5 thoughts on “Have we created an adoptee ghetto?

    • I’d like to think so! The reasons I ask this slightly rhetorically are based in a perhaps overthinking of things. I put it up there as a kind of subtle warning against complacency. To explain though. I’m summarizing many different theoretical discussions, but basically within the study of power differentials, whether in terms of colonialism, Orientalism, racism, classism, etc., there is a “rut” that awaits in which a kind of pride or notion of community allows a sub-group to collect itself, express itself, but again, as a “subset” of what is considered the status quo.

      And so ethnic studies, or “Pride”, or discussion groups such as this one. At a conference I attended last year, the statement was made semi-jokingly that the “solution” to adoption was to only allow it to take place in major urban centers in which “Adopteetowns” would be set up. The audience laughed; I was horrified by the idea that we might “self-ghettoize” this way. I see it happening in different online groups, and even within adopted ethnicities.

      And so here I think we’ve broken through this by including a variety of origins, a variety of opinions, an expansive view of what we are discussing in terms of what it means to be displaced or dispossessed. Is it enough? Am I overthinking things?

  1. To have “Adopteetowns” is horrifying and *does* remind me of the Warsaw ghetto. Why should we be set apart? What does this mean? On the one hand, I suppose it just foregrounds the obvious: that we are different and should be marked as such, per the “powers that be.” Ghettoization strips away the smoke and mirrors of much adoption rhetoric, while simultaneously displaying the societal violence that many of us see visited upon us. And others celebrate it! Quite confusing.

    I do feel that other rhetorical gambits are used to “ghettoize” us, in terms of insisting that we only talk about our *own* experiences; that we use only certain language; that we don’t question certain givens about what adoption can be (an acceptable means of family building, a form of reproductive justice, a feminist act, an extension of gay rights, and so on).

    I wish that I could say that there were a solid adoptee community to which I belonged, but as strongly as ever, I am marginal. Some would say this is by choice. I would say by belief and integrity, as well. I have discovered more common cause with other groups of late than with adoptees. I do not feel that you’re overthinking things at all.

    • I agree. The notion of “-town” reminds me so much of American hyphenations of ethnicity. They can be kind of benign, like in Chinatown, or they can be an epithet, like that which got Jesse Jackson in trouble when he was describing New York City. But they are all based on a norm and a status quo that one is not a part of: All-American in the case of ethnic abbreviation, there is no equivalent in terms of place that I can think of. I mean, no one calls the Upper East Side of Manhattan “All-American-Town”. It just is.

      There is a great book by Gilbert Osofsky called Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto which speaks of the economic and political forces that created a ghetto out of what was a community. There are problems with the book, in how it ignores the attempts at creating truly Black cultural institutions during the Harlem Renaissance. But I think here is the lesson to learn: The literary and cultural elites were divided between directing themselves inward, or else directing themselves at an audience outside of their community. For various reasons, the latter idea prevailed, and we have things like minstrelsy to show for it.

      I do think we do a good job of “letting it all hang out” here. I do like our little community. I’m just thinking that learning from history can help us out as well. How to keep expanding out, and avoiding a kind of reductive read on things? Time will of course tell. But I think we have a good start.

  2. Some reflections:

    I’d want to be sure to distinguish between a ghetto, which seems forced, enforced, or coerced, versus a -town (Chinatown, Adopteetown), which is more autonomous or self-established, though of course in part because ethnocentrism requires the Other to be apart from the mainstream.

    Both of these terms, of course, are oriented around assimilation: the ghetto being where “that which shall not be assimilated” is quarantined, while the -town is those who “refuse” to assimilate reside (again, in part because assimilation is refused to those who won’t assimilate in the right way).

    The nonrecognition of any Africatown (much less a Ghanatown or Congotown or Ethiopiatown, &c) is significant in this regard, and I imagine is at the heart of that mentioned book tracing the creation of the ghetto of Harlem from what was a community.

    Whatever limited access to prosperity those in a -town have compared to more fully assimilated or white people (in the United States), there seems to be more ability to “live a full life” than in a ghetto. This doesn’t mean you can’t live a full life—Palestine is more a ghetto than a –town—but it is more a case of living a full life “in spite of” rather than because there is an infrastructure (s in a –town) that actively supports that.

    The problem of ghettoization is that it is an integral part of neoliberalism. The community of Harlem had to be made into a ghetto so it could then be gentrified. I don’t know to what extent, say, Chinatown in San Francisco has resisted gentrification (because it pre-resisted ghettoization)?

    Imagining –towns in this way, it could legitimately function as an enclave within the larger body politic. The question my then be asked whether, having “landed” here, is the Devil’s Bargain of the –town more advantageous generally than the Devil’s Bargain of assimilation? And if the answer is a tentative yes, then we are not creating a ghetto here.

    A –town, however much it distinguishes itself as a presence, asserts its presence within the body politic; moreover, it is something recognized by the wider body politic, if through food tourism, sex trade, or whatnot—nonetheless, it is recognized. The ghetto, by contrast, is a place never visited and effectively is not accorded any reality, except by the police who harass it. A –town does not accept the definition of marginalization, even as it keeps to itself and takes no account of the wider social milieu. By contrast, the ghetto, when it manages to scrape up the resources and the time to raise its voice in protest, accepts its definition s marginalized, excluded. I’m being touch ideological here, but I think that identifying oneself s marginalized is a gesture of self-ghettoization. We are always already present as member of the social, as human beings—accepting the power-over designation of hegemonic culture that we (or anyone) is marginalized denies that always already presentness of a person or people—and that’s where ghettoization resides, or begins.

    To the extent that we do not exclude ourselves from the social world—by a web presence—whether we do or do not take specific account of the world means that we are not ghettoizing ourselves.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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