15 September 2013

“We can’t change people by fighting them.”

With the recent media coverage, the adoption agency from which I was adopted, Holt International Children’s Services, has spoken out. The guest columnist, Susan Soonkeum Cox, is vice president for policy and external affairs for Holt International and a Korean adoptee.

Upon reading this column, I was happy to see the agency speak out. What sparked hope in me were these words from Ms. Cox:

“Education, training and matching take time and resources. But it is time and resources well spent when it results in adoptions that work -- for the child. 
This is why Holt and other credible adoption agencies support the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which has been ratified by the United States and 90 other countries. The convention provides global standards that ensure birth families, adoptive families and adopted children have the security of processes and systems designed to protect them. 
The Universal Accreditation Act, which takes effect July 2014, requires every international adoption service provider to be Hague accredited and compliant. This will narrow the gap between unethical practitioners and competent, professional service providers. The act also includes prosecution for unethical practitioners.”

But then, I read the comments. I knew what they might contain because I had been alerted to the column through my connections to the Transracial Eyes blog.

Upon reading the remainder of this blogpost, many adoption activists might call me a “KoolAid Drinker.”

That said, I need this dialogue, and the message Ms. Cox has written. I need to believe that the laws and regulations will change to advocate for children. I need to believe that there will be more adoption research, more adoption accountability, more adoption discussion.

I understand the hurt and pain felt by the commenters, Paper Orphan and Daniel Ibn Zayd. Their pain has prompted their activism. Their pain is raw, and and the wound is angry.

But I am fearful that the hurtful words only discredit their message that adoptee welfare needs to be the primary concern in adoptions.

The experiences of Paper Orphan and Daniel Ibn Zayd should not be ignored; their voices need to be understood. However, in a forum of comments, if there is anger, those who need to hear the message to unite for change will only stop listening.

Rather than fighting amongst ourselves, I would prefer to see us united and focused on the future of other adoptees … those young children like Baby Veronica and those children who have been re-homed or swapped. The voice of a large adoption agency pushes the issue to the forefront, and with our smaller voices, all will be a force for change.

Words are powerful. Words are the tools of change, but they can also incite war and loathing.

Change is sweeping the country for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and questioning individuals. Change is coming for the feminists. It’s time to see change in the adoption community. All this change comes as we work together.

What Patrick once said to me bears repeating, “We can’t change people by fighting them.” 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wise words and the reference to the discussion. They are taken to heart, and I would only offer a reply in an effort to explain.

My engaging in a super-mediated environment which caters to a particular audience requires a particular "voice". I am saying the exact same thing here in my reply that I have said in conference proposals as well as academic papers and book proposals. To ignore that I "speak" in all of these different voices is to paint me as the "one-note angry adoptee" that has become something of a stereotype at this point.

I also think that the op-ed piece speaks "violently", and much more than my reply. That it be formalized and proper doesn't hide its negative side. I am horrified by the lack of focus on the history of adoption, and the lack of forthrightness from people in the industry. There is no other way to respond to this, if you ask me. Her words are the greater "violence": what is left unsaid by proponents of the industry is in a league by itself in this regard.

If there is a "fight", then it is historically related to every fight for civil rights and human rights ever waged. All radical fights for change have required a forcing of hand. Moving back to a "colonized" place has taught me most of all the danger in "respectful engagement". Because frankly I'm surrounded by those without voice, without hope, and with no choice in the matter. I am no longer speaking from my former class status, and I do not feel beholden to its "rules" of order, engagement, or discussion. Because these are tactically designed to keep down those on the wrong side of the uneven playing field. And thus my screaming into the hurricane as it were.

I'm not looking to change people by fighting them. I'm looking to change injustice in our society. And this is a battle, not just a fight. Only 10 percent of the planet thinks this way, yet the mediation, as seen here, is total. How is this fair? I've decided that I'm working with and for the other 90%. They don't have the time or patience for such niceties. And when they stand up and speak out, there won't be much for anyone else to say. And there certainly won't be any correcting their "form".

Peace and blessings,


mothermade said...

Daniel, you argue a point well, and I see you have engaged the other commenter in a respectful discussion. That's fantastic!

"Fighting" really isn't the best word to use. I see that now. But I worry about words so often, and how they can be misconstrued and misinterpreted online. Maybe I worry too much, and this hinders the work that you and other adoptees are trying to accomplish.

I am grateful for the work that you are doing. Change is coming.

As you know, I have seen other movements go from violence and abuse to nationwide acceptance. I hope to see your work end in the same way someday.

Unknown said...

I'm an AP, a feminist, an LGBT person, from a working-class white urban background. Those intersections are always with me, wherever I roam. And something else that's always present: the 'tone' argument. To summarize: How we express our experience in tone can overwhelm what we're saying.

When I'm giving voice to my experiences in the role of the dominant, I try to attend to my tone. When I'm voicing my experience in a role that is marginalized, that is excluded, that is outside the assumed voice of what "we" share, I worry a lot less about my tone. But I'm never sure that's effective.

In my experience fighting for LGBT equality two lessons stand out:
-Horizontal violence is the most damaging kind of attack. Worse than those who kiss up and kick down are those whose response to collective oppression is kicking who's next to them; it's unexpected and unproductive, since...
-It takes a village. We needed the dying to chain themselves to the doors at the drug company that was holding up AZT from reaching patients; that act of interfering with business as usual was only effective because it was accompanied by experts in their fields putting on suits and sitting at the table for the negotiation that was forced.

I see many parallels between the movement to reform adoption as we know it, today, and the movement for LGBT equality 20 years ago. It's my hope that a coalition across diverse viewpoints who agree on basic items (let's end child laundering! it's not sufficient but I think we can agree it's necessary, to choose one example) can learn from some of our mistakes.

Anonymous said...

"Horizontal" attacks are also necessary. Those who chained themselves to the doors of drug companies, once they got their place at the table of power, determined that the women and minorities who were the majority sufferers of HIV/AIDS at the time were a hindrance to their class arrival. And thus the famous split along racial lines of ACTUP-NYC. So you'll forgive me, but there are similarities between now and then, but not the ones you think. Because at the heart of it is not a question of adoption reform, but of adoption abolition. These are two completely different things, and those who pretend to be "down" with the cause would do well to actually descend; come back to Earth; step down from their class privilege. Then we can start building something together.

mothermade said...

Point very well taken, Dan. Here’s yesterday’s news on international adoptions: