I’m Mad On Her

This is an unusual posting and not one that I would normally do. A few blogs  ago  Kelly Elizabeth Sloane sent me a question.  So here I include both her question and my reply. It’s the first time I have done this and may intrude on my developing style of blogging but I think her question merits it.  I will begin with her comment and my answer will follow:

Mr. Sissay,
Forgive me for posting this inquiry to your festive cake blog. I just read your comments re. adoption on BBC News website and hoped I might encourage you to expand on them a bit. I am curious to know if you believe your adoption experience would have been better if you had been adopted by a black family? Or, would it have been better if you had been adopted by a family of any colour if they were able to provide you with a more culturally relevant childhood – rather than the religious extremists you were placed with. I have many questions as I think this is an important subject to discuss.

I’m American and feel very strongly that there has been a great disservice done to black children who until recently were generally not adopted by white families because if was frowned upon. Unfortunately, many of these children languish in poor foster care or group homes rather than enjoying the benefit of growing up in a household with adoptive parents. As a mixed race woman, I know that my mother (who was Irish/German/Spanish) could not always relate or guide me through my experience as a “brown;” nonetheless, having the benefit of a multi-racial household was really priceless in my view.

Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Best regards,
Kelly Elizabeth Sloane

Ms Sloane
Many thanks for posting here. On the contrary I think your question is perfectly placed. Before I answer  I think this may have started with your reading of The BBC world article available here:     http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6044294.stm

 Though you had “just read my comments on BBC News Website” I didn’t see you quote me in your question. I am very careful about my words regarding this, or any other issue, and would be interested to know which words I  said that would lead you to your questions – otherwise the question itself is not rooted in my comment. Hope this makes some sense. However I am going to try to have a go…

Fortunately or not  I am unable to answer the question in part of  “ would life have been better with a black family” as I  find hyphotheticals in this context to be sort of Bermuda triangles in which I prefer not to find myself lost. When in doubt, walk away from the Bermuda Triangle.  However, should the social worker,  who stole me from my mother and illegally named me after himself,   had the foresight  to place me with foster parents of my own race it,  though may not have been better, would have indicated that he was thinking  more about the adopted child than the needs of the adopters. Unfortunately in my case it was the latter.  And  their need was to show that they care and to display their Christian values hence elevating past their own neuroses regarding their place in their own family with their own mothers and fathers. My then grandparents.

I had little to do with the foster parents virtually feral  need to display  basic human instinct through the Baptist church. .  Human instinct alone can be a dangerous  thing except when tempered with understanding. It is the understanding that I  hold dear and the love that I expect as a prerequisite to any adoption, in any form.  Hence to say “I did this because I love children” is by far and away a long distance from what a child needs. The fact that this is a declaration is in itself a possibly dark moment and weighs heavy on many a Childs conscience. 

I, however, was never adopted but essentially, stolen – all of which I have proved in documentaries on TV and radio over the years.  My mother never signed the adoption papers because in the end she wanted me fostered and on that level alone it is difficult to answer your question.

The subject is emotive because we are born. It is primal –  The idea of  birth and the trade of babies.   Hearts race  opinions form battle lines are drawn and a fight ensues, meanwhile depression, like gas in a small room, seeps under the door while we adults argue. I hear the Malawian government will decide in two years that Madonna can take full and total charge of the baby. But it isn’t after two years that the boy shall ask questions – and it may be never. It may be on his deathbed and it may not be on his deathbed. But the questions will come and they will rise from this fermentation – that would happen whether Madonna was famous or not. But the question is this. What will the answers be?  

And finally,  Madonna is Amazing. What she has done for years is to push taboos. Not just to push them but to show them for the secretly insidious oppressive and violent things that they are.  She has done this with sexuality, Gender and Race. She has pushed an industry (the music industry) which is conservative by nature. She has done this so that young girls will not be scared of themselves and their own development, so that black and white  people can see a representation of a black person castigated for the inner  power, namely  Jesus. All this on MTV. It would take a brave rap artist to do such a thing.  She has made a difference to the industry but most of all to Culture.

 And I want to let you know that some of my best friends  are black and mixed race and were adopted by white families.;-o Some great writers artists and designers too. Many in the media etc.  The others, they were bathing in bleach to get the dirt off and some are rocking back and forth in mental institutions around Britain. There’s one here in London who paints her face white and red and walks up and down Oxford Street in London talking to herself. And then there is the thing that cuts across all of us – we were all very, very popular as children – we all had “nice smiles”.


3 thoughts on “I’m Mad On Her

  1. Lemn,
    Thank you for the response. As a daughter, in spite of my mother's failings, I've learned I was never “alone” in the world until my mother died. As a mother, I simply ache for your mother's loss as well as the theft of your innocence. As a reader, I hope you don't mind my saying that your experience creeps through your words (both poetry and prose) – your fragility, curiosity passion, tenderness, beauty, humour, rage, and grace. Thank you for this, a thousand times.
    In answer to your question, looking back at the BBC article, I was struck by your foster parents lack of understanding re. your hair and ashy knees. As well, you commented that you didn't know another black person until you were 17. What I gathered from these remembrances was that you might feel it would have been better for you to be placed in care with a black family. Thank you for not engaging in dangerous hypotheticals (!) and for also clarifying your position. I find it comforting, because of my own neurosis no doubt, that you were not making a blanket judgment based on race but rather expressing legitimate concerns regarding the welfare of foster children and the larger question of what motivates adoption and fostering.
    What happened to you, as you already know, was criminal, and I appreciate your willingness to share. We adults spend most of our time crafting an image / persona- essentially manufacturing the portrait we wish the world to see. Children often become unwilling participants in this adult game. How often do couples have children to save marriages, produce heirs, provide playmates (for older siblings) or create beings they can hinge their identity on? All of this of course is an age-old form of victimization by adults on the helpless and innocent; and naturally, not all parents are guilty of such selfish motives. In the case of adoption and/or fostering, the question of motivation is undoubtedly magnified as is the residue left upon the child.
    I speak as a daughter and a mother. While I was not adopted, as an adult I felt a great sense of obligation to my mother's care and well-being. You could call this debt I suppose but it was not something that was imposed upon me. I would imagine that a child who was fostered/adopted might develop (or be encouraged / guilted into experiencing) a greater sense of this debt – the necessity to express gratitude for the “charity” received. If I'm hearing you clearly, this form of cruelty gets to the heart of your initial comments and the selfish motives that can lead to fostering/adoption.
    We are born. And, we die. And, without a doubt, we leave a stain. I often look at my child and wonder, “How am I screwing her up?!?!?” In all honesty, I feel confident that when I question or doubt my parenting skills, I am in fact being a good parent. And, in a way, I suppose that is what all this discussion leads to. That is, placing the welfare of children above the needs (or twisted motives) of parents. Yes. Love and instinct, as in all things, must be coupled with understanding.
    Thank you for making an exception to your normal blog style. I think I'll have a taste of that vodka now.

  2. Lemn (& Kelly),
    I have read your comments with great interest, as I have been uncomfortable with the overseas/mixed race adoption trend for a number of years. My own background is white and with natural parents, but we spent 7 years in Vietnam and observed an increasing number of people adopting children from Nepal, Vietnam, China, Indonesia and Cambodia etc. I have felt very concerned that the motives behind these adoptions have not always been ultimately the “best” for the child – one woman commented that she and her husband wanted to “give back to Vietnam that had given them so much” by taking a child home to Australia…couldn't quite get what Vietnam was receiving and I also think that they are stealing the child's past, present and future and replacing it with THEIR vision of what she should want/have.
    I have also wondered why supporting educational or support networks to “save” children in the home country aren't considered as a preferrable option to “give back”? Surely the whole community can then benefit from the educated and fed future?
    I have lived away from my home and culture as a fully consenting adult and have suffered culture shock and mourning which took a long time to work through. Taking kids out of their birthright must create an even bigger sense of loss.
    Lemn, I enjoy your work but feel sad that some of the “grist to your mill” is from such deep pain. Glad to read you have worked it through@

  3. Lemn
    Thanks for your post, I have read the things that you wrote and it is all so very familiar to me. I had a very similar up bringing to you and it is absolutely odd for me to imagine because for many years I thought that my experience was unique and unheard of in reality. I was born in Haiti and adopted by white American Baptist missionaries and spent most of my childhood growing up in both America and in Haiti. My maternal mother was never told of my adoption, as a child I remember asking my parents “where do I come from?” and they would tell me things like “I was a gift” or my mother would conjure up a mythical story of me as some half human half animal creature that she found and brought home. I was constantly reminded growing up that my situation was better as a result of being adopted even though I didn’t always feel like that was a true assessment, regardless I find it hard if not impossible to deny this part of me because so much of my past is preserved in their memories.
    Eddy Steinhauer

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