So, in my professional life, I work in higher ed on diversity issues. This week I’ve been attending a conference related to this work. I’ve given a lot of thought to what I’ve learned about diversity through this adoption journey but I realized this week that I haven’t been using diversity and inclusion terminology to describe the things I’ve experienced along they way.
I’m not the only one.
For every “Please don’t say this to adoptive parents or adoptees” list that I or my fellow bloggers publish, we fail to articulate what we are really mean. What we are really saying is that we folks in the adoptive community experience many microagressions.
Microaggressions are like mini forms of discrimination and oppression. Wikipedia (hardly a “scholarly” source but suitable for these purposes) describes these incidents as usually unintentional, but insulting and dismissive. They are hurtful. They make us flinch.
Usually associated with race, gender or sexuality, microaggressions can be committed by all kinds of people against folks being marginalized. Not sure what they look like in action? Here are some examples.
“I know you have a doctorate, but I’m stunned by how articulate you are!”
“You’re not bitchy like most women bosses I know.”
“That is so gay!” Speaking louder when there is a language barrier—the person can actually hear you.
“When I see you, I don’t see color!”
“I can’t be a homophobe, my cousin is gay.”
“Why are you people always so angry?”
Yeah, for the record, all of the above are whack. Totally, unambiguously whack.
So, as I was sitting in a session this week on microaggressions, I found myself thinking about adoption, and what’s it’s been like the last year.
“Yeah, but what do you know about Hope’s real parents.”
“That’s so great what you did, but you know, I want my own/real children.”
“She looks just like you; I mean it’s like you picked her out of a catalog or something.”
“Do you think you’ll be as close as you might’ve been with, you know, your own/real kids?”
“You didn’t want to try IVF or surrogacy?”
“You couldn’t find a donor? Pretty girl like you?”
[disappointed] “Oh, I thought you would’ve really helped a kid by adopting internationally, but you know, it’s good you did domestic.”
“But aren’t you afraid of an older child? You didn’t consider adopting a younger child so you could train her?”
“Was she a crack baby?”
“Is she like, you know, messed up?”
“Don’t you worry she’ll seek out her real parents one day?”
ETA: “How much did she cost?”
Sometimes I gently correct and educate, other times just I let it go. But it’s those times when I have corrected and educated, and it happens again when I realize that something about my experience is not clicking in this person’s head or heart. As a speaker said today, you get a pass the first time because you didn’t know that ish you said was whack; the second time you say dumb ish after you’ve been told it’s whack, you’ve made a choice to ignore the new information. You’ve made a choice to ignore me.
As the realization settled in this week at this conference, I nearly cried. For nearly two years since I went public with my adoption journey, I’ve struggled to name these little cuts I’ve felt at least once a week. I’ve been shocked by how deeply they hurt, how irritating they are, how they offer unspoken commentary about me, my life, my Hope, Hope’s life and our family. I realized how some of these things unintentionally sought to invalidate our family, to invalidate my role as a parent and Hope’s role as my daughter, to invalidate Hope’s humanity by likening her to a pet of sorts and her unworthiness of a family compared to “truly suffering” international kids. And these microaggressions are piled on to the ones I already experience as a Black woman. The cumulative impact is exhausting.
And I can only imagine what microaggressions look and feel like for transracial adoptive families, birth or first families or for adoptees. Heck, during the height of the #flipthescript hashtag last fall, we saw adoptees labeled as ungrateful, inappropriately angry, aggressive, and one of the most egregious name-calling from a fellow blogger—adoption warmongers. #gtfohwtbs All because adoptees claimed their agency and their voice to speak about their lived experiences. Over and over again, we saw people marginalize and/or dismiss the authenticity and integrity of the adoptee voice. It’s shameful.
And *that* happened within the adoptive community!
External to the adoption community, I’ve seen us reduced to a bunch of Jesus-freaks…among other stereotypes and tropes. It all makes me feel so….icky. It’s sad. It’s also bull-dookey. I mean, personally J-man is totally my homeboy, but there’s a LOT of diversity in this community, just like every other.
It’s sad to realize that somehow I tripped into being another kind of minority (because being a Black woman wasn’t cool but burdensome enough) experiencing marginalization with an intriguing side of hero-worship. Because, you know, we adoptive parents are special folks (a model minority) because we are saving children from fates worse than death.
And sure we are giving kids homes, but really, we just want to create and expand our families through a non-normative path.
Are we really that different? In the grand scheme of things, no. We may embrace this adoptive identity, but it doesn’t mean that the microaggressions don’t get to us, that they don’t frustrate us, that they don’t somehow invalidate us as parents or as kids. We want to be seen, we want to live, we want to raise our kids and we’d prefer to be in supportive, inclusive environments where people don’t say dumb ish about adoption or anything else, for that matter.
Really it’s that simple…I tell students, faculty and administrators this all the time, don’t say or do dumb ish that might hurt people and make you look like an arse.
Don’t do or say dumb ish.
So, I’m not sure if I’ll ever publish another list of dumb ish not to say to adoptive parents, but I might write some more about the intersectionality of adoption with our other identities, and how discrimination and oppression affects us, or rather me, especially, as a single woman of color parenting an older Black adoptive child, since that’s my own story and the one I’m best equipped to tell. In any case, let’s just try to be kind and sensitive to one another and the families we’ve created, any way we’ve created them.