Adoptees adopting themselves

Family is a word on everyone’s tongue. It is no doubt that family can be a difficult thing across the board.  For some of us though, it tends to be more complicated. I am teaching myself how to cry. How to really let out the grief that has lived in my body since time before remembering. Last week, I found myself on a sidewalk crouched in the fetal position, weeping. It was in that moment which I realized with a profound certainty that there are people on this planet who belong to me.

I have found my birth mother and I am filled with fear and confusion with no clear end in sight. And I couldn’t be happier. Despite the questions. Despite the emotions which are clogged in my body. I had given my mother up for dead. Maybe it was the fatalist in me. Maybe it was the realist. Or maybe it was me trying to reconcile my place in the world, and understand that I may never know my origins. Not truly.

I’m clicking my heart back into place. I’ve found my birth mother. I’ve heard her voice. I know there is someone in this world who belongs to me. Who I belong to. I love her, and I barely know her; nevertheless, I’ve loved her all my life. She is a constant steady flame burning in the center of me, guiding my way and lighting my path in even the darkest of times. Before now, loving her was complex. Truth be told, it still is. The difference now is that I know she exists.

I’m on a quest to reclaim my narrative. Twice robbed of my history—first when my ancestors were enslaved and shipped here, and again when I was shipped up here and then cut off from my birth mother. As a child, I had no say. Despite wanting desperately to meet my mother. See her in more than just a photograph.

This is the hardest piece I’ve ever written, and I don’t even know what it’s about. I feel compelled to write it down. Perhaps it’s because I know that many of the people who will read these words will hold a small dark child in their arms. Maybe it’s because I want them to know what it is to be a transracial adoptee in a white state. To have to adapt perceptions and stop looking for oneself in the face of those who love them. To understand the deep need which sits at the base of their being. A deep throbbing wound waiting to be filled by someone who looks like them. Sounds like them. Feels like them.  Last week, I heard my birth mother’s voice and I finally, finally, finally, felt kinship.

My story is unfinished one, scattered and uncertain. Until now it has been filled with the struggle of a child brought into a family who did not truly understand the magnitude of what it means to adopt a Black child. A family who felt an occasional Black babysitter, Black baby doll, kwanza ball would make up for the deficit of being without one’s history.

I know that there are children in this state who feel alone right now. Who are wondering where they come from. Who are sitting around their kitchen tables staring at faces which are paler and stranger than their own. There are children who have a deep and unquenchable longing to connect with someone who shares their blood, shares their face. Beautiful dark children who long to understand where they come from and to hear their own voice reflected to them.

I am writing this because I need adoptive parents to do better. I need adoptive parents to understand the importance of origin. Don’t buy into a color-blind love. It doesn’t exist. Not really.  If you are a white parent who has taken a Black child into your home, I need you to talk to them. Often. I need you to press them when they tell you that nothing is wrong. I need you to listen to their silences. To try to understand their grief. I need you to understand that to be given up is to inflict a wound so deep that it penetrates everything. I need you to understand that an adoptive child constantly questions their intrinsic self-worth. I need adoptive parents to understand that terror of rejection lives at the heart of that wound. As a child, I remember being constantly fearful that I would be given away. Given back after being found wanting. Being found ungrateful.

What I mean to say is, you cannot take a small dark child into your home, remove them from their blood, then expect them to naturally thrive. Expect them to forget. This shit is deep. It may be instinct to boil this down to my own sad experience. To reduce my story to an isolated incident. An unfortunate case of an adoption turned foul.

The thing is, my journey began with the best, if not hazy of intentions. I have deep love for my family. And begrudging though it may be, after a childhood demanding my gratitude, I have come to make some concessions. I’m not grateful for my adoption; I’m not there yet and may never be, but I am grateful for my life path, because I am proud of where I landed. I am proud of where I have carried myself on spirit, at times kicking and screaming. In this, my 28th year, I have given birth to myself. I am grateful that I had the strength and the faith to reach across my fear and find the woman who created me.

My birth mother was my first heartbeat. My first breath. My first love and my first question. After years of coming up short, I am now on a path to discovering answers to my own whispered questions. Finally, I will have more than a box of birth records and cards and photographs get me through; to connect me to where I come from. I have adopted myself. Adoption is deep. Adoption is painful. And some adoptees never can give birth to themselves.

If I can have only one wish for adopted babies, specifically, transracial adoptees, then I will break it into two parts, and in no particular order:

I wish that transracial adoptees are placed with adoptive parents who strive every day to understand the complexities of adoption. I wish that they recognize and address the significance of loving a child who lives in a home which does not reflect them. In a country which does not value them, and in a world which does not love them. This is my wish, and I pray to whoever is listening, that it come true.


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Stop shrinking us

I was brought to Maine to live a better life. Better than what, I’ll never know. I have many feelings about that. My mother gave me away so that I might live up here, among the trees and the ocean and the nice white folk. I am meant to be grateful. I gathered this from spending my childhood being told that I was ungrateful. As though I had a say in being born.

When I was in kindergarten kids used to tell me: I was Black. I knew my colors quite well (having had the opportunity to acquaint myself with all 98 Crayola crayon colors in the crayon box). I was very confident that my skin was brown and not black. I decided to do a demonstration. Pulling a black crayon and a brown crayon from the 98-color Crayola crayon box, I held each up to my skin. I would ask my classmates which color best matched my skin? They would point. I would then ask them to read the color of the crayon. Guess which one matched best? They still told me I was Black.

Most days it feels like I’m drowning. Hands pulling me under, bodies weighing me down.  Growing up in Maine does that to a person. Excuse me, growing up Black in Maine does that to a person. It shrinks us. Makes us smaller, more compact. Easier to move and use and throw away.

I am from a small town. Thirty minutes north of where I live now. A town of subtle racism.

You know I used to argue with people about the color of my eyes? My eyes which I stared at each morning, and again each night. I memorized the shades in them, the size of my pupils as they dilated. People said they were black. My hair too. I studied each strand and was certain, they were brown. I told people as much. People being classmates, friends, family. All white. All so sure I was black to the core. I suppose they were right.

In middle school I was finally able to get extensions in my hair. I was so excited. Finally, my hair (which I had no idea how to manage, and my white mother even less so) would be beautiful. Finally, I would be beautiful. My braided bliss endured for the car ride home. After that, my brothers laughed and called it horsehair. They took that taunt to bus and it followed me through to high school.

I played the violin and piano, sang, did drama, competed in track and field. I listened to Whitney Houston, Amy Grant, Jewel, Usher, and American Idol covers. I watched Star Trek Voyager, The Lost World, Sister Act (I & II). I was not allowed to listen to rap music or watch R-rated movies. I was raised by a white family, in a white town, in a white state.

Because of these things, my white friends (my only friends) called me an Oreo. Said they were blacker than me. Like they were the ones who were called a ‘nigger’ on a school playground at the age of seven, by a white boy with a knife. Like they were the ones who stared at themselves in the mirror, day after day, hearing voices deny the truth their eyes could see; trying to find the black in their brown.

Like they were the ones who lived in a house where everyone looked the same, except for them. Went to school every day taught by people who did not look like them. Had to learn that the only thing worth knowing about people whose skin is dark, is that we were were enslaved. Robbed. Slaughtered.

Look. I love my Black. I have always loved it. I just didn’t know it until now. Wasn’t allowed to know it until now. When I gave myself permission. Growing up, I let people shrink me. Allowed them to define what my blackness was. Gave them permission to judge what I am worth. We live in a world that is burning. In a state which is continually shrinking its brightest stars.

I met a kid last night. Their hair was kinky and curly and beautiful. They told me ‘I like your hair!’ I said, ‘Thanks! I like yours too!’ Then they said, ‘Thanks! It’s really curly. But if I put it in a bun before I go to bed it’s straight.’

It wasn’t until later that their meaning sank in. I love my Black. I want our kids to love theirs too. Please, stop shrinking us.


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#MeToo: The erasure and fetishization of the Black body

Sunday morning when I logged online, a fluttering ping of status updates rolled into a steady flow of trauma to my feed.

Ping

“Me too.”

Ping

“Me too.”

Ping

“Me too.”

Often accompanied with the words:

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as their status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Reading these posts, I was affected and moved. Though not moved enough share, despite my long history with sexual trauma. I confess, when I looked at the updates, they felt like another thing which wasn’t meant for me, like pussy hats or the right to breathe. Each survivor posting was white, mostly cis-het, and comfortably using the term “woman” to describe who the posts were for.

It wasn’t until later in the evening that I spotted a Black femme on my feed had posted, “Me too.” I scrolled, another Black femme, and another, and another. As I scrolled more and more friend’s posts popped up. Black, queer, nonbinary, femme, woman, man. They flooded my feed. Queer friends online had changed the text to highlight PoC, include non-binary and femme folks, as well as those who are woman-identified. Some posts included statistics for trans folks, and PoC.

This shift struck home. I recognized the truth of our experience. Sexual assault is a thing we know happens. Often. Sexual trauma is deeply rooted in the Black experience.

The first thing I learned about my body was shame. Black children, Black girls (as they call us before we can learn to advocate for ourselves) are taught that we are sex objects. We are taught this by our homes, by our society and by our experiences. As a child I taught by my white mother to close my legs to be “proper” and not entice, by my oldest white brother that I was a tool for his continued sexual amusement, and by media and society that I was only good enough to be a sex object.

Black people are taught that we are to be fetishized, sexualized and used. This is a thing which has been ingrained into this culture since its inception. From Black bodies being raped and abused on slave ships and plantations to the degradation of the Black femme and woman, to the oversexualization of the Black man. Think Jezebel, or the Big Black Cock (BBC) tag on porn sites. There is no mediocre white dick (MWD) tag. (For this I can think of many obvious reasons, chief among them is the lack of the fetishization of the white body.)

I recognize not all sexual trauma is racial. But because of the racial make-up of Maine, the struggles of Black and brown people to connect, and the general lack of understanding and appreciation for Black and brown people by white people in Maine and elsewhere, add to that my own lengthy personal experiences, I believe I can safely say that most of the sexual assault on PoC in Maine is racialized.

Given the deeply rooted trauma and intersection between Blackness and sexual abuse, as well as the consistent erasure of Black people and PoC in our stories and movements, it came as no surprise that #MeToo was started nearly a decade ago by a Black woman; try as the internet might to credit it to a white one.

Tarana Burke is a social justice advocate who has been slaying the game for years. She started her own non-profit called Just BE, Inc. which focuses on the “health, well-being and wholeness of brown girls everywhere”, contributed her magic as a consultant on the 2014 film Selma, and is currently working on a documentary entitled Songs Called Survival: The ‘me too.’ Movie. This documentary, as well as #MeToo, is tasked with bringing into the light stories of Black and brown survivors of sexual assault.

I feel it needs to be stated, for the sake of inclusivity and to stave off any arguments, that this is not the Oppression Olympics. One person’s sexual trauma is no more or less significant than another’s. Racialized or not, sexual trauma fucks a person up. Also, it is important to recognize that because of this, the issue of erasure needs to be explored.

I watched white woman after white woman after white woman post about their trauma. While I acknowledge the strength it takes to put oneself out there, I can’t help but see a community all too comfortable with leaving me, and people who look like me, love like me, and don’t love like me, out of the narrative. Can’t help but see how woman after woman was contented to see only themselves in the struggle. See how each post erased the experiences of people who are not white and do not fit into the “woman” box. Maybe women were just trying to raise awareness. Maybe they didn’t know the origins of the #MeToo movement, but to this I say, isn’t that the point?


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