Kaepernick: Patriotism, Racism, and Adoption

Ever been to a public sports event, say, an NFL game? When the national anthem is played or sung, does everyone stand quietly and respectfully?

No. Drunk people shriek and yell during the national anthem. Sober people talk and stare at their iPhones and bobble in the hot dog line, all during the national anthem.

Colin Kaepernick sat rather than stood through the national anthem, with intention, in the tradition of civil protest, and calmly explained why.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

We all need to sit with his statement, before conflating it with disdain for all police or hatred for America. This may especially be true for white adoptive parents of black children.

Kaepernick is a transracial adoptee, raised by white parents.

White adoptive parents: Can you see Colin Kaepernick as your black child, protesting the oppression of people of color, and then being vilified from many quarters?

Have you consulted with black friends as to their perspective?

Have you read through theroot.com and blavity.com or hiphopwired.com for their take? Have you read through the many social media sites that reflect the views of black people?

The world is going to see our children as black men and women. Whether we want to believe it or not, we live in a racist society. Our white privilege will not protect our children. It’s not protecting Colin Kaepernick.

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How would you handle your black child repeatedly and publicly being called “nigger” and told to leave the country, because he protested the oppression of people of color?

How will you explain to your black kids that there are people burning Kaepernick’s jersey, in a manner reminiscent of hanging effigies? Those folks are not writing commentary or thoughtfully tweeting: they are setting fires and posting videos. It’s not a peaceful dialogue. When you reflect on lynching and strange fruit, what will you say to your kids?

How will you explain “patriotism” to your children: as speaking up for people of color in a legal, non-violent way in a country founded on freedom of speech? Or as standing for a national anthem that, as it turns out, is rooted in racism?

I stand when the national anthem plays. I take pride in many aspects of being American, and I recognize the many privileges and advantages we have.

As a white parent and grandmother of black children, I also stand with Colin Kaepernick, as he has shown intentional advocacy in raising awareness of the racism in our beloved country. Colin will be fine, and will weather the attacks and the ugly vilification that are the tradition of responses to civil rights protests in America. It will take time, it’s a hard road, and we all have to travel it.

 

 

 

 

Sentencing Hearings on IAG’s Fraud, Bribery (Finally) Held Today

More than two years after the staff of International Adoption Group (IAG) were indicted for fraud and bribery by the U.S.Justice Department, the three defendants finally faced a judge today for their sentencing hearing. Mary Mooney, James Harding, and Alisa Bivens, all of whom had pled guilty, appeared in court today before District Court Judge David Norton in Charleston, South Carolina. Judge Norton could make a decision on sentencing within the week, though the exact time frame is unclear.

Camille Smicz and her family are among the victims of IAG. Camille was present in the courtroom today, and provided a victim impact statement. Camille’s voice spoke for the many families, in the U.S. and in Ethiopia, harmed by the criminal actions of IAG.

Today, according to Camille, the judge mentioned his concerns with the delays in this case, including Mary Mooney’s effort to change her plea from guilty to not guilty, (That attempt was denied.) Minimum sentencing could be probation. Maximum sentencing would be five years in a federal prison. Once sentenced, the defendants have 14 days to appeal the decision.

The prosecution in this case called a forensic financial analyst as a witness, who spoke about the finances of the victims due to IAG’s actions. The prosecution is asking for restitution for some of the families. It is unclear how or whether that will happen.

Camille noted that Alisa Bivens had been a youth pastor at a church up until last month,  and recruited 26 people from her church who wrote letters on her behalf. There was at least one person from the church who plans to report back to the congregation regarding the sentencing hearing.

While it has taken an inordinately long time to reach this point, the case seems to finally be moving toward a sort of closure. I know families are exhausted from the emotional toll this has taken. The extent of the corruption, fraud, and bribery done in the name of helping children is unconscionable.

My thanks to Camille Smicz for sharing this information, and for speaking out for the victims. I urge you to read Camille’s victim impact statement.

As soon as I hear the judge’s decision, I will post again.

“The Economist” Editorial: Blind to the Realities of International Adoption

The Economist, the British-based weekly news magazine, missed a valuable opportunity to present much-needed solutions for children without families. Instead, it glossed over recent history and current realities around international adoption, sounding uninformed and starry-eyed.

All children deserve safe, loving families. International adoption is one means of helping, but there are many other much-needed actions as well. Too often, people romanticize the notion of adoption without understanding its realities. Think “Annie.”

The Economist recently published two articles on international adoption. I was among many folks interviewed for Sarah Esther Maslin’s article, “Home Alone: Fewer Families Are Adopting Children From Overseas.” She addresses the issues of fraud and corruption in Romania and Guatemala, among other countries, noting the frustration that some folks have with the bureaucracy around the adoption process: “Such sluggishness infuriates overseas parents. But many sending countries say critics underestimate the difficulties of building a robust adoption system—and ask why, if people in rich countries really care about poor children in poor places, they do not fund domestic programmes to keep families together instead.”

Indeed.

Maslin’s article explains why international adoptions have decreased so significantly in recent decades, and it’s important that this information get out into the world at large. (I wrote about the issue in this post: “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoption? Take Action.”)

In addition to Maslin’s article, The Economist also published an editorial, “Babies without borders.” The editorial was superficial at best, failing to speak out to its 1.3 million readers about genuinely effective ways to help children have families.

Adoption can benefit some children and families. However, there is a bigger picture around child welfare advocacy that must be addressed.

Here is the Letter to the Editor I sent to The Economist:

In urging that international adoptions be made easier, The Economist’s editorial “Babies without borders” is naïve, clichéd, and shallow. It includes the following:

  • A stunning amount of faith that the Hague Convention has rooted out fraud and corruption, and thus it is now safe to move faster in processing adoptions.
  • A failure to mention how many adult adoptees have discovered the extent of deception in their adoptions.
  • A cavalier dismissal of the loss of culture and history when children are internationally adopted.
  • A noticeable silence about several countries’ efforts to promote in-country adoption and to reduce the cultural stigmas around it.
  • An astonishing exhortation that U.S. evangelical Christians specifically should not be stopped on their happy way to adopting.
  • A lack of awareness about the current paucity of post-adoption services which has led to tragic re-homing situations, as well as to international adoptees being placed, for example,  in the U.S. foster care system.

As an adoptive parent, I know the power of adoption. International adoption, though, helps very few of the children who genuinely need help. Increased family preservation efforts and child/family sponsorships via reputable organizations are only two of the possible  solutions to ensuring that many more children have safe, loving families.

Unfortunately, The Economist was busy humming Little Orphan Annie’s “Hard Knock Life,” and quoting it, rather than examining realities and proposing thoughtful solutions.

 

 

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Please read both Sarah Maslin’s article and the editorial, and share your thoughts with The Economist. You can e-mail letters@economist.com. Include your mailing address and a daytime telephone number.

 

Lions Roaring: Learning From the Stories of Ethiopian Adoptees

Our upcoming anthology “Lions Roaring Far From Home,” with more than 25 essays by Ethiopian adoptees from 7 countries, is on the final stretch to publication, and will be published this fall. It’s been a longer road than we anticipated. I am aware now of how much I did not know about the process. Had I known, would I have embarked on this adventure? Yes. It’s been wonderful to learn so much about working with diverse authors, editing across languages and cultures, engaging with translators, and grinding through the details involved in putting a book together.

Beyond learning about publishing, though, I have learned much more from the stories these amazing writers have shared.

The essays reflect a range of Ethiopian adoptee experiences. Some are happy, some are tragic. Some adoptees were deeply loved, some were cruelly abused. Yes, those are realities for non-adoptees as well. Add on the layer of adoption, though–the removal of a child from his/her mother, family, country, and culture–and both the love and the cruelty take on different poignancy.

Racism and being “other” is a constant, around the globe, sometimes low-key and polite, sometimes harsh and shocking.

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees are involved in amazing, impressive programs to give back to Ethiopia.

Some adoptees have struggled with significant depression along the way, even while in loving families, sometimes to the point of considering suicide.

Many were older at adoption, and remember well their parents and siblings. Some have searing, wrenching memories of being separated from their mothers.

Some have stayed in contact with their Ethiopian families, or have reconnected with them. Some continue to wonder why they were adopted, and have not been able to learn their truth.

For some, being adopted has had a profound impact on their becoming parents, and the way they have chosen to raise their children.

Some have returned to Ethiopia to live and raise their families.

Some adoptees have very happy memories of being in orphanages, often with their siblings.

Some adoptees, even as adults into their 30’s and 40’s, hesitate to tell their adoptive parents about wanting to learn about their birth families, or .

All these snippets give you a flavor of the book, perhaps. It’s the stories, though, that have such power.

Here are brief excerpts from 3 essays:

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Mani, Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

My grandpa was paying for my older sister and brother to go to school already, and when five more of us came to live with him and my grandma, he did not know what to do with us. It was a constant battle with my grandma as to what she should feed us. I don’t think he had any option but to put us in an orphanage. He never would have sent us back to the village because he knew if we went back, we never would have gotten to see the doorway of a school. Education to my grandpa was, and still is, the most important thing in life, after his faith.

 

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Woman walking in Addis Ababa. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

My mother’s brother wanted to murder my mother because she, as a young schoolgirl, without being married, became pregnant. My mother came from a Muslim family. A girl who is pregnant and unmarried shames the whole family. My mother fled to her older sister’s home in Addis Ababa, and there I was born. My mother would take me sometimes to visit my father, who comes from a wealthy Christian family, but he would not acknowledge me, given the disgrace.

 

 

 

Original art © Maureen McCauley Evans

Which family, in my heart, do I belong to more? Which parent do I love more? Where should I live once I grow up, in Ethiopia or the U.S.? Which parent do I listen to more? Which one do I call Mom? Why did I get adopted if my one parent is alive? What is my purpose in life in America? Why me?

I feel I am living a double life. I am Ethiopian, but I am also American. I have family in Ethiopia, and I have family in America. I lived my first 8 years in Ethiopia and have lived the rest in America. This has been a blessing as well as hardship for me. I feel blessed that I have my American citizenship and I got that very easily, by being adopted. I know of other Ethiopians that have immigrated to America and had much more difficulty and fewer opportunities than I have had.

On the other hand, I feel like there is a hole in my heart, because when I go back to Ethiopia, I don’t feel 100% Ethiopian. I look Ethiopian, but I can no longer speak Amharic. There are many cultural differences. When I am in America, I speak the language, but I do not look like others in my community. So, being an Ethiopian adoptee in America is both a blessing and a curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Adoptive Parents of Black Children: How Uncomfortable Are You?

Given recent events, I hope you are extremely uncomfortable, and ready to take action.

Being uncomfortable is good. We white folks should be uncomfortable, and especially so if we are raising black children. We should not be dismissive or defensive. We should recognize that the slurs, racism, and worse that have happened to so many black children, men, and women can and will also happen to our beloved children.

As an American, as a white person, as the parent of transracially adopted children, I am uncomfortable, sad, grieving, confused, and at a loss about the multiple acts of violence in Louisiana, Texas, and Minnesota. Add hate-based political rhetoric, plus the onslaught of videos, tweets, hashtags and blog posts, and the whole thing is overwhelming.

We must learn to become comfortable in the difficult, challenging conversations about these recent violent events. We must have these conversations for the sake of our children. I get that it’s hard, and we have to support each other as we move through these hard times. (And if we white people find things exhausting, what must it be like to live the racism and conflict on a daily basis as a person of color?)

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So what do we do?

For one thing, we must understand the difference between #AllLIvesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter. Saying ‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬ is an anesthetized, self-soothing way of negating the raw realities of life in America.

Of course #AllLivesMatter. Saying that, however, dismisses the reality of black people’s history and lives. Black women have had the right to vote in all 50 states only since 1964. Black men are disproportionately represented in prison. Black children are disproportionately suspended from school, even in kindergarten. My black granddaughter was told by her white third grade classmate that the classmate’s grandpa would shoot a black person who tried to enter his home. That was the explanation as to why my granddaughter would not be going over to play at her classmate’s house. I’ve witnessed too much, on an academic and personal level, to be able to blithely say #AllLivesMatter. It’s a phrase that slams the door, loudly and firmly, on the genuine, hard, uncomfortable conversations that must take place, if our country is ever going to change.

‪#‎BlackLivesMatter: Understand and be able to speak out about this.

Resources:

“The Next time Someone Says ‘All Lives Matter,’ Show Them These Five Paragraphs”

“The Problem With Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

Uncomfortable conversations are a good first step. Reading essays and books that challenge, disturb, and rile us is good. Attending meetings, in the name of racial and social justice, where we are outsiders and uncomfortable is also good. Here are a few thoughts.

First, be intentional in seeking out writing and information on racism from black people and other people of color. White people can have a voice, but we are not the experts on racism; the value of our advice is mitigated by our privilege. Starting points might be Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson. There are lots more.

Recognize that it is not the responsibility or obligation of black people to educate us white people about race.

Resources:

“Black People Are Not Here To Teach You About Race”

“What Writers of Color Say We Should Read Now”

Verna Myers Ted Talk: “How To Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Towards Them”

“How To Talk About Race With Your Kids”

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Second, if in this last week you did not talk with your black friends about how they are doing and feeling, you may need to accept that you don’t have close black friends. And you should, if you are raising black children.

Third, step out of your comfort zone further and attend meetings of black community organizers, meetings where you as a white person may be asked to defer to the voices and experiences of black people. To be silent. To move to the side, and listen.

It could be a great opportunity to see what it feels like to be treated differently because of your race.

If there are not any black community organizers where you live, pause and think about the role models and racial mirrors available to your child. Is he or she genuinely well-prepared for being black in America?

 

The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place.

— Marian Wright Edelman

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast on Preventing Disruptions and Dissolutions in Adoption

Disruption and dissolution are such gentle words for the process by which an adoption is ended, either before or after legal finalization. A child moves out of the adoptive family, back to foster or private care, and a new family must be found. Disruption and dissolution  have the potential for a tremendous amount of trauma for everyone, most especially for the child, who’s already lost his original, first, biological family, and now has lost permanency yet again.

The likelihood of a disruption or dissolution increases when children are older at the time of adoption. When adoptive parents aren’t adequately prepared, are unrealistic about parenting a traumatized child, or fail to access resources for parenting, the odds increase as well.

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“The Truth About Preventing Adoption Disruptions” is a new podcast by Add Water and Stir. AWAS focuses on promoting foster care and adoption within communities of color, especially within the African-American community. The main speaker on the podcast is Beverly Clarke, LCSW-C, LICSW, the director of Project Wait No Longer, a program of The Barker Adoption Foundation. Per the website, Project Wait No Longer’s main goal is to find permanent, adoptive families for older children in public foster care. Most of the children are 10–17 years old, but some younger waiting children are part of larger sibling groups (three or more children) who desperately wish to stay together.

 

The interview with Bev starts about 8 minutes into the podcast. I’ve known Bev for many years, and, as usual, she is insightful and pragmatic. The key here is preventing disruptions, not waiting until too much damage is done.

 

 

Disclaimer: I worked for the Barker Adoption Foundation as interim executive director over a decade ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Progress on Adoptee Citizenship Legislation

There may be some more light in the tunnel for international adoptees in the form of U.S. citizenship. Legislation was introduced June 10 by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), and co-sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), on the House side (H.R. 5454), to provide retroactive citizenship for all international adoptees. The bill is companion legislation to S. 2275, introduced on the Senate side by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) last fall. Both bills have been referred to their respective Judiciary Committees. Next steps could be hearings in those committees, though nothing has been scheduled yet. These bipartisan bills represent significant progress on citizenship for all international adoptees. The work is not done yet by any means, but having bills on both the Senate and House side is significant.

In a press release, Rep. Smith said “Adopted individuals should not be treated as second class citizens just because they happened to be the wrong age when the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was passed.” You can read the entire press release here.

Today is the second Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) Day of Action, and international adoptees and allies are on Capitol Hill to advocate for passage of the legislation. The first Day of Action was on April 19. The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium is among the leaders of today’s event. Their press release includes this story:

“Kris, an adoptee from Washington who is impacted by the ACA, said: ‘The US is my home and I am an American citizen of the United States, even if a piece of paper says otherwise. I attended college, raised 2 children, and paid my taxes as a citizen. I worked for Fortune 500 companies as a highly successful database engineer and project analyst. Now I am in a precarious state and am concerned about my citizenship and employment status. I was born in Vietnam and was to be brought to the United States with other children through the Operation Babylift during the Vietnam War. My parents who are U.S. citizens were stationed there at Anderson Airforce Base in Guam while volunteering for the Red Cross and adopted me in 1975. Somehow, my adoption paperwork was lost during the naturalization process. My parents thought the process had been completed, as there was no indication of a problem. This loophole needs to be fixed for the thousands of others who are living, like me, without citizenship.'”

It seems amazing that, for decades, international adoptees were not granted automatic citizenship when they were adopted by U.S. citizens and arrived in the U.S. You can learn more here.

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Some folks might forget that international adoptees are immigrants, with all the complexity that immigration involves. I urge all adoptees and their families to make sure they have a Certificate of Citizenship. A passport is a limited means of proving citizenship, can expire, and is issued by the U.S. State Department, The Certificate of Citizenship is issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and does not expire. State and Homeland Security use separate databases, and so having a passport may not be adequate proof of citizenship for some purposes.

You may never need the CoC. I get that. But the parents of deported adoptees (those convicted of a felony and without citizenship) probably never envisioned their children subject to deportation either. Nor, of course, did the adoptees themselves, including those who have been deported to Germany, Korea, Brazil, and elsewhere, who are sitting in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, or who are unable to vote or get financial aid because they have no proof of citizenship. Why risk it?

 

Sentencing Hearings for International Adoption Guides (IAG)

Update July 13: The sentencing hearings have again been rescheduled. Now they are supposed to take place August 29. Unbelievable.

Update June 20: My understanding is that the IAG sentencing hearings are now scheduled for July 13 and 14. What a long, hard road this has been for the victims.

Update: I have heard from someone connected with the trial that the June 16 and 17 sentencing hearings have been postponed, yet again. How frustrating and disappointing this whole process has become for the adoptees and their families. When I have more news, I will post again.

Three International Adoption Guides officials could be sentenced, finally, next week.

They were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in February 2014, after lengthy investigations. They are scheduled for sentencing next week, having pled guilty over a year ago to charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by bribery and fraudulent documents, all involving several Ethiopian adoptions.

The sentencing hearing for Mary Mooney (IAG’s executive director) is scheduled for 11am on June 16. Mooney had pled guilty in January 2015, then changed her plea to “no contest” several months later. In August 2015, the judge ruled against the “no contest” plea, and the guilty verdict was reinstated.

For James Harding (IAG’s director of international programs), sentencing is scheduled for 10am on June 17. Harding had entered a guilty plea in January 2015.

For Alisa Bivens (IAG’s Ethiopia program director), sentencing is scheduled for June 17 at 10:30am. Bivens had entered a guilty plea in August 2014.

Each of these hearings will take place before Judge David Norton in Courtroom 2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, SC.

There is a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for the original charges, according to the February 2014 press release by the Department of Justice when the indictment occurred.

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My guess is that the sentencing hearings will be fairly brief. Many details have probably been worked out by attorneys in advance. It’s possible that victims of these cases will speak at the hearings.

I have no insights as to why there has been such a long time between the guilty pleas and the sentencing. I thought, and was told by others, that the sentencing would take place within months after the guilty pleas. Clearly I was wrong about that. As I (a non-lawyer) understand it, there can be a number of reasons for delays: courts are overloaded with cases and everything just takes a long time; the guidelines for sentencing can be contested by the defendants; pre-sentencing investigations can be lengthy; lawyers can ask for continuances; and other reasons that a lawyer could no doubt better explain.

It’s not clear to me whether the three defendants have been in jail awaiting sentencing, but I don’t think that’s the case. My understanding is that defendants can earn reduced sentences by cooperating with the process and, of course, not getting into any further trouble. That could mean, given the lengthy time between convictions and sentencing, that the three defendants’ actual time in jail, if any, would be reduced.

What a long, hard journey this has been for the Ethiopian children adopted via bribery and fraud, for their Ethiopian families, and for the adoptive families. This case represents so much that is wrong in international adoption, so much that is heartbreaking for innocent victims. Here’s hoping that justice is done in the sentencing next week.

 

 

 

 

“Racial Identity” Is a Safety Issue for Children of Color Adopted by White Parents

Prior to adopting, should white parents be able to show proof that they can provide a strong, genuine sense of racial identity to their adopted children of color? Should “strong racial identity” be considered a standard of safety for transracially adopted children?

I know children of color can thrive even when raised in all-white areas, if the white parents are genuinely willing to do the hard work involved. I also know of way too many cases of adoptees of color who have struggled mightily with their racial identity, to the point of depression and worse. Some examples are here, here, and here. The recent, highly publicized case of the black adoptee in rural Idaho is especially tragic.

Bullying based on race, micro aggressions, racism directed at the individual and the larger racism imposed on the racial group–these are huge realities for children of color, and can be overwhelming. Many times, white adoptive parents do not become fully aware of the realities of racism until their children of color are school-age or older. A lot of damage can be done by that time.

Permanency–a permanent family–is a legitimate, important goal in child welfare advocacy. Children need families. Permanency and safety, though, go hand in hand.

To me, “safety” should mean that white adoptive parents of children of color, as well as the children themselves, deeply understand what it means to be a person of color in America. They should have multiple resources nearby, including racial role models and mentors, and have access to appropriate therapies and options for adoption- and race-related trauma, behaviors, and questions. The children may not be safe if they do not have a strong sense of racial identity and awareness.

Consider these child welfare definitions, the standards by which children are deemed to be safe or unsafe.

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” ‘Safety threat’ means family behavior, conditions, or circumstances that could result in harm to a child,” according to Oregon’s Department of Human Services, which, similar to other states, oversees and advocates for vulnerable children.

Could not having role models and racial mirrors result in harm to a child?

” ‘Unsafe’ means there is a safety threat to which the child is vulnerable and there is insufficient parent or caregiver protective capacity to protect a vulnerable child from the identified safety threats.”

Does an unstable, shallow, or nonexistent racial identity make a child unsafe, especially if the child is racially isolated?

” ‘Vulnerable Child’ means a child who is unable to protect him or herself. This includes a child who is dependent on others for sustenance and protection.”

Are children of color who are adopted and raised by white parents “vulnerable” if they have no contact with people who look like them, or no contact with the culture/country into which they were born?

Are the children “vulnerable” if the parents provide only white privilege and/or white fragility?

What would happen if we made “racial identity” a focal point from which children of color are placed with white parents in non-diverse areas, and demanded it as a matter of safety?

Would it mean we would work harder to better prepare and screen white adoptive parents, or to recruit more families of color for children of color, or what? Would it mean that fewer children of color would be placed with white families? Would it mean that fewer children would be adopted? Would it mean that child welfare policies would insist that white parents immerse themselves in communities of color before they had a child of color placed with them?

I say all this in full awareness of my white privilege and my own biases and failings. It’s a lot to think about, and it needs to be thought of well before adoption, for the safety of a vulnerable child.

More often, though, a child of color adopted by a white family is safe within that family, and then encounters a new, harsh world as a teen and adult outside of that bubble, a world which sees him or her only in terms of race. In our current racial climate in the U.S., that child had better be genuinely prepared to grapple with, fend off, and heal from racist assaults, large and small. Otherwise, that child is not safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Town Football, Schizophrenia, and Transracial Adoption: A Devastating Perfect Storm

In the U.S., we have lots of small towns where high school sports are entrenched. There are many traditions, and much enthusiasm, for the games, the players, and the coaches. Playing high school football is tough work: memorizing dozens of plays, completing and repeating complex drills, working through pain, following instructions that are yelled, living up to history and traditions of the team. Sometimes there is also character building, camaraderie, and excellence in sportsmanship.

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Dietrich High School football team practice

I can understand why young men in high school, especially in a small town, would want to be on the football team. I can understand why those who didn’t play sports would feel like excluded outsiders. Take tiny Dietrich, Idaho, for example. Why not try out for the Blue Devils team? The whole town (all 330 people) would know and maybe love you.

 

If you were part of an unusually big (25 kids) family, your family was the main reason the town had a black population at all, and you were a black 17-year-old who wanted to be part of the team and the town, maybe you’d try out for football. Maybe your only role models for black men were pro football players that you’d seen on tv. Maybe you’d hope to fit in, be part of a community where, as a transracial adoptee, you felt like an outsider, an “other.”

I get that.

What I don’t get is why a teen with disorganized schizophrenia would be considered by his parents or his coaches as a good candidate for lineman on a small high school football team.

The adoptee’s mother has said in news reports that her son, adopted at age four, was exposed to drugs and alcohol (Fetal Alcohol Effect or Syndrome?) before he was born, and was diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia. “He struggles to carry out tasks that involve a sequence. When writing the first sentence of an essay, for instance, he may forget the point of the project. He carries this huge backpack” full of all his books so he can be sure to have the one he needs, the teen’s adoptive mother told news media.

People with disorganized schizophrenia have disorganized speech and thinking, and grossly disorganized behavior, They often have a flat affect, and inappropriate emotions and facial responses. Treatment for disorganized schizophrenia is more difficult than most of the subtypes of schizophrenia. They can be successful in life, of course–with support.

A teen with disorganized schizophrenia would not likely be safe or successful on a high school football team, unless appropriate safeguards and resources were in place, where people (coaches and teammates) were willing to work with him closely and intensely.

For this teen, playing football had to have been a nightmare. “As a lineman with the football team, the teen could seldom avoid jumping offsides; the quarterback’s play calls confounded him,” say news reports. Imagine–under the best circumstances–how that affected the teen himself, and imagine the responses of his coaches and teammates.

Add to that baseline the horrific racist taunting that (apparently) the coaches and the high school staff knew about and condoned. Add to that physical bullying in the locker room. Add to that being humiliated by teammates taking naked pictures of him on the team bus.

Add to that sexual assault by 3 teammates–a coat hanger in the rectum.

I hope that the alleged criminals–his teammates–are prosecuted to the full extent of the law, for “forcible penetration by use of force or a foreign object,” and for every possible charge. The federal criminal lawsuit will take time to wend its way through the system, as information is gathered and witnesses deposed. I wonder if one of the witnesses will be Hubert Shaw, who owns Dietrich’s feed lot, and is related to the main defendant, John Howard. Shaw is quoted saying about Howard and the other two defendants: “They’re 15-, 16-, 17-year-old boys who are doing what boys do.”

The adoptive family has filed a $10 million civil lawsuit, and that will no doubt take a long time to settle as well. The Dietrich school system has a $2 million annual budget. Maybe they have a lot of liability insurance. I don’t know how that works. I am heartened that the Dietrich School coaches, principals, and other staff members are explicitly named in the suit. They must be held accountable. Everyone who let this teen down in such a cruel, traumatizing way must be held accountable.

The mentality of small town sports can be overwhelming and consuming. Football is a tough, unforgiving, complex sport.

Adoption is complex, and can be traumatic. Children adopted at older ages (and 4 is older in adoption) have likely gone through some difficult experiences, or otherwise would not be placed for adoption. Adoptees often need and can benefit from clinical and other support services, especially in the teen years.

Transracial adoption has its own challenges. A good adoption agency and any adoption-competent licensed therapist would recommend that families have access to resources, role models, racial mirrors, same race mentors, and a deep understanding of racism (both on an individual and systemic level).

Treatment of mental illness often involves medications, therapies, counseling, and other services. Schizophrenia is particularly serious. I agree that stigma needs to be removed from mental illness. But mental illness is real, and should be treated with appropriate care.

There’s so much misunderstanding of special needs and of mental illness, of the realities of racism for people of color, and of the complexity of adoption. What a devastating perfect storm for this teen in Idaho.