Every Separation Is A Link

I recently consulted via Skype with a fellow adult adoptee who had recently gained her birth mother’s contact information and was seeking my advice in deciding upon a method of contact that may feel the least intrusive to her birth mom.

Before our scheduled consult, I re-read a bit of Simone Weil’s work, and felt guided by her quote:

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.

Prior to contacting me this adoptee had already surveyed her husband, friends and other adoptees, in an effort to gauge and quantify the risks of choosing snail mail vs email, vs a phone call etc. to make this first contact.  She was working so hard in contemplating how she could tactfully and respectfully gain this precious (albeit basic and foundational) information.  She was working so hard trying to appease everyone else, and trying to preemptively ensure that her birthmother would feel comfortable in an inherently uncomfortable position.  During the course of our conversation, she coyly asked: “How do I explain how it is that I found her phone number?  I had to snoop (search angels, confidential intermediaries, agency contacts etc.) to find it!” My response:

Of course you had to sleuth! How else does an adoptee in a closed adoption gain this information?

It is only through the unfortunate separation of this adoptee and her birth family that she and I were able to be linked together. We shared a life-giving conversation that both honored others while she learned the value of honoring herself in weighing her personal thoughts of best practice in this unchartered territory. As Simone Weil states; “Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.”

Adoptees have a unique understanding of the fact that our rights are largely subject to varying circumstances, however we cannot deny the incredible pull we feel in needing to know our roots. There is no perfect way for even the most sycophant of adoptees to gain information that should’ve been made available years ago.

10 Year Old Discusses Selma, Christopher Columbus and Race

Angela & Eridon

10 year old Eridon, an aspiring Radical Brownie, caught my attention at a #BlackLivesMatter event in Seattle. As the only child in the audience, she courageously posed questions for the powerful panel of Black scholars and activists. Eridon’s mother is a transracial adoptee of the 60’s which has undoubtedly provided fodder for her young, inquisitive mind in learning about race relations in the United States.

For this installment of The Adopted Life, I’ve chosen to interview Eridon (Because of my readership audience, It should be clearly noted that Eridon is not an adoptee). Watch our conversation here:

Personal note: Ava Duvernay’s film; Selma, has expanded the minds of our youth (like Eridon). I’d argue that this means way more than an Oscar! Please share the heck out of this video so that Ms. Duvernay can know the impacts of her work.

If you are interested in being interviewed on The Adopted Life please apply here.

Thank You To My Readers!

I want to thank all of my readers for engaging in conversations and dialogue with me. I know my blog posts about adoption, race and/or social justice issues can be difficult to read at times, but please know that through respectful, challenging conversation and discussion we are living out MLK’s dream together.

The Whitest Black Person I Know

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I recently led an audience consisting primarily of Caucasian folks through an exercise where we identified common racial micro-aggressions. We discussed what behaviors, language cues, social skills etc. hobbies etc. constitute receiving the label of an ethnicity as an adjective.  Upon finishing the session I was greeted by an attendee who gushed; “I just love how you break down tough, controversial current topics on race relations. I was really challenged by your words, and was surprised by how comfortable I felt around you. You are like the Whitest Black person I know!

I won’t spend time delving into the personhood and personality traits of the person behind these specific comments, because this is not a singular incident. I hear this sort of sentiment quite frequently, and after having conversations with others, I know that I am not alone. It is worth noting that the great majority of folks who have made statements like this are the type of “good white people” Brit Bennett describes in her article. I shall also frame this blog post around the truism which is that we all emit unconscious stereotypes via microagressive comments, and the great majority of us are certainly not seeking to offend others.

However, even when microagressions don’t consciously seek to offend, they still hold weight and have far reaching implications for those on the receiving end. The various ways I’ve been tagged as the Whitest Black Person has left an impression on me. For example, during my high school years, the comments actually prompted feelings of pride and relative success – I felt it to be a compliment to fit in with my predominantly Caucasian peers. During early college, comments alluding to my “articulate nature” encouraged a feeling of positivity around perceived academic success. Within the work force being told that I made my clients feel “surprisingly at ease” resulted in feelings of self-adulation as I took it to mean that my work ethic and professionalism was noted. A black friend with whom I’ve recently conversed about this very topic concurred in stating that some micro-aggressions made him feel a similar sense of haughtiness, even conceit as well.

I generally give people the benefit of the doubt and offer an understanding affirmation of their well-intended comments, rather than to address the qualms in suggesting a betrayal of my own culture. During times where I have felt clear headed and rational enough to push back (thus effectively speaking out against the effects of marginalization), I’ve found that there is no inverse. That when folks state that I am the Whitest Black person they know, that this does not also mean that they have interacted with someone and deemed them the “Blackest White person” ever. This discrepancy (and others) leave me wildly curious. I wonder which aspects, in addition to the obvious implicit racial biases, are at play during these moments.

My incessantly curious brain can’t help but to wonder about the antithesis of these statements. If I’m “surprisingly safe” and “put people at ease” then what wouldn’t be surprising?  If others are shocked that they are able to have difficult conversations about race, this automatically implies that other black, young adult, female, transracial adoptees have shut them down in the past? Similarly if acting more professional equals acting White, wouldn’t that suggest that Whites are the status quo and the basis for which we measure white-collar jobs (no pun intended)? It seems that this could explain the sense of pride and conceit that I sometimes feel after receiving a comment like this. It makes sense to me that any compliment favoring the status quo may be initially perceived as a positive trait.

Inserting other ethnicities as adjectives have also helped me to put the pejorative sentence in to perspective. I’ve asked myself if a comment such as; “You’re the Asianist Latino I Know!” would be met with a rational understanding, or a sense of positive self regard? It’s unlikely. Most would feel a knee-jerk reaction to the overtly racist and offensive nature of the comment. Why then wouldn’t being the “Whitest Black Person” around come with the automatic visceral reaction of disgust?

Can I posit the idea that no one is born the stereotyped adjective that currently personifies their race? People are born with a certain amount of the melanin chemical that colors our skin, but we have learned how to act like our specific race within the social confines of the region in which we live. Herein lies the racial training that must occur for Whites raising Blacks, and vice versa. For transracial adoptees, learning with which adjective that we will align is a lifelong and formative process.

To some, I may be the Whitest Black person they know, but I know that having Black skin cannot equate to that specific person’s definition of what it means to act Black or White.

I’m Trying To Believe That “Black Lives Matter”

Black Lives Matter

It’s an undeniably trying time to be black in America right now. There is simply no way to ease the shockwave of this  truth.  I have found myself working exceptionally hard trying to believe the #Blacklivesmatter hashtag that is plastered all around me in my social media life. I have suppressed the daily involuntary body cringes that follow statements that begin “I am not a racist, but…” or “They mean well… [but it wasn’t like the murder of the black guy was premeditated or anything]…” I’ve noticed my self-esteem shrink ever so slowly while engaging with those who’ve found it necessary to argue that the movement should shift from #blacklivesmatter, to #alllivesmatter – effectively shutting minorities up…yet again.

Britt Bennet’s piece in Jezebel encapsulated my thoughts well where she wrote about well intentioned White people who’ve taken an ally approach throughout this mudslide of black carnage, but who, are still missing the point.

Over the past two weeks, I have fluctuated between anger and grief. I feel surrounded by Black death. What a privilege, to concern yourself with seeming good while the rest of us want to seem worthy of life.

-Britt Bennet

I recently stumbled upon Cipriana Quann’s interview for the I Am What’s Underneath campaign. This vulnerable campaign interviews folks unearthing not just what’s physically underneath their fashion and style, but it simultaneously asks them to strip down emotionally, combining to create a reverent yet simple display of the power we already possess.

Cipriana Quann

Cipriana’s interview has is allowed me to look in the mirror and to leave behind the suppressed, yet ever present uncertainty of my skin tone, and instead to begin to fathom that black just might be beautiful, indeed.

Watch her full interview here:

While describing the traumatic childhood moments, Cipriana maintains a beautifully dignified, ambitious and proud stature. If only the intensity of her memories combined with her obvious physical beauty could serve as a blueprint for any humans struggling with self doubt.

Jillian Mercado has also taken part in this project. While Cipriana’s message centers around the elevation of black women to places of health and positivity, Jillian speaks about how she confidently looks in the mirror and is wowed by her own beauty. Every day. Both having disabilities, and working within the field I am pummeled with the notion that being beautiful and having a visible disability are mutually exclusive. Not so. Jillian Mercado

“Wow! I’m so pretty today!”

The campaign does not focus specifically on race, but interviews a range of people, with large bodies, small bodies, androgynous bodies, pregnant bodies, post-cancerous bodies and more, working to challenge what it means to be beautiful. We are challenged through this project to no longer find our self-image in the products that television, magazines and corporation wants us to buy, but from within. One interviewee so beautifully claimed her own by saying

“My skin is what I like most about my body. You can’t buy it at the store.”

Adoptees, Family Trees and Ethnic Origins

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I remember sitting in my elementary school class on the day we were to do a genealogy assignment. This assignment asked us to study our personal ancestry and learn more about our family history. The undeniably valuable assignment is continually met with frustration for many adoptees (and other people groups as well) as we may not have historical family access for one reason or another.

Having had anticipated this assignment, my parents had already helped me decide that I would use information from their ancestry, in essence, pretending that I was of European descent. This decision certainly helped me temporarily avoid embarrassment, mental strife, or worst still, having to oust myself in front of the class by exclaiming that I did not/could not know where I came from.  I still have a visual in my memory of the writing on the assignment that read “Remember to emphasize that genealogy is about biological relationships only.”  What a frustrating admonishment for someone who did not know a single biological family member at the time.

A few months ago, in the most fitting of birthday gifts, I was given an ancestry.com DNA kit from my parents! Without hesitation I conducted the quick and harmless buccal cell swab exam and mailed it off to Ancestry.com, where I would wait just two weeks before receiving this email:

Ancestry

I clicked to find my results and immediately learned that a large percentage of my DNA traced back to the countries of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) & Ghana, as well as trace amounts linking me to Great Britain – fascinating!  I would’ve loved to have explored this information during my elementary years, possibly learning at an early age of the historical immigration to Great Britain by Africans. All of the time spent imagining that my family immigrated from the Caribbean islands before being enslaved in the South could’ve been thwarted with this truth!

This truly is a gift that keeps on giving as ancestry.com’s database continues to grow. I have been able to link together with other relatives for whom I’m able to then share this information with my birth families to help fill in the holes in our familial tree.

I urge all adoptees, or parents of young adoptees to invest in these scientific breakthroughs and allow adoptees ethnicity to be estimated through their genetics. Not simply for the sake of avoiding classroom embarrassment (admittedly a DNA test won’t solve all assignment woes), but for the purpose of being able to better understand the history of people’s movements leading us to where we are today.

This wasn’t the first time I’d taken a DNA test – the picture below was taken the day my birthfather and I met – this test determined that we indeed were father & daughter.

Sandy and Ang

“I Live With My Real Mom, She’s Not A Ghost!”

Transracial adoptees, Ella (9), Ariana (10) had never met each other prior to our Google Hangout. They jumped right in to a conversation, sharing their thoughts about what it means to be brown skinned, ideas on how to answer the “Where is your real mom?” question and they even discussed strategies for handling a “smart” bully.

Want to have a conversation with me like Ella and Ariana? I’m now accepting applications from adoptees (ages 10-18), or youth in foster care. Apply Here.

Christians and the “Silver Linings” In Adoption

This November has hit some regions of the country like a freight train. The frigid air bears down on us along with the seasonal colds, asthmatic coughs, and the reminders to get our annual flu shot. The stores have begun to line their shelves with overpriced trinkets imploring us to spend our hard earned money, while Christmas tunes quickly lose their intended holiday cheer as they are overplayed and mix like oil and water with flaring tempers and overestimated children (and adults!). These are truisms for many of us in the Western world. Adoptees can’t help but notice yet another tell-tale sign that the holiday season is almost upon us; National Adoption Awareness Month. November brings an onslaught of articles written primarily by adoptive parents exclaiming how wonderful/different their lives are, now that they’ve added to their family via adoption. Churches engage in Orphan Sunday and this year brought the first annual social media World Adoption Day, coined by a Hollywood pastor. All of this publicity is great for adoptees, right?

For adoptees like myself, November seems to feel more and more commercialized, and shallow filled with half truths, triggering words being flung around carelessly and uninformed do-gooders hoping to save a child before any more harm is done. This has led to a collective desire for adoptees to share our truth and help temper the discourse. Adult adoptees around the country have banded together to add our voices via the #FlipTheScript campaign where we seek to discuss adoption’s complexities and ethics without the ensuing label or admonishment that we must also be anti-adoption or ungrateful to our parents.

There is a fierce trend within Christianity to justify any negativity in adverse or difficult situations by focusing all efforts on any extractable silver lining. After watching Closure, many Christians have assigned my birthmother’s poverty, and my birth father’s drug use to be “clouds” in my life which were remedied by my having been adopted to a middle class family. They’ve decided that the doctor’s (incorrect) diagnoses moments after my birth of the likelihood being high that I’d never walk, was a surefire dark cloud for my life, which great relief was felt by a cheering audience when seeing the footage of my basketball moves and beating my husband in a game of one-on-one. This steadfast focus on these aspects leaves some adoptees wondering if there was something inherently wrong with them from birth, and with very few places to respectfully address this confusion.

I’ve struggled with some of the adoption language primarily heard within evangelical christian circles, and have addressed that in an article I wrote, published today at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics.

November Is National Adoption Month! Let’s #FlipTheScript…

The Press Secretary released an official memo at the beginning of the month; A Presidential Proclamation – National Adoption Month 2014. In part it states:

During National Adoption Month, we honor those who have opened their hearts and their homes…Throughout November, we recognize the thousands of parents and kids who have expanded their families to welcome a new child or sibling, as well as the professionals who offer guidance, resources, and counseling every day.  Let us reaffirm our commitment to provide all children with every chance to reach their dreams and realize their highest aspirations.

It’s exciting that November has become adoption’s month to shine (every minority person, place or thing needs their “own” month)! Agencies and organizations center all efforts center around imploring citizens to locate and recognize those orphaned around the world (Note: not all adoptees are orphans), and a concerted effort is made by adoption attorneys to finalize as many adoptions as possible during this month.

But where are adoptees on the president’s list of people to recognize? Are adoptees left out of the conversation (or a White House Memo) because now that we have been adopted we ought to provide endless unwavering, affectionate love? Are we expected to be dormant, mute, quiet and grateful that our adoption has helped to clean up society?

This month adoptees are banding together to “Flip The Script” as National Adoption Month has officially been met with 21st century hashtag activism (Thanks Mothermade for leading this charge). Who will hear our call? We would like to add our voices to the National Adoption Month platform in an effort to no longer serve as an inanimate highway for the betterment of society, but to contribute and create awareness that our voices matter, too.

President Obama, perhaps next year you’ll include our voices, too?

Engage The Culture. Be An Ally.

Seattle Pacific University held a symposium on Ferguson and race relations with a panelist of four professors. Upon hearing of the event I posted the event flyer on the door to my office, hoping the University would use this event platform to bring justice to Michael Brown by allowing his spirit to live on through the voices of our academic community.  Immediately prior to attending the event, I drank tea at Storyville, a boutique coffee shop that reeks of privilege and safety, located atop the trendy, and upscale Queen Anne hill of Seattle. A quote on the wall taunted me the entire time I was there. It read “Love everybody, never ever hurt anybody.” In an ultimate paradox I left the coffee shop for the event eager to discuss institutionalized racism, and how it continues to hurt so many. IMG_0034

As I walked on campus I noticed the school motto plastered on all of the banners; “Engaging the culture. Changing the world.” I couldn’t help but wonder how students could dutifully engage our culture and make systemic change to the post-racial status of our world while attending a University where everyone within senior leadership is White. The University took a giant step in the right direction for the predominantly white, privileged higher education culture, by employing the voices and intellect of well-liked professors on our campus in hearing their thoughts and then allowing for a time of Q&A/reflection on Ferguson et al.

The first of four panelists (a white male) began the evening recounting an allegory from the book Divided by Faith; Evangelical Religion and The Problem of Race In America, admitting feelings of guilt in not fully realizing his own white privilege until reading this book in adulthood. He calmly related the police brutality seen today with some of the recent events to the horror he felt when first watching the videos of the Rodney King beatings.

Next to speak was Professor Brian Bantum (the only black person on the panel), a theologian who began by stating that his body shakes with rage when even thinking about Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown and others. His visceral bodily reaction was one that few others in the room could identify with (which may help to understand the demographic of the university). His passionate directive that “our society was founded on the inhumane treatment of dark bodies” made some audience members wriggle in their seats, while others – primarily members of SPU’s Black Student Union – let out cries in agreeance. He implored students to rise above complacency and to acknowledge that “Darren Wilson is either a criminal or really bad at his job” adding that passivity is what is killing blacks.

While hoping for more racial diversity amongst the panel, I understood that in order for people to feel safe and thus truly moved to action it makes sense psychologically to hear the call from someone who racially mirrors ourselves. Tonight’s well attended and robust event was a clear indication that SPU has a community of students who want to make change, but who first need to learn more about how their own privilege may stand in the way of garnering true change. Black folks aren’t asking how to feel angry by Ferguson or Trayvon Martin it’s practically innate, but this question was voiced anonymously (via texting in questions) tonight. I can only assume that many student’s feel stunted in their action (or lack thereof) out of this same fear as well.

Rather than the current lofty and unclear motto, perhaps a more inclusive tagline, targeted toward our specific student body could read; “Engage the culture. Become an ally.” Ally’s are people who band together towards a common cause regardless of whether or not they are directly impacted. In other words, they don’t need to be Black in order to feel raw emotion about Ferguson and seeing images of police traumatizing an already broken town with tanks and military weapons. Similarly, one doesn’t need to be adopted to feel outrage towards an adoptee’s loss of their basic human rights, like knowing the identity of their natural parents.

Knowing that white privilege is largely invisible to those who have it, I can’t help but wonder how tonight’s symposium will impact our predominantly white student body. Will white, middle-class students feel moved to become an ally to those suffering the first hand injustices in the US? Would our students readily go join in the protests with those in Ferguson?

Change begins with great leadership. It looks like we are in good hands with a transparent [Caucasian] president who is obviously committed to engaging in discussions about race relations.