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Brick by Brick

I have been learning so much from this blog. I learn through the process of writing posts, from the web links and resource suggestions people send me, and from the other bloggers and people who join the conversation. But two days ago, I learned something I didn’t expect.

Livia’s post “Lets Get Real” was not specifically about race. It was about taking down the walls that impede our progress toward understanding and tolerance. However, she shared that an aspect of her experience as an adoptee started her on her road towards understanding racial oppression. And she was attacked. Shut down. Her words were misconstrued, her intention was ignored, and her gut reaction was that of retreat.

I’ve seen this happen before, in educational seminars, in bars, and in gatherings of friends, by white people and people of color, but I will be honest, I’ve never spoken up about it. I’ve always sort of brushed it off as, “Okay, that’s the end of that conversation, oh well” and moved on without a second thought. Because I’ve  decided long ago that it is not my responsibility to be the one to try to teach white people about race, and because I understand the anger that some people of color hold dear. (With friends it is different. With most white friends I welcome conversations about race especially if it’s something they want to discuss.)

As a person of color, I will admit that I’ve had very little sympathy for white people who want to, but have trouble talking about race and racism (because though it may be difficult to talk about, it’s much harder to live with it, on a daily basis). However, what I saw happen here, with this post, is EXACTLY why many people who really want to build bridges don’t go there, or rather, stop going there. Of course it is not just up to them, it’s up to all of us. But when any of us stop going there, so many potentially progressive conversations never happen and so many walls between us remain standing strong.

This all seems very simple, but I am viewing it with new eyes. I am seeing the exact process of how these conversations end before they even begin. To take down the walls of misunderstanding or oppression that stand between different segments of the population, you have to do it brick by brick. It’s hard work. It’s going to take a long time. I’m going to go find my mallet and roll up my sleeves.

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  M wrote @ February 5th, 2010 at 11:11 am

Tara, it is not clear that you learned anything new. What, instead, it sounds like is that you had some assumptions and they have been confirmed and validated by the exchange in “Let’s Get Real.” What exactly did you learn?

It also is interesting that you seem only interested in what you believe to be “potentially progressive conversations” and are unwilling to have the hard conversations where your views are challenged. What you appear to take away from these exchanges is that when someone challenges your views it is not progressive or it is silencing instead of being a real conversation between real people who have strong feelings about the issues you have presented in your blog. It fits with your “I have had very little simpahty for white people who want to, but have trouble talking about race.” So you only engage in conversations with others when it flows easily for you?

The first step in building bridges is having these difficult conversations. You should know this as the “blog AM master” and “editor of the AM newsletter.” You put your thoughts and perspective out there and ask for comments. You get comments and perspectives that are different from yours and you immediately retreat into feeling silenced and dismissed and in effect are silencing and dismissing others.

I, like you, have learned a great deal of valuable information from the exchanges on “Let’s Get Real” and “They Already Have a Daddy” and I will not cloak them in “what I have learned is there are a bunch of ignorant people out there who I refuse to talk to.” What I have learned is that for many, adoption does feel like my experience as an AA woman in a white society and I need to be more sensitive to that. I have learned that there are many adoptees for which adoption has not been a positive experience. I have learned that for many a connection with birthfamily and birthculture is extremely important. I have learned that many adoptive parents, unlike me, are struggling with the involvement of birthfamilies in the lives of adoptees. I have learned that I am so blessed by God with beautiful children, womderful birthfamilies, and an adoption experience that while difficult and painful, has been good for everyone involved.

When I look at this blog, the people who write it, your newsletter, and AM in general, AM is heavy on adult adoptees with little room for adoptive parents like me. It was interesting when you published a review of a book that you did not agree with you felt the need to let everyone know that the book review did not represent the views of AM. Interestingly enough, the review was written by an adoptive parent and professional from your organization. There appears to be no other place in your blog or newletter that you have a disclaimer. Hum, wonder why? Maybe you should ask the person who reviewed the book if she would like to write a disclaimer about your comments not reflecting the views of AM?

If you truly want to be a “mosaic” or “constellation” I would encourage you to bring in all the parts of the mosaic into focus. Your request that I write a guest blog as an adoptive parent is suspect. Doesn’t AM have adoptive parents who are interested or available to do this? If there are adoptive parents in AM, have you asked yourself why is it that they are not speaking up? The one time you had an adoptive parent write something you felt the need to write this long disclaimer about not endorsing the book or the views of the reviewer.

Relatedly, you forgot to read your own disclaimer about being respectful to those who comment in your blog when you commented that “she was attacked, misconstrued, and intention was ignored.” I had a different view of Livia’s words and expressed it. Sorry that her words evoked a different experience in me than in you. I challenged her use of oppression in race as a comparison point for the experience of adoptees and how that opened a window for her as an adoptee. How is that disrespectful? Oh, because I didn’t agree with her or you? Who’s being silenced or dismissed?

If I could give you some advice that I have learned from my struggles as an AA woman. We are all on the same page (adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthparents), just as I am on the same page with the majority of white people. If you want assistance from others to get your message out there and heard by the dominant culture you cannot turn your back on others because they have a different perspective from yours. Our agenda is the same which is to raise our children to become healthy, happy, and productive people. Your view of how that happens is different from mine when it comes to adoptees. Our dear president, Barack Obama is learning that a mallet just ain’t gonna do it in the arena of politics and it ain’t gonna work in adoption for the same reasons.

  Marty wrote @ February 5th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

There There M, get it all out… Do you feel better now? Would you like a cookie?

  Shelise wrote @ February 5th, 2010 at 8:52 pm

“When I look at this blog, the people who write it, your newsletter, and AM in general, AM is heavy on adult adoptees with little room for adoptive parents like me.”

M-If this is what you believe – Please contribute! Be a voice beyond blog comments. We want to give you the chance to fill in a void you believe Adoption Mosaic to have. If you’d like, we can refer you to some adoptive parents involved with Mosaic and you can feel out the “safety” of becoming a contributor.

“Doesn’t AM have adoptive parents who are interested or available to do this? If there are adoptive parents in AM, have you asked yourself why is it that they are not speaking up?”

That is a great question! I can answer you only this – We do have adoptive parents in AM and It is not for our lack of trying to get APs to write for the newsletter and blog. We aren’t telling APs what to say or how to say it (honestly!). Also, from my perspective, there are a lot of adoptive parents involved in AM. AM was co-founded with adoptive parents. We see lots of adoptive parents at our workshops every weekend. The majority of attendees at our Adoption Awareness event in November were adoptive parents. I won’t speak as to why they are not speaking up. Perhaps they don’t feel safe in this blogging environment? APs – let AM know your feelings.

I will disclose that Adoption Mosaic is very close to my heart and to read that someone believes we are not dedicated to “truly want[ing] to be a ‘mosaic’ or “constellation” makes me feel defensive for the work of our board, our volunteers and my own, and yet now I am even more dedicated to making sure this fair representation happens. We are a work in progress!

I believe progress is happening. Just look at this blog. So far, not only adoptees have been reading and commenting. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and comment. We rely on everyone to make us stronger.

Again, M, please contribute and be a voice. You can answer my question I asked in a different thread “Why are you angry at adoptees?” Or what, specifically, do adoptees say or represent that makes you feel whatever it is you feel? Or how can Mosaic in your estimation, be more inclusive?

  Tara wrote @ February 5th, 2010 at 9:54 pm

“M” It is unfortunate that you misunderstood my post, and was unable to see it for what it was. I’m not sure whether it is because I was being unclear, or because you did not read it closely enough. In either case, judging from the length of your extensive critique it seems to have hit a nerve and I will take some time to answer it.

I’m going to address your comments about the Motherbridge of Love review and linked blog post first, because your comments show that there are some questions about this. First of all, you say “the one time you had an adoptive parent write something you felt the need to write a long disclaimer…” If you had actually looked at the newsletter you will have seen that (in every newsletter, there have been 8 of them spanning two years) EVERY book review is written by an adoptive parent. All of the “ask Astrid” questions are from adoptive parents and many, of the entries in “Food for Thought” are from adoptive parents. In order for your criticism to be constructive, it will be helpful if, in the future, you check the accuracy of your statements first.

The book review “Motherbridge of Love” presented an interesting conundrum for us at Adoption Mosaic. One that we (the board president, the executive director, staff, some volunteers and some board members) discussed at length. As you may know, the poem the book is based on has been around the adoption circuit for years now, far longer than the book has existed. So, many people are familiar with it. With most books, some people like them, some don’t, but generally there is not such a glaring divide between WHO likes them. For example, I know many people who love Adam Pertman’s “Adoption Nation”, and people who don’t as well. The people who like it are (sticking to the triad here) adoptive parents, adoptees, and birthparents. The people who don’t like it are: adoptive parents, adoptees, and birthparents. For the most part, with Motherbridge, the difference between who likes it and who does not was very clearly dependent upon the reader’s position in the triad. Since we recognized that there was such a defined dividing line, WE felt it was important to give voice to the two different viewpoints. We did that using both the newsletter, and the blog as mediums. If you had looked at the review in the newsletter you would have seen the clear link at the bottom linking to the corresponding blog post. (And by the way, there is a disclaimer on the blog) Thank you for the opportunity to clarify this. I always welcome the chance to let people know how much thought and consideration the folks at Adoption Mosaic give to these decisions.

You have reiterated your feeling that the blog, the newsletter (which you apparently haven’t looked at), and Adoption Mosaic in general has little room for adoptive parents like you. I regret that our extensive list of programs and offerings do not address your needs. However I am pleased that you have learned much from the conversations on the blog.

Moving forward, I’d like to address your feeling that I was being disrespectful to you by mentioning that Livia was attacked and shut down. I stand by it. It happened. I am not being disrespectful in writing about that, or writing about the feelings and experiences it evoked in me. Indeed you “challenged her use of oppression in race as a comparison point for the experience of adoptees and how that opened a window for her as an adoptee.” The thing is, Livia was recounting (like I am in my post) her EXPERIENCE. You can challenge an idea, an opinion, a statement etc. But in my opinion, challenging someone’s experience, is flat out disrespectful. And is something that should not be tolerated on this blog.

Again, moving forward, I’m not sure where you got “you seem only interested in what you believe to be “potentially progressive conversations” and are unwilling to have the hard conversations where your views are challenged.” from: my statement: “when any of us stop going there, so many potentially progressive conversations never happen and so many walls between us remain standing strong.” You go further to explain how I feel silenced and dismissed, how I silence and dismiss others, and that whenever my views are challenged I turn my back on them. And on and on…

My guess is that you still feel slighted from my refusal to enter into the conversation when you accused me of being an “angry adoptee.” I would like to suggest this post JaeRan explains it all far more eloquently than I could.

I am bewildered by your statement that “we are all on the same page (adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthparents)” but, er, thanks for the advice. As for your objection to my mallet imagery… well, again, thanks for the constructive criticism.

  Catherine wrote @ February 6th, 2010 at 3:55 am

As an adoptive parent, and contributor here to AMB and the newsletter I have felt incredibly welcomed, and encouraged to participate in the conversations. I have been unsure, and reluctant to join in to the series of exchanges recently because I have learned that an online exchange does not have the safeguards that a large group and in person dialogue has for most (facial cues, opportunity to clarify misunderstandings in person and as they happen, and a group facilitator present and trained to notice when things are not feeling safe for any party involved then and there). We try to replicate these roles online loosely, but anonymity on all are parts changes the rules in my experience. I feel gratitude to Tara, and AM for creating this space to have ideas, and for reminding us all what needs to take place in order for everyone’s ideas to be honored and respected. Otherwise the learning will stop for me. Old wounds open otherwise, and I will tend to those elsewhere, in private.

I was “called out” for a comment I made weeks ago on a response to a post on a blog dealing with being an anti racist ally. (Love Isn’t Enough*How to be An Anti Racist Ally*12/30/2009) I learned from the exchange-it is not a conversation in my opinion when we are not face to face- to say that I am not experiencing racism (on behalf of my adopted AA son, and biracial biological son) but that I am dealing with race on their behalf. What unfolded during that exchange was a dialogue about race, semantics, and experience. The tone of the exchange allowed me to keep returning to the fold thoughtfully. Tone and keyboards are, in my opinion territory that must be carefully considered by all. If I had felt that the tone of the person who was objecting to my word choice was adversarial vs. educational my desire to learn would have ceased, and I would have shut down, left. That is about my learning and communication style. As a teacher, and a parent, learning and communication styles is something I am trained to notice, and try my best to teach to.

We will all learn here, together if we all feel safe. “Play hard, play safe, play fair.” This is what is written on the wall of the gym in my school. This applies for rope climbing and dodge ball alike. For what its worth, and to keeping us all in the conversation.

  Debbie wrote @ February 13th, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Thanks for your post, Catherine. I am also an adoptive parent, and have been a “writer” for AM. Although I haven’t been so involved in the blog simply due to time constraints, I have always felt welcome and that my contribution was valued. Astrid and Tara have provided valuable edits to my writing on occasion, and some things I’ve written can still be found on the website.

Beyond the writing, AM has provided me and my daughter with wonderful experiences and great information for our journey together. My daughter has a sense of belonging in the adoption community and a connection with adoptees both older and younger than her. She is a junior in high school, and is using the issue of adoption for a social justice project she is doing this year. She is articulate and confident on the topic, and I credit a lot of that to her association with AM.

Many years ago, I was having a discussion on race with an African-American friend of mine. She said to me, “When are you white people going to get it? I’m tired of explaining it!” I knew that her anger was directed more at society than directly at me, but her point was well taken. I asked her to explain it one more time for me. She did. AM plays a similar role for me about adoption. I know that I can go there with my questions, concerns, frustrations and I will find answers and caring.

As an adoptive parent, I believe that our voices have most often been dominant. I feel a responsibility to help create a space for other voices. If it means that I am silent at times, then I am fine with that role. I have learned a lot from reading this blog, and I am grateful that Tara and Livia put so much dedication to it. I think it is possible to have difficult conversations and to be nice at the same time. I think that is the best way to learn together.

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