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I’m a bit incredulous, given the fact that this is the first time in months that I have logged into WordPress to actually blog rather than delete my spam comments. I’m not sure if anyone will read this anytime soon, but I am clawing my way out of obscurity to comment on the insulting and highly offensive blog post that Tama Janowitz wrote over at The New York Times‘ new blog series, Relative Choices.
In “The Real Thing,” Ms. Janowitz writes:
A girlfriend who is now on the waiting list for a child from Ethiopia says that the talk of her adoption group is a recently published book in which many Midwestern Asian adoptees now entering their 30s and 40s complain bitterly about being treated as if they did not come from a different cultural background. They feel that this treatment was an attempt to blot out their differences, and because of this, they resent their adoptive parents.
So in a way it is kind of nice to know as a parent of a child, biological or otherwise – whatever you do is going to be wrong. Like I say to Willow: “Well, you know, if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!”
And she says — as has been said by children since time immemorial — “So what, I don’t care. I would rather do that than be here anyway.”
Although the entire post is breathtakingly dismissive and flippant of the very real and serious differences between raising a biological child and raising a transracially & transnationally adopted child, the above section is what has been cited by Lisa Marie Rollins, Ji In at Twice the Rice, Jae Ran at Harlow’s Monkey, Susan at ReadingWritingLiving, Carmen at Racialicious, Resist Racism, Kev Minh at Borrowed Notes, Paulo O. at Heart, Mind, and Seoul, and Sun Yung Shin. And it is also the section that had me shouting, “What the f—???” at my computer screen at the end of Monday.
There are many reasons this struck a nerve amongst so many of us, #1 being that such a glib, self-satisfied piece came immediately after a heart wrenching and thoughtful post by Sume; reason #2 being that even though this is a blog in the Op/Ed section, c’mon people—it’s still the friggin’ NYT. It’s a huge platform, prestigious, enormous readership, blahblahblah.
A lot of the aforementioned people (my fellow adoptees/bloggers and allies) who are more widely-read and more frequently published than moi (I’m including Shannon Gibney and Bryan Thao Worra in that group as well, although I know your responses have not been published yet) have made much more eloquent and incisive critiques about “The Real Thing” than I was able to muster at 5:36 p.m. PST on Monday evening. But what we all have in common is that we submitted comments on Ms. Janowitz’s post–and we were all censored. No, our comments weren’t edited, they weren’t published at all.
Here is what I wrote:
“Well, you know, if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!”
This is the type of emotional blackmail that so many transnational adoptees have to deal with, and it is the source of a lot of pain and guilt. Parents who make this kind of statement do two things: 1) reinforce the “savior” myth by showing how bad & dirty the Third World is and how lucky the adoptee is to not live there and 2) guilt the adoptee into being “grateful” for being adopted.
Another thing that transnational and transracial adoptees often have to deal with is being perpetually characterized and dismissed as petulant adolescents, forever “bitter” and “complaining” as this blogger characterizes a recent anthology by some “Midwestern Asian Adoptees.” Being critical of our experiences as adoptees and also being critical of the systems that make up adoption does not necessarily mean that one hates one’s parents. There is tremendous loss (as well as gain) in any adoption, and acknowledging this loss does not mean that all of these adult adoptees resent their adoptive parents. Many of us wonder about our biological parents–who even though we may not have met them (or may never meet them), are very much real in that they exist, or at one time existed, on this planet.
Short and sweet, right? (Maybe not sweet, but it was well less than 400 words, as I was told is the word-limit for blog comments at Relative Choices.) No profanity, no name-calling, I didn’t personally attack Ms. Janowitz, etc. However, my comment was not approved, and yet this comment was deemed acceptable:
That you can blithely joke about stereotypic Chinese children’s labor to your child–even if it was planted in this column just to be kind of mindlessly provocative (as I suspect it was)–speaks to a deep moral obtuseness. It doesn’t matter if you were joking.
The difference? The above comment was made by an adoptive parent, not an adult adoptee. I suppose directly calling Ms. Janowitz morally obtuse was more palatable than what I had to say about the emotional blackmail. Do all adoptive parents engage in this kind of projection of parental insecurity that passes as joking? No, and I didn’t say that they all do. But there sure are a hell of a lot out there that still say these things, although I have recently been lulled into thinking that such archaic ideas were a thing of the past since the types of adoptive parents I’m apt to run into at conferences these days are the ones hysterical with being culturally sensitive, etc.
This just feels all too familiar as well, because once again, people of color are being told by the white liberals to “relax” and “lighten up” and “find the humor.” How many times has this happened? I’ve lost count—both in media representation and in my own life (see: Stereotype Party at the Evans School!). So of course, the majority of the comments that were approved on Ms. Janowitz’s post all say things like, “Brava!” “Hilarious!” “So true.” Meanwhile, those of us with a rather different interpretation have been shut out in the cold, save for the two or three that made it through.
Even though I agree with Shannon Gibney in that the personal narrative genre in adoptee writing is dead or near-dead, I am going to inject some of my personal background and thoughts here since my fellow TRAs are doing such a good job dissecting how purely awful Ms. Janowtiz’s post was.
What made me incredibly sad while reading the post was thinking about the all-too-real pain that the blogger’s daughter, one Willow Janowitz, must be experiencing at being the butt of her high-profile mother’s jokes. Whether or not she has read or will read “The Real Thing” (and whether or not she will read/not read my little blog post here), I would like to say to you, Willow, that you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of other adoptees who, like you, have grown up in families where the insatiable need to normalize, to forget, to erase difference drives parents to say such (unintentionally) hurtful things to their children. It is so hard—SO HARD—as a 12-year-old transracially/transnationally adopted child to articulate why we sometimes feel conflicted, confused, and sad. And so sometimes we express this complex whirl of unremembered memories, feelings, and thoughts in reduced phrases—“I hate you.” Yes, I said this at times to my adoptive mother while I was growing up. Yes, my adoptive mother loved (and loves) me fiercely, as much as your mom blasts all over the NYT that she loves you, Willow. Yes, I still speak to my adoptive mother today, at least once a week and often more. Yes, I love my adoptive mother. But I still remember those fierce arguments we had. I still remember those hateful things that my adoptive mother said to me, out of maternal insecurity and fear. I still remember every time that I told her, “I hate you.” And I still remember how another part of my heart iced up–frozen and locked away–each time it happened.
So yes, Willow, I agree with your mother in that I do think you should write everything down. Girl, write all of this shit down. So not only can you tell your therapist (there is no shame in therapy!!!), you can tell the other adult adoptees that I hope you will one day meet. Because there are a lot of us. In fact, there is a global community of us. We are out there (even though by reading the NYT one wouldn’t think so), and we have voices, and we support one another. And we would support you. The whole “biological” vs. “real” competition is a farce. Our birth mothers were and are real. I wrote that they were real because they existed on the planet—and I meant to also add that they’re real because they exist in our hearts. And no matter what kind of sarcastic trumpeting your adoptive mother writes about how she is so for real, it’s ok for you to know that our first mothers loved us, too. My Korean mother died six months before my first trip back to Seoul. But I know–I KNOW–that she loved me. Our first mothers loved us, and it’s ok for us to love them back. It has absolutely nothing to do with the love you have for your adoptive mom. It doesn’t make that love any less, even if she worries it will. Because it is different, and being an adopted child is different than not being an adopted child.
So write it all down, because it’s not about holding onto grudges, it’s about processing. Catharsis. We can laugh together at the misplaced humor, at the bullshit. Because this is some bullshit. And you can one day forgive (or not forgive) your mother, as I have come to terms with and forgiven my parents, for their unintentional ignorance, and be happy in yourself and your life as a whole person.
But I do not forget. Forgive, yes. Forget, no. Because if we forget, then we are silenced.
Can’t wait to hear what you have to say one day, Willow.