I’d like to ask a question here that reflects a concept that has come up from time to time, but as is often the case, it is overshadowed by our focus on race and ethnicity in terms of transracial/transcultural/transnational adoption. That concept is one of the division of class.
I’ve been thinking about it more and more as we’ve been talking about thinks like “karma”, and “luck”, and “doom”; there seems to be a resignation that we are unable to cross the divides that separate us from our various families.
I have to say that a focus on class (as opposed to race in my adoptive context, and opposed to sect in my original/birth context) helps me get my head around divisions in society that are often (I think wrongly) ascribed to these differences in race or sect, for example.
I wonder how far this would take us if we were to truly concentrate on class difference which both explains our adoption in terms of inequality of social groups, as well as our perceived inability to “go home”, or “reunite”, or what have you, due to the “luxury” and “privilege” that our adoption gave us, or to fit in to an adoptive society due to our origins.
I say this just having been given some clues by my orphanage that for now lead me to perhaps the single most densely populated, most marginalized and impoverished square kilometer in all of Lebanon outside of the Palestinian refugee camps. Am I ready for a reunion that might come of this? Hardly. It frightens me to death.
I think of the documentaries I’ve watched about reunion, and the response of adoptees acculturated into a class far afield from their “origins”: Daughter From Da Nang; Children of the Cedars, etc. I watch these and can’t help but be embarrassed for the adoptees herein, as they are evidently startled by the reality of where they likely come from.
And even though I’ve been living most of these past eight years “class-wise” among those similar to those I most likely come from, the idea of reunion is deeply yearned for yet petrifies me at the same time, mostly because it will come perhaps with duties and responsibilities or, as Susan stated in another topic, a lot of grief and tenuous connections.
At the same time I feel more and more the “expulsion” of my adoptive culture, as I visit the States, having brought back with me the “taint” of my new acculturation.
So I’d like to throw this out in the open as another differential to consider. On top of the lines and divisions of race, ethnicity, and culture is that of class. Is it possible to cross this line? Does thinking about it and attempting to cross it bring us anywhere closer to a resolution of our condition?
Thank you for sharing your honesty with yourself, with us. Most of what you ask you have answered many times in the articles you have written…..but I guess to know something, acquire knowledge of and to study, analyze, critique and dissect facts are quite different to actually feeling it, to thoroughly understand and to experience it. To feel what you know, in other words. My question is this, yes there are class divides which are socially construed for the benefit of a few, but at the end of the day we are all humans, so why would one human (or a group of humans) who have been subjected into a situation of not of their own choice and hence categorized to be in this or that class frighten us? Is it more a sense of a familiar shame that one has been brought up to feel, of knowing where we are from, perhaps? To me I see that as us having been ‘whitewashed’, and the colonialists achieving what they had set out to achieve – namely, a continues divide amongst people based on fear. When I went to Bangladesh for the first time in some 30 plus, plus years, I saw nothing but humanity in the eyes of those beautiful people in the slums, on the streets, the pavements, my orphanage. Minus the horrid surroundings, I just saw people in their own right to be. I couldn’t stop myself from hugging and kissing the children, stroking their arms and cheeks and they were so receptive. Poor people or shall I say people in general do not scare me, it’s more those who have an insatiable greed and sense of entitlement above others that do and I have been adopted into those groups, but I refuse to allow them to distort my views and feelings towards my people, and people whom they have subjected into poverty. I do not know what kind of family I’ll find and family affairs will be something I’ll deal with when the time comes, if it ever does……I remain forever hopeful that it does……..and maybe then I’ll have another story to tell :}
This is a complicated question because the elements of class and social acceptance can be subtle and go both ways. In my Japanese family I am an outsider always for reasons that I am not allowed to know…but I know that I cannot be enrolled on the family line.
For my Cuban family, the revolution had a devastating affect but it seems to me that some of them still hold a class belief that places me beneath them…I am mixed blood. To be Japanese is not a good thing, for them.
Part of class consideration stems from outsider status arising from mixing blood.
Growing up in the America I did put me in a different world where different values about racial mixing were in play. I was acceptable to my adoptive family in a way that was not possible in either of my families of origin.
Further, on both sides my original families were in some ways of higher status than my adoptive family which was solidly middle class.
I am really intrigued by this obvious projection of racism and race purity based on class; thanks for sharing that. The “exceptional case” that ends up proving a given hypothesis is very interesting….
I think you’re on to something there, Dhaka. When my brother sold items for charities for poor at-risk youth he discovered he was hard pressed to convince anyone upper class to make purchases which didn’t benefit themselves, while he had no problems in low class neighborhoods who might personally know others in need and who felt empathy for them.
There comes with class a removal from witnessing or experiencing need, and with that a distancing from humanity. Crossing the class divide means charity, which connotes a benevolence that the privileged are gifting and bestowing upon the lowly, vs. a true understanding of their human condition. Sympathy and empathy are two entirely different positions, and class privilege can severely limit sympathy and empathy is not possible.
My mother was actually afraid of people of color, and yet she adopted one. (and there were also degrees of fear based on color, and I believe my being in the middle of the spectrum made that stretch easier) By adopting me she bestowed on me some whiteness as well. Through grooming and acculturation to our middle class existence I would no longer be one of “them.” The scariness could be eliminated. The denial of my race did not originate with me: I feel instead that a new race was created for me – that white+ that I’ve spoken of earlier: raised white with the plus of being exotic, minus all those pesky things that make everyone else of my race scarey.
Transracial/international adoption often falls into such a benevolence. Or, it is filling a need that benefits themselves. I, too, question what is admirable in that. The humanity is missing from that scenario.
Now, my family was middle class. Adoption is an expensive proposition both financially and emotionally which requires largess, and is more within the means of the upper class, so I think it is also often a means of enhancing one’s status in society.
Inversely, as in Mark’s biracial case, abandoning children is sometimes due to jettisoning what can be seen as a social status and class liability.
It really is all very complicated. I think of the Hutus and Tutsis who lived harmoniously together for ages being thrown into odds when wealthy colonists introduced the idea that one ethnicity was better than the other, and that mixing was pollution. Others more academic than myself analyze these things, but I’ve no doubt that imperial external influences (In other words, global exploitation) introduced new paradigms of class climbing that irrevocably warped our homelands’ sense of identity and community, of which we transracial/transnational adoptees are a direct result.
I don’t know if we can ever truly cross that divide. We can visit, but once we have left there is truly no way back. We are caught between cultures and races and ethnicity and class. All of it are intertwined.
I think of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and this scene where the assimilated Sioux Indian, Charles Eastman, argues with his benefactor for a more enlightened approach regarding his people — a people that can not relate to him, due to his class, his status, and his white ways…
Charles Eastman: I am acting in the interest of my people, following the example you set for me.
Henry Dawes: Do you really think you know better than I what is in the interest of these people?
Charles Eastman: Yes. I am one of them, Senator.
Henry Dawes: You’re no more a Sioux Indian than I am.
It’s the truth. That he can never go back eventually destroys him.
Perhaps the only resolution is a recognition that we are a new species? And we create our own world where humanity comes first and class distinctions are not allowed.
Girl4708, you make an interesting point, which really gets at the complicated root of authenticity – what is authentic, and more importantly who is authentic? When you ask this question in conjunction with class, you begin to realize authenticity becomes defined by class, and class becomes defined by the group at the top of Bourdieu’s social space. For American Indians, our class setting in the dominant culture has come about because we have been classified through history as “enemies of the state” – we have the land and the resources which “they” want. Therefore, to weaken our position in the social space we are labeled as “troublemakers”, “drunkards”, “promiscuous” and the like. If we accept that, as has happened and is illustrated by so many of the social ills that plague Native communities, “they” have indeed succeeded in weakening us and hoping to break us from our culture entirely, including the land. The children during the 1950s and 1960s were part of this active weaking – take the children away, place them permanently into white homes – they will assimilate, Close their records, they can’t find their way back. The tribes lose the next generation, and in doing so will grow even more weak. Weakness didn’t happen as easily as initially conceived, however, what adoption did was to create a chasm that is difficult for so many to cross. In the White world, as adoptees, we have accumulated and exchanged social and cultural capital to attain a higher level in the social space – we have gone to the better schools, received a Western education, connected with a social network of people who may or may not assist us in our climb upward and own things (cars and houses) that recognizes a certain amount of status. However, we have NEVER been able to get into the higher status because we have the wrong skin color. But those things I just mentioned? The schools, the cars, the Rolex, the social network – this means NOTHING in the Native world. When we attempt to return to our tribes we have no social capital, we have no cultural capital, we have nothing that is recognized as status in the Native world. And for so many adoptees, because of our closed adoptions, we don’t even have access to families. That class chasm we have difficulty in crossing was actively placed there by non-Native policy makers that sought to weaken the Native cultural system. Native societies, however, remain steadfast; adoptees remain apart from. That’s the aspect that needs to be addressed. It feels like class, it looks like class, but it smells like manipulation.
I think part of what is “frightening” is the fact that the divide is not straddle-able, meaning, it is constructed in such a way that you are on one side or you are on the other, and maybe you can travel between the two sides, but you can’t be both.
I have been traveling a bit stateside visiting family and I am more and more horrified by the abject depression that I see in the Northeast, now a rust belt. Am I just more sensitized to it now because of how I live in Lebanon? Or is it just more striking for having been absent from it?
Yesterday I spent the day at the community college where a friend I grew up with works. She was asking for my help because a full third of students in the college come from Arabic-speaking families. They are scrambling to “make it” via education and language skills. But I ask now: what does “making it” even mean?
Walking around Jersey City was nice, in that I was easily “lost” there, but at the same time it is also easy to see the former assimilation machine of immigration stops at a certain point on the color spectrum, and the System as it were is more interested in forming maintainable ghettoes. Constant striving becomes a replacement for actual living.
This echoes rather readily what Susan is describing above concerning Native populations, and I am at a loss as to how to navigate this divide here where I grew up much less there where I find myself now. My “fear” of finding family I think is partially based in the idea that I would be required to “choose” a side.
But I am also intrigued by this idea of Girl4708’s “new species”; that it might be possible to force a straddling, and in so doing, effect positive change for both sides.
First, it is heartening (if in a perverse way) to hear your noting of affective depression in the Rust Belt. I would say what you are seeing is the haggard face of the American dream. According to the Human Happiness Index, the United States is 150th (out of 187–the Democratic Republic of Congo is dead last). One problem of this index is that Palestine is higher on the list than the US–I call this a problem because, if this list makes things “so good” for Palestine, then they don’t need any help. I’d rather say, knowing in part how things are in Palestine, if it is some 120 ticks higher than the US on this scale, then what does that say about mired, sunken darkness we live in? No wonder I want to emigrate. (Vietnam is currently #2, which validates my sense of the Vietnamese people as a happy bunch. People have issues with this measure, but then GDP is equally problematic if little criticized. Apparently the US has paid someone to adjust how happiness is measured, because per one UN widget, we’re #4–the same as our Human Development Index, which has nothing to do with happiness.)
As a “new species,” I suspect that our position as a “child who knows otherwise than the pious doxa that ‘family is everything'” puts us in a position of being in effect a new species–our experience of having been “aliens” already gives us a running head start. The challenge, as aliens, arises in overcoming a language barrier. (Cue Stanislaw Lem’s “His Master’s Voice” and all the problems of translating an alien message from the stars.) Everyone assumes her language is the same as anyone else’s but “dialectical differences” can make this problematic. It might be that we are in a better position to know BOTH the standard dialect and also the dialect of the adoptee (though there is no guarantee we ever figured this out)–at a minimum, we are confronted by a need to translate what we say (if we’re going to bother at all; self-organization and self-liberation might be a better use of creativity in Girl’s sense).
I think the class divide is just more striking because you have been absent from it. Or, rather, maybe your eyes were not as open when you were residing in your parent’s comfortable home. I personally don’t believe the struggle between the haves and have-nots ever has or ever will change, though revolutions are analogous to cleansing by fire. We are currently just at a peak in one oscillation of the sine wave of history is all. My blasé attitude is based on innumerable accounts throughout history in all manner of societies and civilizations risen and collapsed. The colonists or the haves will always marginalize the once-hads or have-nots for fear of losing their booty/entitlements. And each native or immigrant population will bear the brunt of that marginalization until a new, easier mark arrives whereupon the earlier mark can begin to establish themselves. This seems to happen in any society that grows large enough to lose its sense of community. Patronizing attitudes by the haves can morph into class guilt and then into sanctimonious false benevolence. Transracial/transnational adoption is symptomatic of a house in chaos (the dominant west lacking community) thinking it can bring order to other people’s (marginalized nations losing community) houses…
Tobias Hubinette gets credit for referring to adoptees as a unique species, not me. Actually, he talks about us as a dying species. In his distopian vision, (if I interpret it correctly, which I might not) we are doomed to die out in one generation due to assimilation or the inability to breed due to dispersion. His vision is now and is literal, because in white Sweden where color blindness is truly a lie and adoptees kill themselves in record numbers, the stark difference of our presence embodies what being an alien species looks like. This is where art and life converge to disturb and change perspective and make us question the ethics of this sometimes but often not always so great experiment.
I don’t think dying is accurate, as I don’t believe this practice of transracial adoption is going to stop anytime soon, for as long as the haves desire for the children of the have-nots new orphans will be created. (and one never hears of the haves being a source for children…hmm…) Nor are we a species that needs to breed to proliferate, due to this class difference/exploitation. If anything, it is a growing population. But we are a sub-species in the sense we all share common traits created by common pressures.
While I don’t believe it is possible for us to “force” anything, I do believe (because we do stand/live on that wall that divides everything) our “straddling” is compelling and can be provocative. For many of us, we were adopted intentionally by our socially-minded parents to do just that, though it’s obvious they had no clue how simplistic those intentions were.
For those of us who are both introspective and socially minded yet resilient enough to have not killed ourselves, there is certainly species-specific knowledge we can share and pass on. I guess the question in my mind is, will the classes on either side of the wall pause long enough to listen to what we have to say, when our voices are so divided and we can’t provide a model for community ourselves? We must do better in that regard.
As class divisions fuel racial and sectarian violence and imminent seeming Armageddon on the nightly news and globalization complicates everything so we’ve no idea where problems begin, I think those of us who have been broadcast far from our origins can be leaders in bringing appreciation of the essential by creating family and community where there was none. (which is what we do for survival of our species) In this way, maybe we can clear and enjoy a classless space for a brief moment in time.
Added: And by “model of community” I am thinking virtual adoptee community. But in the later paragraph I am thinking of our immediate locality where class divisions are manifest and where intention can be made real through action.
SL: This local depression upsets me on two levels. First, on its depth and the despair of it. Second, on how much I regret my acculturation that forced me to ignore it, or blame those who were of it/in it. Tobias’s notion of a “doomed species” is not misplaced. This is where i find it absolutely incumbent on us to make common cause with others similarly displaced and dispossessed.
G4708: I feel that selfconsciousness in replying to a “small point” in a long post, because it seems to suggest that the whole post requires no response. Obviously, that’s not what I intend.
I was struck by your parenthetical remark: “and one never hears of the haves being a source for children…hmm…”
Maybe I’m missing something, but in the US, the haves were not infrequently the source for children, but none of them were (in general) legitimate or acknowledged children.
My adoptive father originally told me (the story he’d been told) that my biological parents werer a “good Catholic couple in their early 20s, who simply couldn’t afford a child at the time”. I don’t remember when he told me that (i.e., how old I was–even earlier my parents had made clear I am adopted) and I also don’t remember ever really believing the story. Recently, I pretended I didn’t remember the above and asked him about my biological parents again, and he told me “your mother was a registered nurse in Seattle and your father played football for the University of Washington” (which is in Seattle). There’s no indication these pair are a “couple” (much less a good one in their early 20s who simply couldn’t afford to raise a child at the time–although one can fold the story stories together). in any case, this second story has a much louder ring of truth to me. An RN and UW football player in 1966 probably have some “have” about them, but to the extent that this was a story told to my father in 1966, the possibility remains that the “real truth” is my biological mother could have been facing a scandal if she had a baby, etc.
But maybe this is all gratuitous autobiography on the basic point that amorous peccadilloes of the well-heeled have long provided professional adopters with grist for doing business. However …
Maybe someone has some statistics on this, but I’d wager there’s some vainglorious conceit in tending to imagine we “come from wealth”–the equivalent of those pathetic genealogical gestures whereby people claim descent from some famous ancestor (perhaps almost inevitably through some illegitimate line). This is obviously a lingering class-distinction–as if being descended (even illegitimately) from royalty makes on really an aristocrat; fire up the Galtonesque eugenics conceits now. Or are we already really mutts (not that I dislike mutts). The Prince and the Pauper myth or switched at birth provides a more earthly alternative to extraterrestrial origins.
The thing about ‘class divide’ is that all adoptee’s in reunion experience it at one point or another……whether or not they notice it is another thing all together……
I feel like a postscript is in order. I asked this question in 2012; I had come to the end of my job at the university I was working at thanks to colleagues “of a certain class” who could not handle someone heading in a path so completely the antithesis of their career trajectories. By that I mean to say I was using Arabic in the classroom instead of English, was seeking out local politics and frameworks as opposed to European ones, and was bringing students to the Palestinian camps, to engage with the bedouin in the Bekaa Valley, and otherwise ramping up the work I had started with an artists’ collective I founded. For this they unanimously voted not to promote me.
Once the reality of the knife in my back sunk in, I threw caution to the wind and completely rejected both this class in terms of the local there but also in terms of my acculturation in the States. By this time I was more or less completely integrated into my “down-and-out” neighborhood, and was quite comfortable there. This was quite freeing, and a lot of my later writing points out that I think this is a valid pathway for adoptees to follow in order to free themselves of the class constraints that endeavor to police how they think, feel, and speak. It turns out I was from a different class-enemy of the state, one no less slated for departure. I often joke with adoptees who find out they are Palestinian that I’m jealous of them—so in a weird way there was also a bit of wishful thinking there too.