Julia Chinyere Oparah
Transformational Leader * Social Justice Educator * Activist Scholar
race and adoption
Sometimes I wish I could time travel back to when I was a racially isolated, nappy-haired brainy black girl growing up in a quirky transracially adopted family in a small town in the South of England. Hey, I would say, I know it seems hard right now. You think you're all alone and you have to figure out how to survive and not let anyone know what you're going through. But its going to be OK. When you're older, you're going to be part of an amazing community of transracial adoptees, who get you, and your experience is going to help others.
Transracial adoptees are caught between two stifling stereotypes. On the one hand, media images of happy, adorable celebrity kids (think Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Madonna, Sandra Bullock...) lead us to believe that love is color blind, and transracial/national adoptees may just be ushering in a post-racial utopia where, to quote Rodney King, we can all "just get along." Adoption advocates paint a less one-dimensional image, but they too often pressure us to behave like well-adjusted role-models always ready to act as a bridge between worlds so that we can prove transracial adoption naysayers wrong. On the other hand, there is a deeprooted distrust in communities of color of what black radicals once called a "one-way traffic in [black] babies," leading many people of color to assume that we inevitably suffer from torn identities and an inability to identify or cope with racism. In all of these accounts, we are frozen in time as perpetual children moved helplessly across racial lines or around the globe. Few people it seems can imagine adult adoptees as agents of change, tellers of our own stories and co-creators of our own lives.
But our real stories are very different. As I worked alongside adoptee activist-writers Jane Jeong Trenka and Sun Yung Shin to collect the stories and analysis that would become Outsiders Within, I realized that transracial adoption is not just a debate about whether white folks can raise healthy kids of color. It is about what society does with the collateral damage of mass incarceration, inhumane drug policies, a greedy war-machine, a cavalier disregard for the reproductive rights of poor women and women of color, and global neoliberal policies that put profits before people. And those of us whose very lives are witness to these goliath systems, and who have transgressed borderlines of race, gender, class and nation as a result, have a great deal to say about it all.
As I did my own emotional healing work, and began to do workshops with tweens and teens who are working through their own explorations of loss, abandonment and belonging, I also learned that behind every adoption story, every "happy coming day" there is the pain of separation, of betrayal, of intolerable choices. As a result, there is an enormous need for healing and forgiveness as well as an acknowledgement of the suffering involved in adoption. From the unspoken and stuffed grief of our first mothers, to the broken hearts of adoptive parents who wish their kids would not act out, reject love, carry our pain in such inconvenient and scary ways. And then of course, there are our own losses, whether we push them down with overachievement, unhealthy relationships and addictions, or whether we lean into them and let them teach us compassionate for ourselves and others.
Today, I am grateful to be reunited with my (birth) dad, and a whole clan of Nigerian and Nigerian relatives. For my three-year daughter, our multiracial, blended, transnational family of both blood and love-relatives is the new normal.
Today, I work to create spaces for honesty, accountability and healing for adoptees of color and their families with PACT; I am building community with other black adoptees through AFAAD–Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora, and I follow the inspiring work of other adoptee of color activists.
I invite you to check out John Raible's thought-provoking work on transracialization and adoptee oppression. Read about TRACK's amazing activism pushing the South Korean government to amend adoption law and support adoptee-first family reunions. Laugh and cry with AFAAD co-founder and performance artist Lisa Marie Rollins. And watch a powerful story about reunion and healing in Closure.