Wednesday, November 19, 2014

6 Months Forever Family

6 months ago, we met a sweet, easy going little girl and became parents for the first time.  We were all very nervous, but Caroline never cried.  She reached out and kissed us like we had been together forever.  Adopting Caroline has been the best thing we have ever done.  She has truly blessed us.

Here are the photos from our forever family day:

We recently had a few family photos taken in recognition of six months together and Caroline's 2nd birthday.  Happy 6 month Forever Family Caroline.  We love you!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Racism (?)

I wrote several days ago about racism.  In that vein, I post this recent news article:

Administrators of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were sued by an advocacy group claiming race-based admissions policies violate the constitutional rights of highly qualified Asian applicants.

Students for Fair Admissions Inc., a group which said it represents unidentified college applicants rejected by both schools, alleged in lawsuits filed today that the use of racial preferences illegally limited admission of Asian Americans. [emphasis mine]

It's interesting how things change.  A hundred years ago, discrimination against Asians was of quite a different sort.
However, I suggest that the basic motive is the same: a desire (dare I write it?) NOT to compete against people with a better work ethic*.

Of course, it may well be that the plaintiffs cannot prove that Harvard and Orange County Community College are discriminating based on race, but my gut reaction is that this is EXACTLY what those universities (among many others) are doing.  This speaks volumes about what the colleges think they are for: it's less about attracting the BEST students, and more about attracting the RIGHT students.


(*) The "Asian" attitude towards school is a subject of much humor, especially among Asian kids.  There are many YouTube! videos that feature Asian parents reacting... um... badly... to their kids bringing home less than perfect grades.

In some cases, pressure to do well really isn't a joke.

"Unless she got 800 [on the SAT verbal], I would hug her."

Monday, November 17, 2014


I have a very old-fashioned streak in me.  I shave with a forty-five year-old Gillette safety razor; I write with dip pens (the oldest in my small collection is a "disposable" from about 120 years ago, being a spiral cardboard tube with a metal nib glued in the end).  I even use the USPS for sending actual letters to people.

Lately, I have taken it into mind to "modernize" and get a typewriter.  By good fortune, I was able to find a vintage IBM Selectric in good working order for a very reasonable price.  A quick trip to Charlotte and it was mine.  I have already written two letters on it.  (I say in passing that using a typewriter gives me new appreciation for the skills required to be a typist fifty years ago.  Unlike with a modern word processor - or even a more "modern" correcting typewriter - one really can't afford to be sloppy or careless as mistakes are VERY troublesome to correct!)

I was surprised to find that Caroline was just as intrigued by this device as ol' Baba, and likes to climb onto the paternal knee to bang the keys.

Can a record player be in her future?  An eight-track?  Will she try to learn to drive a three-on-the-column?

          Dear Sir;
          With regard to your letter of the 15th inst., I have the honor to acquaint you that...

N.B. Unfortunately, the typewriter appears to have gone down for the count shortly after this photo was taken.  My barely-educated guess is that the main drive sprocket fractured.  IBM made this from hard plastic, and forty-five years is a long time for a plastic piece to last.  It is apparently known by the cognoscente that this is about the only thing that really breaks in a Selectric.  Getting it repaired will take some doing, I'm afraid, parts having not been manufactured by IBM for decades and a typewriter repair shop being rather a rara avis these days.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Understanding the adoptee

NOTE: Except in cases of reference to a specific person, the pronouns "he / him / his" are intended to be gender neutral throughout the following.

After reading of the opinions of some adult adoptees about adoption, I was quite disturbed.  "Is THIS what my daughter will think in years to come?  Will she, too, be bitter and resentful?  And... is there anything I can do to stop that happening?"

To this end, I think it's useful to try to understand more about how an adoptee* may see and experience the world.  As prospective adoptive parents, we were warned about many of these things but they were lost among concerns about more immediate post-adoption problems like food hoarding, attachment issues, night terrors, etc. (thank God, we haven't had any of those crop up), as well as the understandable excitement over becoming parents and the joy we felt when Caroline became our daughter.  It is worth stating explicitly that not all adoptees are alike, and I attempt here to understand the "angry adoptee".

First, "adoption begins with loss."  This is a brief statement that is, I think, easy to pass off as a mere shibboleth, especially for the parents: after all, we are gaining through the process, not losing.  What might this mean to the adoptee?

Obviously, the adoptee loses his birth family and especially his mother.  Depending on age at abandonment, he may have developed a very close bond with the birth mother / parents.  I don't know if anybody really knows how much of a bond exists between a newborn and his mother, but I think that we all take for granted that it's very close.  Suddenly, that bond is snapped.  The child finds himself alone, then in the arms of many strangers, in a strange place, likely one among many children, denied the very personal, loving attention that he likely experienced even if for a short time.  How confusing this must be for a little child... and how frightening. 

From this...

... to this.
I suspect that this loss actually becomes harder for the child when he is older, especially if he was abandoned shortly after birth.  Particularly for trans-racial adoptees, they begin to notice that they don't look like their parents.  Further, unlike the adoptive parents of a generation or two ago, adoptive parents now are urged to be very open with their children: "You were adopted." The child must wonder why.  And from that, he must wonder if it is - somehow - his own fault.  How might a child feel when he sees other children with their biological parents, getting the love and attention that is normal between parents and child?  "Was I bad? Why didn't they want me?"

Unfortunately, there is no escape from this question as the child is constantly reminded that he is not with his birth parents.  Strangers, even with the kindliest of intent, ask his parents about him as if he is an exhibit, a curiosity.  Strangers then frequently praise the parents for their charity in adopting a child**: "He is so lucky!" and "You're doing such a wonderful thing for that poor child."
Family tree asignments in grammar school.  Family medical history questionnaires.  Simply looking at family photos ("Nobody looks like me").  The child lives in a world where he is constantly reminded that he is out of place, that he doesn't belong.

"Hee-hee!  That man's looking at you so funny, Daddy!"

After loss of the birth parent, the child also confronts a loss of birth culture.  Born in one country, he is raised in another.  His cultural heritage, part of what makes him who he is, is wiped out.  Adoptive parents are urged to try to "honor" or "celebrate" the birth culture, but this is far easier said than done: how can one "teach" culture?  How can one even define it in any meaningful way?  Is it not a fraud for a white American parent to try to teach anything about, for example, Chinese "culture"?  Is there outright danger in trying, in making a child who already feels different have that feeling reinforced by making him try to learn another language and culture ("Why can't I just be like all the other kids?")?  Is there danger in NOT trying, in signaling, even by implication, to the child that his birth culture is unimportant if not outright "bad":

"People where you were born abandon little girls all the time."

"Your home country is so poor that they can't afford to keep their children."

"Only boys are important where you come from."

The child is cut off from his birth parents.  He is cut off from his birth culture.  He is told that the place he was born is bad.  And he may well be told that he is "bad" simply because of the color of his skin.  America has an unfortunately long history of being (ahem) unkind to "outsiders" and especially non-whites, and the adopted child may well have to confront this problem no matter how diligent his parents are in preparing and protecting him from it.  The lack of connection to birth culture, it seems to me, makes this harder for the child: he has no cultural / racial pride to help armor him against racist attacks.  Perhaps worse, he may well be baffled by them: growing up in a white family, he may well FEEL "white", making racism that much more hurtful because, again, it reinforces any feelings that he may have of not truly belonging.

... and what on the inside?
The family itself may send harmful messages.  Quite aside from those parents (and one wonders why they adopt in the first place) who are overtly racist or belittling to their own children, there are things that even the most loving parent may do that undermine the child's self-confidence.  Some - perhaps many - adoptees, for example, complain about the term "Gotcha Day" as it dehumanizes them by implying that they are simply an item that the parents picked up in the same way that they would have taken delivery of a car at a dealership or a parcel at the Post Office.  In the same manner, some adoptees dislike their parents referring to them as a "gift", a gift being an object that it given, not a person.  (Speaking personally, this is hard for me as an adoptive parent to understand: if I refer to my daughter as a gift, it is in the sense that - I think - all parents refer to their children, i.e. as a gift from God***, and somebody that I love and cherish.) 

You BELONG to me, do you hear?!
The child may feel all these things.  He may wonder why he was given up... or if he was, in fact, given up at all.  He may miss his birth parents or, at least, wonder about them.  He may feel isolated in his community or even in his own family.  He may feel objectified, an object of charity or a trinket for his parents (it seems to me that some celebrity adoptions give support to this pernicious idea: what else is anybody to think of a rich singer or actor who swoops into a poor country and voila! leaves a few days later with a baby?  Is it love or a fashion accessory?).  He may even feel survivor guilt: "Why was I adopted and not one of the other thousands - perhaps millions - of children?"

But to whom can he speak about these feelings?  He is, in a real sense, cut off from the very people that he SHOULD be able to turn to: his parents.  To speak of his birth mother, to speak of any feeling of not belonging or of discontent or even simple sadness or confusion might smack of "ingratitude" or even hurt the people who love him so very much... and that he, in his turn, loves very much.  So, he may feel that he's got to hold it in.

Is it any wonder that some adoptees may grow to feel bitter about adoption?

Finally, not all parents are perfect.  There are those - I think, very few - who abuse their children, whether physically, sexually, verbally, or through neglect.  There are others who are temperamentally unsuited to be parents, or just unsuited to be the parents of the children that they have (how many children can say with perfect honesty that their parents don't understand them?  How many parents are frustrated because they can't reach their children?).  Even the best parent makes mistakes: he punishes when punishment isn't warranted, fails to praise when praise is merited, can't spare time when two minutes would make all the difference to a child who needs to talk, attempts to push too hard his own beliefs, prejudices, hopes and regrets off on his child, or simply says the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.

Is it easier for the adopted child to turn parenting failure into an indictment of adoption?  To seek relief from the pain he feels in the belief that he shouldn't have been adopted in the first place, that the system is corrupt, that it is racist, that it preys on poor families?  Perhaps.

What should the adoptive parent do?  Where is the line between:
  • Telling a child that he's adopted and talking openly about it... and rubbing it in?
  • Honoring the birth parents... and making them into saints?
  • Honoring birth culture... and making it just one more reason for the child to feel different from his peers?
  • Being honest about the reasons that children are given up... and denigrating the child's birth culture?
  • Discussing racism... and putting a chip on the child's shoulder?
  • Celebrating happiness that the child is his... and making the child feel like a trinket?
  • Talking about the feelings the child might have as an adoptee to start a conversation... or inducing those very feelings in the child?
And how can the adoptive parent not personalize it, feel hurt, if the child begins to question adoption or wish to find his birth parents?


(*) In this case, "adoptee" refers explicitly to trans-racial / international adoptees.

(**) We have already experienced this.  We try to explain that WE are the blessed ones, the "lucky" ones, that Caroline is our daughter.

(***) 1 Samuel 1:27: "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of Him..."

Friday, November 7, 2014


Since we are not officially celebrating Caroline's birthday until tomorrow, we bought 2 small smores cake squares to share with her today.  She ate a piece after her nap and loved it.

We went out to purchase a few last minute items for her birthday party.  When we got back, we were putting the groceries away and I turned around and discovered Caroline in the floor with the second piece of cake.  She was obviously very determined because the cake was sitting on an extra high counter, so she had to climb to get it.  I figured if she wanted it that bad let her have it.

Our dog Mallory was like "she has cake"

Caroline is a sweet girl so she shared with her best friend who was very appreciative.




racism (n) -
1.  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2.  racial prejudice or discrimination  

In light of my recent reading of some adult adoptee views on adoption, I have also done some thinking about racism.  What is it?  How does one cope with it?  Let us keep firmly in mind that I am a white man; racism is something I know about, not something I know.  One might say that I know how to pitch, not how to catch.  OK, well, there was that one time in AIT where a bunch of black guys ganged up on me (still not sure why) and one of them hit me in the back of the head, but, otherwise, it's rather outside my experience.

The dictionary definition of racism gets at the core of what racism is, but does not say much about its manifestations and mechanisms.  It is, shall we say, a monster with many faces.  I suspect that the immediate mental image that most people get when they hear the word "racism" is a lynch mob, the KKK, or of blacks being terrorized and brutalized during the Civil Rights Era.
Racism, however, can take less overt and violent forms: racial epithets, job discrimination, "red lining" in bank loans, "white flight", and the "soft racism of low expectations" of affirmative action.  Ironically, it can even masquerade as praise, such as the "Model Minority".

Does racism exist only in the individual act?  Is racism confined to individuals who decide to commit acts that demonstrate "racial prejudice or discrimination"?  Or is it something more pervasive, something so pervasive and universal that even people of goodwill who honestly believe that they are NOT racists, who are horrified by racism and discrimination, silently and unknowingly engage in it or, at least, take advantage of it?  I refer to the concept of White Privilege:
One factor seems clear about all of the interlocking oppressions. They take both active forms which we can see and embedded forms which as a member of the dominant group one is not taught to see.  In my class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in the invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.
Disapproving of the systems won’t be enough to change them. I was taught to think that racism could end if white individuals changed their attitudes. (But) a “white” skin in the United States opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us. Individual acts can palliate, but cannot end, these problems.

White Privilege is further defined and studied under the rubric of Critical Race Theory:
CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color.
If these theories are correct, not only are white people - ALL white people - responsible for the "marginalization of people of color", they don't even have to do anything to perpetuate this wicked system (I do not speak of racism as wicked in a sarcastic sense; it, along with sexism and anti-Semitism and all the other "isms of hate", most assuredly IS wicked).*  They (we?) don't have to do anything at all to be racist.  Further, if these theories are correct, the "meritocracy" that is the core of Rev. Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is exactly that: a dream, and a completely unrealistic dream at that.

It strikes me that these theories have an extremely damaging effect on all concerned, including minorities.  They effectively absolve the individual white person of racism because, literally, everybody does it whether he intends to or not: merely being white, living everyday life as a white person, is sufficient to perpetuate the system.  Even an active effort to be (for want of a better term) anti-racist merely "palliate[s], but cannot end, these problems." Is it a source of wonder that many (most?) white people at best refuse to listen to claims of racism and and worst actively resent them?

Minorities are equally harmed, for, if White Privilege IS how the world works, then EVERY failure, EVERY setback, EVERY feeling of injury can be blamed on it.  From this idea (or, perhaps, supporting it), I think, stems Microaggression Theory:
Psychologist and Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership." Sue describes microaggressions at generally happening below the level of awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture. Microaggressions are considered to be different from overt, deliberate acts of bigotry, such as the use of racist epithets, because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offence and are unaware they are causing harm.
A life of despair, hopelessness, and even hatred must follow from such a worldview.  What is the use in trying to succeed when the entire system is loaded against you... and when failure can be conveniently blamed on it?  Or, conversely, when every success may be tinged with the idea that it was not entirely due to one's own efforts but was rather a free gift from the white majority that holds all the cards?  (For some white people, such "remedies" as affirmative action must be quite wonderful: they get to exercize white privilege by deciding - if I may use a blunt term - who gets to be a house slave and who stays in the fields AND feel virtuous while they do it)**

I do not mean to imply that racism does not exist.  It certainly does.  We see it when people are hired or jailed or elected or given a bank loan or harassed by the police or assumed to be smart or given a scholarship or beaten or killed because of their skin color.  We see it when various groups form with the explicit intent to help or advance only people of a certain skin color or national origin.  We see it when politicians attempt to play groups off against each other.  We see it when certain words or ideas are allowed only for certain groups or else outright forbidden in the public sphere.  It is real.  It is harmful to the individual and to our society.  It is a betrayal of our founding ideal that "all men are created equal".  People who have been the victims of it have every right to feel angry.  People who witness it have an obligation to say, "No more."

Is it possible to harm or insult somebody without evil intent?  Of course: we routinely jail people for such things as vehicular manslaughter even though they didn't set out to run somebody down with their car.  I suspect that most people have had an unfortunate slip of the tongue where they've told an inappropriate joke or story or simply mentioned a touchy subject in front of the wrong person; they didn't mean to be insulting or hurtful... but they were.

What ought the person do who believes himself to be harmed?  I should add here that harm and insult are to the victim as real as butter and eggs no matter what the intent (or lack thereof) of the perpetrator.  How many of us have had it explained to us, with varying levels of sincerity, that, "I didn't mean it THAT way" or "I had no idea that it would bother you" or "I was only fooling around"?  Yet, we are still insulted and possibly pay some penalty for it, ranging from having to apologize to being hauled up to HR to being punched in the nose.  Should a person react to every "microaggression"?  If so, then how?  Or should retaliation be reserved for egregious injuries?  Does retaliation, especially excessive retaliation, merely perpetuate racism?  ("Man, those people just can't take a joke!" or "Oh, it's OK if one of THEM says it!")

There is a popular YouTube video of a female jogger called "What Kind of Asian Are You?"  She is of Korean descent.  A white male jogger rather boorishly attempts to strike up conversation with her by, among other things, complimenting her on her English (she informs him that she was born in America), attempting to speak to her in Korean, and informing her that he LOVES Korean food.  Her response is... amusing.***

Is the white guy committing a "microaggression"?  Or is he simply trying - and failing spectacularly - to be (ahem) friendly to an attractive woman?  Does this fictional encounter (I expect that many woman would tell me that something like this has happened to them) say anything about white privilege or racism?  Should the woman extrapolate anything about our society from it?  Was HER response "racist" or "excessive" as some YouTube commentors stated?

What is it like to have such encounters on a daily basis?  To frequently (if not constantly) be the subject of hard stares by store employees or policemen?  To frequently (if not constantly) be assumed to be good at this or bad at that?  To frequently (if not constantly) have people assume that they know a priori and from a single glance one's behaviors and attitudes and ideas and values?  And what is it like to be considered a racist when you didn't mean any insult... or haven't done anything at all?  Oh, wait: I think I know that one.

What do we do about it?  What do I, as a father, do about it?  What do I teach my daughter to do if somebody calls her a chink?  Compliments her on her English?  Assumes that she's got insane math skills (please God this is true!) Makes a snarky remark about her driving?  Gives her a minority scholarship?  Denies her entry into college because she's Asian and they are "overrepresented"?  Tries to hit on her by... Never mind: Mr. Remington and I have that one covered.

I think that I may be forgiven for being disinclined to teach her CRT or that, as a minority, she's pretty much f*cked for her entire life because White Privilege. I think that I may further be forgiven for teaching her to regard anybody who tries to tell her these things with a great deal of suspicion.  But what SHOULD I do?

I believe that I have four tasks, remembering that, one day, she will be living on her own:

1.  To teach her that racism (and sexism and all those other nasty -isms) exists.  There's no sense in sugar-coating it.  She almost certainly will encounter in her life some low-brow who thinks to raise his pathetic self-esteem by trying to tear hers down.  At the same time, I don't think anything is to be gained - rather, much is risked - by teaching her to go through life with a chip on her shoulder, to look for racism and "microaggressions" all the time. "Kiddo, some people are just maladroit and some people are just a$$holes.  Not everybody is a klansman."

2.  To teach her, as well as I and the rest of her family can, that she is a beautiful, intelligent, and above all VALUED person.  We also need to help her to develop pride in herself: "Why on earth should I care what YOU think of me, you racist prick?  I know my own worth." Part of this is teaching her to have pride in her heritage both as an American and as a Chinese.

3.  To teach her that I and her mother and the rest of the family are behind her 100%, that we will not tolerate anybody mistreating her, and that we are available - nay, EAGER - for her to talk to us about whatever or whoever bothers her, and that we will try, even though it may be outside our own experience, to understand and to help.

4.  To teach her to defend herself with discretion, to use the appropriate means to make it quite clear - gently if possible, forcibly if necessary - to the low-brow that she will NOT be stepped on.

Maybe this is not enough.  Maybe it's the wrong approach.  I don't know.  Should I teach her to hope for (and work for) a color-blind society, to tell her that I have a Dream for her, too?

I don't know.

Whence all this passion towards conformity anyway? Diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you will have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business, they'll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive towards colorlessness? But seriously and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain.
Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man


(*) Racism, of course, is not confined merely to white people. In the United States, because whites are the majority ethnic group and because of various episodes in our history such as slavery, the Indian wars, Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act, etc., etc., "racism" is reflexively - and unfairly - considered a "whites only" crime.

(**) Walter Williams has an interesting take on statistical underrepresentation, one of the ideas underlying - to it's adherents, proving - CRT:

If America's diversity worshippers see underrepresentation as "probative" of racial discrimination, what do they propose be done about overrepresentation? After all, overrepresentation and underrepresentation are simply different sides of injustice. If those in one race are overrepresented, it might mean they're taking away what rightfully belongs to another race. For example, is it possible that Jews are doing things that sabotage the chances of a potential Indian, Alaska Native or Mexican Nobel Prize winner? What about the disgraceful lack of diversity in professional basketball and ice hockey?

(***) Interestingly, the video's producer, Ken Tanaka, is an adoptee.  Born in Los Angeles, he, as a white baby, was adopted by a Japanese family.  <EDIT> Thanks to blogger Red Thread Broken in the comments, I find that Ken Tanaka is, in fact, a fictional character and only his "long-lost twin brother", actor David Ury, is real.  More the fool I... </EDIT>




The official festivities are not till Saturday, but I just had to say Happy Birthday to the sweet little girl that made me a Mommy.