Saturday, November 7, 2015

Don’t be Scared: An Angry Black Woman Adoptee Speaks

“Anger is loaded with information and energy.” (Audre Lorde)

Don’t be Scared: An Angry Black Woman Adoptee Speaks

It’s a common tactic. Brushing off what youth and adult adoptees have to say when we begin to articulate our experiences growing up or as adults with our families as less than perfect. The narrative of adoption in U.S. society and globally continues in the same vein it has for years. Be grateful. Be a good girl. Don’t rock the family boat. Don’t do anything that points to you being a “different” part of the family. Don’t ask about your birth parents. Don’t wonder what your life would have been like. Don’t give any indication that the family you are growing up with or grew up with is causing you pain or anguish. Don’t talk about loss. If you are transracially adopted, don’t critique racism in your white family. Don’t point out white supremacy or police terror or racial profiling. No really, be grateful. And most of all – don’t be angry. If you do, you are in danger of being labeled an “Angry Adoptee.”

I think about the angry adoptee mythology in the same ways that I think about the angry black woman mythology. It is a tool to try to name me and shame me so you can dismiss me. So you can silence me. So you can silence us. My experience as a black woman and as an adoptee are not so different when it comes to the nature of oppression and those in power. I think of the phrase “Angry Adoptee” as a tool created by non ally adoptive parents, social workers or baby brokers who have something to lose if they actually listen to the lived experiences and critical research of adoptees. It is easier to write someone off for having and expressing a strong emotion. It is easier to have them remain in a state of gratefulness for adoption or a state of non-critical acceptance of painful racist practices in our world. For then, those in power have no reason to change.

There is so much fear here. So much about holding on to power, the power of white supremacy and the power of ownership in parenting. This fear teaches as adoptees (and sometimes more so for transracial adoptees) to be afraid of our own anger, to hide it from ourselves, and in many ways, to police ourselves and others from “acting out” so we won’t be labeled and dismissed. But years ago I came to a place in my life where I realized that this fear of expressing my anger does not serve me.  I was silent and I felt invisible. In many ways, claiming my anger was powerful and I know now holding it in both hands, palms up, sharing it  - is healthy.

“. . . My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, on that anger, beneath that anger, on top of that anger, ignoring that anger, feeding upon that anger, learning to use that anger before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight of that anger. My fear of that anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also. Women responding to racism means women responding to anger, the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-opting.

My anger is a response to racist attitudes, to the actions and pre-sumptions that arise out of those attitudes. If in your dealings with other women your actions have reflected those attitudes, then my anger and your attendant fears, perhaps, are spotlights that can be used for your growth in the same way I have had to use learning to express anger for my growth. But for corrective surgery, not guilt. Guilt and defensiveness are bricks in a wall against for they serve none of our futures.” (Lorde, 1981)

In a time when #BlackLivesMatter is so central to how any of us think about how political action is taking place in our world it is important - as Lorde asks us - to consider our uses of adoptee anger. I don’t need to be a “respectable” and quiet adoptee (and black women) to approach the tasks of life and death before us. I refuse to ask the transracially adopted youth I work with to hide their anger, and be ‘presentable’ because they might be the only black person in their school, in their church or entire community. If they are the only black person in their community, that is your fault, not theirs. They have a right to their anger about being isolated from their community. I refuse to ask my fellow adoptees to continue to be grateful our histories are hidden from us by legislation written in the early 1900's. We have a right to our dismay, disappointment, sadness and yes, to our anger. 

I am not afraid of my anger and I ask you who live in apprehension of our adoptee anger, our truths and our work (stories and research!) as adoptees to let go of your fear. If you are interested in the full, whole healthy development of your children, if you care about your adopted friends or family members, you won’t be afraid. You will learn how to listen and then we can truly begin to share the weight of the pains we carry and move toward healing.

Lisa Marie Rollins: transracial adoptee, still not white. 
Lisa Marie Rollins is a Black/Filipina writer, playwright, educator and performer in OaklandCA. She has been a commentator on CNN, HuffPostLive, NPR and is one of Colorlines Magazine’s “Innovators to Watch” for her work in reproductive justice / global transracial adoption. She is a host on 94.1 KPFA Berkeley’s Women Magazine in Berkeley. Lisa Marie is a VONA poetry alumni and Callaloo Literary Journal London Fellow. Her comedic solo show, “Ungrateful Daughter: One Black Girls Story of being Adopted into a White family… that aren’t Celebrities” continues to tour the United States. She is published in Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out , As/Us Literary JournalLine/Break, the Pacific Review and more. She is a regular columnist for Land of Gazillion Adoptees Magazine, for Lost Daughters and is in early development of her new play “TOKEN”. She is a director / dramaturg of many solo performance artists and play scripts in the SF Bay Area and is a 2015-2016 Artist-in-Residence at Brava Theater Center for Women in San Francisco. She is an adjunct in the Race and Resistance Studies Dept at San Francisco State Univeristy. For more information about her work, check out A Birth Project Blog or on twitter @thirdrootprod