Adoptee Speakers; Fatigue is an Occupational Hazard. Impertinence Is Not.

In my public speeches, I often incorporate a photocopy of a memo written by the adoption agency to my parents, where the agency offered me at a discounted and negotiable rate since I am black and had/have special needs (AKA, a “failure to thrive” in adoption lingo). I share this sensitive information for the purpose of educating on the topic of the fragility of adoptees and the possible origins of a fragile sense of worth.  Inevitably, this tangible document asserting my monetary worth has crept into my subconscious, making it difficult to gauge my conceptual self worth.   Psychological studies, or a simple look at the correlation between American greed and US depression rates tell us that a genuine positive self-esteem cannot be obtained by outside goods or materialism, but self esteem can be damaged by external forces. I know this to be true by experience. Let me explain.

I recently fulfilled my contractual obligation to speak at a culture camp specifically for transracial adoptive families. Over two days, I gave the keynote speech, led my Transracial Adoption 101 workshop, and joined another well renown speaker on the topic of birthparent relationships. In a nutshell, I bled emotionally on stage, offering a behind the scenes, deeper look at Closure, sharing many truths typically reserved for a behind closed doors, confidential session in a therapists office. I enter in to these spaces willingly and excitedly as it is my desire to educate others for the sake of the spurning powerful and necessary conversations. My emotional weight lifting and vulnerability resulted in countless thanks from the participants for helping to expand their worldview. The weekend was fatiguing, but overall, it felt to be a wild success, a victory in the name of adoption education!  Well, not quite…

On the final day, I met with the director to settle up before heading back to the airport. To my surprise, I was not met with my payment, but rather a blank check that she dangled like a candy bribe in front of a misbehaving child and her cutting words; “I haven’t made your check out yet, because you weren’t available enough to the families during downtime. The families wanted more from you. I’d like to know what you think you’re worth?” I felt immediately triggered for obvious reasons. Her words have proven to aid in the external demotion of my self worth.

There seems to be an expectation for us adoptees to either shell out our private, potentially traumatic life story whenever anyone asks, or to speak for free as a sort of restitution for having been given a “better life.” In my case, there was an unknown and thus unmet expectation for me to be 100% available to all of the guests, foregoing sleep, rest or simple rejuvenation after a challenging educational session and a red-eye cross country flight.

Adoptee speakers – I understand the wearying drain of constantly needing to stave off  feelings of inferiority, or to spend time (as I have) justifying the plausibility of their claims, but please be careful with this. Intentionally placing ourselves in triggering environments for the sake of adoption reform shan’t lead to a days of internal conversations and external retreat from the world. This is counter-productive. Together, we can demand that our vulnerable offerings are not only met with the agreed upon payment, but also kindness and an upstanding integrity. If this is not the case, reach out to your community for support. Adoptees learned at an early age that society views us as commodities, and that in some senses we were bought. Adoptee speakers, let’s #FliptheScript and demand it be known that we are commodities no more.

 

28 thoughts on “Adoptee Speakers; Fatigue is an Occupational Hazard. Impertinence Is Not.

  1. Angela: I met you at the AAC conference (I’m an adoptive mom and an adoption professional), and follow you. This post is so good. People need to hear this! I adopted my daughter 23 years ago. She was 3 months premature and the agency offered us a discount on her due to her “medical fragility.” When I told my sister that my sister got really angry and her exact words were “She is not a cut rate baby!!!” So I whole heartedly agree with you, keep telling the world your story, all your stories, your voice is powerful.

    Phyllis Habib, MSW, LCSW Catholic Social Services of Fall River 1600 Bay St. Fall River, MA 02724 Phone: 508-674-4681 Fax: 508-675-2224

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  2. Angela, very important post!! I too adopted my daughter 23 years ago and she was “free” because she was declared “special needs” just by the virtue of being bi-racial. I CANNOT believe that this happened to you – your voice is worth more than any dollar amount – that woman was rude and inconsiderate. I wish I knew who that was, I would write a letter.

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  3. Brilliant, vital, painful, valuable post. I can only imagine how hard it was to go through that experience, and then to write about it. Thank you. Your story shows how far we have to go in adoption education.

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  4. Ms. Tucker, I am astounded at the behavior of the director of that camp. As an AP myself, I have learned many things from the adoptee speakers at our camps. I would not be the parent I am today if it were for people like you sharing your experiences. That was horrendous behavior on her part. I do hope that you have received an apology from her.

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  5. I am so sorry. Please know that there are adoptive parents who appreciate all you share and would NEVER think of putting a price tag on either our own children’s or any adoptee’s story. I am horrified to hear of your experience and apologize deeply. Thank you for continuing to educate us despite the emotional toll it takes.

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  6. It’s hard to imagine that the director of the culture camp where you spoke and put your vulnerability on full display, can sleep at night. Truly disheartening, and highly opportunistic on her part. Why does she even facilitate such an event? Mind-boggling!
    As a child I would often ask my parents how much they paid for me… where I got that notion, I have no idea but it ran deep in my psyche.

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  7. While I respect your professionalism of not putting this person or the camp on blast. I’d love to know who it is so I can put them on my “oh hell no” list.

    If camp directors expect 24/7 availability while at their camp that needs to be spelled out in the contract so invited speakers can decide if they’re willing to forgo their own comfort and sanity for so little a fee.

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  8. Angela, we met at PACT Camp a few years back. This is egregious behavior under ANY contractual employment experience, and especially disturbing from a camp of this kind. I am horrified. And so very empathetic to your feelings of betrayal and abuse. Keep your voice!!!

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  9. Well, I guess we know where you will not be a “returning speaker.” Angela, your worth is not up for barter. Your value is not negotiable. What you offer adoptive parents like us is invaluable. Please don’t let one or one hundred ignorant people keep you from sharing your thoughts and experiences….ON YOUR OWN TERMS. As I have said to you many times before, you will have to protect yourself from your audience and from those who claim to represent them. My heart is hurting for you. Please take care of yourself, first. Love to Bryan. Amy

    Liked by 4 people

  10. That is a horrible way to treat any speaker on any subject. Was there a contract that had conditions that you clearly didn’t fulfill? If not, you should have gotten the full amount.

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  11. Wow Angela! I am SO sorry you were met with this woman’s profound lack of appreciation, compassion and most of all, lack of respect for who you are and what you have to offer members of our community. I have done a lot of speaking and your article made me cringe. While sometimes I receive payment, other times I don’t, but I know and agree to that beforehand. Either way, I’ve never been treated the way you were. You have incredible value and I am guessing the people who attended the camp – those who were there to share and learn DID appreciate you. Please take good care.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Angela,
    That’s awful that that director treated you so disrespectfully and with such little gratitude – very disappointed.

    As an adoptee who values my privacy and feels the need to protect myself from people who think little of devaluing me, I’m very indebted to other adoptees with much courage, such as yourself, who DO open their private lives for the benefit of others and who have continued to hope for a better world, where children and human lives are respected and valued, and treated with dignity. Personally, I don’t have the strength or inclination to expose myself to a group of heartless, cold creatures (not everyone, but probably enough in the audience to bother me). In small groups, and privately, people have thanked me and suggested that I share more with others, because I also have valuable insight as a transracial, international adoptee, but I really don’t have any desire to be used and exploited to help others with their agendas and objectives. I support the well-being of adoptees and those who support adoptees and our families, not those who degrade the children we were and the adults we become.

    TO THE ADOPTIVE PARENTS WHO COMMENTED HERE, thanking Ms. Tucker for sharing and exposing herself so bravely, courageously, and full of love and hope for people:
    I sincerely hope that you’re doing more than thanking her with words. She’s given much of herself and deserves MUCH, MUCH more than a mere thanks. I’m not aware of any POTUS, politician, CEO, teacher, lawyer, or employee of any kind who exposes as much of their PERSONAL/PRIVATE life and time, with unlimited expectations by society/directors to keep giving more of themselves on demand of countless strangers. Although I’m not Angela, if I were her, I might suggest that you SHOW your appreciation by

    1) writing this director and/or other directors demanding/requesting that adoptees be paid and appreciated for their services,
    2) asking for this director’s demotion or removal for such classless, tasteless, and unprofessional treatment,
    3) paying Angela yourself for all the education she’s helped you with and/or
    4) pay/support a charity/cause that Angela or other adult adoptees support/work towards – family preservation, KUMFA, family reunification, unsealing of adoptees’ OBC’s, preventing child abuse/exploitation, supporting greater economic/racial/educational equality for vulnerable communities, removing the profit in adoptions, striving for greater justice and accountability for laws broken and lies/deception used, more transparency in adoption and respect for international sovereignty in adoption (US treatment towards Russia, DRC, and other countries’ governments re: their children and families has been manipulative, ethnocentric, and disrespectful) etc.

    The life and experiences of adoptees shouldn’t be treated as performances/entertainment for others – these are people’s LIVES and FEELINGS, who have experienced life and feel accordingly. I believe people like Angela don’t do this because they love the sound of their own voice. Rather, people do this, because they want to see CHANGE and IMPROVEMENT in the lives of vulnerable children and families. Standing and applauding, while doing NOTHING to improve the lives WE care deeply about, is disingenuous, insincere, and insulting. If you’ve adopted and your “contribution of support” is saying thanks on a blogpost, then you should be ashamed of yourselves for deliberately choosing to embark on such a big responsibility so passively ill-prepared to uphold your responsibility with compassion and integrity.

    Angela, I’m sorry if I over-stepped your great post. As adults, we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. As adoptees, we deserve to have our lives be treated with respect and dignity. As POC, we still deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Those who chose to become adoptive parents (create adoptees) have a greater responsibility to invoke greater respect and dignity of adoptees and the communities of adoptees’ families and peers.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I am SO sorry you went through this. I could see the pain you were going through when you shared your experiences but were helping us to become better parents to our children. I appreciate your vulnerability more than you could know. I wanted to give you personal space because I could see the hurt you were going through. NEVER would I have imagined you being treated like this. I know the other speaker (who we also greatly valued and appreciated) was also put in a highly unprofessional and rude situation, so I don’t believe this was an isolated incident but a matter of personality. Again, I am sorry on behalf of MOST (I wish I could say all) of the parents that came to the camp and value you. If I saw this, I would have said something.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This was shared in a facebook group I am a part of. As the white mom of transracial adoptees (mine are asian) I would like to 1.) thank you. Thank you for getting up there and bleeding on stage. Thank you for putting yourself out there to make a difference. Thank you for letting families learn from your life experience. 2.) share as others have, my completely emotional response. unlike someone who wants to “write a letter” I’d rather go kick someone’s door down and ask them in less than polite terms what is the matter with them? That any one who organized this kind of event would fail to expect that your participation would take a toll on you, is asinine. This is my mother dragon talking and she is furious that any one would dare treat you like this. 3.) I want to assure you that you have worth beyond measure. No one can put a price tag on you. I am sorry this woman tried. 4.) I love the voice that says “flip the script” and be known as commodities no more. YES! THIS!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Angela,
    What you shared at camp made my husband and I better parents to our sons. We WILL be contacting the camp director to ask for her to step down or we will not return next year. I am disgusted that she would treat you this way. It was very obvious to us that you were sharing something deeply personal at a time that it was so raw for you and you should have been allowed your space and the understanding of EVERYONE. From the bottom of my heart I am deeply sorry this was how you were treated. I’m still deeply honored to have learned from your experience.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Wow, I have a lot to say, most of it privately. What I will say is I am sorry that happened to you and continues to happen to adult TRA’s. I have long said that in addition to belonging to an individual family, transracial adoptees are part of a larger family. As the elders of this family, we believe our first-hand personal and collective experiences as transracial adoptees place us in a unique position to equip transracial families with information, training, guidance, skills, and tools not available elsewhere.

    Of course most adoptive parents would agree with that statement. They also think they are entitled to it for free. As if our light bill, car note and student loans are being paid by some rich benefactor. I too have struggled with the whole concept of knowing my worth and like you, it is rooted in childhood. In my case I was passed over by three black families for being too dark which is how I ended up being with white parents from WA State even though I am from Cleveland. The quote below is from a client I recently worked with. In under a week and for about $300, I got a permanent suspension removed from their son’s high school transcript. This did not happen because of magic it happened because I am very good at what I do and have lifetime of experience doing it. The fact it only cost them $300 tells me I am still not that good at knowing my worth. At least I know I am worth more than free.

    “My wife and I are white and have a black son who last spring got into an altercation at school, which led to a suspension. While not blameless, it was clear to others and us that he was being punished harder than his white counterparts were. We initially contacted Chad in the hope that he might advise us on how to handle something like this should it arise again .His response, “Sure, but let’s talk more about the first incident.” After hearing the details, he helped us draft a detailed and strongly worded letter, which led to a meeting with the superintendent – something we had tried but could not accomplish on our own. Chad helped us prepare a list of talking points as well as a list of rebuttals to what, he thought, would be their talking points. Two days later, we received a letter from the superintendent informing us that the suspension had been lifted from our son’s record. We are beyond grateful for both the outcome and opportunity to work with Chad. I highly recommend adoptive parents take advantage of Chad’s services.” Ken

    Liked by 4 people

  17. How infuriating. Any expectations beyond speaking or leading a group should be outline way ahead of time and negotiated into the price. This was totally unprofessional and also insulting. So sorry it happened.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. We were at this camp and am HORRIFIED at how the director acted. This just seals it for us. I had dealings with the director with other items regarding the camp and based on those alone we won’t be back. This incident has prompted me to take further action and voice my utter shock and disgust at how you were treated. She is an abomination to the adoptive community and I truly feel sorry for the two beautiful children in her care.

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  19. Amen sister, AMEN!

    Those of us in the trenches who are seeking to educate based upon our personal experiences often have more to offer than those with a multitude of degrees.

    We are seeking to update the laws in Texas and restore equal access to original birth certificates for adults who were adopted as minors.

    In this vein I have a power point presentation for genealogical societies (and any other organization which is interested) on the history of adoption in Texas. I have been asked to allow filming and to place the presentation on line for others to view and have not done so.

    Sometimes the agreements give an option to “waive the honorarium.” Not an option for me. This is valuable information based upon my experiences, time in foster care, illegal termination of my mother’s parental rights (documented in my foster care records) and political activism. Those are valuable and worthly of monetary compensation.

    In October I will present at the Texas State Genealogical Conference and I am encouraged that we will have a large group of people who understand the issue and will become politically involved on our behalf.

    Thank you for speaking up. You are a valuable and treasured jewel. Texasadopteerights.org

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  20. Angela,
    I am personally and professionally so grateful for your work, for your immense, and very personal, contributions to the adoption community. I am horrified you were treated this way by the director – just horrified that anyone in such a position in the adoption community would be so cruel and insensitive. I wish there was more I could do than offer my support. You are an amazing, talented, insightful, compassionate, generous person. Thank you so much for all you do.
    Patti Jacobs Hein
    TAFicity, Inc.
    http://www.taficity.org

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  21. Wow, I am speechless. How unprofessional of her.

    As for the commodities, I remember when I first learned this. It was after my son (bi-racial, black/white) was adopted. I ran into a women at a park. We were both there with our children. Her child was adopted and her and her husband were looking to adopt again. I told her that I was a birth mom. Somehow, the agency I went through came up. She said they were trying to adopt through the same agency but their fees got to high, like over $30,000. closer to $40,000.

    I was shocked by that amount. I had no idea what the cost were nor how much my son’s adoptive parents paid for their adoption cost (or for him). I did not accept any money from the agency and I continued to work and carried my own insurance and continued to pay all my expenses.

    I told my son’s mother about the encounter and my surprise at how much our agency charged for adoption. I didn’t ask her how much they paid and she didn’t tell me the $$. But she did tell me that they paid a considerably amount less. She said the agency said it was very rare to pay that little, for two reasons. One, was because I paid all my own expenses. And two, because my son was of mixed race. That cut me deep. I was angry, not at my son’s parents but at the agency and the system. How dare they bargain basement my son. If I had known that beforehand, I don’t think I would have gone through with the adoption. It’s the principle. It would have been a struggle as a single mom of two sons who both had severa asthma, with no familial support. But that is not right to put a lessor value on a human being because of his or her race. That is a form of racism, in my opinion.

    As always, I thank you for sharing your heart, being authentic and not being afraid to speak your truth. And to your family as well, for exposing the secrets to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I am horrified at how you were treated. Sharing that much of yourself is a gift… and that vile woman stepped all over it. 90% of what I know about adoption has come from brave adopted people who are willing to share their stories. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I can’t help but wonder if it had been an adoptive parent speaking, if the director would have pulled that same kind of ridiculous song and dance.

    There is too much wrong here to enumerate.

    I appreciate you sharing your story and commend you on this call to action.

    I’m absolutely horrified that anyone thought they could get away with that.

    And frankly, it sickens me more than a little that anyone of such poor character is in any way involved in educating others about adoption.

    What a terrifying concept.

    I hope you have ample opportunities to present at more robustly ethical conferences on a regular basis. It seems like your presentation was one of vital importance, and well-received.

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  24. Wow Angela I’m a former foster youth and have experienced similar treatment and you just gave me life I agree and we must #flipthescript thanks for bringing light to an issue that many system speakers (former foster youth, juvenile delinquents, adoptees etc )

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