The power of art

Harlow's Monkey

Many of  my friends know that way back when, my first undergraduate (almost) degree was costume and textile design. I dropped out of school a semester before finishing my program. When I decided I was ready to finally finish my degree, I went into social work but I have maintained my love of textiles. I am particularly drawn to art that combines textiles and social justice and sometimes imagine that I will someday create some of my own art using textiles.

So imagine my delight when I saw an announcement on Facebook that a Korean adoptee artist and writer, Mary-Kim Arnold, had an installation, (Re)dress: One for Every Thousand as part of the CON/TEXTILE/IZED exhibit at the Jamestown Art Center in Rhode Island. Imagine how excited I was to know I was going to be at the Rudd Adoption  Conference in Massachusetts during the exhibit’s run at the JAC. As soon…

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My Favorite Things of 2015

Dear The Adopted Life readers,

As 2015 comes to a close, I’d like to thank you for being so loyal. I’ve been on quite the incredible ride since the premiere of the documentary. I’m fortunate to have met so many of you who share my belief in critical thinking and reaching outside of our comfort zones as one small way we can improve lives in our society.  As I reflect on such a momentous year in my personal life, I want to share some of my favorite moments that happened in the world around me. These are a few of my favorite things:

Favorite Article: How To Be An Interrupter wins this award. Pegged as “The White Person’s Guide To Activism” this article is one of my top referenced articles when I teach workshops and trainings to white folks who desire to be considered an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement and want to be on the right side of history in our “post-racial” world. Yes, the author of this piece, Aaryn Belfer may be a personal friend, and I might be in love with her daughter, her San Diego home, her husband’s wit and their dog, but if you think that her winning this award is a conflict of interest, then present your argument after digesting that it was shared on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest a few thousand times.

Favorite display of human intelligence: In my full-time professional work, I often preach Einstein’s words about equality vs. equity. I’m glad to know I’ll have a new example to add to my soapbox in James at Jim The Trim Barbershop. His actions rivals Einstein’s brilliance, as he individually accommodates his clients to reach the same outcome: a fly haircut. Now that’s equity!

Favorite speech:  Viola Davis accepting her Emmy award and her powerful statement that the reason for the lack of black talent is not that we aren’t talented, but rather “you can’t win awards for roles that aren’t there.”

Although not technically a speech, Cecile’s Richards (Planned Parenthood) shutting down representative, Jason Chaffetz is a runner-up.

Favorite interview: Alright, I’ve gotta shamelessly self-promote, here. One of my favorite interviews was speaking with a bright 10 year old girl after she saw Ava Duvernay’s movie; Selma. I was also excited (Note: “excited” is an understatement – she is my girl crush) to have been contacted by Cipriana Quann, who asked to feature the video on Urban Bush Babes website.

Favorite Instagrammer: The beauties behind FosterMoms exemplify much of what I teach and stress in my adoption advocacy work. They share honestly and frequently, while keeping their little ones’ lives private. I know them as “Tiny” and “Mr. Toddler.” They’ve kept the boys’ faces off of social media while educating on the power, struggle, love and tiring life of being LGBTQ foster parents.

Favorite Twitter feed: In 140-character gems, my Twitter feed can be inspiring, informative, and helps change the way I look at the world. @Deray is my source for on the ground truths of Ferguson, Charleston, Baltimore and other cases of police using excessive force. The 30 year old’s reflections after meeting with Hilary Clinton was gracious while putting pressure on our Democratic front-runner. He is changing the world by demanding police officer accountability, and doing all of this while being black and gay. No easy feat.

Favorite display of public honesty: Monica Lewinsky’s TEDTalk entitled “The Price Of Shame,” exemplifies one of my professional missions. I strongly advocate for those marginalized within our society to learn how to own their own story and share it in a way that feels most true to them. This is not easy for folks who have been subjected to vitriol, hatred, abuse or other damaging interactions to their self-esteem. Monica Lewinsky endured years of public abuse, beautifully took back the reigns of her narrative by boldly sharing the story we all know too well in her own words. I’m thankful the folks in that room created such a safe space for her.

The Serena Williams press conference after she beat her sister Venus is runner up in this category.

Favorite proud wife moment: Watching Bryan‘s creative process as he conceptualized, produced and edited this tear-jerker of a music video. I loved his purposeful choice to focus the story on showcasing powerful women in the minority black ballerina, single motherhood, adoptive parenting.

Favorite viral video:  Passing time in the airport can be exasperating. Between the plethora of germs, the searching my afro for weapons, eavesdropping on conversations, witnessing tearful hugs and kisses it can be enough to swear off airports for life. I will continue to travel in 2016, and would be impossibly happy to get the great fortune to witness a magical scene like this.

RELATED: I’ve spent far fewer hours on the New York subway, but still, why couldn’t this have happened?

Favorite binge-watch: The Newsroom. This show made me think about the ways media portrays “news.” I’m too embarrassed to admit the number of consecutive hours spent on the couch. Next up? Season 4 of House Of Cards.

Favorite moment of justice: Watching Daniel Holtzclaw bawl like the weak little child that he is, and hearing some of the survivors speak out and having the whole world hear them and believe them.

“Amidst the suffering and mourning for Black lives lost and brutalized across the nation, we can finally celebrate having “won” one. At last, we can sit back and revel in our oppressor’s suffering.” -For Harriet

Favorite Fans: YOU! Thank you for your belief that adoptees should have a place at the table when discussing issues related to adoption. It’s been an honor to build a community of thinkers who show a deep respect for humanity, engage in challenging dialogue with a willingness to be vulnerable, and modeling how to respectfully disagree with someone on the internet. I am greatly looking forward to hearing the voices of our adopted youth through The Adopted Life series in 2016 – thanks again for helping to make this a reality.

Sincerely,

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P.S. Did I miss something? Let me know!

The Colorblind Parenting Approach Makes Me Want To Yell “#StayMadAbby!”

The #StayMadAbby hashtag has been one of my favorite hashtag activism moments of the entire year.

The Story behind #StayMadAbby:

In 2008, Abigail Fisher was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and decided to sue the school for race discrimination— claiming that as a white student, the university denied her admission because of her race. Only 47 students admitted to University of Texas-Austin that year had lower GPA’s and test scores than Fisher. Of those 47, 42 were White and five were minority students. During the recent affirmative action arguments, Scalia suggested that some black students belong at “slower-track” universities. He implied affirmative action puts minority students in elite universities that are too challenging for them.

How does this pertain to transracial adoption?

I’ve often heard well-intentioned trans-racial adoptive parents speak about how much they love their little bundle of joy, and that they’ve chosen a colorblind approach to parenting. Many view colorblindness as a good thing, elaborating on their desire to take MLK seriously on his call to judge people on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. They want to focus on commonalities between people, such as their shared humanity, and the fact that they are now a fully intact family-unit. What’s so wrong with that?

How does the Colorblind approach sound to adult transracial adoptees?

Speaking for myself (not all adult transracially adoptees) what I hear is that this parent doesn’t see that bad, ‘colored’ part of me – that black part. If they ignore that part, then I’m a good kid, worthy of love and attention. Even when assuming that these parents are well-intentioned, and want to provide the best possible life for me,  it still occurs to me that one of the basic tenets of anti-racism is to understand that although one has not chosen to be socialized into racism, no one is neutral or exempt from it. To not act against racism is to support racism, thus the colorblind philosophy cannot remain. Since true human objectivity is impossible parents must reject the urge to avoid sounding prejudice by making this statement.

Since people of color cannot be racist*, the line of white privilege and oppression can feel especially blurry.  From my experience, adoptive parents desperately seek to create environments where their adopted children and their marginalized voices can speak freely and honestly. How can we do this if you’ve chosen to remain staunchly colorblind or pushing back against the truths of how white supremacy continues to reign? The strategy of disregarding race effectively covers up injustice and allows it to continue to permeate many aspects of society.

Robin + Angela
I’m beaming standing next to anti-racism trainer, Westfield State University tenured professor of multicultural education, Robin DiAngelo

Robin DiAngelo, a white woman who grew up poor recognizes that her my experience of poverty would have been different had she not been white. The mere fact that this sentence lives in her bio, stuns me. I view her choice to include this tidbit amongst the plethora of other impressive accolades as a way to educate anyone who dare seek out her presence. The reason this sentence spoke to me as, I’ve heard many white people speak about their own experience of marginalization as an effort to obscure and protect racism. Examples of this includes; “…I grew up poor, so I know what it’s like…”,  or “I have a black friend…”, or “I grew up in the South, so I know all about that…”

In the words of Robin DiAngelo, “If you are white and have had many experiences, world-wide travels, diversified workplace, speak multiple languages etc., but have not explored your racial identity then you are ignorant and ill-informed.”  I am looking forward to collaborating with Robin DiAngelo on anti-racism training’s, specifically designed for trans-racial adoptive parents (stay tuned!).

Next time you bring up the impact of race on Donald Trump, american policing, Daniel Holtzclaw or topics that have seemingly less obvious racial implications (like the Star Spangled Banner and voting rights), and people respond by stating “race has nothing to do with it,” or asks “why do you always bring race into the conversation?” perhaps respond with a simple statement like; “White people are unconsciously invested in racism” or “given our socialization, it is much more likely that we are the ones who don’t fully understand the issue,” or, do as I do and yell “#StayMadAbby” and walk away. I’m just kidding, I don’t yell at people.

**Yes, you read that correct, people of color cannot be racist. Everyone is prejudiced but only members of a dominant group can be racist.

Guest Post: A Search for Family in Haiti Raises Questions about Adoption: The Whole Story

I have chosen to include this guest post in an attempt to communicate my desire to fully support Mariette.  The incident she describes underscores my commitment to empowering adoptees to tell their story in the way that feels most true to them.

The piece that Mariette is referencing throughout her post can be found HERE.

~Angela

Mariette

A Search for Family in Haiti Raises Questions about Adoption: The Whole Story

By Mariette Williams

On Friday, November 27th, I woke up to a barrage of twitter notifications. I had been waiting for a few days for Ben Fox, the Associated Press journalist, to post the story of my reunion with my family in Haiti. He had said it would be posted during the Thanksgiving weekend. When I clicked on the link to read the story for the first time, I was stunned.

I retweeted the story a few times, but I wasn’t sure how to explain in 140 characters that I wasn’t comfortable with the story, that it had missed the mark. On Friday afternoon, Ben texted me and asked if I was okay. I said I thought 85% of the article was good, but there were some situations that were inaccurate. I didn’t go into too much detail, and I decided to try and put it out of my mind. But it kept bothering me. I didn’t sleep well on Friday or Saturday night. I had to explain myself before I could let it go. On Sunday afternoon, I sat down and wrote Ben this email:

Hi Ben,

I’ve been thinking about this story all weekend, and I can’t let it go until I address some things that you wrote. Like I texted you on Saturday, I think 85% of the story is good and accurate. But there are some things that are bothering me, and I’ll address them below.

“Four days later, Sandra gave her side in a letter to Mariette. Sandra noted that her adopted daughter could have ended up with some other family, or might not have survived in Haiti at all. She said she had always prayed Mariette would return to her country to meet her family. “I feel we have all been victims of deception, but I also believe God is ultimately in charge,” she wrote. For almost two months afterward, Mariette didn’t speak to Sandra. She was furious.”

I actually asked you not to write about this letter. I asked my mom for space while I was figuring things out. I was not “furious.” Hurt? Yes. Confused? Yes. Shocked to find out my mother in Haiti had not consented? Yes. This was a private, personal letter, and I am surprised that you used it.

“She decided to go to Haiti to celebrate her mother’s 70th birthday. Sandra gave her a necklace and earrings as gifts for Colas. Mariette seethed. She left them behind.”

I showed you the card and the necklace. I explained to you that I would not bring them because I didn’t think it was an appropriate gift. The card said “Thank you for sharing your daughter with us.” Given the circumstances, I didn’t think that was the right message. Should I have brought the earrings? Maybe. If you wanted to include this, you should have given the context of the card. “Seething” is an inaccurate description.

Up to this point, I think the story is okay. When we get to Haiti, everything kind of falls apart.

“She was surprised, and a little annoyed, that her Haitian relatives weren’t at the airport.”

Nope, not true. I had arranged to have a driver from the guesthouse pick me up. My family was supposed to meet me at the guesthouse. You saw yourself that we landed at the airport and there was a gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. I rolled my bags into his van, and you followed us to the guesthouse in your own vehicle.

“Over the coming days, Mariette could get little more from her mother. She cursed herself for not learning Creole.”

I said my biggest regret was not learning Creole. I said that if I could change one thing, it would have been to learn more Creole. I did not curse myself.

“She had planned to spend the night at the house. Instead, she traveled two more hours to the one hotel in Pestel.”

Again, not true. It was never the plan for us, or me to stay at my mother’s house. You had brought it up the day before that you would like to travel to Deron. I agreed that it would be good to see the house where my mother lived. When we arrived, we spent a few hours there talking and taking pictures. As we were getting ready to leave, you asked me, “Are you going to stay here tonight?’ And I looked at you like you were crazy and I said, “No, I’m coming with you guys.” I had no cell phone reception and no way to getting in contact with you. It was never my plan to stay there.

“The next day, Junette said she would like to either move their mother to the capital or fix up her home, where two or three of her children and their families stay at any given time. The implication was clear: Mariette would pay.”

When was this? Junette met us back at the guesthouse after that long and crazy ride back to Delmas. We ate cake, you took some pictures, and then you went back to the AP house. When was this conversation?

“Her brothers walked through the home with two barefoot contractors. Mariette ended up with a rough estimate of around $5,000 — far more than she could afford.”

We both know that the $5,000 number was inflated, and it is not “far more than what I can afford.” I was sitting in front of my mother’s house with Evens, who was helping me translate. I asked my mother how I could help her. She told me I could help her with the house. At that point, my brothers called the neighbors to get an estimate for the work that could be done. I brought it up, and I am more than happy to help my mother with her home.

“Her family saw her as the rich American relative. Her youngest sister and a niece hinted that they could go to nursing school, if they could only come up with the tuition. Colas wanted to prepare a meal, but didn’t have money to buy a chicken. Mariette paid.”

As for my younger sister and niece, they had been studying for the nursing exam, something that is very difficult to pass. On our first day, we sat around the table and they told me that they had passed the exam. Great. My mother praised God, and said that I was like “good luck” for them. They did not ask me to pay for their schooling.

Most importantly, my mother was not prepared to have me and a camera crew and a reporter show up to her home. She explained through a translator that she was embarrassed that she didn’t have anything to serve us. She was also embarrassed to have a camera crew in her home, taking pictures. It was very intrusive, and she never complained. She gracefully made us coffee and brought out chairs so we could sit around her yard. Before she arrived, the plan was for us to meet up in Delmas. Also, before I arrived in Haiti, she had told me that she didn’t want to give any interviews or to appear on camera. But any request we made, she complied. You asked her questions, took her picture, and she gave an on camera interview. I think she did more than her part. I gladly gave her $5 to buy dinner.

What about that interview I gave in front of my mother’s house? I said that I was grateful for my adoption, that everything I have I am thankful for. Why not include that? Or the conversations we had that I had a great childhood, growing up on a farm in British Columbia? Being able to attend a private school? If you weren’t pressed for length, why not include that?

Both my mom (Sandra) and I were disappointed in the tone of this article.  It didn’t feel like good journalism. You filled in the blanks in places, presenting a story that wasn’t accurate. I know you were trying to go for a narrative, but it didn’t work.  We had such an opportunity to tell a great story. Adoption is so complex, so beautiful and at the same time so heartbreaking, and you missed that. Although adoption gave me so much, it was still very important for me to know where I came from. I waited for four months for this story to come out.  Not for any personal gain, but to share my story and give hope to other adoptees still searching for their families. I am thankful for your friendship and your help navigating while we were in Haiti. I could not have done this trip alone. I don’t regret going or the new friendships I have with Chery or Evens. I am only sorry that my Haitian family was portrayed the way they were, and that you left out much of my positive comments about my adoption.

I wish you nothing but the best going forward,

Mariette

Ben and I have since talked and he has apologized, but the story cannot be undone. I still feel it necessary to explain my side of the story, to use my small platform to make things right.

I know that very few people who read the first story will read this, but I am at peace knowing that I shared my side. In all of this, I believe even more strongly than before in owning and sharing our own stories, which would not be possible without personal blogs, podcasts, and social media. It’s not just important to tell a good story, we are responsible to each other to tell the whole story.

Campaigning in Washington D.C.

Beauty and complexity
“I wish I could have heard from other adoptees…About how they love their adoptive family & their birth family at the same time. It’s beautiful and complicated all at once.”

Bryan and I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to DC where our friends (and consultants) Kathryn Hamm and Beth Wheeler set up a multitude of events bringing a great deal of attention to The Adopted Life initiative. We attended the DC screening of CLOSURE at American University which was hosted by The Department of Philosophy & Religion (tickets sold out in less than 24 hours), attended fundraising events, was interviewed by fellow entrepreneur and current CEO Timothy Chi, and engaged in meaningful conversations about adoption reform with professionals in the field. Somehow, Bryan and I still found time for a bit of D.C. sightseeing (see Facebook/Instagram for touristy pics).

The Tucker’s work is an important piece of the expanding conversation around the many complicated facets of adoption, and transracial adoption, in particular:  race and identity, tragedy and loss, the meaning of family and love. After the American University screening of Closure, one attendee asked Angela, “My 10-year old, transracially adopted daughter is asking about meeting her birth mother.  Is she ready at this age?”  To which Angela replied, “If she’s asking, she’s ready.”

– You can read the entirety of The Barker Foundation’s recap here.

I am raring to get started working with our agency partners, as a great deal of thought has gone into making sure that the episode participants are vetted, that the participants fully understand the educational use and that supports are in place for the children who participate after filming as concluded. This project will provide much needed insight and education for adoptive families, agencies, social workers, and most importantly – it will help empower and connect young adoptees with each other.

We still need to raise $10,415 by November 30th as our funding goal must be met in order for this project to take place.   

Support The Adopted Life Here

Is It a Micro-aggression or Oversensitivity?

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A few months ago, a respected colleague remarked to me that he’d noticed that I’ve chosen to “…wear a nappy hairstyle.” This comment was made in a calm, matter-of-fact tone in front of a large class. To him, a white-male, it was a friendly observation of my afro textured hair.  To me, it was a micro-aggression. My testosterone surged and I immediately flashed back to the disgraced Mr. Don Imus. I felt angry and humiliated – but no one else seemed to notice – to others it was a seemingly normal interaction, failing to recognize that the word nappy conveys a demeaning message toward a disenfranchised group.  Even though no harm or malice was intended by the comment, I made the decision to initiate a request for an apology. My request was greeted with defensiveness, surprise and an inquiry as to my fixation on this minor slight. The perpetrators style of apologizing was code for “I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.”

As I write this post, I realize that this issue seems trite compared to our current world where macro-aggressions abound (i.e.: choosing not to allow Syrian refugees to live in the US out of a generalized fear of Muslims and the Middle East). I’ve also read the {brilliant} article in The Atlantic discussing how the increased demand for posted trigger warnings and the rise of the “victim-culture” is making it more difficult for teachers to educate out of fear of using incorrect language.

“For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American ‘Where were you born?,’ because this implies that he or she is not a real American.”

-The Coddling of The American Mind

There certainly is a nuance to understanding micro-aggressions, which is why we must incorporate that same level of nuance when seeking clarity on what constitutes one. It is without question that I, too, have unwittingly committed micro-aggressions against others, as the subtle prejudices and slights are used by even the most liberal parts of our polity.

Here are two examples that may allow us to begin a conversation in an effort to differentiate between micro-aggressions and innocuous comments:

Example #1: An Asian student does not get an A on a test. His fellow Caucasian students respond with a mock shock. Is this a micro-aggression or a case of oversensitivity?

Angela’s two-cents: I view this to be a micro-aggression. Whether the student chooses to address this with his peers is up to them. I, an educator, and one who seeks to practice and point out inequalities, would likely use this as an opportunity to elicit consciousness in an effort to eliminate vestiges of racism, ableism and sexism wherever they exist.    ***This response is not required.

Example #2: ‘‘Come on now, we all have a disability of some kind!’’ Is this a micro-aggression or a case of oversensitivity?

Angela’s two-cents: What do you think? I’ve purposefully left out any context for this statement as I’d like to hear your thoughts. 

It is important that we allow the victims of the micro-aggression to tell us whether a phrase felt irksome, innocuous or hurtful to them.  One reason micro-aggressions prevail is that by definition, the aggressor is always a person in the majority, or in a position of power – making it even more difficult for a minority to speak up about the infraction. Let’s not confuse tone-policing with someone being hypersensitive.

My Interview With “Foster Moms”

Last week, I was interviewed by Foster Moms. Check out the full interview here.

Here is a snippet:

FOSTERMOMS: How might you respond to someone who says they don’t know if they could ever foster infants or babies because they would grow too attached?

ANGELA TUCKER: I immediately think of my favorite poem “On Children” by Khalil Gibran as I truly feel that raising children should never be about ownership. We raise children to become happy, healthy and productive members of society. Some of the lyrics are:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls. (I especially love this line!)

The Adopted Life Episodes – COMING SOON

Kickstarter

I am very excited to launch The Adopted Life Episodes campaign!

I plan to host a series where I speak one-on-one with transracially adopted youth posing developmentally appropriate questions in a conversational and journalistic approach. Each episode will feature between 10 transracially adopted youth and will be edited to an estimated run-time of ten to fifteen minutes. My husband, filmmaker Bryan Tucker, will film each episode and we will co-edit them together. I am purposefully launching this campaign during National Adoption Month, in an effort to provide a platform to the lesser heard voices; adoptees and foster youth. Head on over to Kickstarter to learn more about this venture.

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Bobbi Brown Labels & Our Identity

       Porcelain Make upI grew up trying on my sister’s “porcelain” colored makeup, however quickly learned that society would not accept this form of self expression and sisterly love. Bobbi Brown and Cover Girl informed me that my skin color is “Warm Walnut.” Apparently my mom was beige, my other sister’s were deep mocha, caramel and ivory.  I had always dreamt the moment I met my birth family that I’d feel an immediate sense of peace and belonging. But, I didn’t. Although surreal to be surrounded by a family of “Warm Walnuts” for the very first time in my life, I also realized how much I fit in with my multi-sectioned makeup toned family. It was a difficult realization to admit that I feel more comfortable and at home next to the beiges, deep mochas and the ivory’s alike.   Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 6.31.03 PM

Although I know that my skin tone is not porcelain, I cannot consider myself a true Warm Walnut either. Identity is not simply a counting of melanin, or a kitschy name via a marketing scheme, but rather it’s how we’ve come to assimilate and own the labels others have assigned us. I am not just a hearing aid-wearer, or a “hard to place” foster child. I don’t wear my afro to make a statement in a predominantly white environment, and will not heed to Bobbi Brown’s labels to help shape my sense of self.

**This short post is written out of a bit of frustration as I was recently asked if I was “single handedly attempting to gentrify” the neighborhood in which I live. Ouch!***