In the days following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump wasted no time in announcing his nominee to fill the position. Amy Coney Barrett, a hyper-conservative Louisiana-raised Christian extremist with seven children. Importantly — two of whom are transracial adoptees from Haiti. The youngest child was (and the media wasted no time in feeding this meaty tidbit to hungry Americans) “rescued” from the 2010 earthquake that devastated much of Haiti.
One might call Barrett a unicorn of the right. She is an accomplished, yet down-home woman with family values. She would be the first Supreme Court justice to not hold an Ivy League degree. She is a born-and-raised Louisiana girl. Her mentorship of women in a misogynist fanatic Christian sect can be insidiously spun into a womanist nurturing practice. This, of course, further calcifies a dangerous femininity defined only in cisgendered and heterosexual terms.
But of grand importance: She adopted two Black children from a “struggling” and “devastated” nation. (I’ll get to this later)
Social media and mainstream news are exploding. Journalists, politicians, influencers, and activists alike are taking firm oppositional angles ranging from, “She stole children!” to “Stop attacking poor helpless children, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!” Journalists and activists are scouring sources for and demanding adoption paperwork.
Let me back up for just a moment…
I’m a Korean adoptee. I’m not a Haitian adoptee. I possess phenotypic East Asian traits, and identify as Asian. I’m not Black. I don’t, never have had to, and cannot possibly claim to know anything about navigating life as a Black person in America. Yet as these media battles unfold, I do have an opinion as a member of the transracial adoptee community in the United States. In this capacity, I believe that many progressives and self-proclaimed radicals are missing a much more powerful mark. I am very concerned.
My network of loved ones — particularly those identifying as women — are outraged, frustrated, and terrified after hearing of Barrett’s nomination. So I empathize with the place of fear and pain from which demands for paperwork erupt, and don’t seek to diminish this component of anti-Barrett resistance. But this particular rallying cry is dangerous. It is only partially informed. This kind of outcry can and will impair a much more powerfully scaffolded resistance.
I am “lucky” in that I possess a physical receipt for how much I cost (cunningly disguised as a donation to a Catholic non-profit). My adoption was fully “legal.” In fact, my family recounts how the judge banged their gavel at the end of my citizenship hearing, and as a 3-year-old, I squealed, “Yayyyyyy!” On my naturalization certificate, I am wearing a plastic necklace that I selected because I wanted to “look fancy” in my photo. I am grinning so wide, my chubby cheeks are about to burst.
I admittedly laugh along with these stories, while at the same time developing these incisive critiques. Often non-adoptees ask me, “If you hate U.S. imperialism, then why don’t you hate your parents? Or if you love your parents, aren’t you condoning what you hate?” Folks, back off and listen up. Verbally and emotionally abusing my parents won’t stop Amy Coney Barrett or inspire others to join the fight against capitalism, imperialism, racism, sexism…all the -isms.
Because underlying the comical behavior of a 3-year-old in a courtroom is the Catholic Church. The institution that promoted, sanctioned, and shepherded my migration, and received a fat check for it. An institution with the most bloated coffers in the world, with perhaps the longest history of ethnic genocide and slaughter of any other modern institution. A private institution that, in that courtroom, worked hand in hand with the state. We can build a united front not by petitioning for paperwork, but by laying bare why we would even demand paperwork to begin with?
In this way, examining the causes of the causes of transnational and transracial adoption leads us beyond national jurisprudence to a system that has created and nourished the White Savior Complex in tandem with the disenfranchisement of poor Black and brown people across the globe. This hand-in-hand strategy has been perpetuated by many overlapping acts over the 20th and 21st centuries, including but not limited to: Open imperial warfare; punitive trade policy; militarized implantation of U.S.-backed governments; exploitation, manipulation, and deportation of immigrant workers; and yes, the proselytizing work of the Catholic Church in settler colonialism.
Haiti, in fact, is the perfect example. The island (about 1/300 the size of the U.S.) has been a territory subject to brutal settler colonization since the 15th century, with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Though this first settlement failed, Spain still held Haiti, sending more conquerors and settlers, decimating and enslaving the Indigenous Taíno and Arawak populations and becoming a key force in the Transatlantic African slave trade. The Taíno and Arawak were nearly eliminated by European disease. Many fled north. Spain continued to fight many intra-European battles on mainland Europe and the colonized Caribbean to retain its grip. With the discovery of gold and silver in Brazil, Spanish interest migrated, leaving Haiti open to Portuguese, French, and British claims in the 17th century. France overtook the island, growing fat on the blood of Black and brown peoples. Haiti would grow to become the most profitable sugar plantation economy in the Americas. Spain eventually ceded ⅔ of the island to France.
In 1804, enslaved people on the world’s most productive sugar plantations rose up and seized control by force, founding the first Black republic. The newly formed republic floundered under a series of leaders and coups. In exchange for official diplomatic acknowledgement (crucial to trade and national stability), France demanded reparations from the Haitian government for war damages. A new nation, already crippled by that same war itself, had to borrow. So Haiti borrowed from the U.S. to foot the enormous reparations bill. In 1915, then-president Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. troops to occupy and seize Haiti as punishment for these unpaid debts. More and more territory was consumed by U.S. military forces, culminating in a new constitution, written by America’s favorite white savior Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who orchestrated a “democratic” adoption of the document. (Only 5% of the Haitian population voted).
By the time the 2010 earthquake hit, Haiti had already been squeezed dry under U.S. martial rule for nearly a century.
This history shows us that Haitian children were not ‘saved’ from the earthquake by white families in the continental U.S. They were trafficked across a militarized empire.
Is it still justified, then, to think of transracial and transnational adoption as “baby stealing” and demand documentation that at least someone knew that these children were being solicited and “claimed”? Absolutely. Is it important to know whether the adoption was “legal”? Absolutely. But it’s not the most impactful and helpful talking point for and basis of Barrett’s balefulness. Exposing the racialized endangerment of immigrant children and demanding citizenship for adoptees are all crucial conversations stemming from this demand, but the causes of these causes is U.S. imperialism.
So my concern is less about the conservative propaganda of blood thirsty liberals coming for kids. It may seem antithetical, but centering adoptees actually takes the focus and target away from the moralizing children-ness of it all. Similarly to the recent “cancelling” of Myka Stauffer, a sanctimonious white woman who weaponized white tears after “rehoming” a special needs Chinese child, non-adoptee pundits are flooding the internet waves. While a 3-year-old child’s analysis cannot be expressed in an op-ed, this does not mean that more well-meaning liberals need to represent or soapbox for transracial adoptees. It means that it’s incumbent upon non-adoptees to attack the system that has created the many Amy Coney Barretts of the world through an adoption-industrial complex. Further silencing and traumatizing a demographic of transracial adoptees coping with and fighting against their own disrupture-seeded demons is not the wisest strategy for unifying resistance. I cannot advocate enough: Look for the causes of the causes.
My rage is directed at our system of corporate-backed media, the Catholic Church, and the overarching system of capitalist enterprise. And let me be specific. By capitalism, I mean the reduction of humans to their labor value, which must be sold to corporations, businesses, NGOs, and the state apparatus for most people to merely survive. I mean the masses who suffer gendered, racial, ageist, ableist, social, and cultural violence in order to put nearly all profits created by their toil, into the pockets of bosses, executives, and the already-wealthy. These profits often do not always take the form of a simple check deposited into Jeff Bezo’s personal checking account. They take the form of things like Wall Street exchanges and private military contracts. Numbers and algorithms and commodity price predictions that workers and most of the general public never see.
My rage, then, is directed at a borderless metastatic economic regime. My rage is directed at the military-imperialist complex that annihilated and continues to divide Korea, exploiting its resources and peoples as a weapon against other East Asian nations. These same tentacles swoop in opportunistically after “natural” disasters to seize power and create dependence on the U.S. government and its financial web of exploitation and lies.
Why are adopted children spoils of war?
Why are Americans congratulated for this? Why are adopted children, often refugees of war, now turned into weapons themselves?
These tentacles make transracial adoption accessible to and lauded by white saviors. Like Barrett, folks can use their “elite multiculturalism” as a resume item and point of sanctimonious leverage. Transracial adoption serves as a perfect alibi for people like Barrett. These alibis also perpetuate the psychologically terrorizing model minority myth and leave countless thousands in deadly jobs to pursue the immigrant uplift myth. Perhaps it is easier for most Americans to grasp the dangers of Barrett by dividing up her medusa-like biography. But extremist religion is not separate from transracial adoption. And transracial adoption is not separate from pro-life and anti-immigration stances. And anti-immigration stances are not separate from the blood of over five centuries of Black and Indigenous people in Haiti?
To all who also cannot rest until freedom comes:
Please stop arguing on behalf of Barrett’s children and start using what power you have to educate yourselves and others in order to agitate and organize for a more expansive framework, capable of slaying the entire medusa.