Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Libertarian's View on Adoption and Government

Everyone knows libertarians want the government to keep its paws off enterprise and human affairs. I've realized that I mostly agree with this viewpoint when it comes to adoption and foster care--in many ways, government regulation hurts more than helps families.

(For example, Dorothy Roberts, in her book Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, writes about how social service agencies and government policy tend to tear apart low-income minority families by removing children at an alarming rate and putting them in foster care, instead of focusing on reunification. Which is just backward. Adoption should not effectively cause a bio family breakdown, it should be the last resort.)

And, furthermore, it's intrusive to have the government own information about you that you can't access as an adoptee--namely, your birth certificate and information on biological family, health, etc.

So I was excited to see an article about adoption, "The Welfare State Kills Children," on The Freeman site, expecting a well-articulated libertarian rant about faulty government intervention in adoption. Which it was, to an extent, but it left much to be desired. Writer James Payne focuses on the government's negligence in allowing Renee Bowman, who severely neglected and abused her 3 adopted daughters, to adopt, but then decries the impediments to adoption many good potential adoptive families face. True, there's tons of policy and red tape. (My parents waited a whopping seven years to adopt me!) Adoptive parents are highly screened, as they should be. And yes, the government failed big time with Renee Bowman.

But in advocating better/faster adoption processes and privatization, Payne ignores the possibility that the reason the kids are in foster care in the first place might be the real issue of concern. That putting a kid in the foster care system costs tax payers ten to eleven times more than putting money toward helping the biological family if poverty is the issue, which it often is. (Now of course for some kids adoption is the best option.) As happens with most mainstream media, the issue is seen from an adoptive-parent perspective. Reporters don't always know to look behind the issue.

Payne suggests adoptions be handled by private agencies. Sure, this can often be a better process, and Payne believes that bad practices would be naturally eliminated because adoptive families would not patronize those bad agencies. (This is what I love about libertarians--they're so hopeful!) But private adoption still doesn't quite leave the government out of the transaction--in most states still, the government owns the sealed records and the child's birth certificate. When we turn it all over to a business model, the power would lie with adoptive parents, as they're the paying customers. But yet with a "largely unregulated" system that he suggests there's the risk of child trafficking, which happens all over the world and even in our US of A. There are many risks of any option. Which ones are we willing to take? 

We need to educate the public about ALL the issues of adoption so we can join forces with libertarians like James Payne, who I suspect would fight with us for unsealed birth certificates.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Race on the Census Form

The Census form for our apartment reads like this:

Person 1 (me)
Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin? 
__X_ no, not of hispanic Latino, or Spanish origin
_____ Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
_____ Yes, Puerto Rican
_____ Yes, Cuban
_____ Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin--print origin below

What is this person's race?
__X__ White
__X__ Black, African Am., or Negro
_____ American Indian or Alaska Native
_____ Asian Indian    ______Chinese _____Japanese  _____Native Hawaiian ____Guamanian or Chamorro    _____Filipino     _____ Vietnamese      ______ Samoan       _______Other Asian          ____ Other Pacific Islander

Person 2 (my roommate)
Is Person 2 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin? 
_____ No, not of hispanic Latino, or Spanish origin
__X__ Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
_____ Yes, Puerto Rican
_____ Yes, Cuban
__X__ Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin--print origin below

What is this person's race?
__X__ White
_____ Black, African Am., or Negro
_____ American Indian or Alaska Native
_____ Asian Indian    ______Chinese _____Japanese  _____Native Hawaiian ____Guamanian or Chamorro    _____Filipino     _____ Vietnamese      ______ Samoan       _______Other Asian          ____ Other Pacific Islander

I find it strange to think of my roommate, a Colombian-Mexican American, as classified as white. I get that the Census is distinguishing between race and culture (Hispanic being a culture and not a race), but this leaves her with...white? Really? She says it's always been that way, and doesn't totally make sense. For once the classification of origin is less complicated for me!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hair Ads from the Late Nineteenth Century

Speaking of hair-race connections, and the roots of the issue for women...

Check out these ads for hair products appearing in negro periodicals in the late nineteenth century (I love microfilm!):

In the first one, we see that curly hair, of course, must be made straight. You don't want the terribly "wild" curly look pictured on the left--your life will be much better after using this "wonderful discovery" to make it straight.
Straight = better.

In the next one, pay attention to the adjectives describing blacks' natural hair, which they should definitely straighten so it will be longer and flowing on their shoulders as pictured: "Positively straighten knotty, nappy, kinky, troublesome, refractory hair..." Hair that in its natural state needs to be fixed. The desired result? "Causes the hair to grow long and straight, soft and fine, and beautiful as an April morning."

It's obvious whom these are marketed to--we can assume advertisers want consumers to see themselves in the images. WOMEN.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Curly Versus Straight Hair Experiment, and my new word Hairist!

Through Afrobella's site I found this ABC News hair social experiment.

The investigator, curly-haired Taryn Winter Brill, asked five white guys to rate her "hotness" when her hair is straight versus when her hair is curly. The guys were asked to describe her curly pic with one word:
"Frazzled," one said.
"Giddy," said another.
One guy said, wide-eyed, that "she looks like someone who wants to get married, real fast." Um, what? How could curls communicate that?

When they rated her straight pic (much later, not realizing it was the same girl), they said she looked "classy," "pretty," and "nice."

Here you see the underlying stereotypes of curly hair. It's always been tied up with race in my own hair situation, and I forget that every curly girl faces preconceived notions like this. Not from everyone, of course, but it's there.

Jezebel noted that the story was inherently racist. Because it completely ignored race? It seems a better way to isolate the variables, because race adds a whole other can of hair worms... If we see how straight/curly hair affects the way white women are seen, we can understand even better why black women would want the straight-haired look too--why all women do. Maybe? I wonder how much different it would have been if Taryn were blonde and therefore the pinnacle of the longstanding beauty standard when her hair is straight. Do blonde curlies have it slightly better?

Check out one Jezebel reader comment (I'm assuming a black woman): "I always cringe when someone compliments my hair not by saying they like the cut or the color I dye it but because it is straight, followed by some kind of "I wish mine were straight!". I feel like I unwittingly just participated in something racist when that happens."

That person would probably also tell her she looks much "classier" with straight hair, not "frazzled" as she would be with curls. Some people are just ignorant. They believe hair stereotypes. They are "hairists" in the same way other people are racists. Some people are both, but here's my question: can someone be a hairist without being a racist, or vice versa?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Colorlines Video: The Single Mother of Color and Economic Recovery

Continuing in a somewhat similar vein...

How has the economy affected our nation's poorest, particularly single mothers of color?

Jobless rate in the U.S. right now: 10%
For single mothers: 13%
For blacks: 15%
(no statistic for black single mothers specifically, but we can guess it's not good)

This Colorlines video follows Tisha, a 29-year-old black woman and single mother of three hovering over poverty. She's an experienced healthcare worker who has struggled not only to find a job but to make life work within the welfare system.

Examples of barriers to Tisha's success, several of which are quite common:
1. The assistance program required her to go to daily workshops. Pretty tough when you've got young kids at home to care for.
2. She was in a domestic violence situation, which added to her struggle to fulfill program requirements. (This is more common than you think--women in poverty experience the highest rates of domestic violence.)
3. After leaving that situation and moving to her mother's, they discovered there was old lead paint in her house and--SURPRISE!--suddenly the authorities were threatening to take away her child if she didn't move out right away. (Ah, the child welfare system--hurry up and get those black kids out of there and into foster care! Sorry. Rant.)

This Colorlines program blames Tisha's distressing situation on the fact that the "Federal Safety Net" was cut under Reagan, who endorsed the cut by planting in the American imagination the myth of the black "welfare queen." I hesitate to say that government funding for social programs regulated by the government are the answer (because look how beautifully the government has served the single mother of color so far), but this video definitely had me thinking there must be a better solution than what we've got now. What I like is their other suggestion: for communities of color, follow the example of San Francisco and Oakland, CA: start community sustainability and greening projects and employ local people to do the work. Again, government funded. But if heavy regulations aren't attached, maybe these individual city projects would actually work? Reminds me again of Van Jones--The Green Collar Economy.

Watch the video below, or go here.

American Adoption Congress Conference This Weekend

The American Adoption Congress Conference is going on right now in Sacramento, CA. I couldn't swing it this year after going overseas last week and with only a few months until graduation (plus my proposal didn't get accepted so I couldn't get funding from school), but I'd encourage anyone involved with adoption to go to one of these. It honestly changed my life, finding others like me who have been through similar struggles related to adoption. It's a great way to connect with others.

Click here for more info on the current AAC conference.

(I'll be presenting at the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture Conference in Boston May 1 instead.)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wealth Gap for Single Black Women

I just read a most disturbing article about a study that found black women at the very bottom of our society economically. I'm not surprised that their position is lower than many others', but the degree to which they are, even compared to other women, is horrifying. Some of the most heartbreaking facts:
  • The median wealth (assets minus debts) of single black women is five dollars. Yep, 5 bucks. Compare that to single white women, whose median wealth is $42, 600.
  • Black women support friends, family, and their churches to a greater degree than the general population. (A helping spirit is a good thing, right? And shouldn't be cause for poverty.) Yet they are more likely to have lower paying jobs and less access to health insurance.
  • More than 70% of black families in Pittsburgh are headed by single mothers.
This is an atrocity, for everyone in this country. What can we do about it?

The article mentions that the high single-motherhood statistic is likely related to the alarmingly high incarceration rates of black men, which I agree is key. (More on this later and how it relates to the number of black kids in foster care--also see activist work by Van Jones). But I take issue with this quote: "High unemployment and high incarceration rates for black men also lower the likelihood of single black women finding a partner to help build a more secure financial future." This assumes that single black women only want to be with black men, or that it's the only option for them. That doesn't have to be the case, of course.

(I've been thinking lately about this issue, and wondering how often minority women settle for men who aren't the best for them because "in race" options are slim.)

The article then suggests that new government policy is what is needed to amend these issues. A friend has been introducing me to a more libertarian point of view, and I'm starting to think that good-policies-gone-wrong are a big part of why we got here in the first place. Our welfare system is a mess--rarely does it help lift people out of poverty. Policies can appear to be colorblind, but are they really in practice? (It's a known fact that the initial crackdown on marijuana and the propaganda programs demonizing it in this country were directly aimed at latino men.) Plus it's hard to implement laws and regulations that result in the best for everyone, especially in such a diverse society.

The director of the Closing the Gap Initiative said this: "Our government knows how to build wealth for people..." Oh, really...How so? And how might it do so for black women? Require that they be paid 10 times more than white women in the workplace? It's easy to see how that would work out. Change the pay rates of entire industries that currently employ a high percentage of black women? Offer free childcare? Set all the imprisoned black men free?

Something needs to change, that's for sure. But these issues are so complex and deeply entrenched in society that I can't imagine a policy that will do it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gypsies and Adoption in Eastern Europa

Right now I'm in a small town called Levice, Slovakia, with my friend M who is originally from here and her American husband. We are traveling to different small towns, as well as the capital city Bratislava and Budapest, Hungary, but mostly we are visiting with her family. They are Gypsies, which--before meeting M--I had no idea was an ethnic group. Roma people (link might be funky from a Slovenska keyboard--go to, originally descended Northern India and some say from early Egyptians (hence "Gyp" of "Gypsy"). Traditionally they are known as musicians, fortune tellers, bright-colored-clothing-clad travelers--literally "roamers"--and they have migrated all over E. Europe. Partly this migration is due to culture, but also because they are oppressed and shunned all over E. Europe. They are seen as dirty, uneducated thieves who will snatch your baby in the night and carry it away to the forest to be eaten. (That last part is folkloric, of course, but you can see the root of racism in there!)

Another problem is that the Roma people have no national identity, and no land to call their own. M often compares this to the plight of Palestinians. And because they are seen as lower than lower class and have no claim to national identity, they are very poor and have a hard time getting access to social services such as education, etc. Which just perpetuates the problem.

M and I have had several conversations about the continuing discrimination of Gypsies over here, how their oppression is related to the way blacks in the U.S. were treated until only a few decades ago.

Gypsy adoption
M and her husband want to adopt a Gypsy child from here, as you can guess there are many of them in orphanages all over Europe. (Someone once said that the problems of our societies are on display in our orphanages!) photo:

When my father was on a mission trip building an orphanage in Russia years ago, the children would flock to them at the end of the workday, wanting to play. One of the nuns approached Dad and said, "That one is Gypsy, so you don't need to play with him! Just ignore him."

Countries that have implemented the Hague Convention Treaty in their international adoption programs recognize the need for Gypsy children to find good homes. But it gets complicated to actually make it happen. You have to live in the country a certain amount of time before you can take a child, the paperwork process and screening can take years--the things we hear about all the time with adoption. It appears Bulgaria has tried to make the Gypsy adoption process easier, but that's several hundred miles from here. M and her husband haven't found an agency willing to work with them here or nearby in Hungary. It's a strange and distressing mystery. Does anyone know of an agency here? We know there are many Gypsy children waiting...

Thanks for any tips.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tribute to my Mother

I made this Wordle design for my mother for her birthday March 17 (don't worry, she's doesn't use the Internet and won't see it!) You can compile special phrases and words, then paste them into the Wordle program and voilâ--a thoughtful and heartfelt gift!