I have never thought of myself as naive – but in the past few days I have learned about a whole new world of people for whom I am, ostensibly, a persona non grata. It began when, in the vast blogosphere, I connected to a young woman of color who had been adopted by white parents. She writes honestly and thoughtfully about what that has meant to her and for her life. The handful of posts I have read so far have given me so many new aspects of adoption to think about. I can hardly give an accurate impression of their influence, except to say I suddenly see my own world differently. And that is really something.
Her latest posts dealt with her foray into a blog forum of people with similar backgrounds – trans-racially adopted people – and her subsequent decision to leave it again. She described the community with a lot of understanding for the feelings of the people, but still seemed to balk at the ironies of their own social constructions within this forum. They have “privileged” voices who are not to be questioned or judged in any way. These are the (unhappy) adoptees of color with white adoptive parents (WAPs). Apparently, adoptees who claim to be “happy” or “lucky” run the risk of being subjected to the wrath of the privileged and schooled in the error of their ways. I’m not sure if WAPs (like me) are allowed to join at all, but if so, my guess is that we are supposed to read and rue and keep our mouths shut.
I was immediately reminded of conversations in my past and the precariousness of using certain terms with certain people: feminists who were insulted by the term “nurturing”, Europeans ridiculing the superficial American pursuit of “happiness”, and “we-built-it” bootstrappers offended by the suggestion that their success might also have something to do with “luck”. Words signal different things to different people. I know that.
And yet . . .
I can hardly express how jarring it is to think of myself being categorized under the label “WAP”, not to mention the feeling of having to explain myself. But here I go, trying anyway . . .
I do understand that some people have every right to feel their lives would have been better had they not been adopted. I have met dozens and dozens of adoptive parents and there were some who raised the hair on the back of my neck. I felt sorry for their children who were obviously expected to fulfill a specific, preconceived role in the adoptive parents’ lives. (Though, I have seen this with biological parents too.) Conversely, I have seen poor but happy healthy children in Ethiopia and sometimes wished my own could have that active, outdoor life learning useful and creative skills. That they could spend fewer hours sitting at desks or leaning over books, stuffing uninteresting facts into their short term memories to be spewed out under pressure onto test sheets and promptly forgotten. Sometimes I forget to ignore the stares of strangers we pass on the street or share a train car with. Sometimes, during our vacations in the States, we talk openly about how nice it is to blend in. Sometimes I think my decisions over my daughters’ lives were not completely fair.
What does all this say about me and my status as a WAP?
Adoption – trans-racial or otherwise – can be many things. The original impetus is not necessarily the desire to act in a way that will affect one’s social consequence. It is not necessarily a form of procurement to fulfill an unsatisfied desire. I have always seen it as a means of bringing people who need one another together. There are adults who know their lives will never be truly full or happy if they are denied a huge part of life – the experience of parenting and being part of a family and not just a couple or single person. There are children who, for any of a thousand different reasons, find themselves alone.
I am glad my blog connection showed me a glimpse of this forum world but I am also glad that she bowed out of it. I wrote a comment to her saying that reading her words was like having a conversation with my own daughters in the future. Right now they seem to recognize race in a way similar to my own – as more of a social construct than a biological reality (though, of course, their vocabulary isn’t quite far enough along yet for them to express it in those terms.) And they talk about adoption matter-of-factly. My older daughter started claiming years ago that she was going to adopt her future children because childbirth is painful. She doesn’t seem to make any other qualitative difference between the two options. The younger one has only made one statement on the topic. It was during our trip to Ethiopia when she was 8 years old. We were in a bus on the way back to our hotel after a great day of exploring the area she came from. Everyone was tired and quiet. Suddenly, out of the blue, she said, “I think my adoption was a good thing. I’m glad about it.” That was it. She hasn’t mentioned the subject to me since.
But who knows what feelings they will experience in their later teens, in their early adulthood, or later, if or when they decide to start their own families? My hope is that they will be able to talk about their feelings with me.
I will be more ready for those future talks now.