Anticipating My Birthmother’s Visit

Tomorrow my birthmother will be in town. Last night I watched Rain Man. Today I clearly see the correlation between these two happenings.

This poem used to served as my desperate plea:

“I wish I could turn away and move on with my life

but my heart won’t allow it when I try

That sounds so weak coming from me

a woman who overcame extreme adversities

If you don’t want me to find you

whatever the reason may be

do me a favor and sign up to the registry

Send me a few pictures, a reason, and my medical history

give me some closure and set me free.”

I used to wish that I could turn away from this search and reunion madness and move on with my life. I used to wish that I didn’t need to fulfill this selfish curiosity of learning more about my roots. I waited for the magical moment when her name would match up with mine on the registry. I thought – if only I could see what she looks like, if only! Now I no longer need to fantasize, or try to wish away intrinsic desires. Now, I can simply ask her all of the 26 years of pent up questions.

While watching Rain Man last night, Charlie (Tom Cruise) attempted to convince his brother Raymond’s court appointed psychiatrist that he should have legal custody of his brother so they could be together, as a family. Charlie said “I just don’t understand. Why didn’t dad tell me I had a brother? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it’d have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days.”  This statement cut to my core as Charlie no longer cared about the lure of a multi-million dollar inheritance, or his limited understanding his brother’s autism or the extraordinary differences between his own self-centered living in Los Angeles and his brother’s confined reality within the walls of the mental institution. He simply wanted to be with his brother. I’d imagine many adoptees can understand the beauty in seeing this seemingly incompatible duo spend these six days together.

I echo these thoughts of the convoluted and difficult to understand relationship. I find it to be superbly beautiful, uniquely refreshing and a clear definition of family. With all the differences between myself and my birth mother I nervously/contentedly await her arrival tomorrow, and look forward to allowing her to spend a few days with my family and I, AKA, her new family.

We Need More Foster Parents! Why Not You?

If my foster mother’s scent was bottled up in a jar, unlabeled amongst five other unlabeled scents, I’d pick hers out in an instant. I knew her smell, and when we hugged, those preverbal memories imprinted somewhere within my body came flooding back. I had spent so much energy over the years fantasizing about how I would feel when meeting my birth parents, that I largely overlooked the significance of this reunion. One hug with my foster mother felt like a missing puzzle piece being snapped into place.

Read the rest of my piece on the Dave Thomas Foundation website.

“What Is A White Personality?” and Other Questions From Young Transracial Adoptees

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at the African Caribbean Heritage Camp in Denver, Colorado. Instead of preaching to a group of middle and high schoolers, I invited them to participate in a discussion between myself and three other panelists about the concept of race and adoption. Many of the campers candidly explained that they feel that they have a “white personality” or that they consider themselves to be an Oreo. I asked the tweens/teens to expand more upon what they meant by white personality or black personality, and we came up with a list. They explained that having a white personality meant that you liked to hike, camp, dress preppy and seek education whilst a black personality meant that you liked hip hop, dancing, sports and could wear bright colored clothing. The panelists (consisting of an Ethiopian man, an African American woman, a transracial adoptee and myself) worked to rebut their definitions explaining that some of us enjoy hiking and camping while not enjoying hip hop music. A contemplative conversation ensued to which I ended the session by asking each of the teens to write what they felt their emotional identity to be in light of our conversation. This question was meant to tap into who these bright young adults felt their true identity to be. I challenged them to not view themselves as white because their parents and the majority of their friends are white, and to not simply think of themselves as black because their skin tone and society says they are black, but instead to think about who they feel themselves to be emotionally?

Here’s a sampling of some of the written responses I received:

“I think I’m white, maybe, because I don’t get physical when I’m mad, where a lot of Blacks might shove someone or something when they are mad.”
-13 year old male,  African-American transracial adoptee

 

“My emotional identity is gray because that’s Black and White.”
- 11 year old male, African-American transracial adoptee

 

“My emotional identity is white because of the way that I talk and dress. I really enjoy it though. I feel that I have the ability to code switch if needed. I am comfortable with the preppy style.”
- 16 year old female, African-American, transracial adoptee

 

“My emotional identity is both, because I am academically charged and I ‘dress white’ and I am black because I am all about family and think it’s important to stay together.”
- 14 year old male, White adoptee

 

“My emotional identity is white because I grew up in a white family, so I think i got more influenced to a white personality, also at my school I hang out with white people. I’m the only black person in my grade. But also at my school it’s bi-lingual so there is a hispanic culture too, and since they have darker skin I don’t feel left out.”
- Female, middle school African-American transracial adoptee

 

These complex thoughts young transracial adoptees are grappling with is a beautiful reminder that allowing our kids to be in safe spaces so they can explore these complexities is so necessary. All of their statements and feelings are true as we cannot argue with one’s own feelings. However many of the statements are laden with stereotypes, we must recognize when we do have opportunities to educate and challenge these inherited assumptions. This will allow these young adoptees to grow in to an identity that best exemplifies themselves.

TSA Needed to Search My Afro For Your “Safety”

TSA

Racial profiling is alive and well in America. Not only do I continue to be pulled out of the line after going through the security screeners for a full body pat down, but yesterday, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents at the Denver International Airport felt the need to put their fingers (with gloves on) through my medium sized afro. Haven’t we already discussed ad nauseum how black women feel about being treated like pets and a petting zoo? Please do not touch our hair without asking. Not only does this seem to be an incredibly ineffective way to identify someone intent on doing harm while in the air, it’s flat out disrespectful.

I’m aware of the “behavior detection program” that TSA agents went through last year, where they were taught of certain behaviors and antics that they deem to be an aviation threat and thus necessitating a further search. My awareness to this subjective discriminatory practice has caused me to act exceedingly “normal.” I code-switch when going through airport security. Being a black woman (which stereotypically is synonymous with danger, crime and/or lower socioeconomic and educational status), I silently work hard while in line about to go through security at ensuring that people all around me can feel safe. I come prepared with all of my liquids in the correct sized ziploc bag, I take my shoes off earlier than necessary (as to not suspiciously hold up the line), and I pack my laptop in a bright colored, preppy case, and never wear a hoodie. However this code-switching routine rarely works – I’m nearly always given the pat down, while Bryan waits patiently on the other side for TSA to finish with me.

After polling some of my black friends, and learning that I’m not alone in having to go through this procedure, I’d like an explanation from TSA about how  much more protection and “safety” they’re offering the general population in searching a travelers afro. I’d like to see statistics to help me to better understand this practice. Until I hear from you (TSA), I will not allow another agent to put their hands in my hair again. Feel free to support the internal complaint I’ve filed by emailing TSA at TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov.

Do you feel safer knowing that TSA conducts a secondary afro pat down?

Are Adoptees Selfish For Wanting To Search?

Keep Calm

One of my birth sisters was placed for adoption just one year before I was born - I am hoping that someday I’ll get to meet her. Is my desire to find her being fueled by an attitude of entitlement? Since I was able to find all of my other birth relatives does that somehow mean that I should be able to find her too? When does it end? When should I draw the line? I have seven siblings in my immediate [adoptive] family, many nieces and nephews, parents, aunts, uncles and have had host of foster siblings over the years, yet I want more. I want so badly to meet my birth sister. Is this desire selfish?

This question has been posed to me many times over the past year during the Q&A’s after Closure screenings. Folks have asked this question in a myriad of ways:

Your adoptive family is so great! Why would you need anyone else?

—–

What if you find out something that you wish you hadn’t known?

—–

What if your birth sister doesn’t want to know you? Doesn’t she have rights, too?

Debate.org posed the question “Should adopted children be allowed to seek their biological parents without their consent?” Aside from feeling slighted by being continually referred to as an adopted child, I find this question irksome as it inherently suggests that an adoptee learning of their roots and kin is somehow not our right. 19% answered “No,” one comment read:

The adopted child should get down on his knees and THANK GOD who intervened on the child’s behalf and provided warm, stable, loving parents, and I for one (who is an adopted parent, a REAL parent, btw) would be insulted if my kid told me he wanted to seek his bio parent.

I’d like to suggest that the person who left this comment view Lisa Marie Rollin’s one woman stand up show entitled Ungrateful Daughter. Lisa, an adult adoptee turns the “Why can’t you just be grateful?” question in to a comedic fare.

Perhaps adoptees are labeled chameleons since we have difficulty understanding when we are allowed to have a say and make a choice. Our birthparents decided to create us, and then somewhere along the line someone (the State, birthparents, foster parents etc.) decided that we should live somewhere else. So, we adjusted and acclimated to new smells, new rules, new schools, new bedrooms, a safer/different environment etc. How are we expected to grow into competent, strong adults if decisions are continually made without our consent? How will we learn to navigate which decisions are ours to make and which aren’t?

I’m grateful that my [adoptive] parents raised me to pursue my curiosities, to strive towards satisfying my incessant existential questions, and to simply try things - even though I may fail. I’m thankful that both my birth family and my adoptive family support me in this endeavor as unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all adoptees. I’m glad that my family understands that my desire to search and learn more about my roots does not simultaneously cease my desire to be a part of my [adoptive] family. Finding my birth family has never been an attempt to replace anyone else, but simply an effort to find myself. Selfish? Maybe…although I’d wager to guess that I’m not alone in my human desire to know how and why I’m alive, or, more simply, to be able to see a physical reflection of myself in someone else. I’m thankful that the great majority of people are able to access this information with relative ease. What makes me (and other adoptees) jealous is that those who question our motives to search are often the same people who brazenly take for granted getting to know foundational knowledge about their life. Adoptees are keenly aware of this injustice and in the absence of this vital and axiological information we search, and search and search (and sometimes we have to defend ourselves while we’re at it).

What Role Does Religion Play in Parents’ Motivation to Adopt?

Earlier today, my friend Maureen wrote a post about Kristen and Douglas Barbour who adopted two unrelated Ethiopian children via Bethany Christian Services to add to their large family. They recently pled “no contest,” to the charge of assault and endangerment of their children. [Please read that piece!]

RBarbour

This awful case is remarkably similar to the Hana Williams case in which the parents were sentenced last year. Some of the more notable similarities are the heavy reliance upon isolation, emotional control, authoritarian discipline  and other methods ascribed to from books such as To Train Up A Child (I believe the Duggar family also uses this method). In both cases, the parents’ main motivation to adopt Ethiopian children was to support and uphold their religious beliefs that by adopting they were doing a charitable act.

It sure is hard to understand the role Christianity may have played while learning of a baby’s broken femur, malnourishment, or blindness due to a blow to the head. A quote from the article on The Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

 “The doctor advised the defendants to be more flexible and change their routing and accommodate [the boy],” she continued. But “Both defendants balked at this advice. ‘That’s not the way we do it. That’s not the rules in our house.’”

Is there a tie between far right fundamentalist christianity and excessive, harmful parenting of adopted children?

 

** Please know that I know not all Christian parents ascribe to these parenting styles  **

Celebrating Afros vs. The Blue Ivy Petition

Two weeks ago a women created a petition using change.org, the text simply read:

Dear Blue Ivy, Comb your hair.

The creator begged Beyonce and Jay-Z to use their money to ensure that Blue Ivy no longer have “matted dreads or lint balls.” One commenter stated “Because no child whose mom spends thousands on her hair (monthly) should live life looking like a sheep!”  I am disturbed and saddened by the petition especially in knowing that so many black folks (including myself) struggle with embracing our natural roots. Unbelievably, the petition has reached its goal of 5,000 signatures.

Walking through Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum’s Afro exhibit personally provided some balance, hope and strength. The exhibit features stunning photos (by social documentarian Michael July) of strong black men and women who wear their natural hair proudly.

photo-26

One male shared the complexity of natural hair and professionalism:

“Being out of an office environment allowed me to have no restrictions on my personal style. I decided not to cut cut my hair. The longer it got, the more free I felt…”

A woman shares the complexities of being mixed race;

I be that half breed/Bastard seed

Not in need of your validation

Brothers in need/Think I’m pretty

While brothers in know/Know the cost

They say that I am beautiful/By historical default

I am what happens when love mixes with hate

I am what’s produced when oxymorons mate

I’ve become acutely aware of the confused stares from strangers and children, and have mastered the art of deciphering the unspoken wonder from folks who silently wonder if I forgot to comb my hair.  While confused in wondering why life sometimes feels akin to the stories I hear of the afros in the 1960′s being worn as a symbol of power and making a statement,  I’m simultaneously empowered by the proud and few rocking their natural hair.

“It might sound strange, but I actually like being adopted!”

Meet Ariana, a 4th grade, transracial adoptee. She’s a purple loving, horse drawing, audacious and stunning gal.

IMG_2318.JPG

Ariana (the only child in last night’s audience) sat in the third row with her moms for the Closure screening and Q &A (hosted by Open Adopt). The Q & A was chock full of discussions about openness vs. closed adoptions, feelings around being relinquished and relationship building with new birth family members and other triggering and emotionally laden questions. Peppered between these carefully worded questions by people thirty years her senior, Ariana raised her hand and fearlessly made her presence known.

“Were you ever bullied for having parents that didn’t look like you?”

and

“It might sound strange, but I actually like being adopted! It’s like I just have more family.”

In front of a room full of strangers, Ariana and I had an open dialogue about what it may look like for adoptees to love both their birth family and their adoptive family.  The beauty of her questions combined with the strength that she brought to this group was not lost on me.  Our conversation undoubtedly served as useful fodder for the other folks in the room to dissect and surmise over. Rather than focusing on correct terminology, or adoptive parenting strategies, Ariana allowed a peek inside the reality through a young adoptee’s unfiltered lens.  I couldn’t help but think back on my conversation with Valeria and immediately notice one glaring and beautiful commonality – their adoptive moms allowing them the space to speak freely.

I am imagining a group of 10 tween or teen adoptees sitting in a circle around my living room having a dynamic conversation (facilitated by myself) about their experiences (filmed by Bryan?). I’m quite certain that a discussion between Ariana, Valeria and others may be more powerful than any of my breakout sessions or keynote speeches. Email me if you have a child that may be interested in being part of this project.

 

*** This post was written with the verbal consent of Arianna, and her moms.***

Whose Story Is It Anyway?

Whose Story Is It Anyway?

Thankfully we are past the era of ‘matching’ children to adoptive parents who might bear some physical resemblance’s. We’ve established the importance for adoptees to be told that they are adopted as young as possible. However, from my recent speaking engagements around the country I’ve learned that adoptive parents seem to have hit a roadblock around the dilemma of what to share with their child about their own story, and when. Many parents ask me; “What is the right age for me to tell my child their story?”

Read the rest of my article at The Lost Daughters.