I’d like to touch back on to two discussions we’ve had so far, one on nature vs. nurture as posited by Snow Leopard, and the other one having to do with Russian adoptions, and the idea of a second-best race-based adoption, i.e., one that does not (seemingly) require those adopting from having to mythologize their ability to raise a transracially or transculturally adopted child.
The reason I think this deserves more focus in terms of Russian adoptees is that from the web sites that I’ve seen on so-called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), the majority of the children so diagnosed seem to come from predominantly “white-identified” countries: Russia and Eastern Europe, read: those places deemed as deserving salvation from Soviet-era “Godless Communism”.
Much of the RAD diagnosis is focused not on the adoption itself, but instead on the child as manifesting an “illness” that needs to be corrected via a variety of therapies physical and psychological that I believe would constitute torture if performed on prisoners of war, as defined by the Geneva Convention.
So much of the discussion that needs to be had here seemingly can’t be had, if only because at first glance we are not dealing with a question of “racism”. I would like to challenge this, while also pointing out that the notion of “adoption” is just as culturally specific as the psychological diagnosis of RAD, along with the racism implied.
I make reference here to the article entitled: “The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning With Unconscious Racism”, written by Charles R. Lawrence III in the Stanford Law Review. He states:
Much of one’s inability to know racial discrimination when one sees it results from a failure to recognize that racism is both a crime and a disease. This failure is compounded by a reluctance to admit that the illness of racism infects almost everyone. Acknowledging and understanding the malignancy are prerequisites to the discovery of an appropriate cure. But the diagnosis is difficult, because our own contamination with the very illness for which a cure is sought impairs our comprehension of the disorder….
Americans share a common historical and cultural heritage in which racism has played and still plays a dominant role. Because of this shared experience, we also inevitably share many ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that attach significance to an individual’s race and induce negative feelings and opinions about nonwhites. To the extent that this cultural belief system has influenced all of us, we are all racists. At the same time, most of us are unaware of our racism. We do not recognize the ways in which our cultural experience has influenced our beliefs about race or the occasions on which those beliefs affect our actions. In other words, a large part of the behavior that produces racial discrimination is influenced by unconscious racial motivation.
The article speaks of the difference between a “dominative racist” who willingly wishes to keep others in a racially subordinate position, and the “aversive racist” who represses such feelings of racial superiority, which manifest themselves in seemingly “positive” ways. I think this dovetails nicely into the previous item about humanitarian imperialism, in which the now taboo ideas of colonialism, Orientalism, subjugation, and outright occupation find expression in a literally “politically correct” manner.
In terms of adoption, it reveals an even more pernicious racism than that which happens with more obviously transracially adopted children. Meaning, it might be possible to state that there is more pressure on a racially similar child to “be” part of the family, and that the lack of such pressure on racially dissimilar children reflects a racially defined “distance” from the child, a child who was perhaps adopted in the first place to assuage feelings of guilt concerning such “aversive” racism. To further explain: There is an explicit racism in thinking that a “similar-race” child should bond more easily than a child seen as transracially adopted, and this manifests itself by attempts at forcing such a bond on a child.
I remember my adoptive father often referring to my likes and interests as “alien” to him, and there was often a joking accusation that I “chose” them in order to go “against” him. Things he might have wanted for me never resonated with me (not that I didn’t try them). But what does it mean to say to a child that they chose to “be” a certain way in order to rebel or retaliate? How much more undermining of an already precarious sense of self? Beyond this, what does it mean as an adoptive parent to enforce such likes, or to remove oneself from the equation entirely?
I wonder to what extent adoptive parents are “let down” by children whose “nature” will not conform to the parents’ “nurture”. Meaning, is there a spectrum of dealing with this that is reflected in the distance of physical similarity of the child to the adoptive parent? A vestigial repressed racism would say, “this child is not like me, is obviously reverting to ‘type’, and so I can disassociate myself from him/her and his/her actions”. The flip side of this very same racism would say, “this child, closer to me in terms of physical appearance, must be forced to reflect such nurturing”, and thus the heinous therapies of RAD which have led to much in the way of physical and psychological harm to children.
From this I would be willing to state that race-similar children, not having the obvious physical “difference” to rely on—i.e., a kind of “safety valve” of obvious difference—might likewise go further in their “resistance” to the adoption, and against those they are compelled to “be like”. In such a light, RAD might better be stated as an acronym that stands for “Resistance Against Domination”, and should be categorized with similar resistances, and supported as such.
I’m not doing justice to this referenced article, but include it in order to provide at least a modicum of background to the following question: I’d like to ask the adoptees here how this notion of “alienation” has played out for them. Has the accusation of being willfully “alien” ever presented itself in terms of your adoptive families? To what extent, and in what relation to your similarity to/difference from how they self-identify?
Expanding out from there, how might it be possible to raise awareness about or otherwise intercede concerning children who are forced to undergo “therapies” to correct their supposed lack of attachment? What does it even mean, in and of itself, that such diagnoses and “therapies” exist in the same culture that gave us adoption in the first place?