Were it not for Martin Luther King, perhaps I would never be the parent of my 4 beloved children.
Dr. King died in 1968. He transformed the way we see people and race, he changed deeply entrenched racist laws, and he did so in a volatile time with dignity, peace, integrity, and astonishing strength.
I can’t say that these other events directly correlate to Dr. King’s work, but I think there is a context for them. Some 10 years before his death, international, transracial adoption began from Korea. About a year before he died, in 1967, the Loving v. Virginia decision by the Supreme Court struck down laws forbidding interracial marriage. Four years after his death, the National Association of Black Social Workers called transracial adoption of black children by white parents “cultural genocide,” expressing concern that some 50,000 black children had been adopted into white families between 1968 and 1972, with inadequate awareness of the realities of racism, identity, and discrimination. Before 1978, 10 years after Dr. King died, “it is estimated that in some (US) states, between 25 and 35% of Native American children were taken from their families, and 90% were placed in white homes. (Read more about the last 2 points here, from PBS information related to the documentary “First Person Plural.”)
Here we are almost 5 decades since Dr. King died, and still so much work remains to be done.
In just this last week, transracial adoption has burned up the Internet, via the MSNBC Melissa Harris-Perry segment on Mitt Romney’s transracially adopted grandchild, via the NPR Sunday Morning Edition show that chose a white adoptive parent over a transracial adoptee, and via a “48 Hours” show on international adoption (the focus was adoption trafficking; children from the Congo and Guatemala being adopted by white parents were featured.)
My children–two US-born sons with one black and one white original parent (though not biological brothers), and twin daughters born to Ethiopian parents–were all born in the late 1980’s, about 20 years after Dr. King was killed. In the early years of raising them, as a white adoptive parent, I thought a great deal about transracial adoption issues, about racism, about identity.
Since then, I have learned so much about how little I knew then, and how much I need to keep learning.
Through raising them, through listening to their stories and experiences, through my heart aching over ugly racist episodes directed against them, through taking a hair braiding class at a community college, through laughing over what “we” or “they” do, through loving my children with all my heart and knowing that my raising them has both diminished and enriched their understanding of identity and culture: all this is part and parcel of the legacy of Dr. King.
I know there are lots of people who are weary of hearing the experience of transracial adoption through the voice of the adoptive parents. Point extremely well taken. At the same time, it’s my white privilege, now, in 2014, 46 years after Dr. King’s death, that allows my voice to be heard in some quarters where another voice would be (and is) discounted, even as we share the same message. It’s the tender balance of getting the microphone so I can hand it to others: to transracial adoptees.
Angela Tucker writes beautifully about it: “This discussion is about how the mainstream media chooses to portray transracial adoption. This discussion is about adult adoptees. Please stop speaking for us and assuming that your speculations are our realities. This discussion is about coming to terms with the fact that adoption ethics, practice and policies will not change until the public is willing to hear out more than just the adoptive parents’ perspective or their hopes and biased desires for our lives.” Read her whole, powerful post here.
Here is another adoptee voice of insight, wrapped up in a tweet:
Nicole Callahan 수정 January 12, 2014
Always handing the microphone to adoptive parents means that those most privileged in adoption direct the narrative.
Follow Nicole on Twitter by clicking here.
One more excellent example, by Matthew Salesses: “The adoptee voice matters because the adoptee says so.” Read his entire, wise essay here.
A fellow adoptive parent also wrote brilliantly: “Oh, media and adoptive parents, will we ever get adoption reporting right?” Read Margie Perscheid’s post here.
My final point today moves from race to civil rights (it’s all intertwined, I realize). Dr. King changed our lives, our planet, by speaking out for civil rights for all people. How is that we in the United States continue to deny adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates? There is no other group denied access to this basic, human right: knowing who we are. It is shameful, and an outrage.
In gratitude for the life, voice, and courage of Martin Luther King.