Redressing the Second Offense

In a previous post, I asked what strategies we have discovered for addressing those sorts of occasions when we find ourselves face-to-face with with people expressing “opinions” (they almost always call them opinions) that dehumanize, wound, or reprise in the present patterns of abuse associated with our experience of adoption that occurred in the past. At the time of writing this, Mirella Warren had offered to the value of asserting and maintaining boundaries.

By “address” I meant specifically in what ways we might confront or field or blunt the effect of such encounters. Beyond this, we have also the (social) project to “redress” these offenses as well.

Mirella’s previous response managed to anticipate this point, and she proposed starting a blog as a way to redress the offense. I see in that context how the typically unequal power dynamics between the minority or subaltern voice (in this case, the adopted) relative to the dominant voice or narrative at least has the means of ultimately controlling the content of the discourse, even if specific interactions with commentators to the blog at times reek of the dominant narrative. In one’s blog, the playing field seems evened in a compensatory sense, even when still not absolutely level.

My purpose in asking how can we address offenses, however, did not intend only to point at the content of the offense–the specific claims about adoption or whatnot that a speaker makes–but rather to the character of the interaction in which those assertions occur, to how the dominant narrative addresses me and us.

Similarly, in asking here how we may redress these offenses, I do not mean to point only to how we might, for example, get more accurate information out into the world that counteracts the ignorant or innocent misinformation regularly bandied about, but more to what means we might identify for redressing the dismissiveness of the dominant discourse, or, more precisely, to counteract the claim on the part of the dominant discourse of a right to control and frame how the discourse gets discussed.

This obviously suggests a solution: to arrogate to ourselves the right to control and frame how the discourse gets discussed. We might further fret if anyone should arrogate such a “right,” or whether we reproduce undesirable dynamics by such a gesture. We might debate and contend over this point in multiple ways. I don’t ignore that. Already, the hierarchical inequality of subaltern and altern in culture guarantees that subaltern “arrogation” does not function in the same way or even socially mean the same thing as “altern arrogating,” just as claims (typically by whites) about “reverse discrimination” are almost invariably ridiculousness and disingenuous.

Meanwhile, in the actual construction and maintenance of a public structure like a blog, we grant to ourselves that means (normally arrogated only to members of the dominant discourse) for framing the content of that discourse on our blog. In our action of doing this in itself, and not so much whatever interactions we have with people on our blogs, do I see the gesture of redress.

What are others?

4 thoughts on “Redressing the Second Offense

    • Can you describe that in more detail. What sort of circumstances?

      The act of speaking itself can feel empowering (and so redresses the offense) but does not necessarily provide a protection against the derogation of that spoken truth in the presence of others. Once it becomes that kind of back-and-forth dialogue in a face-to-face setting, I would see that as addressing the offense, in the terms I’m trying out.

      So far I’ve said that arrogating to myself the right to frame the content of the discourse entails one way to redress the offense; speaking truth to power, without power behind the speaking, doesn’t create an environment of redress yet.

      I don’t mean to provide a bunch of irrelevant gloss on your comment if I’ve misunderstood something. This all means to contextualize what I meant when I asked, “Could you please say more.”

      • I somehow missed your inquiry and apologize for not responding sooner. Having read your “Address” and “Redress” posts, this is a bit long, and I apologize for that as well…

        At the outset, I may have a perspective different from yours relative to “new” versus “old” wounds that might be addressed. While I don’t believe one’s primary trauma(s) are subject to a “cure” or that they go away, I do believe one can discharge pain rather than continue to suffer it in silence and that any present-time pain I may experience which is triggered by discourse related to adoption is a “new” trauma. Although “I was adopted”, suggesting a past event that is now non-existent, adoption sure the heck is part of my current state of being

        We adoptees were led to believe ourselves powerless. In addition to the universal childhood dependence on those who provide the young with food and shelter, we had a direct tie with “adoption” and, through immersion in the culture of our upbringing, were were raised in an environment that included the belief in adoption as a good thing — we were provided and adoptee-specific kicker: “so-be-thankful”. Any power/agency we might have been in the process of developing was significantly undermined by the noble lie of “adoption-is-a-good-thing”, a myth expressed through stories of saved-children which helps many involved in the adoption industry feel good about themselves.

        In relation to the adoption discourse, our power/agency was nearly eradicated through the “so-be-thankful” line, a message left largely implicit both at home and society-wide. That we need give thanks, that we must pay homage and must now and forever more kiss tuckus will almost invariably be stated outright should one of us speak our truth to the noble lie. We can then expect to be the target of great ire, and violent words will used in an attempt to silence us. I think this is because our voice is not just challenging the noble lie — by speaking our truth we are attacking the essence of those who would attempt to silence us since they have the noble lie fully incorporated into the core of their self-image.

        I may be entirely full of it, but I think “we the powerless” hurt them. If we did not have this capability, there would be a lot less time and energy spent trying to get us to “come into line”.

        So anyway, about the “Redress”… No matter the framing (as an attorney, I know that framing the question often leads to one single answer), I suggest not playing by the rules. Ignore them. Be shocking. Challenge those who may say you can’t blame adopters if they acted with good intent by saying: “Why not? Not only Can I blame them, I DO blame them. They Should be blamed because they were the primary actors and should be accountable for their behaviors just as I have been expected to be accountable for what I do.”

        One might also be directly jarring. Here is an excerpt from one of my responses to a “pro-adoption” post through which an individual seemed to be extolling their virtue as understanding adoptees should not be expected to be “thankful”:

        To provide a “whack on the side of the head” (à la Roger von Oech), I suggest that one fundamental issue to be considered is why some individuals feel compelled to adopt as opposed to either changing social structures that result in “unwanted” babies or providing support directly to birth parents. Rather than pathologize the “others”, whether they be ‘irresponsible’ birth parents or unruly/angry adoptees, perhaps the adoptors might be scrutinized. Another issue of interest might relate to infertile couples who (again, apparently) feel compelled to “have a child of their own”. What pathology underlies their desire(s)?

        Yes. I am being outrageous, unreasonable, rude and perhaps even cruel… But —

        There is one basic question adopters or adopter-wannabes might ask themselves: Do they expect the object(s) of their desire to be (exclude the judgmental “should be”) so very grateful for the purported love and compassion that the object(s) repay it in kind? If the answer be “Yes”, I would suggest they select a pet rock rather than a human being.

        I don’t think either of the above methods will “fix” anything, but it has and will stimulate thought…


  1. The “speaking of our Truths” statement makes sense to me, but probably because it readily maps onto projects I’ve been involved with here that follow a similar framework, usually on behalf of Palestinians both in refugee camps here in Lebanon or within Occupied Palestine.

    Rosemary Sayegh [link]‎ for one has done a lot of work in which she catalogs testimonies from older generations in order to create a body of recorded memory. South Africa did something similar during its national reconciliation; Steven Spielberg worked on a similar project among Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide with his Shoah Visual History Foundation.

    I cite these because despite their noble intentions, they fail when in fact they provide a “setting aside” of history to allow for a neo-liberalism to take shape (the case of South Africa) or when they underpin the efforts of nascent imperial projects and tend toward historical revisionism (the case of Spielberg’s project [see Norman Finkelstein, among others: link]).

    Rosemary Sayegh, in her paper I link to, talks about “Palestinian-ness” in terms of “soft” and “hard” identities; those taken on by one’s self, and those assigned by an authority of some kind. Amin Maalouf speaks of something similar in his book Les Identités Meurtrières (In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong) where he says that when an identity is targeted, it rises to the fore.

    I don’t abide by his Lebanese bourgeois notions of “hybrid” identity, but there is something interesting to explore here, especially when I depressingly see Syrian migrant workers here in Lebanon identifying with the local bourgeois/urban class (along sectarian/religious lines) instead of with any “cause” linked to their class position and oppression.

    We are caught in a paradox in which focusing on an “identity” (as adoptees, as an ethnicity, as a race, etc.) we splinter. A scattered ball of mercury might be a better analogy; the “pieces” spread, morph, regroup, and await the next attempt to “pin them down”. That such categorization maps 100% onto every ignoble political and economic oppression—as mentioned in the above examples—should give us pause.

    I feel somehow the answer is to deny such splintering, not in a “color-blind” sense, but in focusing on the economic and political pressures that exacerbate such identification. Instead on focusing on the ball of mercury, we focus on the hand/finger trying to pin it down. This requires a denial of one’s class position, as well as a dis-affectation along identity lines. I’m not going to be the one who says this is even possible.

    Because in a heated discussion during Ramadan at my street corner, I exclaimed that one cannot say “all of them” as in “all of them are [fill in derogatory term]”. Then in order to drive my point home, I proclaimed to be of the “them” being discussed. In doing so, I completely destroyed the feeble framework I claimed to be creating above.

    To borrow a metaphor (and expand upon/invert it) from the Qur’an, “the flimsiest of homes is indeed the spider’s house”, despite what we know to be the case, that spiders spin a thread comparatively as strong as tensile steel. As locally strong as our frameworks/concepts/discussions might be, they fall apart in the overwhelming system of the dominant discourse.

    I’m afraid I’ve said nothing here to answer the question of how we might “redress” things.

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

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s