Sunday, December 28, 2014

Regarding Gotcha Day as a term: when white ain't necessarily right

Just like she began planning for her January birthday way back in October, my almost 13 year old daughter has already started planning excitedly for another special day in her life and our family. In early March, we will celebrate the 8th year anniversary of the day we were blessed to have her become a part of our family. Other families also choose to remember this day annually as well, as described here. There are many different terms families use to commemorate this important day (if they choose to do so, as some families do not). Following our children's lead, we call this day our children's "Gotcha Day." But evidently there are many who find fault in our decision.

Most adoptive families are very familiar with the article "Getting Rid of Gotcha Day" that the excerpt below comes from. The author, Karen Moline, is an adoptive parent to a child from Vietnam (and actually someone whom I admire even though I disagree with her here; she is a tireless advocate for ethical adoption and adoption reform). In the article, she explains why the term "Gotcha Day" is, in her opinion, the worst term one could use for the day an adopted child becomes part of the family. She starts the article like this:

"'Gotcha' is my typical response when I've squashed a bug, caught a ball just before it would have rolled under the sofa, or managed to reach a roll of toilet paper on the top shelf at the store. It's a silly, slangy word.
As such, it's the last word I'd think to use if someone asked me to describe my feelings on the day, in a tiny orphanage off a dirt road outside of Da Nang, when I saw my child for the first time. 
I find the use of "gotcha" to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive. Aside from being parent-centered ("C'mere, little orphan, I gotcha now!") it smacks of acquiring a possession, not welcoming a new person into your life. Yet many adoptive parents have elevated this casual word into shorthand for 'The Day I Got You.'"

Okay, I just have to say this.

At the risk of sounding offensive, that is some subjective white Western nonsense if I ever heard it.

I am black, and I am a proud parent of biological and nonbiological children. In fact, my journey into parenting began as a single adoptive mom by choice when I was in my twenties. Later on my husband and I were blessed to see our family grow - and grow - and grow some more. Our amazing family is comprised of children from my womb and children from outside of my womb who were born in the cradle of civilization, Africa. And we proudly celebrate the days our children joined our family, calling it "Gotcha Day."

I have been on the receiving end of many a (usually white) adoptive parent's criticism for our family's choice to use this term. Most of these parents' arguments are some variation or another of the points made by the author, Moline, in the article I quoted above. She states this toward the end of her article:

"Why not simply call it "Adoption Day" or "Family Day," or, if there are already kids at home, "Siblings Day"? Why commodify and demean adoptees — and ourselves — by using a silly, slangy term to describe the day we became complete families? Save "gotcha" for mosquitoes."
She then quotes two adult adoptees (adopted by white parents) who have expressed dissatisfaction over the word:

"I wouldn't like hearing ‘Gotcha Day' used in my family. To me, it sounds like someone snatched you away from your birth family, or almost like you are a prize that was has a gloating, ha-ha tone to it."
"We celebrate my 'Adoption Day' and I like that. Being adopted is worth celebrating, and ‘Adoption Day' is respectful sounding."

Before I go any further, I need to be clear that even though the tone of this post might be perceived as somewhat harsh, I DO NOT have a problem with the author other than with what she has stated about "Gotcha Day" (she's actually pretty cool, from what I can glean), I DO NOT have a problem with white people, I DO NOT have a problem with white adoptive parents, and that as an adoptive parent I cherish the valued perspective and insight of adult adoptees (who know WAY more about what it's like to be adopted than I will ever know since I myself am not adopted). But I DO have a problem with erasure and censorship.

Where does the idea that "gotcha" is merely a term used when you capture and smash an insect, or that it is a "gloating" or "disrespectful"- sounding come from? Perhaps from the same mindset that implies that a black male in a hoodie is a "thug" and dangerous? Or from the mindset that "flesh-colored" crayons, band-aids, and pantyhose should be the skin tone of a certain segment of the population, or any number of examples any of us could come up with?

The white perspective is the dominant perspective in so many areas of our lives. This is the case in the adoptive community as well.

Given the heavy emphasis on white adoptive parents, most people would never suspect that there are actually a sizable amount of people of color who adopt, but there are. There are many black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and other people of color who adopt. In just the black community alone27% of children adopted from the US foster system are adopted by black parents, and black parents comprise 19% of US private adoptions. If one was to factor in kinship care, permanent conservatorship agreements, step-parent adoption, informal "adoptions" and other non-traditional living arrangements, the percentage of black parents raising non-biological children would be considerably higher than that. But regardless, these are still pretty significant numbers; over a quarter of adoptive parents, at least, are black.

It is true that the numbers of black parents completing international adoptions is significantly less, with white parents comprising 92% of such adoptions; however, it should be noted that as aforementioned, black parents are well represented in foster care adoptions and private adoptions - and that when looks at the numbers of adoptions as a whole for all groups there are far more foster care and private adoptions each year than there are international adoptions at any rate.

Maybe to some/many white adoptive parents (and the adoptive kids they are raising), "Gotcha" carries a negative connotation. But that is not everyone's reality, and it is unfair and demeaning to apply one group's interpretation so broadly that in many circles it is accepted as truth. It is not MY truth; it is not MY black children's truth, and it is not my community's truth.

Aside from the fact that "Gotcha Day" is the term my kids prefer (and as adoptees their right to choose terms that are meaningful for themselves should be honored and respected, not attacked), I do not come from a background where "gotcha," which is a derivative of "I got you," is a bad thing. It's a term that varies depending upon context, but it's not bad, silly, or possessive. If anything, it's viewed as a term of endearment, protection, understanding, and connection.  As a black female, I heard it growing up all the time.

Here is one example. Urban Dictionary defines "I got you" in this way:

"An expression that's short for:
1. I got your back.
2. I got you covered.
3. I got you protected."

In trying to tear down the "gotcha" term, the article does inadvertently make a very important point about how the whole concept of celebrating adoption anniversaries can be viewed as problematic. Indeed, the ugly truth about adoption, foster care, conservatorship, etc is that one family's "gain" is as a result of another family's pain. I love my children with all my heart and I am grateful for the opportunity to be their mother. But their presence in my home is a symbol of the trauma, death, and loss that they faced. In an ideal world, they should not be mine. I acknowledge how hard it must be for adoptees to feel like the experience of being ripped away from their homes, families, communities, and history is something worth celebrating at all.

The following quotes from Moline's article highlight this critical issue:

"Adult adoptee Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson pointedly asked, "What is being celebrated [on Gotcha Day]? Parenthood and the new family, I guess. But do adoptive parents acknowledge their child's losses at the same time? ‘Gotcha' for parents means ‘lost-ya' for children who have been separated from familiar faces, smells, and surroundings."
Another adult adoptee, Eun Mi Young, is equally blunt. "While endearing to adoptive parents, ‘Gotcha' is downright disrespectful to adoptees," she says. "What does this term imply? We use it when we grab someone who is running from us, or when we save someone from something, or when we're playing a game. We shouldn't use it for an event that recalls the loss of culture, country, and birth parents."

Moline argues that using the term "Adoption Day," "Family Day," or "Sibling Day" is better because using  "Gotcha Day" is "co modifying" and "demeaning." My question is if the concern is truly about not "demeaning" adoptees and their families and being sensitive to the trauma and loss that adoption represents, how on Earth are any of those terms "better?" For some adoptees and their families, commemorating the day at all is too painful and emotional, so they opt not to do so, which I unequivocally support and respect. But that is completely different than implying that if one simply stopped calling it "Gotcha Day" then the day a child was adopted would somehow cease to be linked to trauma. No matter what you call it, trauma will always be intertwined; calling the day by a different term is not going to magically cause those feelings to disappear. For many individuals, the day is not a celebratory occasion, regardless of the name chosen, and that should be accepted. Some others, though, have been able to reconcile the existence of that trauma along with positive feelings about their new families. And those individuals (including my children) shouldn't have to feel something is wrong with them if the term they choose to use to describe this is "Gotcha Day."

We've heard the arguments about why "Gotcha Day" is viewed by some as an offensive term, but has anyone taken a moment to consider how potentially offensive the other terms are? I have:

"Adoption Day" can be perceived as celebrating loss, glorifying adoption ("saving a child"), and highlighting the fact that the child had to be adopted in the first place, which was not exactly for happy reasons. It can also be seen as an "othering" type of term, emphasizing what is different about the child from the biological children.

"Family Day" implies that the child did not have a legitimate family before becoming a part of this new adoptive family. It can be perceived as dismissive, disrespectful, and demeaning to the child and to the child's family of origin to declare the date that you, the "Great White Hope," came into their lives, as the date that they can finally be considered as being part of a "family."

"Siblings Day" can be perceived as demeaning and hurtful because if the child already had biological siblings before you adopted them, you are erasing them by declaring the date that they became acquainted with the children in their adoptive family as when they finally became someone's "sibling." And even if they did not have biological siblings the term can be perceived as demeaning because it implies that at least a portion of your child's value in your family is connected to their role as a new "sibling" for the child(ren) you already have at home. You know, like when you bring home a new toy or a pet for your child.

I personally do not have a problem with any of these terms. And I have friends in the adoption community who use all of these terms. I am simply illustrating that these terms are not devoid of their own problems, and to laud them as positive alternatives to "Gotcha Day" while criticizing "Gotcha Day" largely based upon white Western perspectives is unfair and one-sided.

2015 will mark the 10th anniversary of "International Gotcha Day." We have enough issues in the adoption community. Do we really need to expend valuable time and energy tearing down the existence of the term "Gotcha Day?" Really? Especially with the racial and cultural implications that making such a negative and sweeping generalization of the term carries?

Although my family is as multinational and multicultural as they come, we are not multiracial. Therefore we, and the many other black adoptive families, are virtually invisible in the adoption world. We are forgotten and disregarded; we aren't as visually appealing to society as the white parents with the brown and yellow kids. I get that. But must our opinions, our perspective, and our terminology be disregarded too?

Can you call off the war on "Gotcha Day" please? You have your terms; can my kids have theirs? Can't the terms "Gotcha Day," "Family Day," "Adoption Day," "Siblings Day," and other variations peacefully co-exist; can you let families make the choice for themselves without throwing so much unnecessary shade? Live and let live, and all of that?

To my beautiful, wonderful, extraordinary kids from outside of my womb: C, A, D, and A, always know that I "GOT" you. I got you. I got you...always. I have "gotcha" back no matter what, as does your Dad too.  And you have got my heart, my soul, my love, and my loyalty. Forever. When you are sick, we gotcha. When they tried to take you away, we gotcha. When you are happy, we gotcha. When you are hurting, we gotcha. No matter what happens, no matter when, no matter where, we gotcha.

And on your next Gotcha Day, we will remember your parents as we always do; their names, their stories, their dreams. We will celebrate the two families that you have that love you very much, both ours and the family you came from and will never stop being a part of. We will celebrate your culture, your history, and your uniqueness, and we will give thanks for your future as well as you being in our family and bringing so much light into it. Despite what others' misinformed opinions may suggest, in my house we ain't "getting rid of Gotcha Day" at all. In fact, Happy early Gotcha Day. We love you.


Photo credit: Show Hope 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Good Cops Know That #BlackLivesMatter

I'm going to highlight a few "good cop" stories on social media this weekend. Feel free to join me. The bad ones get far more attention than the good ones, and I want to show the good ones some love.

In a recent post about my daughter's short disappearance at my son's school, I briefly mentioned another time that she had also gone missing at my church some years prior. Because I didn't go into detail about it, I didn't get a chance to share that it was a police officer - a WHITE male police officer - whom I have to thank for her safe return.

This is my story.

I was at my church on the first day of  Vacation Bible School (VBS) dropping off my older kids. Afterward, I planned to take my two little ones to the church childcare area for babies and toddlers (who were not yet school aged and therefore too young for VBS). There was a "drive through" type of drop off available for those of us who had pre-registered for VBS, but I didn't use it since I was going to be staying up there as a volunteer for the VBS group that our church holds simultaneously for disabled youth. I figured I had to come inside and check myself in anyway, so I might as well bring them in rather than bothering with the drive through.

Because my kids are different ages and different genders, I had to drop them off in different groups situated in different seating areas. Upon doing so, I saw one of my kids' names was misspelled on their name tag, so after dropping the kids I headed to the church lobby where  there was a registration table.  I filled out a new card so they could replace the name tag with the proper spelling for the rest of the week. When I was done, I handed it to the adult volunteer. I looked beside me, and noticed that only one of my two smaller children was still inside the stroller. My son was still strapped in there, but my daughter had vanished. I looked around frantically. I called her name. No sign of her.

I retraced my steps. I prayed.  I searched several places where I thought she'd be. I ran to the info desk and explained what happened. They immediately got on their walkie talkies and sent staff and volunteers in search of her.

My church is literally right off of the exit of a major freeway.

My daughter is autistic, and (was once) prone to wandering.

I dissolved into a puddle of tears.

I left my son with a church volunteer and friend and dashed to the parking lot, praying that I didn't see her body crumpled there. I knew that people were looking for her, but I felt that I needed to look too. I was her MOTHER after all.

As I ran, I called her dad to let him know what was going on. Crying hard, I could barely get the words out. As I neared the parking lot nearest the freeway, I hung up in his face so that I could concentrate. (He commenced to calling back repeatedly, though I was too frantic to answer, so he immediately left work and started heading across town to come to the church.)

I didn't see her. Anywhere.

I stood in the middle of the parking lot, crying helpless tears.

I managed to re-enter the building. I walked over to the info desk still crying, but hoping against hope. Had she been found? The looks on their faces told me everything that I needed to know even before they shook their heads "no."

More tears.

A hand touched my shoulder. It was a man (a white man about my age). He explained that he'd just dropped his kids off at VBS and noticed me crying in the parking lot. Worried, he had followed me in. He said he was a police officer and it was his off day, but wanted to help if he could. I handed him my cell phone with shaking hands; my daughter's face was on the screensaver. He studied the picture for a while, and then off he went.

As I write this it is causing me to relive this situation and I fear it is beginning to trigger me. Because it has been quite some time since this actually happened I thought I could write about it now. I can see now that I was wrong. So I apologize for being a poor author, but I'm going to cut right to the ending now. Thankfully, that ending is that some minutes later, one of the church staff happily informed me that they'd heard on their walkie-talkie that my daughter had been located - unharmed.  Upon hearing that, my tears continued to fall, but now they were tears of relief and joy.

I will never forget watching that officer,  - this benevolent, brown haired green eyed stranger whose name I didn't even know - walk into the church with my daughter nestled safely in his arms.

I never even got his name. I hugged him tightly along with my daughter, and I tearfully thanked him. I grabbed his hand and blessed him. He smiled, and he appeared to be visibly moved. But as I turned to envelope my daughter in my arms and shower her with kisses and hugs (that she subsequently pointedly wiped away, as she hates the sensation of wet kisses, which these were as I was still crying), at some point he disappeared into the crowd. And I have never seen him since then.

This officer - again, a WHITE male officer - was like an angel of mercy to both me and my daughter that day. I have no idea who he is, but I will forever be indebted to him. I will forever be thankful for his kindness, compassion, and willingness to help.  This man didn't know me. He wasn't on the clock. He was under no obligation to go out of his way to help me. He did anyway.

THAT is the true definition of an officer. Someone who is sworn to serve and protect.

So when you see me calling out injustice, racial profiling, police brutality/excessive use of force, unethical grand jury findings and the like, please understand that I do none of that out of hatred for police officers. Though members of my family, and even me personally have had some terrible interactions with unkind, bigoted officers/authority figures, I know they're all not like that. I know that many are heroes.

I will not stop speaking out against and commenting about the ones who do things wrong. Just the other day the injustice done to the family of Eric Garner was yet another reminder of why all of us, myself included, cannot be silent. This is a travesty of justice and a blatant regard for human life, especially black, male human life. It is not out of hatred for officers or hatred for white people that I denounce the wrongs that are being done to my people at the hands of those whom we entrust our lives to.

I owe it to my three black sons who will one day become black men to speak up about these wrongs. I owe it to my black father, a survivor of a violent racist police attack, to speak up. I owe it to my two adult black male brothers to speak up. I owe it to myself, as a Christian woman who believes in equality and love, to speak up.

And I owe it to that compassionate, loving officer - my white brother, whose name I will likely never know, the person who likely saved my black child's life - to speak up. As well as the many officers out there like him who do the right things but are drowned out by the many officers out there NOT like him who are doing the wrong things.

Without speaking a word, that stranger's actions proved that he believed that #BlackLivesMatter and that he was willing to inconvenience himself to demonstrate that truth through his actions. By joining the chorus of voices that are uniting nationwide to oppose these injustices, in my own way I am proudly doing the same.

Are you? Will you?

(This post is dedicated to that "good cop." Bless you, my brother, and thank you. Thank you.)

Photo credit: partycrashertshirts dot com

Photo credit: facebook dot com/BlackLivesMatter