The Anti-Antiadoption Discourse in “Response” to a New Expose

A researcher, or perhaps a journalist, Kathryn Boyce has recently written an expose, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption (published 23 April 2013), on how evangelical Christians are preaching the new gospel of adoption.

I haven’t read the book; I’m flagging it down here in case someone wants to. My guess is that the information it contains will be received as not new news here, but the subtitle “rescue, trafficking, and the new gospel of adoption” seems like the right sort of unholy trinity for suspecting the author is on the kind of track that has some particular traction around here. (Apparently the author was interviewed on NPR, so her basic message seems to have gone out far and wide.)

Besides the “public service” of announcing this book, I provide also the opportunity to aggravate yourself, by reading certain of the comments attached to the NPR article linked to above. It’s a refresher on the discourse of push-back that typically accompanies this topic.

One of the in-principle milder versions of this comes from a supposedly favorable review of the book:

In this chilling expose that promises to become a muckraker classic, Kathryn Joyce rips the veil off a sacrosanct institution in America and other rich nations: international adoption.  She exposes not just black- and grey-market practices—though she finds plenty of both in evangelical-Christian institutions piously claiming to rescue orphans from poor countries.  More profoundly, though, Joyce reveals how secular, squeaky-clean adoption can also do harm, not just to individual birth mothers and adoptees, but to the progress of children’s and women’s rights globally. The Child Catchers is essential reading for adoptive parents, those thinking about adopting, and anyone concerned with democracy—nationally and throughout the world.

To me, the key sentence is: “The Child Catchers is essential reading for adoptive parents, those thinking about adopting, and anyone concerned with democracy—nationally and throughout the world” (emphasis added). The implication is that, having stared into the horrorshow of (international) adoption, one might still proceed to adopt. I think it’s always crucial to consider those moments when (and how and why) consciousness raising does not achieve its desired aim, i.e., that having changed people’s minds their actions change as well.

As for comments on the article mentioned above, of course the first one has everything you could ever want in a prissy, self-pitying rant (from David Fisher):

How sad that Ms Joyce equates adoptive parents with an evil movie villain who imprisons children.

We may disregard I suppose that this was exactly what the English (female) Gothic novelists of the late eighteenth-century employed in a (conscious or unconscious) reaction to and critique of imposition of ignorance, sequestration, and repression practiced (especially) against women and girls at the time. It was, in fact, a wholly apposite equation.

I wonder if Ms Joyce has ever traveled to nations where millions of orphans live

I wonder if anyone has. In the US, the number of orphans is estimated at 100,000. Even in Russia, the currently advertized orphan capital of the world (I think), estimates run from 100,000 to 2.5 million or 4 million–depending upon how you count what an “orphan” is, of course. India has 20 million (some say), but since this is only 4% of the child population, Russia still gets the palm at 50% (of its child population). I mention India because Fisher adopted 3 from India, but whether he has ever traveled there might be merely rhetorical on his part.

in miserable conditions, suffering abuse and neglect simply because they do not have parents. Do all adoption stories have happy endings? Of course not. But most do,

Besides asking the question–how is it that a child ripped from her native environment and thrown helplessly into the “care” of people in a foreign country who may not even speak her language could hardly have any “choice” in the matter except to try to make as much of a “happy ending” out of that circumstance as she could–one could get offended at the grossly statistical argument being made here. This isn’t adopting a puppy from the humane shelter or risking money in the stock market. In this particular case, failure cannot be allowed as an option. That “most do” have happy endings therefore cannot begin to answer for the (statistically) higher rate of suicide amongst transracial adoptees–much less the reports from those who survived (and are surviving) adoption that calling the outcome of the whole ordeal a “happy ending” is disingenuous at best.

and to imply that a majority of adoptions result in children being “ripped from their families” and the adoptive children feeling like “this is not any of what they signed up for” is ludicrous.

Except of course for those cases where the adoptee does feel that way. If the antiadoption stance errs in shitcoating all adoption as bad, then the similar sugarcoating of all adoptions as good has to be equally ludicrous. And were there any sign of acknowledgment on the sugarcoating side that those who did not have a good time of it in adoption aren’t simply crazy, uppity, maladjusted, angry, expecting special dispensation or treatment, &c, then Mr. Fisher’s smugness might move from ludicrous to merely unbearable (or perhaps even tragic). But since that dialogue not only rarely if ever occurs but seems just s often actively suppressed, then to accuse some of overstating the “evil” of adoption is itself an act of such repression. It’s exactly equivalent to trying to equate racism by whites and racism by nonwhites in a leukocentric (white-centric) social order.

I post this not simply to irk the old wounds, but hopefully to find in this typical barrage (from fisher) something atypical and hopefully useful moving toward to create the grounds for more positive and desirable social change.

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6 thoughts on “The Anti-Antiadoption Discourse in “Response” to a New Expose

  1. Where’s the link to the Fisher response? And can we be more careful with how we use “whitewashing” and “blackwashing”? I heard this NPR segment in my car the other day and was surprised by how neutral Boyce was being, esp with her title.

    • Hi Matthew:

      Thanks for your comment.

      First, Fisher’s reaction is the first comment after the end of the linked article.

      I was not referring to Boyce when speaking of whitewashing and blackwashing–so she might be “neutral” or not; I’d contextualize that saying objectivity in a hierarchically determined power-structure makes neutrality a privilege and thus privileging. As for the discourses that whitewash and blackwash adoption: I was specifically thinking of Fisher as whitewashing adoption; I had no one specific representative in mind when referring to blackwashing.

      Or did you have a different reason for wanting to be careful about those words? If so, please advise, so I can edit and/or improve my post.

  2. Ah. I thought this was in a separate piece. I think it’s a good idea to ignore comments in general, I say as I write this comment. As for “whitewashing” and “blackwashing,” the kind of inherent positioning of “white” and “black” in these words is my concern. I wouldn’t use “whitewash” as a way of referring to something as making it seem “better” and “blackwash” as making it seem ‘worse,” especially when we talk about whitewashing a film or artwork as replacing characters of color with white characters.

    • Matthew: I’d hoped my intonational scarequotes were loud enough, but thank you for pointing out that they were not; I modified the post’s vocabulary.

      Just to be difficult, with regard to your (self-conscious) comment about ignoring comments: how does privileging the (supposed) neutrality of a hegemonically generated news story and de-privileging (often highly non-neutral) comments to that news story either differ from or reproduce the undesirable dynamic that describes adoptees as marginal in the first place?

      For me, “real life” seems better represented in comments than in news articles. I envy the tendency in Soviet journalism (often lamented by Western commentators) of its brash, even garish non-objectivity. A consequence of this is that apparently Soviet Russians not only knew better than to believe the news, i.e., they knew it wasn’t true, they also developed the skill of being able to read between the lines of what was put out by the news. Sometimes, this was a matter of sheer survival, of course, during the most totalitarian periods. People in the US decidedly do not he this skill partly, I think, because they believe the news is true, i.e., objective, i.e., facts.

  3. Have not read the book of Kathryn Joyce yet but it seems that she hit the same sensitive topic as the European, Belgium author; Carine Hutsebaut with her book:’Little Sinners, Church and Childtrafficking and David Smolin his research paper:’OF ORPHANS AND ADOPTION, PARENTS AND THE POOR, EXPLOITATION AND RESCUE: A SCRIPTURAL AND THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE OF THE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN ADOPTION AND ORPHAN CARE MOVEMENT, Regent Journal of International Law (2012).

    And what about: ‘The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry by Mirah Riben, Jena M. Gaines and Evelyn Robinson (Mar 1, 2007)

    Just to share that there is more written about this topic and Kathryn Joyce is therefore not the first and only one.

    But maybe she reveals other parts or enlighten us with more details?

    I will look into it.

  4. The comments section always reveals “the man behind the curtain”, and so I welcome them.

    I love that the title of the book comes from the boogeyman character from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; it reveals a given archetype much more prevalent within the culture, that of the child-stealer.

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