My response to Daniel Ibn Zayd’s (of Transracialeyes.com blog fame) query regarding recruitment advertising for transracial adoption research.
As a researcher who has studied “us”, I would like to weigh in. I, as an American Indian transracial adoptee, wanted to study us because no one was talking about our experiences. As transracial adoptees we were shut out and shut down as we sought to voice a counter-narrative to a colonizing society. We were jeered when we tried to speak to the experiences of what it meant to be American Indian being forced to live within a world where Natives were seen as less-than. In the world we grew up in we were invisible, at best, and dead, at worst. We were feral with animalistic drives of war and sexual passion, or we were quiet, demure, compliant. We had innate musical or artistic abilities but not a lot of intellect – at least no one told us we were smart; not our parents, not our teachers. We were good storytellers and good dancers. But we didn’t know how to raise our children and keep our families intact. We didn’t know how to go to church and not drink on the weekends. We didn’t even know our own cultures! We, as adoptees, knew the history of those thoughts; we learned the history of those thoughts, and many times we were forced to live the history of those thoughts.
Outsiders who study “us” do so from within a narrow lens, a sliver of glass that distorts what they see. Our experiences become singular, isolated, taken out of a context within a broad sweeping history of what it means to be us. They want to know how much we drink, or how often we do drugs because it then illuminates a reason for our psychological escape that doesn’t include a conversation about the discomfort of a history we were made to endure. Researchers suggest a flaw – perhaps in character, perhaps it exists in our genetic code – that would explain our inability to moderate ourselves, our inability to repress our anger at families and a society that seeks to instill in us a sense of shame of being who we are. They may find we are wounded, beyond repair, because of our removal and replacement in another family. These, they argue, must be the reason for our psychiatric illnesses and our psychological lacerations.
What these findings do not address is the devastation that has occurred in every single generation of American Indians over the past two hundred years as the U.S. government and religious organizations worked so assiduously to dismantle us through brutal acts of war and butchery, thousand mile forced marches over our homeland, dismemberment of our families, our children, our livelihoods, our spiritual groundings, our economy – that at one time ensured all people in the community were cared for. When these institutions took all of this away, we stood on the brink of extinction, where they told us we were bad people, and as a result put us on land that was many times not even ours to claim as territory; they said they would take care of us, and they did so, by locking us away, saying we no longer had the right to hunt or gather the way we used to, said we were such inadequate parents that our children had to go live elsewhere – and sometimes we believed them, these men of power, and we became that way. These institutions failed to provide food that they promised, or education that would allow us to thrive within the world they created, not just work for other people who lived in that created space. The anger, the frustration, the shame boiled over within these narrowly defined places of being and when we fought back the military moved against us, again and again and again. So that anger turns inward, among us, within us. We kill one another; we kill ourselves. And people shake their head and wonder how we lasted the length of time we did on this earth given our pathologic behavior.
We are tired of outsiders, those who are not adopted – transracially or otherwise – conducting studies and telling us who we are, or how we should fit neatly into some theoretical framework that is not of our making. Researchers, we are tired of filling in bubbles that don’t allow for the shadowed spaces of being to be illuminated, the bubbles that indicate the black and white checkerboard of existence, the bubbles that frame us, mark us, discount us, or vilify us. Researchers, when we tell you our stories and they are misinterpreted, or even misused, we lose a sense of autonomy over those stories that we have shared so willingly, hoping you would help us understand, because we can’t express the anger without consequences. We don’t want to hear about how our placement was so wonderful that transracial adoption should be practiced even more. Perhaps our placement wasn’t wonderful. We don’t want to hear that we should just get our act together because other groups who immigrated here and were framed as drunkards and animals have done well – heck, said one friend, look at the Irish! We don’t want to hear the genetic codes for inebriation can only be found in the genes of minority populations, or that mental illness runs along family lines, especially when those lines date back to the most brutal times of colonization. We want our accounts taken into consideration, made note of, discussed because perhaps we just flat out disagree with the concept of adoption altogether. Perhaps we believe it should be weighed more carefully in the minds of society, of parents, of communities or that it should cease to be a panacea for the societal illness that somehow only White people can cure. We don’t want to feel judged, de-valued, overlooked, overrun, or marginalized. We also don’t want to be standardized, hypothesized, or theorized unless you know what it feels like to be us!