Ok, I just gotta say this: being a speaker at TEDxMileHigh is a (terrifying) rush! And for me, a relative introvert, it overwhelmed my senses. After preparing for this moment for almost 2 months, complete with several intense and interesting trainings, Rick and I walked down the hall and toward the dressing room. One of the other speakers greeted me and said, “Have you seen the crowd out there?” “No,” I answered. “Yeah, don’t look.” He laughed and walked on.
When I walked out on stage I was greeted by nearly 3,000 people; the applause was so genuine and heartfelt. And after getting the talk underway, I truly felt like I was having a conversation – with thousands of people!
My talk Adopting a Child of a Different Race? Let’s Talk was a plea for open adoption as a serious consideration among prospective parents who are considering transracial adoption. I did not talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 because that is a legal issue all its own. I used my story to address transracial adoption on a much larger, global scale. And, as I say in the talk, “We do this all the time: we remove children from their birth families, sever all ties forever, for their entire lives, and then send them to a very different world, and expect everything to be ok.”
Although international transracial adoptions have dropped, there are still thousands of children being adopted from international countries who will most likely never know their history, never know their family and never have the opportunity of reconnecting with either their family or community. At the very least, successfully. For those of us who sought, or are seeking, reconnection is a vital piece of who we are, that empty piece of the puzzle that is missing to inform us of where we came from and why that was important.
Transracial adoption is both an act of charity and an act of power. Children need safe places to be, and in some situations where wars and genocides, disease and disasters as well as political and economic instabilities exist, placement outside of the community is the only humane thing to do. When I say this, I think of Syria and the trauma those children are experiencing every single day of their lives. But it is imperative for adoptive parents to remember, they are raising someone else’s child, because someone is not able to be that parent at that time in their life. It doesn’t mean that the parent is a valueless person; it doesn’t mean that they are throwaway people because of situations that happen far beyond their control or that they don’t deal with them well. And it doesn’t mean that when they get their feet back under them that never want to know whether or not their child is safe or thriving or even alive. And it doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t have all these same feelings and curiosity as well.
And this is where the power comes in. If you treat the people and the community from which the child is removed as inhumane, if you degrade them, you degrade your child. That child then becomes an object used for your own motivations and benefits. And they will know very early in life the role they are being expected to play in that adopted family. By severing ties, by erasing birth records, by pretending that the ‘previous’ family or the ‘previous’ community’ didn’t exist is abusive. It causes harm because it refuses to acknowledge a very large piece of who that child IS, and emphasizes who you WANT them to be. And this is all rolled up in your feelings of worth and your interests.
The open adoption I’m talking about goes far beyond photos and letters that will be shown to the child ‘at some point when they’re ready.’ It is about supporting and maintaining a relationship with the birth family, or the birth community, and the acknowledgement that they are human beings and that you are there to help, not take over. It is about face-to-face conversation and meetings and participating in celebrations. It is about keeping the child intact with not only who they are, but who they were and where they came from, because they may want to return. It is about creating relationships that are respectful. It is about making decisions in the best interests of your child. It is about going with your child and meeting the family and/or community if they request a role in that child’s life. It is about experiencing a different culture and understanding that the culture YOU came from is not necessarily the culture your child experiences.
My adoptive mom once told me, “No one should know more about you than you.” When we as adoptees are kept in the dark like mushrooms, we fail to thrive. We can understand abuse, we can understand substance use, we can understand the lack of safety. It doesn’t necessarily mean we excuse it, but we accept it as part of the life we had. But we can’t understand who we are without knowing who we came from.
In our globalized world, removing a child through transracial adoption and erasing that child’s background is a new form of colonization. That is power. Keeping those social networks open is the charity.