We talk today with Dr. Gina Samuels about Trauma and Transracial Adoption. Dr. Samuels is an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration and In-Coming Director at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. She is an adult transracial adoptee. She has a newly published article in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect tilted “Epistemic trauma and transracial adoption.”
In this episode, we cover:
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Please pardon the errors, this is an automatic transcription.
Welcome to Creating a Family to talk about adoption and foster care. Today is the first part of a series series of two on transracial adoption. Today we're going to be talking about trauma and transracial adoption with Dr. Gina Samuels. Dr. Samuels is an associate professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, and the incoming director at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. She is an adult transracial adoptee. She has a newly published article in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect titled epistemic trauma and transracial adoption. Be sure to tune in next week for the second and last part of our series on transracial adoption, where we're going to be viewing transracial adoption from the eyes of a transracial adoptee, his birth mother and his adoptive mom. It's going to be a terrific interview, and fairly unique because of the perspective of all three and they try it so make sure you come back next week to listen to the second part of this series as well. Welcome Gina May I call you Gina on the On Air?
Please, please do. I prefer a
Dr. Samuel slash Gina. Yeah, you got a doctor. I think he deserved to be at least called doctor since I don't have one. Anyway. All right. So Gina, welcome to Creating a Family. The article was great. It was I learned something. And it was it was really thought provoking. Again, the title is epistemic trauma and transracial adoption. Am I pronouncing first of all, I learned something I did not know a new word. A new word. Yeah. Great. In our family, we would have said when the kids were little or not little. But in high school, we go sa t word every time somebody would say a big word. So talk about it sa t word. And yes, yeah, that's a big sad word. All right. So we're going to talk about that. If I'm saying it correctly, we're gonna, before we talk about epistemic trauma, I want to begin by talking about just trauma, how do we define trauma? And then if you would contrast that to complex trauma, and then we're going to introduce epistemic?
Okay, great. Yeah. So some of this actually came from my own dissatisfaction from how we do sort of engage trauma. And when I say we, I'm probably inviting a whole lot of people to the table here. So we as in people who are clinicians, we, as in those of us who research topics that are either proximal or directly informed by what we might call trauma. And so you know, as most people lay people out in the world, they think about trauma in terms of an event, you know, like, like Katrina, or a school shooting. exactly these things that you know, undeniably are trauma and all you see abuse and neglect. So something that has happened to someone through an event that is traumatic, traumatic, traumatic, meaning it disturbs someone's development, it deserves their sense of safety, it disturbs them psychologically, and often so much so that we, that one carries it even after the event has happened. And that people may have what now a lot of people know as post traumatic stress disorder where you know, a loud noise can completely jar them and bring them back to that feeling and, you know, in a visceral way, to how they felt and the lack of safety that they felt in that moment. So that's a very common understanding of of trauma, we have a whole lot of research that suggests how damaging that is for people, especially young people, babies, young children, and then even adults experienced these things in our world can be have lifetime impacts. And so
we spend most of our time at creating a family talking about trauma in that in that definition of trauma. Yeah,
yeah. So comment, that's been a huge gift to our society in terms of the naming and languaging that and that has sort of rippled across a lot of fields in terms of how we think about trauma. And then you named complex trauma. So then there's this next body of research that has really been important in helping us to understand that there are ways in which trauma is sometimes out in the world in the ether of of the ways in which we live in an unsafe place and space. Oftentimes, that's a literature that we've used in a really helpful way to characterize interpersonal trauma and family trauma through abuse and neglect. That comes through our relationships that we have with people that oftentimes are not just an event, but characterize the entire relationship that we have are characterized the condition in which we live that is traumatic, more contemporary writing about racism also identifies it as a complex trauma. That is just sort of how we We live in the world that assaults people, as racialized beings and can be harmful. And so part of my coming to this, this exit this epistemic trauma is that it invites a whole nother layer of complexity, to think about how, as human beings we are knowers. And that sometimes the harm that we do to one another is, is that that level of, you know, what we know who gets to know who gets to be a knower, or who gets to claim knowledge, who gets to produce knowledge about their own experience, and that oftentimes, the ways we engage one another, can exert in justices and harms to people in that way. And in terms of their ability to make meaning. And a lot of times we give examples of epistemic injustice, as, you know, the hashtag me too moment, the ways in which women are oftentimes undermined as knowers of their experience of their bodies and their sexualities, when they are sexually assaulted, or abused, or harassed and told them as they are testifying about these experiences, well, maybe it was because the way you were dressed, or maybe it was are you really sure that that was happening happening? And so
under under gaslighting was with the word undermining what? He was just flirting with you
all right, it wasn't that serious? Like it just was a joke can't
get off of it. He was just kidding. Yeah. Why are
you being so sensitive? So you know, when that happens to a person, you start to yourself question like, oh, my gosh, and when a whole society does this in a systematic way, it is deeply traumatizing, because it fundamentally harms a person to have a sense of confidence that they they are seeing what they're seeing. They're feeling what they're feeling that they have the capacity to actually take in the world and make meaning of it, and that when they express what they're feeling the world responds with. I may not totally get it. But yes, I believe it's true. But when you don't have that experience, that it can very be very traumatizing to people's development over time.
And we know that in the more traditional sense of the word of trauma that you first described and event we talk about that, with sexual abuse or any form of abuse, that one of the most powerful things and an adult in the child's life can do is believed them listen to let allow them to be the knower of what happened to them, as opposed to undermining them and saying, Well, are you sure? Or maybe it was just you were being spanked because you did something wrong? Are you sure you know, this type as opposed to what the child is saying? My abuse? Yeah. Okay.
Absolutely. Absolutely. So this is the same logic just brought into racial abuse. And when people are articulating harm, how do we not meet them with a Are you sure? Are you sure that that happened? And how developmentally damaging that is when when that's our response to a person.
And that ties into and we're going to go into that because that's when you speak of doing that on a racial level. That is one of the ways that you articulate in the article epistemic trauma and transracial adoption, about how it is traumatic how to how transracial adoption can be traumatic. You talk about an instance should we should we talk about the trauma that can be associated to epistemic trauma. So I don't want people jumping up and down saying that we are undermining the, the essence of trauma because now you know, a hangnail is trauma. I've, you know, how many times are they right? Everything's
everything's coming out? Yada, yada? Yeah. Okay. So I hope that our introduction is, is we aren't saying that you're not saying that you are saying that there's a different level a different type of trauma, maybe be better if we didn't have to get a different word, but we don't, the word we have is this. So? So before we go into applying the idea of EPA and exploring it with transracial, would it be helpful to start with exploring how it might apply to adoption in general, or do you feel? Okay, good?
Sure. Sure, sure. So part of what I take up in the article is the way that adoption generally is a site of that practice and an institution that's organized around what I call and what has been written about before me information poverty. So part of knowledge is actually having information. And there's a whole lot of ways in which historically, we've practiced adoption. And then adopted people are expected to live with a very precarious relationship to information about themselves, their own history, they're not their names before they were adopted, etcetera. And that there's a lot of ways just be outside of race, that adopted persons oftentimes are a group of displaced knowers generally, and then have relationships with people where they're told how to think about their experience. So we have you know, this whole rhetoric of beginnings and adoption where adopted children are beause two different storylines around how they became adopted, you know, and it's as sometimes as fictitious as the stork story that children who are not adopted or until about how they came into existence, and their families. And, you know, on one level, we can look at this as innocuous kind of harmless things that we tell little kids that like Santa and other sorts of fictitious characters in life, that serve their purpose at a particular moment. But when you think about it as a whole structure of the ways in which adopted people are legally prevented from accessing or how difficult even in the context of today's open adoption, then it starts to, I hope, invite us to ask questions, who does this serve? Who does it serve to keep this information from home and to protect it from home? And how do we understand basic rights of a class of people who are adopted to basic information that might help them to more fully access things in society?
Don't you think though we at this point, now, there's certainly it's hard to imagine an adoption professional, not encouraging the sharing of information, what we do here are, especially the basics of the information that you were adopted or whatever. Surely, we are past that as a as an institution. But I still we still get pushed back. And it's we've been saying it for a long time that the child's story is there as an even if there are hard parts of that child's story before they turn 13. They have the right to know that part of the story we say before 13, because it's better for identity formation, we believe for them to understand the some of the hard parts if there are parts of their story. And we do get pushback on that. The what good is it for them to know how you know this? You were conceived by right bull? How is that possibly going to help you? We do get pushback on that? It's but do you see in general, though, that the adoption profession is still withholding the basics of knowledge? Or are doesn't really matter if you're withhold any other knowledge?
Well, I said, Yeah, I think that's a good question. I agree that we have made leaps and bounds in our understanding of the importance of openness, the process of talking about adoption. And I think even still, there are pockets of adoption, that happens still, where there are professionals, and there are parents, and there are biological parents that want closure, you know, so I think we can both exist in this ethos of as much openness as as possible, is good. And also have a variety of actors in that in that moment, that have different relationships to what that means, and for whose best interest when do we share? How do we share and then how that actually plays out for the adoptive person. But I also think that there's been this added gloss on top of that, in terms of just generally the storylines of adoption that are available to us in our society. And I think there, we still have a lot of like books and children's stuff, and just out there and in the world storylines that are still anchored in this adoption is a good thing. It's always only a good thing. Your life begins then. And it's a repair to anything that happened to before to you. It's all existed before in some other land before. And so I think that still shows up even in families that are open, even, you know, even if you tell your story to other people, when they find out you're adopted. And so there's these layers of very narrow storylines, that then implicate information and complexity of information to be able to tell your story in its fullness.
That is, so let me share something that have it's happening as we speak, as I read the article, epistemic trauma and transracial adoption. I do have a quote in there that I loved. So the quote, and I posted in our Facebook, we have a really large, we have a really large Facebook group of primarily foster adoptive and kinship parents. And the quote is, adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful. And let me give credited, as attributed to Reverend Keith Griffith, which I found out through this discussion is from New Zealand, and I've heard versions of it but I have not. So I posted that. We are now at 246 up somebody who just added 247 comments on that on that quote, and many of many, in fact, that majority probably would be agreeing with everything that with the quote, that we still get, but there are still definitely people who are, if not offended by it's the notion what you just said before that adoption and is seen as the perfect solution. It is the it is the for when I'm using air quotes the salvation for these children we are saving these children therefore, anything other than gratitude. So not to come keep coming back to the word gaslighting, but if you were a as an adopted person, if you didn't if you felt gratitude, but you also felt loss and grief and anger and, and a host of things. Yeah, if you're if the if the gratitude mantra is it's it's it feels like it would just be shoving it down your throat, it would be you would have to be shoving all the other emotions down. It's what it would feel like I'm not trying to put words in your mouth. But
yeah, it's like a mass gaslighting. It's yeah, like, I'm feeling this way I'm feeling all of these ways. And you know, when you step back from it, most experiences are not exclusively good or horrid. There are some that I would put on a list that are exclusively horrid.
Yeah, so exclusively good things have mixed emotions. I mean, yes, yeah. I mean, come on
all families? Do all families have good and bad things, or relationships that are healthy generally have good and bad aspects. So why wouldn't adoption also? Yeah, so I feel like it's just an example of a situation where we have this, this condition that is quite common in our society now. But we haven't been able to move forward in a complex way to really look at it and peel back the onion on multiple layers to hold multiple people's perspectives of it. And I you know, like if, if someone is adopted or have has adopted and sees it as exclusively positive. And that is what it has been for all involved and keep your storyline like I feel
like, but they're not we're not trying to gaslight you either.
No, I'm not I have no interest in that. But just make space for others to be able to articulate some experiences that also were really hurtful. And some experiences that were all of the above and a whole the complexity that just is normal in so many experiences. So I just feel like it's a it's an unhelpful thing for people to hold on to. Everybody's experience has to be articulated in a singular way. That's what's harmful.
Right. I should say, we have many adult adoptees in the group as well. And it's been interesting, because some of them are pushing back as well. Yes, yes. Don't tell them. In fact, there was one who just posted and said something right before I, we started the interview saying, Don't tell me. I do feel gratitude. And so it's so and some of the other adoptees are coming in saying you can feel what to feel, you know? Yeah, there is. But there is some of this because we get we hear this, we get Facebook messages and emails about saying if I say anything, speaking of our group or others, it's the if I say anything positive, I'm told that I'm drinking, I've drank the Kool Aid. Yeah. And that's, and that's, and that bothers me too. But that's yeah. So yeah, okay. Hey, guys, when you follow the creating a family.org podcast, the very one you are listening to right now, you also gain access to our extensive archives on all sorts of topics like trauma, transracial, adoption, being the best parent you can be and things such as that. We interview leading experts on these topics. And we've been doing so for almost 15 years. Therefore, we have to put it mildly, a large library, including other interviews we've done with Dr. Samuels, so please follow or subscribe to the creating family.org podcast. Let's move on. Now. We've talked about how the this type of epistemic trauma can exist in the world of adoption in general. But now let's move on to specifically talking about transracial adoption. So how specifically? Well, and you posit at one point that that the condition of being trans racially adopted can represent and I'm using a quote here intersectional minoritized status? What do you mean by that?
So what I'm meaning is that, you know, if we start with a place of adoption, generally is having this you know, narrative of rescue, and we unpack who is it who has had access to formal adoption, then you can't have that conversation and not also then invite conversations about whiteness, white people, class Dacian and the ways in which we are arranged in the context of power. And that when you look at a history of transracial adoption, it's unescapable. To understand it, not in the context of colonialism, the removal of children for reducing the friction problems, what was called for in the case of Native Americans in the US the Indian problem, and the placing the forcible placement of children went to boarding schools which happened in the Australia, you know, like Canada, there are other Kodiak, Canada with other countries that have these history histories. And so when you think about that, the only socially just way to talk about a transracial adoption is in the context of that. And when you think about that, and then the other narratives of how in our country, we have lost a simple storyline of rescue redemption, you know that, that still the ways we talk about Native Americans and reservations and where we're our Native Americans and how we talk about them versus how we talk about black people. That is unavoidable the white supremacy that is inherent in many of these storylines. So that part of what I talk about in my, in my paper is that the gratitude that all adopted persons are asked to sort of give voice to, which is I would argue a classist kind of gratitude becomes then a classist and racist kind of gratitude of how could it possibly be a bad thing, to be a black person and be proximal to white people, it's, it's a psychological, like an unavoidable impossibility for many, many people to imagine, that would be anything but an advantage, and that we so we just don't have a psychology that understands that it actually could be harmful to people of color to be that proximal all the time, not like a biculturalism not like a you know, I'm able to navigate multiple worlds. But my only world is that. And so, I've actually had conversations with people of color, where they're like, What do you mean, it was hard, you know, like, What do you mean? What are you complaining about? You know, like, you know, and so there just is not a, in a world that has such a understanding of whiteness from from white supremacy, that is only a good thing that white people only do good things that white people have only contributed good things in our society built good things represent good things, or that
association with would only be a positive thing for from somebody and from minority. Yeah. What do you mean by classist? You were racist? But in what way? You were saying adoption is classist? In what way do you mean?
So I think a lot of you know a lot of the understanding of who the biological families and birth families are of adopted people are poor unwed mothers that, you know, had to give up their children because they couldn't afford to, or they were too young. And that adopters have tended to be middle and upper middle class families who provide a quote unquote, better life. And that's correct. That's classes, right? Because it assumes that if you're poor, you can't possibly have a good life.
Or vice versa, that if you have money that you're automatically going to
hit, you're automatically happy. And we just know that's not true. So I think that's a classist presumption that, you know, if you, if you class jump from one family to another, that auto, all of a sudden, there's only good things that come from that. And the more that being in a two parent family is superior to being raised by a single parent. And while there's certainly pathways that might support that, there's also a lot of research that suggests that a lot of horrible things happen in two parent families, and that having two parents doesn't save you from poverty, it doesn't necessarily save you from other experiences. And so it's that same lack of complexity in the storyline, that I think we have an adoption, that sort of subtly assumes that if you're adopted, class wise, you've you've been that you're better off, it's better, that it's better for you. And sometimes that is true, and that's wonderful, but sometimes it's not. And so the same then happens with with race, that there's a presumption that when you're translationally adopted, that you're better off and, and underneath that oftentimes is unspoken classism, but also is unspoken racism is when I'm arguing.
And does your opinion, additional, your opinion. Does your argument change at all, when we're talking exclusively about children who have been adopted through foster care? And let me start by saying there's there's classism and racism that can exist there. And certainly we know that children had been removed for what virtually is poverty, not neglect? And oftentimes, the and so acknowledging that, but does that? How does that play in that when we say that if a child had been neglected or abused, acknowledging that that's not always the case when the children are removed?
Yeah. Well, I think you know, the same history is there of classism and racism as you nodded to the classism of it, but those families are also disproportionately black. So we still have this weird condition. And this race is condition of a system that exists in relation to a community that it has historically oppressed, where then children are coming into that system, under the storyline of we're rescuing them and that is for their best interest, and then making decisions now many of the children in foster care are not translationally adopted. So, you know, it's a it's a, it adds complexity and all the children in in the child welfare system now, particularly because of laws that it may have made it much more difficult to remove children who do have substantiated histories of abuse and neglect. And so that adds a whole nother layer of, you know, concerns, developmental concerns on to, you know, racial, like I'm writing right now a thing about my own child welfare practice when I was a caseworker and had to balance immediate needs for a child needed a home today. Yeah, today. Yeah, I was practicing actually yesterday. Yes. And it, you know, I was practicing in a predominantly white community with a predominantly black caseload, I translationally place had to go to translationally place, many, many children in homes, because that was what was available to provide care. And, you know, and so these these things are real considerations. But I think it's they are oftentimes pitted against each other as though somehow I can also be worrying about incontext, about these long term needs that children have around identity. And I think they're false choices that we think that like, oh, just because I then placed a child in a white home. I'm not also having these really hard conversations with the parents about race and ethnicity and all of these other things,
or that we need to be on a very conscious and putting money behind it as well. recruiting more families of color add to both foster and adoptive families. Yeah. So that's the that's the other thing. You know, that thing. I'm going to read a quote from the article, and I want to talk about it. This is a quote, If I were to name the hardest part about being trans racially adopted, the thing that has brought me to rage to exhaustion or to my knees or to the feeling of isolation and unrelenting otherness. It is the discrediting, I have experienced when dialoguing with others about it. Talk to us some about that the discrediting and what form has the discrediting. Have you experienced discrediting when you have tried to talk about your experience as a transracial adoptee. Yeah, so
I think that, that probably sums up for me, both my experiences being translationally adopted. And my experience of being mixed race is that I think these are two statuses that pretty much every community thinks of as in authentically something like you're, you're removed in some kind of way, and different in some kind of way, that it's very difficult to, to walk into a place and say, Here's how, here's how it is. And everyone sort of looks at you a little bit suspect. And so you know, what happened when I was little, if people would ask, What's this like, and I would start to talk about what whatever this was, usually they were asking me about being mixed or being translationally. adopted. And as I was start to answer their question, they would then engage in this, are you sure? But really, are they kind of look at me like, oh, isn't that sweet? Like, you know, yeah. And this will happen from white people, from black people, from Asian people, from every every people, every group of people racialized and then tell you how lucky you are no doubt. And then Toby, either how lucky I don't know how I didn't really understand that or don't I think that that's maybe because I was raised with white people? Or do I really think that maybe, you know, like that there was some part of me that they were attuning to that then they would attach to to sort of say, well, because you're this, you don't know about this. So it's always having one part of me used against this other part. And I'm trying to explain to this person who asked the question, who's presumably doesn't know, or now, you know, even having all the credentialing that I have, and you got locked? Yeah, well, maybe. But still, it still happens.
I will, but yet it still happened.
But yet, it still happens. And so it's stunning,
in what ways it happened in your life as an adult.
So, you know, I will be presenting my work or my scholarship on something, and people a person will raise their hand and say, but don't you think that's because, you know, you were raised here? Or don't you think it's because you're mixed that you're feeling this way? Or do you think that if you were you know, this, then you wouldn't have said this? Or do you think maybe, you know, and, and I, you know, to be really clear, like I have grown up being interrogated about pretty much every aspect of my experience. So I am very comfortable and invite criticisms and disagreements. I don't think that people have to, you know, just because I experienced things this way, or that I analyze my data in a particular way. I I think it's critically important to have multiple perspectives on the same experience or the near same experience. I think that's essential and important. I just would like mine to be included. And so it's a stunning I think it's a just a sort of a marker of what is kind of epistemic ly distinct about being someone who lives across binaries. I think it's it probably happens to other people. People who are like non binary with regard to gender or non binary with regard to sexuality or not even like,
even first generation immigrants sometimes speak of that experience,
I mean, this third culture of weird experience of like in between this, I think for any of us who live in these in between spaces, it is probably a common experience for many of us to have to constantly be bridging defending, sort of negotiating space. I love and
I love that it's living in the in between, and how does that? How does that play with the you've mentioned it before? Because you are both mixed race and translationally adopted? So it seems like you would have to in betweens,
yeah. So this goes back to that, you know, that that quote that you opened with where there are these intersectional minoritized identities that sort of mutually reinforce each other, you know, so, you know, my mixed miss, because I look that visually, I'm very, so people aren't gonna see me, but I'm light skinned, I have these sort of embrace really ambiguous characteristics. To me, I get mistaken for being Latina, all the time, my middle, my last, my first last name, Miranda reifies, that perception of me. And so that sort of signals to people a proximity to whiteness, when I open my mouth and start talking, I talk in a way that also indicates a proximity to whiteness, then, you know, my transracial adoption is also another kind of family identity that removes and displaces me into whiteness, and all of the stereotypes about being mixed race, all the stereotypes about being translationally adopted are very similar and overlapping. And so they sort of come together in a nice storm, to create, you know, to mutually reinforce one another so that when I'm out in the world, people don't know that I'm, you know, translationally adopted, but they see me. So there's a, you know, there's kind of a little invitation visually, to wonder, like, where am I from? Where did you grow up? And then I answer questions, but then also affirm certain things, maybe contest others. So there there are these ways in which embodying mixed nests, both by family and by racial heritage, and a mutually reinforce these experiences of in between this, I think,
yeah, that makes that makes really good sense. So let's talk specifically you identify certain ways in which transracial adoption can be traumatic, the obvious first beginning would be racism. But let's start with there. But let's let's go on and talk about ways that that transracial adoption can be traumatic or epistemic ly dramatic, if not, by the standard definition of traumatic.
Yeah, so I think, you know, I want to start by saying, I actually don't believe that translational adoption has to be traumatic. I don't. And I think that, you know, increasingly, people are living in all kinds of ways in mashups, by race, by gender, by class by religion, and that this is a beautiful thing that can be beautiful and be made beautiful. However, the way that transracial adoption, even today continues to play out, tends to be that it's a white couple are white parent, who lives in an incredibly white space raising children who are not white. So that part of my argument is that being translationally adopted doesn't cause racism, but it causes a very particular proximity to whiteness, that exposes you to racism, with very few places of racial safety. And so it's that, you know, given the world the way the world still is, and given the place that white people generally still are in their own racial awareness and development, that it places kids at risk for a very insidious proximity to racism, without supports, and people were able to be there and adults and similar, same age peers who are going through something similar, where you then would able to naturally be able to access some respite from it in the ways that kids who are of color, but have parents who are of color and may go to school where there are other kids of color. And so there's just as there's other spaces, where you can access similar others who can, you know, help you and support you. Ideally, now, I realized there all kinds of people grew up, and that's not the way it goes down for them. So
yeah, but still, I see your points, well taken that, that at least if a child has others in their life, that look like them and who have experienced the racism that they are experiencing, they wouldn't feel so alone with it. If nothing else, you don't
feel quite so alone. And so I think a lot of transracial adopted children, even today, still have experience with racism, where they're feeling very alone in it, and don't always tell their parents actually either And when they have parents that would be there for them and fight with them and all that I know I didn't, there's a lot that I didn't tell my mom about, she totally would have gone in there. And that was partially why I didn't because it was
to go to fight my battles or Yeah, so embarrassing. Yeah,
yeah. And that happens with kids on all kinds of fronts, not just race, like kids don't tell their parents, unfortunately, all kinds of things. So I think that that, you know, like it transracial adoption, there's just a particular way in which this is a group of kids of color, who experienced the same racism as any child of color will in this society, but they have to experience it in oftentimes predominantly white schools, where they have a white parent or parents that may or may not always be attuned to what's happening in that school. Sometimes translationally adopted children experience it racism in their own families, and then their own extended families, which gives a whole nother gloss to what it means to be experiencing racial harm from people who are supposed to be protecting you from it, and who may not or may not just not have the wherewithal and the skills to be able to really be there for their kids, when they're hurting with regard to race and ethnicity. And I think that still is, is happening, and it might your girl, you know, and might be thinking that you know, by giving kids a Korean doll or teaching them about kimchi, or going to culture camp a couple times a year, that that's going to do it and it it so woefully inadequate for what a kid needs every day to be negotiating racism. So I think there's that level of, you know, just kind of aloneness. But then I think there's also for those of us who grew up where we do have opportunities to connect with kids who aren't adopted, who are black, or Korean, or Chinese, or native or Latinate, or whatever the identity is that we're doing our own work on that then there's a rejection we experienced there because we were translationally adopted, and because we may not be native speakers of Chinese, or because we, whatever it is, talk the way that we do or dress the way they do our hair isn't the certain way, or whatever that is. And now we got to go through a whole nother layer of loss of of like, what is it oh my gosh, like, I'm not, I'm not going to be white, I don't maybe want to be white, or there are some kids who do struggle with some of this trying to figure out like, culturally am I'm white, but racially, I'm not. So they're going through all that kind of stuff in though in their white worlds. And then when they are exposed to communities that aren't proximal to whiteness, where they're supposed to be getting all this enculturation. Oftentimes, part of that also is at the expense of being stigmatized around how proximal they are to whiteness, and also being then have to left be left alone, because their white parents can't help them figure out like, whiteness isn't hasn't been so good to me. For me, you know, and I don't want my white parents hanging out at African World Fest with me, because this actually harms my ability to slip in and access blackness. And so why white having my white parents with me is not supportive in this space. And who do I talk to? About that?
Yeah. Because my tribe? Yeah, yeah, that's just a lot. Yeah, we hear from kids saying, you know, well, do I belong in the black student association when they go to college or the Chinese Student Association? Do I belong there? And will I be accepted there?
Yeah. And often that's, you know, eventually? I think it depends. It depends. All of these racial ethnic groups have different, you know, kind of prices to pay different, you know, litmus tests for sommets language competency, you know, some of it, it's just cultural knowledge, you know, about different things. And it's some, I think, adopted people and some mixed race, people decide that that's just too hard. Like there's too, too tall, a bridge to climb, and they give up and which I think is sad, because it cuts them off of a community that can be deeply supportive to dealing with racism, but because of the ways they were raised in the places they were raised, or their own sort of inclinations, and personalities, or some combination of all of that, or the mess of their first time experiences, how traumatic that might be when you're actually told by somebody who is whatever, that you're never going to be that and you're not that and we don't want you here. Well, that's hard. It's hard to keep on going back to say please, that's abusive to
Yeah, so Well, it's a perfect, you're defining epistemic trauma. I mean, to me that is it that what you're defining right there. Yeah,
it's like you're not a Knower. You're not a Knower. You don't know you haven't known. And I think we pay for prices that and choices that oftentimes our parents made for us, and we're the ones they have to go out there and live with Have that and live through that. And some people just decide that it's just not worth it. And many of us make the other choices. But there's a long road of, of a process of building trust and learning things. And you know, I've talked to a lot of adopted people that are in in the middle of like, learning their own making up their own family recipe for kimchi, or making up their own family recipe for sweet potato pie, because it doesn't come from their parent. You know, like these things that are so anchored in culture, that when you get into cultural communities, of origin of your own, you know, people be like, Well, I remember when my grandma made greens this way, and my great grandmother did this. And you're like, I don't have these things. So I've got to be the I've got to be the start in my own family, of how we how we do these things, and sort of reclaim different aspects of culture, which then also are heat can be very healing, but also are sad, because you know, no matter how good or how good, you make that sweet potato pie, no matter how good, you do that, you know, that you can't claim authenticity 20 generations back.
Yeah. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Let me pause here for a minute to tell you about a free educational resource that we are offering thanks to the generosity of the jockey being Family Foundation, we have 12 free online courses available now for you. You can use these as part of your foster parent continuing ed requirements or in service requirements if you have those. But you can also use them as just a parent in general who wants to be a better parent, we try to aim these courses tend to aim for people who are actually in the trenches actual parents, so you can find them at Bitly slash JB F support that's bi T dot L y slash JB F support. You talk also and I hope I'm going to be pronouncing this right. hermeneutical smothering, and I know people are rolling their eyes going up. Yeah, so I almost didn't use it tonight. But the smothering part felt good to me. I have to admit it that the first part I don't really get but yeah, hermeneutical I wasn't sure if but but the smothering the idea that what does it does it let me see if I'm right, that that your belief you are raised and what you know, because you know it, you know it instinctively that doesn't fit with what the dominant society believes. And they it's is it another way of gaslighting telling you that?
Yeah, that's very great. The way you explained it. I think the smothering part is the important part. The hermeneutical just means a meaning. So it's like smothering someone's meaning. You know, so it's gaslighting. It's, it's exactly gaslighting coming back to that, don't we do? We do? It's when somebody says this is what it meant to me? And you can talk over, took over and say, no, no, no, this is how it should mean, this is how it should mean and people keep on flooding you with a no, no, no, this is the story. We want this no way we want you to say it. This is how we need you to say, and you keep on saying but to put put that stop. But that's not how I see it. Because now I see it. And it's different for me to experience that you asked me you know, like How Does that still happen? It's different for me to have that happen now with you know, a PhD and Msw and all these publications and all this fancy stuff behind my name. But when you're five, yeah. And you're still figuring it out yourself. Yeah, you're much more vulnerable to and you know that if you argue with this adult who might be your parent or your uncle or your grandparent who you love, you might lose, you might lose their love, you might lose their support, you might lose, you know that and so you collude in your own smothering so that you can get other things that you need as a child. And so yeah, I think the smothering is so important because it's about voice. And, and, and the ways in which we really do traumatize people in in being confident in their own voice.
Yeah. And understanding that, that their understanding of their world is real. It's it is real, it's more real. I want to use another quote, again from the article, epistemic trauma and transracial adoption. And the quote is my good grades, light skin and complete assimilation culturally, were undeniable assets and the white spaces I occupied, but they were also routinely used against me deployed as evidence that real trauma from racism, or transracial adoption was not the valid or meaningful part of my story. Can you explain that in the context of transracial adoption? And the smothering that we were just talking about.
Yeah, yeah. So I think it's just another way of like, we're not going to listen to your complexity. Because in order to do that, that is white people to understand themselves as sources of harm. And so we only want to know how great it's been. And since we can see that we can see that you have done things that in our world are valuable and matter, and you're like us, then isn't that great. And, and there should be no like, and is and there shouldn't be, if it was really bad, you wouldn't be getting bad, you would be getting bad grades. You if it was really bad, it was really traumatic. You know, you'd be in jail or something. But you're not these things that are the stereotype of blackness, you're like us, and let's celebrate that. And so it's the smothering of like, you have to, you know, this, this kind of insistence that you have to tell a story of your experience that in firms, us and then firms, our idea of ourselves, and that any part of your story that doesn't do that we are going to drowned it out. We don't want to hear it
with it. Also follow them that they would also say, the reason that you are getting good grades, the reason that you have your PhD and your MSW in 100 publications and directorship because you were adopted is no book or race in a while because you were adopted. Yeah, well, yes. Both actually, wouldn't it be it would be not only that you were adopted, but but adopted by white people, by white people. So it's both the classism and racism that you were speaking at the classes
together, yeah, it is those two things together. And that if I would have stayed where I was, you know, I would, that would have never happened. And even though now I've done a search and learned that actually it might have happened, and particularly on my black side, it might have happened, that I got a PhD. And then I got college degrees and all that sort of thing, which is not, I would not have been first generation PhD and my black family. It just continued. I just sort of it draws on the stereotypes that white people have black people and who black people are as both a race and a class, inferior status. And so it's it loops into it loops in their own racism and classism and asks me to perform it as an embodiment of their, or their beliefs about where I come from and who my people are and what I've been rescued from.
Yeah, saved, rescued. And that word again. Yeah. All right. So how can we do better? Now, I'll start by saying one of the ways we do better, is putting more emphasis on keeping children in their homes, which is the whole gist of prevention, you know, that providing services that will provide support for families who are struggling, so that children don't have to be removed? So getting that certainly, and hopefully, with some of the new federal legislation and, and federal money coming that that might make, there may be at least money going towards that. So having said that, though, what, what are some ways that we can do better? In general, not just as transracial adoptive parents, but also as the institution of adoption? So both if we could talk about start with the institution of adoption, and then how can we how can transracial Lee adopted parents do better? Both?
Yeah, well, I think is, you know, first is kind of disrupting this need for a single story, that there's complexity, you know, and everything that, you know, if I would have, to your point about you know, how do we do a better job of just supporting families so that that families can stay together and that people can live in the communities of their origin. And that also requires us to invest in all human beings in this patient in a very different way than we ever have been willing to do. And so I might argue that some of it is just you know, there's a there's a whole movement now around abolishing child welfare. And many of the arguments around abolishing child welfare is this history and legacy of racism and classism and disenfranchising communities of color, particularly black and indigenous communities in the US. And part of what you know, I'm wanting to have alongside that sort of a movement is how about we abolish things like white supremacy and racism, and classism that are embedded in our society that are embedded in colonialism that are embedded in how we set up our systems such that families become so burdened and fractured, that they find their ways to our systems, and we find our ways to them in very punitive ways. And, you know, if I if I would not have been translationally adopted, I still would have been mixed race, I still would have been raised by a white woman who likely would have raised me in a very similar if not wider community than I was raised by my adoptive parent. So we have these naturally occurring conditions, even outside of adoption and translational adoption, that are problematic that are that segregate us from one another that enact oppression and disenfranchised myths that harm people. And adoption and transracial adoption are as a symptom and exist within that larger society. So they're a reflection of who we are as a society. So I, I just feel like the key really is, is as a society taking on some of these very wicked and insidious problems that we have had for a very long time that exist across the globe, that characterize our relationships with each other as human beings that are harming disproportionately some of us, but I would argue all of us and build systems that actually foster our growth and healing and interconnectedness as opposed to are oppressing one another in the ways that we seem to set up our systems to do
that seems like such a long term solution, though. Yeah, yeah, I'm preaching to the choir, shall we say? Yeah. Well, and
I think that doesn't mean, we don't do things immediately. You know, I think there are things that we can do immediately to change some of this. But these are long standing problems.
Well, I gave you valid point, yeah. And we have to have a you have to have your sights. If you're going to get to a do something in the distance, you have to at least be moving in that direction. So what are things that let's say we're talking to a family that has translationally adopted? And is wanting to know what they can do to to prevent some of this? And maybe the answer is you can't? And maybe that's just part of it? I don't know. But so what is what I'm asking you then what are some things that parents can do? If anything, I think what
what can be prevented or maybe eliminated, we can't prevent racism, everyone's it's in our world can prevent sexism, these are things that are in our society, and the idea that there's any place you could live or go, where you're not going to experience it is fictitious, that's actually harmful believe so to me, one of the things you can do is, recognize that that is going to be a feature of your child's life. And I think that's actually as easily said, but I think that actually is a very difficult thing for many white people to really believe that their child is going to experience a world that they do not experience, that the, you know, beloved cabin, or the lovely place where they went to school may be a wildly different world, when their child goes to that space, and to, to first sort of recognize that that is true and taken that that's true, to eliminate things like color blindness, or you know, that the world is a fair place that you will be judged by your character, you know, to sort of let go of that as not necessarily a dream, like we all dream of head but that that's not a reality, that's not the world we live in. And if you take that seriously, then, you know, what are the things that you as a white parent are likely going to need as part of your village of raising this child? How are you going to need to develop other alternative racial points of reference for making really important parental decisions about your child? You know, what are the relationships you need to ensure happen inside the family? How can you make sure that your extended family is a racially safe place for your kid? What are you willing to give up in terms of relationships in terms of places to be in terms of jobs of where you're gonna live? Have all these basic things that I think a lot of white people don't think twice about in terms of like, they just, you know, you live where you can afford and where you want to? And so, taking seriously the this other layer of concerns for your child, and what does that really mean? And it doesn't mean that you go and you live on the most black side of town or that you it doesn't necessarily mean that, but it does mean you start to invite these questions about the particularities of your family of your strengths of who you are, what you know what your resources are, and make big decisions in probably a different way than if you were raising a child that that racially looked like you.
Thank you so much, Gina, Miranda Samuels for being with us. Today. The article is epistemic trauma and transracial adoption and it's in the Journal of abuse and neglect. I truly appreciate your time today and I appreciate your writing the article. Thank you
Transcribed by https://otter.ai