On the Adoptee as Transracial

Editor's Note: Coinciding with Multi's Compass: Navigating Multiness Conference,"On Being Adoptee" is a three-part series dedicated to bringing light to the experiences of transracial adoptees at Swarthmore and around the world. Part 1 can be accessed here. Part 2 can be accessed here. Stay tuned for the conclusion on Friday, 4/20/18.

A PREFACE TO THE SERIES “ON BEING ADOPTEE”

As three seniors preparing to graduate we want to give testament to our experiences as transracial adoptees at Swarthmore, and in the world. We write for ourselves and for our fellow adoptees. We write to bring to the forefront of Swarthmore’s collective imaginary the importance and reality of our mixed race experiences. Together we bring Chinese and Guatemalan heritage, calling Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts home. We are Italian, Scottish, Hungarian, Jewish, German, Irish, Catholic, Lithuanian, and “American.” We have gone to private and public schools, we have traveled the world; we are athlete, poet, photographer, dancer, actor, artist. We study science, humanities, and social science. We are queer, we are womxn, we are man. We are not quite all, but we are multitudes. We are adoptees.

Our stories have something to offer to commonly accepted understandings of race, ethnicity, nationality, and the family. In our lives the nuances, complexities and confusion of race are revealed. Notice how our stories intersect, overlap, and diverge.We intentionally seek to bring a critical lens to international adoption, interrogating the relationships between domestic and international adoption, kinship, capitalism, and historical heteropatriarchal forces among others. Hear how we bring in the personal, the political and learn from us. We hope to renegotiate and critique the meaning of “White” or “Person/Womxn of Color.” In telling our own stories we provide perspectives that are knowingly controversial and often unheard. From the vulnerabilities of ourselves we want to call forward a reflexivity from you, reading this, to question the more general power of origin myth, of family cultivation and recognize universal processes of identity construction. We present you with three perspectives on transracial adoption, specifically choosing not to produce a singular publication. The purpose of these pieces is for you to listen. These are pieces of ourselves, to be understood in conversation with each other, but to remain respected on their own.

We want this to be a start, an opening into a conversation we’ve been having amongst ourselves for the past four years. Understand that we don’t come to this publication lightly. We ground ourselves in intention using this as a starting point to further collect and cultivate a better Swarthmore on the forefront of including, validating, voicing and exploring the transracial adoptee experience all too often forgotten, erased or pathologized in the monoracial fabric of our lives.

Part 3

ON THE ADOPTEE AS TRANSRACIAL

By Christopher Malafronti

Trigger Warning: Suicide, homicide, child-abuse

A Tragedy

 Chris and his family at their predominantly white swim club; circa late 2003. 

Chris and his family at their predominantly white swim club; circa late 2003. 

In recent news, the story of a family of black and brown children adopted by two White mothers has hit the airwaves. Rather, it has been picked up by certain airwaves and made its way to certain audiences: those that are willing to sit with the reality that White progressivism, White liberalism, will not save us. By us, I mean transracial adoptees: those black, brown, yellow, red brothers and sisters who have been raised up in Whiteness. The truly dark and gruesome reality is that the Hart children, dare I use their adoptive parents last name to name them, were murdered by the people that were supposed to take care of them.

When I first read about what happened to Devonte (15), Markis (19), Hannah (16), Abigail (14), Jeremiah (14) and Sierra (12), I was shook to my core. In my college’s library, I cried tears for these children. But my tears weren’t just those of a bystander sympathizing  with the tragic loss of life; no, my tears were those of a fellow transracial adoptee, empathizing for the tragic loss of adoptee lives. I felt a piece of my story in them. A piece of every transracial adoptee’s story was in that van when it went over that cliff, a twisted reality that might have been ours had the cards fallen a different way. And I think I cried for this, too, this fear, that reality.

To Devonte

Devonte,

You are my Brother, in the closest sense that I’ve ever felt to a Brother. I know you saw the world with my eyes, and I see it with yours. I say this not to lay claim to your experience of neglect and abuse, nor the trauma caused by the way your parents treated you. I say this because I know what it is like to have White parents.

I’ve struggled to find the right analogy to describe it to those who haven’t had this childhood, this adolescence, this reality, but maybe finding the right words will be instructive. It’s not quite a house of mirrors, where your image is distorted, because to enter a house of mirrors is your choice, a yearning to be tricked. When you’re brown and raised in Whiteness, you don’t get to choose when to walk in or walk out. It’s not quite like a negative image, where your dark skin is inverted, because every black and brown skinned person would find themselves inverted then, too. I know that sometimes being brown raised in Whiteness can feel like you’re the only one. Perhaps it’s a secret that you (try to) hide away. But your parents forced you to tell the world with that fateful hug in Portland.

If only they’d known why you were crying. If only they’d listened to you instead of your mother. I’m sorry that we didn’t listen to you. I’m sorry that we did not listen to you. We did not listen to you. We did not listen. We must do better.

I write these words knowing you will never read them. I write them for me, for you, for us. I write them to honor your life and remember you because that’s the best that I can do now.

By Chris

I’ve centered Devonte’s story in my piece not to equate our experiences--his a domestic, Black transracial adoptee story, mine an international Latinx transracial adoptee story--nor have I chosen to concentrate on the tragedy of Devonte and his brothers and sisters to pathologize transracial adoption. I’ve chosen to give voice to Devonte’s story because I believe that a critical lens on the practice of transracial adoption, international or domestic, is necessary, and should come from transracial adoptees themselves.

Although some will look at Devonte and his siblings and insist the car crash was an accident, others will read their story and say transracial adoption must end on ethical grounds alone, and still others will have a hard time making sense of everything and may conclude that race alone created the tragic situation. I point to the flawed and failing system of (domestic) adoption as a whole and ask why child protective services saw the need to remove Devonte and his siblings from their birth parents and relatives in the first place? A history of structural racism suggests it’s because their families were Black. Why wasn’t anybody there to intervene in a substantial way, actually removing these children from their abusive adoptive parents? There is a systemic neglect of the rights of children and failure of child protective services to communicate across state lines. What has created and propagated a system that allowed these White adoptive mothers to ‘get away with’ abuse of black and brown children? I believe that 1. The Hart mothers’ queerness caused straight bystanders to perceive an implicit liberalism based on their sexuality (not to mention their very outspoken liberal politics and willingness to adopt Black children, forming an interracial family)  2. Their positionality as women, as mothers and caregivers, people who were meant to take care of their children, gave them the benefit of the doubt, and 3. Their Whiteness worked to both bolster/further support perceptions of their female innocence and compounded on their White innocence.

Although this domestic system is not the same as those systems in place for international adoption, I would argue that the motivation to adopt both domestic and international children of color arises in part from an ideology of White saviorship, a need to partake in the heteronormative nuclear family structure, the want for healthy young children, and a desire to enact liberal ideologies of colorblindness, multiculturalism, and meritocracy.

Devonte’s death and life affect my community, a community of transracial adoptees. The truth of it is that I see myself in Devonte, our shared positionalities as male and transracial adoptees resonates in ways that no other adoptee narrative ever has.