Silence in Adoptionland

When you are a part of a marginalized group, you learn early on that the norm is white unless otherwise stated. You learn a language that includes sign posts that hip you that the space is not white owned or dominated.

Take for instance the American Medical Association and the National Medical Association. The AMA is race-neutral, which is a super kind way of saying white, while the NMA is a group that represents docs of African descent. The latter is going to include conversations very specifically about people like me—both professionally and medically. Those conversations will happen in the AMA, but not at the level of detail they will within the safe confines of NMA.

“National” is often a sign post for those of us who are not white, and we need those spaces. You want to know why?

Well, because sometimes being in spaces where white is the default norm is hazardous to our mental and emotional wellbeing. The micro and macro-agressions. The casual racism. The casual over-familiarity. The defensiveness. The “not all white people…” statements. The folks who take our information, repackage it and profit from it as though it was original content. The “why is it always about race with you people” or “I’m just a part of the human race” or my personal favorite, “I don’t see race at all.” #Iaintclear

And if I or people like me try to engage, the resulting triggered fragility can simply spin out of control, leaving those of us who are “other” to feel abandoned, hurt, lonely, and demonized as the mean, angry person who attacked some nice well-meaning white person. Oh, we mad, we are mad.

When I started my journey, silly and naïve, I sought support in various places, both on-ground and online. I often found that in both places I was the lonely,only or one of very few.

I am constantly self-assessing and checking my need for self-care with respect to race because I work in the diversity and inclusion space professionally. I thought I would do that and handle whatever came my way in the adoption space.

What I found was one of the least diverse spaces I have ever voluntarily joined. I felt like there were so many ways I didn’t fit—I was black, single, increasingly non-religious, adopting an older kid and living in a super urban area. I know I’m not alone, but boy there are times when I click into or walk into a space looking for support and the first thing I have to do emotionally is put my shield up.

How am I supposed to get support when I feel like I have to arm myself against the supporters? It often just doesn’t work and is an exercise in wasted time and emotional energy.

Yesterday, I wrote about being invisible in Adoptionland, but other times, my presence is seen but only as a source of information, not as an equal in receiving support. I’ve found myself just withdrawing at times because I felt I was being asked to contribute to well-meaning folks who want to be good parents, but who didn’t see me as someone struggling with similar issues in adoption.

Marginalization is so pervasive in our lives.

So, I lurk. I go to support groups and don’t say much as much as I used to.  I try to hit the like button sometimes in online spaces. I get really picky about where I want to use my voice and how to use it strategically. I’m not just posting or commenting all willy-nilly. I have to tailor my response so that it’s palatable, non-threatening, and/or not too angry. I make sure I put the word “some” in front of “white folks” so that I don’t trigger someone into going into an “All Lives” rant.  I have to brace myself for the comment that challenges the factual recounting of my lived experience. I have to go take a short walk before responding so that I can keep people at the keyboards and tables when I do respond. I have to keep my wits about me because one wrong comment and my view point is just discarded like this morning’s gum that was chewed for over two hours.

Speaking in white spaces is exhausting. It’s just requires physical and emotional capital that is sometimes too much, and it doesn’t always payoff.

I often read things online or hear things in person and wonder, is it worth the cost to respond? Nah, I could be teaching Hope to improve her checkers game instead. Or just picking my toenails, you know, Hey, I could get in my car and drive around hoping not to get pulled over by cops!

I could just be doing something else productive.

There are so few signposts in Adoptionland to let me know I am welcome and that my voice is valued. I watch the reactions to the comments made by other people of color,  and I try to support them, but I also really, really monitor the reactions to their posts.

I wonder if things will get heated because feelings get hurt. Will someone get chastised or worse, banned?

I wonder would I have more fun and get more out of watching dumb pet videos. #probably

So, I silently lurk in the back of the room or behind my avatar, no doubt with others. I’ve already got enough on my plate as a single mom to an older adoptee struggling to live beyond her history of trauma.

I don’t need the drama of being shouted down in spaces when I’m seeking support.

So often, this space is my only safe space in Adoptionland, and I had to create it for myself. That’s saying something.

So, it’s just too much and it’s so much easier to stay silent.

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About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted tween a few years ago, and this blog chronicles our journey. Feel free to contact me at adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com, 2013-2017. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

14 responses to “Silence in Adoptionland

  • TAO

    Hugs – you’re wanted and welcomed by me. You’ve changed me.

  • Trauma Mama S

    I can’t relate on the same issue… But the first support I attempted to get was from a state-run group for foster parents whose children have been diagnosed with RAD. I was completely shunned and was just in tears.

    I can’t imagine what that must be like to experience repeatedly as you reach out for support from other adoptive parents, or try to discuss race issues with people who say they want to listen but really only want to listen if you agree with their notions, or to use your points as stepping stones to further their own agenda.

    It makes me sad that the conferences where I’ve found SO much support and help have, inadvertently or otherwise, presented themselves in a way that P.O.C. don’t see those spaces as welcoming and inclusive. It makes me even sadder that people of my racial group are just so damn stubborn and set in their ways that even when trying to change, trying to include non-white members, that so many of us end up just defending ourselves instead of listening and admitting where we’ve done wrong.

    Adoption in the trauma world is so effing hard. To have less support for any reason, but especially on something such as race, is unacceptable. I’m sorry.

  • My Perfect Breakdown

    I echo TAO’s words. I look forward to learning from you and hope. And I want nothing but the best for you two, and it saddens me that you often are pushed to the side because you don’t fit the mold.

  • Beth

    you are almost the only adoption blogger I read. There are so few people who talk about adopting older kids, so your blog means a lot to me. Yours is one of the only families I see out there that kind of looks like mine.

    I’m so sorry that there aren’t more places that are safe for you to just be part of the conversation without having to worry about how people will react to you. Having to think about all that before just being part of a conversation must be exhausting, and it sucks.

    If it’s worth anything, I definitely value your voice, and I’m here for anything you have to say. I would be so sad if your blog went silent.

  • HerdingChickens

    Strange how the term “National ” represents people of color but “nationalist” represents…racism. I do agree with this post entirely. And adoption land sucks in this respect. I’m so glad that the AWAS podcast is out there sharing information. Just so you know, I see you lurking in cyber land. Your opinions matter and I appreciate your “likes.” You matter! Adoption should not be about white voices.

  • becomingamama16

    The reason that I love your blog and the reason that I loved the podcast is because you do what Toni Morrison does. You refuse to succumb to the “white gaze.” The white gaze dominates discussions of adoption, foster care, and so much else. You are a breath of fresh air for both me and my husband. We know how isolating it is to be “the only one.” So, I had to let you know how much you are appreciated. Anyway, I am including this clip of Toni Morrison which reminds me of you:

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      This is the single most flattering thing anyone has ever said to me–outside of my mama and that time Hope said her friends thought I was pretty. 🙂 To be told that I remind someone of Toni Morrison???? I done died and gone straight to heaven.

      Thank you. The podcast will return–we promise! 🙂

  • Instant Mama

    Have you considered a Facebook group (closed, secret) that you specifically invite people to? Those you already know and those who you discover in your lurking that can truly relate to you? I’m part of a couple of Facebook groups that are closed and only people that fit certain criteria are let in. One of them is an adoption group and it is a safer place to express my joys, fears, and frustrations than anywhere else I have. Maybe you could create that in your life! Plus here – but here isn’t quite as safe because it’s public.

  • Belladonna Took

    Wow, ABM … This hit on a sore spot I’ve been poking at for quite a while. I’m white. I grew up in apartheid South Africa; my mother was a classic liberal of her time and space (racist, but in a well-meaning way), and my father was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime (not the killing part – he denied that was happening; the “they must be protected from themselves” kind). I absolutely rejected apartheid and racism as early as my teens – it led to some horrific arguments – and when I was in my 30s I quit my job and took off to start a mission school (under the leadership of a local black church) in a rural area where there were only a couple other white people, most of whom wouldn’t acknowledge my existence because they were Catholic and we were evangelical. I returned to my old life after two years, and several of “my kids” followed me. I mentored them, and – a quarter century later – I’m still in touch with many of them, and regard three (and their families) as part of my family.

    And yet … I’m told I’m racist. Or maybe not racist (depends whose doing the telling), but not qualified to talk about what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, “the black experience”. (I mean when I’m talking to conservative or clueless white friends … or even when I talk about what it feels like to be a white African … and my hurt and frustration over what’s happening in South Africa now – it’s simply not valid, according to some black people I read, because I’m white.)

    Now this sounds like it’s turning into a whine and that’s not what I mean; I’m trying to figure my way through the context to the point of what I’m trying to say, and communicate it in a way I hope you’ll understand.

    My point is, I want so much to understand. But when I talk to my black kids, they all have different perspectives, and quite often they seem to perceive African culture pretty much as I do. And then I wonder, are they just saying what they think I want to hear, maybe to show love or respect, maybe because it’s just too hard to talk about? I’m pretty sure that’s not the case; these are people I’ve known for 25 years, whose children call me grandma, and who will welcome me into their homes if I don’t have the means to support myself when I’m old. They’re my family. Have I maybe influenced them, westernized them, and somehow separated them from their culture? Again, I don’t think so. Two of them live in neighborhoods that are predominantly black; the third is an extraordinarily strong woman who makes up her own mind about things.

    At the moment a close friend of my husband’s is staying with us, in a motorhome parked on our property. He’s black, but was raised in a community that was predominantly Native American. We talk about all sorts of things – just regular people things – but the other night racism came up … I have been longing to sit him down with a beer and ask him to tell me what being black means to him, and what racism means to him. But now I read this blog post, and you comment “Yesterday, I wrote about being invisible in Adoptionland, but other times, my presence is seen but only as a source of information, not as an equal in receiving support. I’ve found myself just withdrawing at times because I felt I was being asked to contribute to well-meaning folks who want to be good parents, but who didn’t see me as someone struggling with similar issues in adoption.” I’m not approaching this from Adoptionland, but I feel the same thought may apply … Am I just “well-meaning folks who want to be good”?

    I’m struggling too, you know – and I’m not that unusual; I’m sure there are others who feel the same sense of alienation and frustration. I want to understand how this whole race thing works from the perspective of a black person, but I also want to get past the race barrier and just know the human being inside the skin. Do you think that’s even possible?

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