Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Cost of Speaking Out

Several happenings today had me thinking about the cost of speaking up, speaking out against touchy subjects such as race and adoption. Society likes to see things in binaries--right/wrong, black/white.

Take adoption, for example, especially transracial. The rhetoric of adoption in the media is often one of praise for and celebration with adoptive parents. We don't like to consider, for example, the sadness behind Sandra Bullock's adoption of a Black American child. We want to celebrate with her, call her a hero. I get that. Smiles are easier and more fun than sad faces. And I'm not knocking Bullock for her decision to adopt--there are many things about this situation that make it "better than" other situations (in some ways it might be less disruptive as taking a child from a foreign country, and it's true that a forever family is a better choice than forever foster care). But it doesn't take away from the fact that her adoption reflects a lot of things that are wrong with our society. Why there are so many minority children in foster care in the first place, how our society values Black motherhood. Racism. It's there, folks. We're still working on it. And a child that is torn from its natural parents is sad, okay? That sadness doesn't have to take away from the joy of an adoptive family, but it needs to be there. We need to make space for it.

Whitney Teal, in her article Sandra Bullock, Transracial Adoption, and the Worship of White Motherhood, dared to be critical of media and society's viewpoint of adoption, mentioning Sandra Bullock's adoption as an example of wider issues. Oh the backlash! People got defensive, said Teal was borrowing trouble, making a mountain out of a molehill. One commenter said:

"This as just another issue to pull the race card out for yet another unnecessary debate. Racism would more than likely not be such an issue IF Racism wasn't made Into an Issue at any and every scenario."

In other words, shut up/quit bitching about racism because you are the one making it exist in the first place.

Another: "[this article] pissed me off. It comes off like a speech subtly AGAINST interracial adoptions, which just sounds racist in itself. It also comes off like the author is demonizing Bullock for having the audacity to adopt an African-American baby."

Teal responded to commenters, trying to explain that she was NOT being personal but was angry at the circumstances that bring black children into the child welfare system and about how whiteness is valued above other races in our society.

It sucks to talk about this stuff. It sucks to realize your own privilege, or to feel like you're being attacked because you are part of the dominant group. I know how it feels to be viewed negatively because of your race--I've had it on both sides. That's why it's so important to have compassion when talking about these things. But we still need to talk about them.

Almost every time I post about adoption, pushing against the mainstream viewpoint, I get at least one angry comment from a reader accusing me of being harsh or ungrateful or ignorant. Most of the time I view these as, to use Obama's rhetoric, "teachable moments." And opportunities to articulate my stances even better. But sometimes constantly defending your viewpoints is just exhausting...It's exhausting to try to prove to someone who says racism doesn't exist is wrong. It's exhausting to explain why seeing a White family adopt a Black child is complicated (not bad necessarily, but complicated.) It's exhausting to constantly explain why there should be full access to birth certificates for adoptees.

Especially when it happens with someone close to you, as happened to me today. Someone whom I'm close to, who is smart and whom I respect tremendously (and who is a person of color). It made me tired. And sad. To think that I don't explain my views well enough, day-to-day. To recognize how much of an outlier I really am sometimes.

I start to wonder, am a really just making mountains out of molehills?

Today I interviewed a professor at Pitt, who has organized artists and is curating an exhibit on Cuban racism at the Mattress Factory Museum called Queloides (keloids, which refer to scars--literal and metaphorical).

Apparently racism has increased tenfold since the collapse of socialist economy in the 90s, and artists have been using visual art as a means of speaking out. The exhibit first ran in Cuba earlier this year. Almost immediately after the exhibit opened, the professor was banned from his native Cuba. He's gotten plenty of other criticism too, for speaking out. People have said these issues don't exist. They tell him to shut up.

But he won't.

I suppose that means I shouldn't, either.


Anonymous said...

You definitely shouldn't.

It is humble and gracious to accept criticisms as "teachable moments." And humility shows a depth of character that gives your words even more credibility.

I know it's hard when people don't understand, or (worse) seem not to listen or want to understand. What I love about your blog is that you are keeping the dialogue going, and as I know you know (and have said many times), that is what is important. Not necessarily just being right (although I think you ARE right), but getting people talking about things that are difficult to talk about. Talking about things that we as a culture do not understand, yet need to slowly realize how little we understand. (Was that grammatically correct? :)) You are opening that door. It seems like a very heavy door :)

Libby, I think you explain yourself very well. You communicate in a way that is sensitive and compassionate, yet makes no excuses and cuts to the heart of things. You are tender, yet uncompromising. You are an excellent communicator.

Don't ever shut up.

Jessica said...

I love this blog post. So many other adult adoptees have reiterated these same sentiments on paper and electronically. However, you do something different. Your words come across to me as not angry or upset, certainly hurt, but compassionate. I think this tone is what we (everyone) needs to be able to move in a positive direction. I applaud you. Keep on going despite the potential criticisms.

Ronni said...

You most certainly should NOT shut up. Those that want you to shut up? They want to continue pushing the issue under the wrong. Keeping it hidden and quiet, so they can continue perpetuating the racism with no backlash. So no, don't go quiet. Keep speaking out. We need your voice.

Tim said...

I found my way to your blog via John Raible. I really loved your most recent writing on the Cost of Speaking Out. It reminded me of an article I read recently that I thought addressed to complexities of these issues quite nicely. Keep on doing what you do.


Von said...

Just a point..in fostering children don't loose their identity, name, families, country, religion etc.Adoption takes it all away and assigns us a new identity and life..very differtent proposition.