Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Either Chinese, or some black dude – who can remember?"

This article has caused quite the controversy on Racialicious and many other blogs. It's a blogoversy. Someone write that down!

The Real Thing
, by Tama Janowitz, New York Times Blog.

My husband Tim and I adopted our daughter Willow, who is now 12, from China when she was 9 months old. We were told by the adoption agency that once the process was complete and the three of us were back home, many people would stop to inquire about our daughter’s Mongolian features or why she did not look like us.

It may be that having a child of a different ethnic background from yourself is more difficult in other parts of the country. And certainly that may lead to problems. But In my neighborhood in Brooklyn I see black women with half-Asian, half-black kids and I see kids with dark skin and blond hair — the mother is white, the father is not. There are Indian fathers and Caucasian mothers with their offspring. There are families with two dads. There are also Hasidic families with ten kids and Muslim women dressed in full burkas who have dressed their daughters the same way.

So here in New York City, we haven’t attracted too much attention.

Well, O.K., sometimes.

It is true when she was a baby, if I took her out on my own, sometimes people did ask me, “Is the father Chinese?” If I said “yes” the usual response was “Good for you!” This puzzled me, so then I just said, “Either Chinese, or some black dude – who can remember?”

Yes, who can remember? Aren't all multiracial-looking babies the products of promiscuity? I know my nephews and nieces are. So are my mixed friends. Their parents obviously had no shame in their game. I'm hilarious!

Here is the passage that most other people are writing about:

A girlfriend who is now on the waiting list for a child from Ethiopia says that the talk of her adoption group is a recently published book in which many Midwestern Asian adoptees now entering their 30s and 40s complain bitterly about being treated as if they did not come from a different cultural background. They feel that this treatment was an attempt to blot out their differences, and because of this, they resent their adoptive parents.

So in a way it is kind of nice to know as a parent of a child, biological or otherwise – whatever you do is going to be wrong. Like I say to Willow: “Well, you know, if you were still in China you would be working in a factory for 14 hours a day with only limited bathroom breaks!”

And she says — as has been said by children since time immemorial — “So what, I don’t care. I would rather do that than be here anyway.”

My favorite response so far comes from Sarah Kim, who reminds me that sharing your story with others is very important, for everyone involved: To Willow Janowitz: You’re not alone….

What made me incredibly sad while reading the post was thinking about the all-too-real pain that the blogger’s daughter, one Willow Janowitz, must be experiencing at being the butt of her high-profile mother’s jokes. Whether or not she has read or will read “The Real Thing” (and whether or not she will read/not read my little blog post here), I would like to say to you, Willow, that you are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of other adoptees who, like you, have grown up in families where the insatiable need to normalize, to forget, to erase difference drives parents to say such (unintentionally) hurtful things to their children. It is so hard—SO HARD—as a 12-year-old transracially/transnationally adopted child to articulate why we sometimes feel conflicted, confused, and sad. And so sometimes we express this complex whirl of unremembered memories, feelings, and thoughts in reduced phrases—”I hate you.” . . .

So yes, Willow, I agree with your mother in that I do think you should write everything down. Girl, write all of this shit down. So not only can you tell your therapist (there is no shame in therapy!!!), you can tell the other adult adoptees that I hope you will one day meet. Because there are a lot of us. In fact, there is a global community of us. We are out there (even though by reading the NYT one wouldn’t think so), and we have voices, and we support one another. And we would support you . . .



The Law Fairy said...


That's like amazing to me. As someone who intends to adopt someday, and likely from another country, I've been known to trumpet the virtues of adoption over biological parentage because of the somewhat narcissistic aspect of insisting on having your "own" kids (which I understand, absolutely -- I plan to do both). But, of course, this just goes to show that even my brilliant solutions don't always work in practice. I guess narcissism can manifest itself no matter *where* your kid came from.

It's just unbelievable to me that white people would try to pretend an Asian child is absolutely no different from them. Aside from the fact that different races have different health concerns (and good parents DEFINITELY need to be familiar with the health issues their child needs to worry about), it's foolish to think that the kid is not going to notice that she looks more like the Asian neighbors than her own parents. Everyone in this world needs an identity, and when your parents deny you your own individual identity, you can't help but resent them for it. This makes me think of one of Stephen Colbert's many hilarious sayings -- "I don't see race." The typical sometimes well-meaning but no less foolish idea of "colorblindness." Talk about misinterpreting one of our country's greatest speeches. Just because we shouldn't be racist, doesn't mean we start IGNORING race.

Bianca Reagan said...

"I don't see race. People say I'm a white guy, and I believe them because I have a late-night talk show."

That's my favorite Colbert-ism.