In no way should my color be regarded as a flaw. From the moment the Negro accepts the separation imposed by the European he has no further respite, and “is it not understandable that henceforth he will try to elevate himself to the white man’s level? To elevate himself in the range of colors to which he attributes a kind of hierarchy?” We shall see that another solution is possible. It implies a restructuring of the world.
— Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
Two years before I was born, Frantz Fanon’s seminal work The Wretched of the Earth was published at the height of the Algerian War that France was waging against its rebellious colony. Fanon’s text provides a framework for liberation from colonial subjugation, and it describes the psychological and physical trauma inflicted by a foreign power upon a dominated populace. It further elucidates the functional role of the “native intellectual”, the indigen who identifies with his colonizers. Fanon uses a striking passage to enlighten us concerning the mental makeup of those who acknowledge, accept, and finally assume the voice and narrative of the dominant culture. He states:
The intellectual who is Arab and French, or Nigerian and English, when he comes up against the need to take on two nationalities, chooses, if he wants to remain true to himself, the negation of one of these determinations. But most often, since they cannot or will not make a choice, such intellectuals gather together all the historical determining factors which have conditioned them and take up a fundamentally “universal standpoint”.
This is because the native intellectual has thrown himself greedily upon Western culture. Like adopted children who only stop investigating the new family framework at the moment when a minimum nucleus of security crystallizes in their psyche, the native intellectual will try to make European culture his own. [emphasis mine]
In comparing the colonized to the adopted child, Fanon makes an elliptical reference that merits expansion. The implication here is that the adoptee also traverses the phases of being “colonized”: coddled by the seeming safety of his new-found place, seduced by the imposed mythology of a dominant culture, and abetted by the willfully distanced memory of his generational past. Fanon thus provides a clear definition for what is often referred to within adoptee circles as “the fog”, or “drinking the Kool-Aid”: the acceptance of a fragile notion of security sustained by a false sense of self within an alien and alienating environment.
Given that adoption, like colonial oppression, is a function of a power differential determined by particular economic and political realities, Fanon’s guide to liberation can equally be applied to the condition of the adopted child, subjugated both physically and psychologically within a foreign realm. As adoptees come to realize that their “minimum nucleus of security” is highly questionable not just within the family but also within the world at large, the current normalizing analysis of the adoptee condition becomes an increasingly dubitable endeavor, especially when employing the tools, language, methods, and modes of the “colonial” system that engenders adoption in the first place.
Fanon’s liberatory strategies of decolonizing our minds as well as our sense of belonged-to place provide a lifeline for the adoptee attempting to return to her land of birth or to assume her place in the culture she was adopted into. Furthermore, they help us understand how our narratives mesh with others similarly displaced, including the immigrant-based families we are often adopted into. Finally, via these strategies, adoptees as well as their families, communities, and places of birth can attempt to find at the very least psychological solace from such a radical engagement, but more importantly they may discover a truly active role for themselves in this increasingly revolutionary world.
There are some who say, “Well, we’re the black Americans.” Junk. You ain’t nothing but an African, and you ain’t had nothing to say about where you were born; the white man decided where you would be born, when you would be born, and how you would be born. For us to keep talking this junk about “We’re Americans first”—thats junk. We’re Africans. We happened to be born in America because the white man needed us there, and that’s the only reason why. That does not make you an American, incidentally. It makes you a tool of America.
— Stokely Carmichael, Stokely Speaks
A Deliberate Displacement
I returned sight-unseen to Lebanon, the country of my birth, in September, 2004. Like many adoptees who make this journey back, I had in my head and in my heart a desire to know the culture, language, and place I had left at such an early age; a wish to literally fill in the blanks concerning aspects of my life that most take for granted: family, identity, ancestry. I’ve learned much in these past eight years, especially as I’ve engaged with other adoptees, many of whom have likewise returned to their own birthplaces. I have come to realize just how similar our stories are in fundamental ways, and these common bonds have led to our activation concerning this issue.
As our activism has grown over this near decade, I have been greatly inspired by adoptees in South Korea, for just one example, who have helped shut down adoption in that country as of this year. Other source countries are following suit, and I am further heartened to see an expansion of this activism, here citing just a few examples: mothers in Guatemala, demanding the repatriation of their kidnapped children; in Argentina, demonstrating for an accounting of the infants born to the imprisoned and then disappeared; in Spain, investigating the stolen children of the Franco era and beyond; in Russia, criticizing the despicable treatment of their children exported abroad; in indigenous American Nations, parents reclaiming their stolen progeny. This list grows longer every day.
Such resistance does not pass without backlash. It is thus distressing to see renewed efforts to mediate adoption as a religious duty, or charitable act, as the front of this economic and political battle shifts to “virgin” countries and populations, in the biological version of neo-liberal plunder as described in such works as Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, or Samir Amin’s The Liberal Virus. Nonetheless, I sense that we are reaching a crucial turning point both for adoptees and their families, as well as for source countries and their communities, in which the very institution of adoption is challenged and critiqued not in terms of its reform, but openly and honestly in terms of its abolition.
I invoke this term fully aware of its weight as concerns the movement to abolish slavery, and to clarify this usage I define adoption as follows:
Adoption is, in and of itself, a violence based in inequality. It is candy-coated, marketed, and packaged to seemingly concern families and children, but it is an economically and politically incentivized crime. It stems culturally and historically from the “peculiar institution” of Anglo-Saxon indentured servitude and not family creation. It is not universal and is not considered valid by most communal cultures. It is a treating of symptoms and not of disease. It is a negation of families and an annihilation of communities not imbued with any notion of humanity due to the adoptive culture’s inscribed bias concerning race, class, and human relevancy.
From this standpoint, adoption is in fact similar to other present-day human displacements: slavery, trafficking, gentrification, immigration, land occupation, apartheid, and enforced statelessness. Our above list of those fighting for their children and families can equally be read as a rising tide of resistance against an economic and political war waged against them, with adoption now seen as a particularly focused weapon thereof. In the face of such violence, Fanon’s words awaken us to our current “colonized” reality, force an examination of our relationship to and positioning within the places we might claim as our own, and in doing so empower us with a common cause of resistance against the very economic and political roots that adoption stems from.
Because it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.
— Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
A Theft of Agency
Those of us who voyage back to our places of birth are often qualified as “expats”, welcomed by our mirror-image compatriots not as fellow nationals, but more as outsiders due to our foreign acculturation. We thus return literally disoriented, and we often return the favor, viewing our originating place through a lens of scorn, judgment, blame, romanticism, or remove, in a further demeaning projection onto those who have suffered or who continue to suffer from foreign domination. We might say that our projection remains forgivable, since the narrative and mythology of adoption would have us believe that our land of birth is the economically and spiritually impoverished place we were rescued if not saved from. After a lifetime of such inculcation, it is no wonder that this perception loom most prominently in our minds.
Our wholehearted wish to return is thus stymied by those who admire and focus on our very foreignness. This is quite a rude awakening, a cognitive dissonance between the familiar and the foreign that is often difficult if not torturous to comprehend: We might call this a stirring of awareness on the adoptee’s part. From here the further trajectory of the adoptee’s lived experience can be seen to map clearly onto what Frantz Fanon referred to as the stages that lead up to “decolonization”: first assimilation, then self-discovery, and finally revolution. Compared to “journeys” sanctioned by the adoptive culture that remain stuck within an assimilated realm, in this journey there is likewise pain but also hope, even though these distances—psychic, geographic, acculturated and class-based—can often be excruciating if not debilitating. However, once we surpass our initial encounters and delve deeper into our origins a new vista starts to emerge.
As we strive to find footing within our transitional environment, we face an array of options, in a spectrum of oscillation between lived realms. We might, for example, choose to take leave of this world altogether. We might return immediately to the comfort of our known world, language, and life. We might stay and maintain a wholly removed quotidian in the bubble that our class privilege provides us, the expatriate lifestyle. We might slum it enough to find employ among the hundreds of NGOs and foreign agencies that displace all notions of effective civil society. We might learn just enough to act as the native informer in explaining our new-found foreign place to those “back home”. Or else we might manage to do away with our affected identity markers in an endeavor to re-integrate ourselves with our very source. Our choice here is severely limited by paths of least resistance concerning language, cognition, and culture, as well as by required quantum leaps that make moving forward more difficult the closer we approach our destination.
Adjusting to these distances as well as processing the painfully gleaned circumstances of our adoptions, many of us who have taken on this journey are only made all the more aware that adoption is just another one of the many acts of violence inflicted upon populations denied any true sense of dignity, agency, or validity. In the face of desperation, poverty, illiteracy, lack of basic social services and infrastructure, as well as a general disrespect for human life from the “haves” of this world, those living a subsistent reality—Fanon’s “wretched” masses—cannot be faulted for attempting to find a better future for their progeny, as the myth of universal “upward mobility” would limit them.
But even if this myth were true, the choice to abandon an infant cannot be considered valid: Similarly suffered pressures and duress would invalidate such decisions in any court of law or, for that matter, arena of torture. By contrast, these pressures and incentives are somehow not seen as tainting the unwilling transfer of flesh and blood, aided and abetted by an army of advocates with no effective counterbalance. Such human trade flies in the face of all local cultural practice much less maternal or parental instinct, despite any scenarios invented by the failed nation-state eager to export its social problems, or the perjurious claims of adoption advocates taking advantage of this inequality to build families or fill bank accounts. The success of adoption parallels a globally dominant mode of thinking and acting, with no echo or countervailing force locally speaking, therefore rendering it a theft of agency from those so targeted, above and beyond the outright theft of their children and futures.
For poor people in many countries, Empire does not always appear in the form of cruise missiles and tanks, as it has in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam. It appears in their lives in the very local avatars—losing their jobs, being sent unpayable electricity bills, having their water supply cut, being evicted from their homes and uprooted from their land. All this overseen by the repressive machinery of the state, the police, the army, the judiciary. It is a process of relentless impoverishment with which the poor are historically familiar. What Empire does is to further entrench and exacerbate existing inequalities.
— Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire
A System of Punishment
The oppression of adoption has not spared the “First World” we were adopted into, although the lived indecency found there is easier to hide from, or to avoid outright, or to blame the victims thereof for their own fate. We might refer to this as a kind of arrogant Calvinist state of denial: the internal punisher masked behind the external savior. This domestic “Third World” is also the source of adoptions, although we are erroneously loathe to consider many of these as “transracial” or “transcultural” based on the assimilation long since of those formerly considered Other within the adoptive country’s population, as well as the rise of their homelands to “First-World” status. From this class-corrected point of view, there is little if any difference between domestic and international adoption, and we should endeavor to assume each others’ battles in a communion of shared purpose.
More distressingly, adoption, conceptually speaking, currently overshadows foster care which, wholly underfunded, unsupported, and left to its own corruptions, is easily dismissed out of hand. Its slow demise is due to its premising on the collective care of distressed families on a more socially conscious level, and thus it has no economically viable place in an individualized, nuclear family–based society. It has instead mutated into a system of punishment for families already struggling with economic, psychological, or medical issues, and who receive little in the way of societal support that would enable them to keep their children, in a modern-day reflection of the Victorian-era punishment of the poorhouse.
To exalt adoption while defaming foster care thus reflects deeply embedded cultural biases and prejudices, which also happen to map onto the societally destructive nature of globalizing Anglo-Saxon capitalism as it forces people to make inhuman and inhumane decisions regarding children, family, identity, and life. For the adopter, this poses a particularly difficult ethical dilemma, acknowledging that maintaining one’s very lifestyle functionally comes at the expense of others, and results in the “availability” of children among the impoverished of the world.
For the adoptee, this presents even more vexing issues of identification, agency, and selfhood. For the mother coerced directly or systemically into handing over a child, this equates to a devil’s bargain of hideous proportions. Given the overwhelming significance of what is transpiring in such situations, we cannot fault the desire to remain blissfully ignorant of such sourcing and trafficking. Adoption “Kool-Aid”—the preferred cocktail of the colonized mind—is thus doled out in abundance, palliative and soothing.
To examine here is not the given situation of child care within a society, but the societal structure itself for the source of the problem. There can be no room for “imperfect solutions” to such a crisis, indeed the logical fallacy of adoption is made clear upon the realization that even were every family to adopt a dozen children from the nether classes, this would do nothing to relieve poverty and every other societal problem that we currently face.
Adoption is therefore not a social solution for the ills of this planet, but a great Ponzi scheme of misery that exacerbates the damage it hopes to alleviate; an individual tonic to assuage personal issues of the adoptive class’s relation to this world. To conflate adoption with salvationist sentiment is a criminal act, and reveals the desire to maintain class hierarchies within society, when the aim should be to undo such inequality in all its forms and manifestations.
Roelie Post, who as a European Commission official dealt with adoption in the run-up to Romania’s entry to the European Union, has written a book on her experience of dealing with what she sees as a powerful adoption lobby that preys on weak and poor countries. Mr. Wolfe Murray says that after wars and natural disasters adoption agencies descend like “vultures” to find suitable children. The countries that provide the most children for international adoption include China, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and, until recently, Guatemala, which are also among those with the weakest legal systems, he notes.
— “Saviors or Kidnappers”; The Economist, February 4, 2010.
The class-based aspect of adoption becomes paramount in understanding it as a failed institution of family creation, and in re-evaluating it as a function of bigger and broader political and economic processes. Such a refocusing forces us to reposition ourselves in terms of our self-ascribed class standing, as well as the view of the world that this position affords us. In this, Fanon’s second stage of self-awareness, the adoptee attempting to understand “where she comes from” is obliged to break down the learned barriers of class distinction that would otherwise separate her from her likely forebears.
This is no easy task. Over the past eight years, I have spent much of my time attempting to comprehend the language, culture, mores, and the ways of life of my birthplace. Contrary to the preconceptions I arrived with, I have been most enlightened by those who easily grasp my situation, due to their shifted cultural understanding of orphans and orphanages, but also because of their own dispossession and displacement within society: migrant workers, refugees, marginalized local communities.
Contrasted with the trite and cliché phrases such as “you were lucky” or “you were chosen”, their refreshing and welcomed response is more often an apology that I was removed from my family and taken from my land. This acknowledgment of the familial bond and one’s connection to place provides much in the way of comfort, even though I have yet to identify either, due to the bureaucratic secrecy imposed by those who maintain the orphanage I was adopted from.
And so at first ours can be seen as the reciprocal journey of Fanon’s exiled native who travels to the “metropolis”, and from this remove, passes judgment on his brothers and sisters back home for his identification with the colonizer. Due to the historically dominated nature of our source countries, or else their targeting for economic exploitation, this is ironically often the way of thinking expected of us when we return, and is often the most obvious reaction of returning adoptees, acculturated to a particular class level. It is, of course, a comfortable enough mode to step into, with its aura of familiarity, along with its perks, privileges, and status.
As our awareness grows, however, resisting this ascribed societal position disturbingly reveals just how deep colonialism reaches. The local elite will always try to stifle any resistance that calls into question their local sources of class power. This fact, intensely resonated by the academic institution I taught in, staffed to a large degree by an obsequious clerisy, as well as by the religious community of my orphanage and an acquiescent bourgeoisie, inexorably draw me to the following passage from Hamid Dabashi’s book Brown Skin, White Masks, further elaborating Fanon’s take on this concept:
“When a black man speaks of Marx,” Fanon observed [in Black Skin, White Masks], “the first reaction is the following: ‘We educated you and now you are turning against your benefactors’.” The native informer finds brown people’s Marxism crude and outdated and does not consider herself political at all. The black man who dares to speak—as did Fanon, [Edward] Said, Malcolm X, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire—is called anything from passionate to angry, but never “reasonable”. He may have a point, he is repeatedly told, but he is so angry he defeats his own purpose. Reason and composure, of course, are white.
For the adoptee existing within her adoptive culture, this painfully hits home because it so absolutely maps onto the “limits of tolerance” shown by her adoptive culture. These limits are revealed in its vaunted modes of parliamentary procedure; Robert’s Rules of Order; the “equivalent” debate of ill-matched interlocutors; the “objective” format of academic research; notions of correct speech, tone, and address; or even the fact that her source country and gender were selected to fore-ordain docility on her part.
For the adoptee returned and now living within the place of origin, this also strikes hard because it often matches statements made by the local counterparts of her adoptive class that she is “not really Korean, Chinese, etc.”, in a tragic rehashing of the original adoption trauma of rejection and denial of lineage. The adoptee is further disparaged especially if she dare seek out more suitable local modes of discursive practice, or cultural references and affirmations. This brings on accusations that she ascribes to useless “ideologies”, in a demonstration by those who claim to be apolitical of their own indoctrination that they then deny, like fish not acknowledging the water that they swim in.
The attempt to silence the awakened adoptee is thus a channeling of the poisonous tropes and mythologies of our adoptive culture, creating of them something even more noisome and destructive on the local scene. We should not be so thwarted: In point of fact, it is such a cross-referencing of known and learned ideologies—often censored if not forbidden in the adoptive country—that allows us to make sense of this razor’s edge dividing quite different but strangely similar realms.
This is the certitude, always, of the authoritarian, the dogmatist, who knows what the popular classes know, and knows what they need even without talking to them. At the same time, what the popular classes already know, in function of their practice in the interwoven events of their everyday lives, is so “irrelevant,” so “disarticulate,” that it makes no sense to authoritarian persons. What makes sense to them is what comes from their readings, and what they write in their books and articles. It is what they already know about the knowledge that seems basic and indispensable to them, and which, in the form of content, must be “deposited” in the “empty consciousness” of the popular classes.
— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope
In attempting to fathom the negative reactions to our growing self-awareness, it is important to remember that we are considered to be “blank slates” that have long since been inscribed, and by questioning our adoption and thus our dictated sense of selves we are transgressing a very clear boundary. This boundary is not so much personal or familial, but instead concerns our selves as economic and political entities. From Dabashi’s book comes this further clarifying reference and quotation from Eric Hobsbawm, from his work entitled: Imperialism: From White Settlement to World Hegemony:
“[To Anglo-American imperialists] the rest of humanity [is] only raw material, clay to be molded by the potter’s hand. This assumption of superiority may be called the legacy of British insularity, magnified by America’s size and wealth.”
Here we see that the reaction to our awareness and resistance is mirrored on the political level by our adoptive country’s treatment of our place of birth, in terms of colonization, Orientalism, or economic and political warfare.
And so adoption’s historical shift and elevation to a method of family creation is thus inherently premised wholly upon the rise of the United States as an imperial power in the years following World War II. In terms of empire, it replaced an exhausted Britain, and surpassed the now defeated Europe and Japan, with the children of these places seen as additional spoils of war, and setting the standard of such child-mining for the coming wars in Korea, Viet Nam, South America, etc. What transpired on the macro level of politics and diplomacy resonates psychologically speaking in our own treatment as adoptees.
The act of adoption is thus a crucible of the culture’s view of humanity, namely, an infinite population of “wretched refuse” awaiting salvation from an exceptionalist nation. That adoption so clearly fits into this imperial mythology is witnessed by its exaltation within every part of the empire’s power structure. The legal, governmental, social, cultural, medical, religious, and mediated realms all assume adoption as the status quo, and all adapt themselves to facilitate and justify its predominant use at the expense of all other prevailing notions of rights and ethics.
Re-iterating our earlier list of political activism, this also helps explain the growing resistance against it, especially from source countries which have likewise dealt with imperialist interference such as imposed dictators, exploited economies, war-ravaged infrastructures, and hijacked revolutions. To so resist, to question and critique adoption, is thus to call into question and criticize this entire globalizing economic and political system. To speak out about adoption becomes a political act, and such activism is naturally in solidarity with other such liberatory struggles historically played out within societies around the world.
In fact, Americanization is the most prevalent and apparent aspect of a process that started in Europe itself: one of capitalist development that transforms everything it touches into merchandise, one of industrial development that standardizes everything it swallows up, one of technocratic development that anonymizes everything it gets its hands on, one of extreme urbanization that disintegrates communities and atomizes social existence into that of a “lonely crowd”. This process, that has already corrupted and ruined so many cultures around the world, has now turned its attack on us. [Translation mine]
— Edgar Morin, quoted in Géopolitique du chaos, by Ignacio Ramonet
The Class ladder and the Death of Culture
There is a further parallel to explore between what was done within the core of empire and what is currently being suffered within said empire’s outer reaches. This suffering takes the form of urban sprawl, pollution, over-industrialization, the destruction of local craft and culture, the breakdown of community, the corporatization of agriculture, etc. Our adoptive culture is full of references to the disappeared aspects of our lives that formed the basis for social culture and interaction. Many of us witnessed their disappearance, and have experienced the mediated reality that has dismally replaced them. To return to our places of birth and to then relive such destruction—especially once we’ve fathomed its cause—is to rouse us from our colonized stupor and draw us closer to our source.
With this hindsight, it now makes sense that many of us were adopted by those who were part of the racially motivated first suburban push into what were formerly the fields, orchards, farmlands, and forests outside of major urban centers in the United States, one of many such internal occupations and re-occupations of land within the country. This push into a “new and modern” suburbia reflected in no small way the economic and political bargain of starting a nuclear family at the time. This bargain was premised on the expansive American economy which, since the post-war period, meant for the new suburbanite entry into what was then an actual (albeit segregated) middle class.
This middle class would prove to be temporary in nature, as the empire eventually exported its jobs, factories, and livelihoods abroad, ironically to many of the countries we are adopted from. Today’s wholesale foreclosure on millions of such homes, coupled with actions such as eminent domain, corporate appropriation of public lands, schools, libraries, and cultural spaces, gentrification, the replacement of downtowns with peripheral strip malls, as well as farmland conglomeration, all reveal the planned-for temporary nature of this middle class allotment of the national wealth and patrimony, as well as the intended destruction of local community that is similarly echoed in our places of birth.
The disappeared middle class has been replaced by a minority global “elite of existence” counterposed against the barely subsisting who nonetheless make up the great majority of the planet’s population. These, the “wretched” masses, provide labor, resources, as well as adoptable children to said elite, while remaining wholly without voice. In these economic and political terms, we exist as subjects of empire based solely on our ability to spend money at a certain level and at a consistent rate. In no small way this explains the lack of concern for our notions of cultural identity, as opposed to this preferred economic one. It also points up the vaunting of this elite’s “corporate multiculturalism”—a vile and false mask for our transracial adoptions—patently hypocritical given its treatment of minorities and its support for foreign wars.
This overarching desire for class ascendency among prospective adoptive parents finds echo here in the competitive quest for home-study “approval”, and is represented by super-mediated images that are posted online of their furnished nurseries—these amply stocked empty nests—a kind of promissory note and pledge of allegiance to this aspired-to elitism. In return for this conformity to class norms, compliance with the mythologies of an economic supra-national culture is demanded and exacted, replacing the former local and communal ones. The nuclear family is made paramount, and is the only valid social denominator above the individual consumer.
Someone named it / Topaz… / This land / Where neither grass / Nor trees / Nor wild flowers grow.
Banished to this / Desert land, / I cherish the / Blessing of the sky.
The fury of the / Dust storm spent, / I gaze through tears / At the sunset glow.
Grown old so soon / In a foreign land, / What do they think, / These people / Eating in lonely silence?
—Yukari, quoted from Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese-American Family
The Negation of Identity
Adopted children can thus be defined as stepping stones for the assimilation and advancement of the adoptive class, a leap-frogging of our progenitors who failed to “make it” in this type of globalized society. We are thus catalogued as “class markers”, along with the house, car(s), major appliances, lawn, pool, summer home, and pedigree dog. Disturbingly enough, American Kennel Club certification of such animals contains more genealogical information than our own birth certificates.
This cataloguing is exemplified by the “Dear Birthmother” letters that litter the Internet. These atrocious human “fishing schemes” demonstrate to the subsisting mother-to-be how unfit she is to parent in the New Economy. The huge price of adoption, and the heinous exaltation of those who can pay such a fee, further manifests itself in fundraisers for adopter wannabes, as well as in T-shirts which gloatingly boast: “Adoption: The New Pregnant”, thus separating consumer purchase of a child from a more base procreation thereof.
Everything about the business transaction that is adoption—based on the Anglo-Saxon notion of children as property—attests to this concept, with its associated implications of ownership, transfer of title, racial authenticity, etc. This is represented by adoption brokers who, like their cohorts from the days of slavery, list the newborn or not-yet-born biological product for public viewing, including vital statistics such as gender, race, weight, health, and a price that repulsively varies based on the above parameters.
It should not surprise us then that we are given little sympathy when we speak out about losing our culture, language, or identity since many of our adoptive families, via generational erasure of an immigrant past, negated their own ethnicity to climb this same class ladder. This was done during times of social upheaval when those who resisted were violently put in their place, thus revealing the one valid path to take, now literally embodied in the economics of the adoption industry. To be told we were “chosen” or “lucky” is thus to emphatically berate our ingratitude concerning an instant economic arrival which often took generations for our adoptive families to accomplish.
In stark contrast, a sympathetic response to our question of identity is often worse than the outright dismissal thereof, especially when it involves the abysmal simulacrum of offensively named heritage camps. Similar to the historical segregation of immigrant minorities, these provide the very caricature of our ethnicity which, locally lived, is the source of the racist stereotypes directed against us, and that we are defenseless to counter in any significant way. Further to the point, they often reflect themes offensively removed from our originating nether-class communities, gleaned instead from the aristocratic, upper-class, or royal realm of our lands of birth. More insultingly still, they often employ references to culture completely disappeared or radically altered due to the onslaught of globalized cultural production.
The economic and political basis of such dictatorial indoctrination directed toward these “blank slates” and “impressionable slabs of clay is evidenced in strikingly similar types of “children-gathering”: the semi-adoption of “summer camps” for the very children victimized by imperial forays into countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, etc., as well as the cultural funding and “brain drain” scholarships from North America and Europe meant to win over “the hearts and minds” of those young people yearning to leave their birth countries as much as we might hope to return to ours. The similarity here is not innocent nor coincidental, and we can see that the displacement of immigration and adoption are two different sides of the same imperial coin; and it is expected that we, too, must render unto Caesar.
But is it still a family / When the son cannot speak / The mother tongue of the father? —Amit Majmudar, “Immigration and Naturalization”
Yearning for Communal Roots
In striking comparison, groups that attempt to preserve their language and culture receive the most disdain from this dominant mode: perennially the imported black and indigenous populations, but most recently Hispanics and Muslims, as well as pockets of resistance within the now assimilated citizenry who are nonetheless reduced to national jokes, starring in their own reality TV shows redolent of self-inflicted minstrelsy. We can now include among these groups the diaspora of adoptees yearning for their communal roots who likewise do not wise up, stifle themselves, or “know their role”. We are similarly a displaced population, yet in a perfected form of genetic-material transference, not much different economically speaking from vials of donated sperm, surrogate pregnancies in foreign wombs, or “snowflake” embryos stockpiled in refrigerators.
It is inherently decreed in the economic basis of our adoption that unlike previous attempts to destroy those who refuse to individuate via importation, transmutation, or outright repression and assassination, that this willful experiment of artificial grafting referred to euphemistically as adoption must take; the expensively cared for and nurtured human potential known as the adoptee must deliver—or else. This “or else” is defined by the culturally imposed rules that deign allow us an approach toward the dominant culture’s formerly “all-American” and currently “corporate cosmopolitan” ideal of existence, while never permitting a true attainment thereof, despite even our most drastic and desperate attempts to alter appearance as well as psyche. It is also expressed by the “limits of tolerance” that it defines concerning how we speak, act, behave, dress, and comport ourselves, and by its diametrically opposed and protectively guarded archetypal views concerning genealogy, bloodlines, and biological connection.
Here is revealed the “lose-lose” proposition we face as we attempt to define the what and where of “home”, as well as who we are. For when we break these rules and resist and surpass these limits, in the eyes of this dominant culture we suddenly transform, becoming our own abject and retrograde source, the barbarian native within society, a reversion to our sub-par DNA. From that point forward we are seen as ingrates and reprobates to the class whose advancement we’ve called into question with our “angry” and “resistant” traitorous words and actions. That these repugnant and classist epithets ever be used against even one of us only points up the false basis of our acceptance in the first place. In terms of hybrid botany and organ transplants—or, more appropriately, renegade slaves—we understand very well what verdict is handed down upon the forcibly attached or emplaced when it rejects its new surroundings: an execration of the offending entity which must also bear the blame for its own abjection.
And thus American Indian reservations, secret bases of extradition, Japanese internment camps, urban and rural ghettoes, the corporate-industrial prison complex, vigilante terrorism directed against immigrants, the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans. Shamefully added to this list are the children sent to adoption rehabilitation camps in Montana, Russian boys returned alone on airplanes, disrupted adoptions, deported adoptees, the stockpiling of children by adoptive collectors and hoarders, RAD therapies, rebirthings and other pseudo-treatments bordering on outright torture, over-medication of our “mental illnesses”, as well as our “treatment” and study by an army of therapists, social workers, academics, assorted quacks and other misery-industry profiteers. The very existence of this cavalcade of systemic jerry-builders is a greater condemnation of the dysfunctional societal structures undergirding the industry of adoption than anything possibly expressed by the critics thereof. This, in and of itself, should give us great pause.
Consumer society consumes people and things like so many shooting stars. Things made not to last die soon after birth, and more and more people are condemned from the moment they peek out of the womb. —Eduardo Galeano, Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World
Imperialism’s Perfect Weapon
Further damning is the fact that these societal structures exist solely for the benefit and sustenance of an elite level of society. This class mythologizes its own act of adoption as charitable, beneficent, and progressive, but ironically uses the same language to describe the above-listed acts of expulsion, disruption, return, and rejection. It audaciously defines them as equivalent bestowers of grace, benevolence, and bravery upon any relinquisher or adopter so bent on our literal disposal. In its two-facedness is a clear mapping onto the maintenance of class divisions in society that this group also legalizes, culturally imposes, and demands allegiance to.
This hypocrisy further expresses itself in this class’s super-mediated existence which, while denigrating our origins, neglects to make mention of its own inherent racism, classism, misogyny, predatory sexualization of children, and the violence that these engender within society. Our adoptive realm—the apotheosis of capitalism—has devolved into the epitome of non-place, the rebellion against which can only be seen as normal from anyone, not just adopted children. Contrary to the supremacist sentence passed down upon our originating places, no child—adopted or otherwise—deserves to grow up in such an environment. This sums up the self-affirming feedback loop of adoption with no alternative within the current system. It is therefore pointless to talk of reform, or change, or hoping things will get better, or making do with our current status quo.
Expanding here, it is no longer incongruous in historically economic and political terms that adoption’s role previous to its use as a method of inorganic family creation, was to instead provide indentured servants and slave labor, to empty poorhouses, to populate foreign colonies, to destroy indigenous populations, and to hide out-of-wedlock births. This lie of family creation is defined within the very culture, which is paradoxically full of references ranging from fairy tales to blockbuster movies that reveal a visceral disapproval of adoption as a familial mode. Most egregious, then, is its advocacy and promotion in the name of “family” by religious if not evangelical as well as missionary groups, along with its more recent use as a tool of incursion by NGOs, that shows all the more the counterfeit humanitarianism of those working not on behalf of children, but toward very specific imperial goals.
Their non-coincidental arrival in countries post the economic and political wars waged against them, or the natural disasters that befall them, only furnishes further proof of adoption’s function as a “perfect weapon” of imperial hegemony. As such, it provides for instant class indoctrination of an incoming individual wholly severed from her disposable source and community, in contrast to the generational amnesia imposed upon more communally focused immigrant and indigenous groups. No one is more aware of this than these populations themselves, fighting to keep their communities intact, and growing more resistant by the day to the wholesale erasure of their language, culture, and identity, and thus setting a supreme example for adoptees to follow.
Individualism is the first to disappear. The native intellectual has learned from his masters that the individual ought to express himself fully. The colonialist bourgeoisie had hammered into the native’s mind the idea of a society of individuals where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity, and whose only wealth is individual thought.
— Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
An Honest Valuation of All Humanity
We cannot stop at this, the obvious unmasking of the pyromaniac firefighters spraying gasoline on the inferno of their own creation. We have to pursue this line of thinking to its logical conclusion especially as concerns its implications for the places we return to, also victims of various imperialist encroachments. As second-choice children and now second-class citizens, we are duty-bound to identify not with our acculturating class, but with our originating community wholly missing from this debate, in an effort to end our self-destructive oscillation and to find a true salvation in total immersion.
For what we are describing is the economic and political system that we, adoptees, are aptly posed to challenge top to bottom, and thus Fanon’s third stage: Revolution. To change adoption requires changing the system that spawned it and putting an end to its hegemonic reach. It is a natural next step for adoptees to thus fundamentally question adoption, deconstruct it, and eventually replace it with something much more socially conscious, holistic, and humane. This will not be accomplished from within the system as it currently exists, nor by conspiring with those who profit from it.
Extrapolating from Fanon, such change instead requires among other things a willful return to the local; a reawakening of true localized community-based culture; a move from monopolizing to cooperative models of industry, agriculture, and media; an honest valuation of all of humanity; a focus on family as an organic unit of functional society and not of consumptive economy; an examination of ethnic and cultural resistance within the trafficked experience; a prioritization of the communal over the individual; a focus on shared purpose over personal identity.
Such rethinking is not without work and effort. At its simplest, it means living as the rest of the world so lives, and rejecting the luxuries and privileges that we currently confuse with personal and individual rights. At its most difficult, it is a complete decolonization of mind and place; a physical and psychological regrounding. The examples and precursors to follow here are many and varied, and their historic failure is more often a function of targeting from without. To consider such examples requires from us a shift in perception; a calling into question of that which we have been led to believe is the only possible way to exist framed along nationalistic, patriotic, and partisan class lines.
It is time for us to admit that in adoption can be found a great and horrific injustice and violence. But as is often the case, those who have suffered most from such violence are the ones who will most likely understand these words, are best primed en masse to right such wrongs, but for a variety of reasons that in and of themselves support this thesis, are those most likely to never read or even hear them, much less act on them. And so we must become channelers on their behalf, in an effort to reach them, to enjoin them, to bring true balance to this discussion as well as an eventual rectification of what adoption has wrought.
The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more….Our future security will be in their inability to injure us, the distance to which they are driven, and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.
— George Washington, speaking of the Cayuga Nation, quoted in Recovering the Sacred, by Winona LaDuke
To effectively communicate with those traditionally outside of the various failed metaphors used to describe the adoption equation—”triad”, “constellation”, and “mosaic”—we need delve into histories and narratives that are not found within the dominant discourse, ideally from the point of view of the subjects so excluded. For example, the derivations that led up to my adoption were many and complex. My adoptive father was working for a foreign oil company in Iran, naively unaware of the activation there of a society defying an imposed Shah after a British- and CIA-led coup toppled the democratically elected president Mohammad Mossadegh. Despite being an Islamic country, children from the nether classes were “adoptable”, but they came with a hefty price tag that spat in the face of any concept of morality or ethics.
Lebanon was, for different purposes, likewise designed to be a capitalist haven from the moment it was carved out of a colonialist’s map. It provided a palatable legal cover and an over-zealous brokerage for such transfers, and had started answering the demand for children from North America and Europe with a network of supply that stretched to the eastern hinterlands of the Beqa’ Valley and Syria, as well as to the impoverished rural south and into occupied Palestine. A random encounter in the Beirut airport started the verbal transaction that would later lead to a mountain of falsified documents that plagues me to this day. This, along with the support of a variety of governmental, religious, and diplomatic connections—along with a hefty price tag—allowed for my adoption and travel to the United States.
This historical pattern has been repeated endless dozens of times around the world before and since then, with little protest from the class of adoptive parents taking advantage of this power differential in order to procure children for personal reasons that, as we see now, also serve a state/imperial function. Nearly fifty years after my birth, adoption is still fulfilling this fundamental role as a primary weapon of humanitarian imperialism, tactically erasing histories and cultures, breaking up families and communities, extracting wealth from the trafficking of human beings, and following up on but also paving the way for further repackaged and rebranded economic and political exploitation.
In those nascent days of the current phase of American empire we might forgive those of our adoptive parents taken in by the likes of Pearl S. Buck and Harry Holt, these cheerleaders of empire who truly believed they were part of some Greater Manifest Destiny. In stark contrast, today’s adoptive parents, in their globalized informational realm of existence, do not have this luxury of remove nor may they feign ignorance of the ponderous weight they throw around with their every purchase, vote, decision, and action. It is thus time to end this hideous charade, and move to a honest discussion of what adoption truly represents as concerns those who suffer most for it, an acknowledgment of what the effect that decades of adoption will ultimately have on these populations as well. We must endeavor to correct past actions and redirect energy and effort to one of positive activism on their behalf. In so doing, we will go much further to rebalance this greatly skewed equation and debate, as well as to find answers to our own questions concerning our sense of self, identity, community, and place.
The future of every man today has a relation of close dependency on the rest of the universe. That is why the colonial peoples must redouble their vigilance and their vigor. A new humanism can be achieved only at this price. The wolves must no longer find isolated lambs to prey upon.
— Frantz Fanon, Toward the African Revolution
From the personal to the Communal
It is far too easy to shift focus and even somehow celebrate the personal aspect of my story, and the particular instances that led up to my adoption. Such personalization has become a ruse, a tactical use of the exceptional case to stand for (or deny) the whole, like pointing out slaves happy to remain on the plantation. More importantly, this personal emphasis unfairly omits everything that historically, culturally, and indeed genealogically and biologically led up to my birth, the entirety of my narrative source which not only existed before my physical transfer to a foreign realm, but which continues to exist without my presence.
This pre-adoptive existence therefore carries just as much weight as my own life moving forward: My absence from one family is just as valid, just as momentous, just as narratively material as my legal assignment and emotional connection to another. This, the nexus between the two existences that I oscillate between today, is obscenely disregarded within adoption mediation as nothing but a starting point: the destined end of a “red string”; the irreligious projection of the “will” of a spiteful God; a repulsively entitled “Gotcha Day”. It purposefully assigns no value to a community of people who, quite the opposite, can only view my adoption as a rupture; a destruction; a violence of great and tragic import.
Adoption is thus solely reflective of economic parameters and incentives that inherently can only lead to an economic solution, obviating the personal, the emotional, and the familial. We therefore do no justice to ourselves by candy-coating it in this way, or by ignoring the other economic and political incentives that work behind the scenes, trickled down from similar sources. For example, my adoptive parents’ inability to adopt domestically for being considered a religiously mixed marriage forced them to look into international adoption where standards, like today, are more lax. This decision was then met with various concerns expressed over such an injection of “diversity” into the family tree, reflecting American social reality.
Down the line, my orphanage racially segregated children, with “darker” babies ironically sent to America, as a second-tier fallback to more refined European tastes. The religious context of trafficked children in my orphanage was equally mixed, Christian and Muslim. This ignored culturally differing viewpoints concerning orphans and their care, and in so doing effectively converted thousands of children against their will or that of their families. Every adoptive decision on the micro level is thus not without causal source in the greater racism and classism being played out globally speaking, and this does not magically disappear for having simply educated oneself about such circumstances.
As such, full blame for the conditions of our places of origin can no longer self-righteously be ascribed to the source end of such a supply chain. The idea that our dehumanized condition is a function of our status in society as opposed to a function of society itself is a tired elitist cant that does not hold up under examination, especially now that we see it is the demand side that defines and exacerbates such destructive modes in the first place.
My experiences at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impell me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion. —Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815–1897; quoted in Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis
Anti-adoption Is the New Abolition
For those seeking some middle ground or gray area, I can only attest to the fact that the future of adoption as forecast by local Lebanese practice bodes ill for any notion of reform. The former middleman of Lebanese orphanages has been replaced by the privatized collusion of doctors and lawyers in a market-based streamlining of the process. This is a worldwide phenomenon, and it cannot follow any other trajectory within the system as it currently exists, as this formalized trafficking adapts and morphs to extract as much wealth as it can from the transfer of children, within the windows of opportunity afforded by diplomatic machinations, treaties, natural and man-made disasters, etc.
To now understand is that for every adoption there is an eventual reaction in an escalation of cause and effect, an expansive narrative that links the activism and resistance of adoptees with their families, source countries, and communities. In this light, the seemingly innocent decisions of adoptive parents have far-reaching consequences when their actions are viewed from the source side as further incursions into sovereignty as well as insults against dignity and humanity.
As a consequence of these decisions, we, adoptees, can accept passively this status quo, or we can actively engage to change it. For with or without us, the core injustices that adoption feeds off of and manifests will lead in and of themselves to great change on the macro level. The growing resistance to adoption reflects an increasing discontent with the globalizing systems that hold sway over our lives. This reveals a much bigger picture of social activism, with a role for all involved: a great opportunity for justice, restitution, and renewal. This also poses a critical choice in terms of which side of truth and justice we would hope to place ourselves.
And so as one of the first generation of adoptees to come of age and to attempt return and re-integration, I call on all of us to re-examine our place and our role not just in our acculturating space, but in the local lands of our birth and by extension those of our adoptive/immigrant ancestries, whether we return there physically or virtually. We need actively study them for their resistant and revolutionary potential, as well as alternative modes and methods to our current ways of living, working, and being. In so shifting our outlook—in negating our invalid nationality as Fanon would have it—we move toward a corrective re-localization, a connection to the commons, and a décroissance: a de-escalation, a great winding down.
The goal of the current imperial juggernaut is to push as many as possible down into the ranks of the barely subsisting while extracting therefrom labor, wealth, resources, and unfortunately, children. Given the vision of this abyss, many who are unknowingly destined for this selfsame realm claim for themselves an illusory existential elitism that they then defend tooth and nail, while sliding downhill all the same. It is time to admit the Sisyphean nature of these efforts to maintain the Great Lie of not just adoption, but of the system that maintains and sustains it.
Our primary directive and duty should be to lift every person up into the realm of valid existence. Not by individually adopting one single unique child while ignoring her family and community, but by stepping down to meet them; by descending toward the rest of humanity with whom we must identify and to whom we must listen. Anything else in this late stage of the end game of capital is but the de facto acceptance of an imperialist ideology that is more and more obviously leading us all to ruin.
The time has thus come to structurally, culturally, economically, legally, and politically dismantle adoption. As expressed and expanded upon here, anti-adoption is the new abolition, similarly demanding an equivalent activism from all concerned. We are, it is to be hoped, living the end of the imperial era. In rising to this challenge, we may at long last de-occupy, decolonize, and de-globalize our minds and our place, and, in being “true to ourselves” in Fanon’s formulation, we may, in due turn, help restructure and revolutionize our very world.