Saturday, May 1, 2010

On the Fault Line: Transracial Adoption Within a Racist Society

From Madonna, to multitudes of white Christian families in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, white adoption of black babies and children is systemically fucked up. Not every single white adoptive parent in a transracial adoption (TRA) approaches the process of adoption with ignorant and/or messianic ideas (although many of them do), but adoption in the public sector is woefully under-resourced and adoption in the private sector is, of course, corrupted by profit—and both the dearth and the infusion of money provide opportunities for exploitation.

In fact, all white adoptive parents benefit from a systemically racist system that facilitates the separation of black parents (especially mothers) from their children, makes it easy to ignore the importance of black community for a black child in white supremacist culture, and prioritizes the desires of white adoptive parents over the needs of black children, even despite the protests against TRA mounted by adult adoptees of color.

As with everything else, fame, power, and wealth have typically inglorious roles to play in this process, too.

So writes Shaker Quixotess at Shakesville commenting on the recently reported adoption by Sandra Bullock of Louis Bardo.

Sandra Bullock's joy is obvious on the cover of People. She has what she has wanted for some time: a baby!

The revelation of this adoption in the midst of news that she and Jesse James are divorcing is reflects an issue seen in two films. In Juno the adoption proceeds despite the adopters divorce and likewise in Mother and Child. In one case the teen natural mother knows about it, in the other case not so (don't want to be a spoiler and say any more).

Unlike Juno, both Mother and Child and Bullock's real life adoption also involve issues of race. It has been noted that had Sandra and Jesse not split, this Black child would have been adopted and raised - which is still Sandra's wish - by a Hitler-loving Nazi supporter. Either way, he will be raised by Caucasian parents of affluence.

Living on the Fault Line

Dealing head-on with issues of racism in America, transracial adoption in racist America, and white privilege is the documentary by Jeff Farber, Living on the fault Line: Where Race and Family Meet that follows nine transracial adoptive in Vermont.

The 77-minute film has been described not as a film about adoption, but rather a "look at race in America" that views these issues from the perspective of parents living in Vermont - 95+% white - who make a choice or accept interracial adoption.

"In adopting transracially" Farber wants us to know, "parents not only adopt a child, they also adopt a vivid new awareness of race and culture." or, as Jeff told me when we met: "People who adopt inter-racially need be able to accept that they are not white families with children of color, but interracial families."

Adoption reformists need a warning label however. You will have to grit your teeth through the beginning of the film which opens with a very upbeat version of the "cheerful "John McCutcheon "Happy Adoption Day" song singing praise: "Here's to you and Cheers to you. Let's shout it: Hip, hip, hip hooray... oh happy adoption day."

The music, like the rest, is presented without judgement. Thus, one can only wonder if lyrics, such as: "We had a voice and we had a choice" is lost on the filmmaker, or there to point out the irony of those words for the children and their original families who live forever, often painfully, precisely because of the lack of either a voice or a choice. My guess is that coming at the subject from race and not adoption, Farber has no clue that it might offend some who are touched by adoption, lest it would not be played in its entirety.

The adoptive parents featured in the film, for the most part, enter into their adoptions fairly naive to the fact and their kids have to live out - often painfully - the choices they made, unaware of the consequences. They speak of the advantages of being raise din the green beauty of Vermont - an idyllic farm life as some Midwestern adoptions have offered, if we ignore the pain of school tormenters.

One mother now has the humility of hindsight to be able to say that transracial adoption is third choice for any child in need of care. The first choice she recognizes is that the family he is born into is able to receive the resources they need to remain intact. The second is that if it is not possible for any of his extended family to raise him, that he is adopted and raised by a Black family. And the third option is his being adopted by a white family.

There is also the mother's poignant recognition that Black families are able to say to their children: WE will be faced with challenges of racism. This is not the same as an adoptive mother saying to her child that HE will be faced with these challenges. In addition to simple issues like learning how to groom African-American hair, therein lies the line in the sand between being raised by people we look like...people who reflect back to us a sense of self-pride and identity. This, is perhaps the crux of what it is all about.

In Goangdong, China, a baby macaque was adopted by a pigeon.

If reversed, how would a monkey teach the bird to fly? Certainly not in the way mother birds teach their young.

Inter-species adoption may seem a crude comparison, but it points to the limitations of love and ignoring differences. Doing so, goes just so far and is great for life-saving infants that would otherwise not survive.

But we all know that when humans take in large wild animals, at some point they need to be returned to their natural habitat in order to continue to survive past childhood and adolescence.

Living on the Fault Line goes just so far - adolescence. It is at that point that one needs to see Adopted: The Film for the hindsight of an adult interracial adoptee, an aspect not covered by Farber.

Except for the opening and closing music, it is presented in a series of rather dry interviews with parents, young adults and professionals. In chronological sequence, as one might organize chapters of a book. it starts with decisions around adoption, joy of adopting 'the baby" and then realizations of the child as they go through kindergarten, grade school and into high school. Two views beyond H.S. are presented. It is then followed with professionals commenting on racism and adoption rather than intertwining the topics as is done in films such as Adopted which though not fictionalized at all, plays more like a docudrama.

Fault Line does not dramatize. Fault Line, is, however, a vital and important educational tool for both tolerance, white privilege, and acceptance as well as adoption. It is a good companion piece for Adopted: the film, or on its own. The music and lack of any expression anger by the adoptees, will likely make it more palatable to those adopting to see it and hear its message, and that's important.

See trailer and order information here.


Von said...

Unfortunately palatability doesn't make for truthfulness and reality, particularly in issues to be faced in later years.

Mirah said...

Von, the film tells the truth. Making it palatable makes the truth more reaisly heard thanwhen the same truth is dishd with anger.

I loved the righteous indignation in Adopted: the film, but some aps might be turned off by it.

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