In an August 15, 2011, story for The Atlanta Post, "Unraveling the Black Adoption Myths in America," reporter H. Fields Grenee writes: "Adoption. At first glance it's just another word in the dictionary. But its power is vested in the weight of the word -- conjuring images of abandonment, cherished blessings, adamant secrecy and self discovery."
To whom, I wonder, is "adoption" just another word? And when exactly does the weight of the word come into play with its power of "conjuring up images of abandonment, cherished blessings, adamant secrecy and self discovery"? As an adoptee, I can tell you that the emotions described therein are neither conjured nor imagined -- they are real and they are heavy.
While there are certainly many feel-good stories about successful, long-awaited adoptions, as well as happy birth reunion stories, such as the recent story in which Facebook reunited a birth mother with the child she gave up 63 years ago, there tends to be little focus on the plain and often uneasy facts of adoption, particularly when race is involved.
To wit: Nobody talks about the exotification factor of interracial adoption -- particularly among white fathers and their brown-skinned or non-white daughters.
I have always been very close with my father. When I was growing up in the '80s and early '90s, my (white) dad, an artist and naturalist with a gallows sense of humor, was a guy who played basketball on Thursdays at the local high school gym, loved the hell out of my mom, spoke three languages (self-taught), and favored Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, a cold Ballantine Ale and a terrycloth sports headband, which he constantly wore (in various colors) to hold down the giant swath of his thick red hair disproportionately swept to one side. Like a lot of youngest daughters (I have an older sister and brother), I absolutely adored my father. I should note that my father, while charismatic and enormously egotistical, is by no means Machiavellian or manipulative. He is, in fact, among the kindest, most brilliant and gentle human beings I know.
When I was 11 years old, I reunited with my birth mother who was, of course, battling her own demons and myths and realities around the adoption and subsequent reunion. She also became acutely aware of how close I was with my father almost right away. I was confused when she began to make open observations about our relationship and questioned my loyalty to him -- particularly as this was the man to whom she'd entrusted her child.
For speculative reasons I'll save for another time, over the course of a decade, my birth mother had gone from someone who had been described to me as a smart, funny, open-minded teenager to the 26-year-old I met: aloof (which I interpreted as confident), judgmental (to my mind: 'smartest person on the planet') and cavalier (my definition: sophisticated).
I was 19 years old when the news broke that Woody Allen had left Mia Farrow for her adopted Korean daughter Soon-Yi Previn in 1992. I didn't think too much of it, except "eeewwwww," like everyone else. My birth mother had a sharply different take. "Sound familiar?" she said with a sort of casual cruelty to me one afternoon. "Like how?" I asked. "You and (your father) are not all that different in your dynamic."
The shock of her insinuation, the shame I felt in the complicity she implied, the heinously unfair assessment of my father -- I was devastated. In one moment, the safety and ease I felt as my father's daughter changed forever.
Revisiting the memory, which feels less now like a memory and more like an old emotional injury that aches when it rains, puts into sharp relief the unasked questions surrounding the rampant adoption of the international Other, which is a popular trend among celebrities right now. Will people question Brad Pitt's relationship with Zahara when she gets older and turns into the gorgeous, statuesque young black woman she is sure to become? Is Woody Allen alone in his lust for a girl-child whom he didn't biologically father? Did he feel less like Previn's father because she is Korean? Think about it.
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