In my post yesterday about an international adoption conference held by the State Department, I briefly mentioned that conservative Fox channel host Laura Ingraham was a keynote speaker. I said the decision to have Ingraham there was “unfortunate.” I was wrong. I should have been far more forceful.
One of the first tenets of being a good accomplice for white accomplices in social justice work is to change your lens. My lens is that of a white Cisgender abled woman, the type that has traditionally held power and privilege in the world, second only to white Cisgender abled men. My lens is firmly socialized and established; I am a work in progress around reframing it. Another tenet for folks like me is not to center ourselves because (see the first tenet) we are pretty much always centered in history, advertising, opportunities, credibility.
When I wrote about Ingraham’s speaking at the adoption conference, I looked at it only through my lens, and centered my own experience. Ingraham wasn’t talking about me or for me or to me. I am an adoptive parent, as she is; beyond that, we have little in common. I can easily dismiss her and her impact. While I called her remarks about possibly moving migrant children into the U.S. adoption system “horrifying,” I shrugged my shoulders, and moved on.
Then I read a post by Melanie Chung-Sherman, a highly regarded therapist, a woman of color, an adopted person. Here is what she had to say about the choice of Ingraham as a speaker at the State Department conference:
“Did you know?? The U.S. Department of State felt it necessary and ever-so relevant to bring in Laura Ingraham to keynote before a closed adoption symposium addressing ‘adoption reform.’ Yes, that Laura Ingraham.
Even worse–DOS invited fellow transracial adoptee advocates (friends of many) to speak about ‘reform’ while knowingly putting this known white supremacist, xenophobe, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist (who happens to be a TRIA parent) up on stage for them to sit and listen to from the beginning.
It was aggressive, harmful, violent, and completely demeaning for those who have committed their lives to social justice, equity, and adoption reform.
Yeah, I’m pissed.”
My eyes and mind were opened as I read this. I had not thoughtfully reflected on what hearing Ingraham speak might have felt to the international, transracial adult adoptees there. Once I did reflect, prompted by Melanie’s words, I realized how cloudy my lens was, and how I had centered myself.
I’ve subsequently heard that perhaps the State Department did not select Ingraham as a speaker; maybe the White House did. I don’t know much more than that. I recognize that disparate voices and varying opinions are part of politics. I understand that there were those in the audience who supported Ingraham’s remarks, and those who found them odious.
Anyone genuinely involved in adoption today should be aware that, for far too long, adoptive parents have held the microphone in adoption policy and practices, in media articles, and in the traditional, tired narrative that adoption is win-win-win and full of only happy endings. Of course there are wonderful outcomes and good decisions. Often, though, there are rough roads, lots of confusion and grief, and grappling with identity, loss, and unattainable information.
Handing the microphone, literally, to Laura Ingraham showed an astonishing lack of knowledge about what adoption conferences today should be: they should be focused on adoptees, and on birth parents. They should be the prominent speakers and guides that the government and media go to first. Having a controversial adoptive parent with anti-immigrant views at an adoption conference that for the first time centered international, transracial adoptees tainted but probably did not ruin other notable accomplishments. Next time, or at any adoption conference, there are many amazing, powerful adoptees who could be (should be) at the podium. Still, adoptees are now at the table for State Department policy formulation, and that is laudable.
As an adoptive parent, I’ll close with my promise to keep my eyes, heart, and mind more open to the voices and insights of adoptees and birth/first parents, and to keep working on my lens. I’ll close this post with the powerful words of Reshma McClintock on behalf of herself and other international adoptees who attended the State Department conference:
“Transracial/Inter Country Adoptees are one of the most resilient and determined people groups. At the US State Department Adoption Symposium we addressed adoptee voice elevation, citizenship, family preservation, rehoming, adoptee rights, and other important topics.
I used the opportunity I had to address attendees with this message: Adopted adults are the most valuable and untapped resource on the subject of adoption. We must be recognized and involved in adoption conversations.
I‘m proud of my community and thankful for those who support the good work we are doing collectively. It is emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially exhausting, yet WE ARE OUT HERE.”