John saying this, “…What were you hoping to prove?… accomplish?…to raise another strong, proud, culturally connected individual of color that’s gonna help liberate their race or their people?”
It was one of those moments where my daughter made an audible sound, a sound of awe and admiration, the kind someone makes when recognizing they’ve heard something profound, and that sound caused the profundity to spread to me realizing my half Korean daughter is forced to appreciate the dilemma caused by my parents adopting.
So, transracial adoptees, what’s the motivation to adopt transracially? Is there a valid reason for making a child forever be an alien?
Quite! Great post and good to be reminded of John’s early words again.
The reason why my mother adopted transracially is to show off to her church congregation that she ‘saved’ us and to get that glowing feel-good feeling everywhere she walked. She loved the fact that she did something christian-like and great! To get well deserved attention sense she did not get that kind of attention growing up from her own parents. Her brother was the favorite child in the home. By purchasing us this was her lazy way of getting attention without even opening her mouth. She loved the attention but hated us…it was evident especially when she died and left everything to my brother (her birth child). He got everything and if we tried to contest it us adopted kids would get a dollar. We were not even allowed to retrieve old toys that we use to play with as a child after she died. Her birth child was instructed to not give us anything. She left this earth with a 4000 square foot home hoarded with boxes of stuff and made sure that in her will she didn’t have to ‘share’.
This video saddens me on some level, because here we have John speaking nobly of the idea of “return”, yet in much of his current writing I see more of the “college-educated white American dream” that he seems a bit derisive of in this snippet. I wonder what happened to this question for him….
Having said that, there really is no choice within American society for the “individuals of color” who would lead their people—they’ve all been imprisoned, assassinated, exiled, or absorbed into academia or the business realm—so it ends up being a rhetorical question, a moot point. Nonetheless, it unfortunately still equates to only one answer: The motivation is based in ideas of willfully destroying a foreign culture, or else in a pre-conceived skewed notion of the non-equivalence of that culture to begin with despite anything stated to the contrary by the one so motivated.
One of my finds from working at the Strand bookstore many years ago was an atlas published in 1947 by the Garden City Publishing Company, from Garden City, New York. It reveals the map as it has been historically understood: A guide for conquerors, usurpers, and imperialists. Here are the redrawn maps of a post-World War II world; here are the maps of natural resources; here is the hugely offensive list of the “Races of Mankind”, with bronze statues attributed to the sculptor Malvina Hoffman.
Most bizarre but hugely telling is the inclusion of all of the cradles of civilization—Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece—under the racial heading “White Stock”. I mean, wasn’t one of the things supposedly conquered during the Second World War the idea of Aryan superiority? This willful mislabeling is small consolation after living one’s life with a decidely different perception of one’s ethnicity.
It is of course necessary to understand this work in the context of its times, but in rereading the introduction to the “Races” section of the atlas I am struck by how similar in tone many adoption blogs are to the overt and covert messages conveyed here in how they describe the place of origin of the child in their care: The nameless noble savage; local “hospitality” in a foreign town; the infantilized native; the quite separate “scale of values”; the belief in anthropological “honest purpose”.
To notice too is how the racist tropes of the wily, backstabbing, theatrical native have been made into virtues in the face of the foreigner; the interloping white man or woman is painted as needing to accept this reaction to his or her presence as if that presence doesn’t in and of itself have consequences that might lead to such a reaction. It is mind-boggling that today this is still the basis for much of Western mediation of the rest of the planet.
Quoting Malvina Hoffman: “When we live with these children of the jungle, or the desert, we are amazed to find them so full of humor and natural intelligence, so human.” This could so appear on any blog of any P/AP, it’s really rather disturbing.
And so adoption becomes a kind of slumming, like my adoptive father’s forays into an alien Harlem that he knew he could always “go home from”. And so the motivation becomes the thrill of a new place gained at the child’s lost one; the dipping into a culture temporarily and superficially given the understanding that it is sub-par to begin with; the trophy collected from a foreign land, no different from a stuffed antelope, or a pinned butterfly, or a caged tiger.
[Full blog entry on the atlas here: http://tinyurl.com/adoption-race ]
OMG, John Riable is so hot…
Okay someone had to say it.
It is kind of sad because I think 95% of adoptive parents don’t give a shit and are acting to fulfill their own needs and sometimes even profit by becoming “experts” on Single parents adopting from China or whatever, and I see these smart and caring and earnest adoptees and it just makes me sad that I think their caring is misplaced.
We all learn and grow, if we are lucky.