Shannon facilitates community discussions on the limits and possibilities of identity politics in the contemporary American moment:
Tuesday, October 27
Tuesday, November 17
Tuesday, December 1
All events are 7-9 pm at the Minnesota Humanities Center, 987 Ivy Ave E, St. Paul, MN 55106.
You do not need to attend all discussions in order to participate; you may attend as many as you are able. Or, join us on Twitter at #uncoveringpublic.
To find out more information, please click here, or read below.
Registration is appreciated, in order to plan for a successful event.
What assumptions shape our public spaces? How is it that some perspectives are rendered invisible in public, while others are reinforced? And how do the (often unstated) assumptions of public life limit our collective ability to address important issues? In a series of three discussions, participants will be invited to engage in conversations about the state of public life in the United States. A short presentation will serve as the foundation for an open and challenging discussion the requires a broad range of perspectives.
Identity Politics in the American Present
Dates: Tuesday, October 27, November 17, and December 1, 2015 Time: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Location: Minnesota Humanities Center, 987 Ivy Ave E, St. Paul, MN 55106 Cost: $5 per session REGISTER NOW
What are the limits and possibilities of connecting through personal identities in 21st century America? What do we mean when we say, the “black vote,” or the “black community,” or “black culture,” and how do these identities serve or trouble notions of community and democracy? Is there still a place for engaging around identity when so many of us express so many identities at once (gay, middle-class, female, Latino, etc.)? In what ways can organizing around identity limit equitable democratic and social participation—particularly for those who have historically been left out? And, on the contrary, how might “identity politics” encourage greater participation or deeper engagement?
In a series of public discussions, Shannon Gibney will facilitate conversations about the state of identity politics in the United States. In each session, a short presentation will serve as the foundation for an open and challenging discussion that requires a broad range of perspectives. These dialogues will center on the following topics and questions:
Session One: Defining Terms—Identity, Culture, and Power
What do we mean by the term “identity politics,” and what role does it play in American life today? How do “identity politics” inform our political and cultural lives? Why are some identities in America, and organizing around them, seen as “political,” and others as simply “normal”? And is it always useful to link political affiliations to the race, gender, sex of one’s body? In this session, Gibney will facilitate a discussion on definitions that establish the peculiar dynamics of “identity politics” as practiced in the United States.
Session Two: Identity Politics in the Present
What are the main issues in identity politics right now? How do we understand these cultural tensions as they are played out in our personal, interpersonal, and institutional lives? What are the stakes in organizing ourselves around a politics of the body in this contemporary moment? Gibney will present a real-life case study illustrating the contentiousness and possibilities of identity politics in our era, and ask participants to reflect on their utility and limits.
Session Three: Beyond Identity Politics?
In America under President Obama, plenty of people have suggested that we are now living in a “post-racial” era. At a time when racial disparities in health, housing, employment, incarceration, and education remain stubbornly high—particularly in Minnesota—what does it mean to suggest that identity may not be a nimble enough category to organize around? Are there perhaps other categories of politics—those beyond the body, for example—that might ultimately lead us to a more multi-vocal, robust society? In this final session, Gibney will invite participants to question the limits of identity politics as they have been practiced thus far, and to envision alternate and/or additional strategies for establishing connectedness.
Shannon Gibney lives, writes, and teaches in Minneapolis. Her creative and critical work has been published in a variety of venues, including in the anthologies Parenting as Adoptees, and The Black Imagination: Science Fiction, Futurism, and the Speculative. Her young adult novel See No Colorwas published by Carolrhoda/Lerner Books in November 2015, and she is currently at work on a novel about African Americans who colonized Liberia in the 19th century.
This event is funded in part with support from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created by a vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008 and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Please join Shannon and others for a discussion on “Trigger Warnings” in the higher ed classroom:
Thursday, October 29, at 4 pm
Crosby Seminar Room, 2nd Floor East Side, 240 Northrop, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Free and open to the public.
Trigger warnings are designed to prevent unaware encounters with topics that might elicit strong and damaging emotional responses in some people. Some call them a bandaid; others raise issues of academic freedom. This discussion will focus on how we can reframe and move beyond these debates to address how we can create a community in which all our members feel secure and respected, while also being able to examine difficult and controversial issues. Continuing the conversation started by a panel on trigger warnings last fall in the department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, this event is cosponsored by the Office of the Provost as part of ongoing Campus Climate work, which will include a series of forums on Academic Freedom over the coming year.
Angela M. Carter, Graduate Instructor & Ph.D Candidate in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, UMN Shannon Gibney, Faculty in English, MCTC Roozbeh Shirazi, Comparative and International Development Education, UMN
Moderated by Jigna Desai, Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and Asian American Studies, UMN
This event is cosponsored by the Race, Indigeneity, Gender, and Sexuality (RIGS) Initiative.
On Sunday, September 27, writer, activist, and community member Carolyn Holbrook led the first of three discussions and readings with Minnesota Black women writers, on the politics and poetics of our writing lives.
(l-r) Mary Moore Easter, Tish Jones, Shannon Gibney, Andrea Jenkins, Lori Young-Williams, and Pamela Fletcher
Photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
It was truly a magical afternoon, featuring local luminaries such as Andrea Jenkins, Tish Jones, Pamela Fletcher, Lori Young-Williams, and Mary Moore Easter.
Or the Perils of Hyper-visibility and Black Parenting
My family and I just got back from the vigil and community celebration against violence at Powderhorn Park, maybe four blocks from our small, stucco house in South Minneapolis. There has been an unfortunate increase in violent incidents against women and children in our area recently, so people decided to organize a musical, puppet-rich, flame-throwing, hot apple cider-drinking, firepit burning get-together to validate everything we love about our hood, which is chuck full of progressive art farmer types, and the like. It’s the end of the semester, and I am even more exhausted than my students (if that’s even possible), and it is cold to the bone out there, but I thought it would be important for us all to go — for Ballah to get to know the hood even better, for Boisey to revel in his winter-babydom, and for all of us to show solidarity through the recent spate of difficulties here. Instead, I ended up wishing we had stayed at home.
We were standing around a fire pit, warming ourselves, when a large dancing bear, of Amie Cesaire proportions, approached us. Ballah and I immiediately thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity to take a photo with said bear and said baby, so we brought the boy, who was wrapped in two layers of clothing, a thick down coat his grandmother had given him, a thick blanket over his legs, and a hat that his Auntie JR had sewed him that he kept on throwing off, to the bear. Well, Boisey is a squirmy fellow, and he wasn’t really feeling all of this being managed and moved around, so the thick coat was floating up his stomach, and the blanket fell to the ground. After we had finally snapped the photo, this older white lady tells Ballah, “Why are your baby’s stomach and legs uncovered?” Ballah was leaning in, trying to hear her, as the horns were playing loudly around us, and he is still picking up peoples’ accents here. But I heard this woman loud and clear. The lady repeated herself again, and said, “This seems like negligent parenting to me.” Ballah hadn’t heard her, but I did, and struggled to contain my anger, and with the best way to respond. “Why would you say that?” I asked her. “Well, his stomach and legs are exposed,” she said. “That’s not what I mean,” I said. “Why would you say something about negligent parenting? Why wouldn’t you just say, ‘I’m not sure if you noticed, but your child’s stomach and legs aren’t covered.'” She shrugged for a moment, and then responded, “I guess because I’m judgemental.” “You might want to do something about that,” I told her, and then we walked away.
Don’t get me wrong, I still would definitely be pissed if this were an isolated incident. And I am well aware that my friends of all ethnic and racial persuasions sometimes get hounded and judged by the general public, and ornery white people in particular, but there is a kind of accumulated experience along these lines for my family these past few weeks that feels disturbingly like targeting. This, coupled with the hard data I am aware of, documenting the hyper-visibility, vigialnce, and surveilance of parents of color — particularly Black and Native families in this state — which partially leads to our increased incidence of out-of-home placement, termination of parental rights, and general exposure to the child welfare system, makes me particularly sensitive to these kinds of occurances.
I was similarly less than pleased when I got home from work yesterday, and asked Ballah how he and Boisey’s first ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) class was. Ballah replied that while the class itself was good, he had not exactly had a warm reception. He had walked with Boisey to Wilder Family Center, maybe a 10-minute walk, mostly through Powderhorn Park. By the time they arrived, it was snowing, so Ballah had Boisey (who was a huge ball of blue snowsuit from Auntie Kath) tucked safely inside his coat. He saw several (white) women eyeing him suspiciously as he walked up. After a few minutes, one finally approached him and asked him what he was doing there. “I’m here for the program,” he said, even though the women were still suspicious. “You can find my name and my son’s on your roster.” At which point one of the women looked on her sheet and indeed found their names. “Oh thank goodness,” said one woman. “We were going to call the cops on you, because we thought you were stealing a baby.”
Yes. For real.
Ballah has been busy making the monumental and ongoing adjustment of acculturating from a poor, monoracial Black society in the Global South, to a rich, multiiracial, white-identified society in the Global North for a little over two months now, and I had been warning him that this day — or one much like it — would come, so I think he was somewhat prepared…But then again, you can never really be prepared for people not believing that you could be as valid of a parent as they are, simply because you are a young, Black male. “What I don’t understand is why you would assume something like that. Someone stealing a baby? Wouldn’t you just ask, before making up a story like that?” Sadly, no.
So, while I still love my neighborhood for all its arty, community garden, Fair Trade goodness, I am disappointed — and yes, angry — by all the recent violence, both physical and psychological, that continues to be inflicted on families every day.
I remember being in an elevator in my hotel in Atlanta with a number of fellow activists, discussing our workshops. The folks beside me talked about labor, gender equity, grassroots organizing, and solidarity economy sessions they were leading. When I mentioned mine on transracial adoption, I might as well have been speaking Greek. “What?” someone asked, while others looked on in confusion. “Transracial what?”
Luckily, the second USSF, held June 22-26 in Detroit, proved that adoption/child welfare activists and allies have been doing our work, and doing it well, because these issues have now made it on the radar screens of many participants I spoke to. And no one looked at me like I was attending the wrong conference when I told them about the workshop I was leading.
It was attended by more than 30 people, who represented a wide range of backgrounds, ethnically, racially, culturally, regionally, and terms of class and age. There were a few members of the adoption triad present (adoptees, adopters, and biological parents), but the vast majority of folks attending work everyday on the frontlines of child removal, from a young woman who is starting up a reproductive justice center for Black women in Philadelphia, to an anti-racist workshop facilitator at the Peoples’ Institute of New Orleans, and a Native American activist who spoke about the catastrophic effect child removal has had on her community.
This was quite a different demographic than that of 2007, when the majority of participants were either white lesbians considering adoption to grow their families, white adoptive parents, or transracial adoptees (TRAs). Everyone was welcome, of course, but I really, really appreciated the input and expertise the adoptees present brought to the conversation – and in fact, took control of the workshop itself, steering it clear of the usual personal narratives into much more political territory.
But I think I am getting ahead of myself here.
For one thing, you are probably wondering what the USSF is, exactly – unless you attended, had friends or colleagues who attended, or are otherwise involved in the activities of the American Left. As I said above, the first USSF was held in 2007, in Atlanta, and represented a major breakthrough in grassroots organizing in the U.S.
It was the first time such a large gathering of organizers and activists from the American Progressive Left came together under the guise of building a sustained movement for social change – and led by those most oppressed by neo-liberal economic policies (mainly lower-income, people of color). Over 12,000 people attended, which was amazing in itself, since many people thought that you could never get a Left as splintered as ours together to discuss the great justice issues of our time, coherently, and set an agenda of action, to boot.
It was this initial event, strategically held in the American South, the cradle of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, that laid the groundwork for the second forum in Detroit. But the real roots of the USSF stretch way beyond our borders, to the Global South. Indeed, the mechanism that initiated the USSF was the World Social Forum (WSF) .
The first WSF, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, was primarily organized by laborers there, in response to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “which, since 1971, has fulfilled a strategic role in formulating the thought of those who promote and defend neoliberal policies throughout the world,” (World Social Forum India). Since that time, multiple WSF’s have taken place around the world, as have regional gatherings in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. For a list of Social Forums happening around the world this year, click here .
The World Social Forum website explains the Forum philosophy and methodology: “The World Social Forum is an open meeting place where social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organizations opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, to formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action. Since the first world encounter in 2001, it has taken the form of a permanent world process seeking and building alternatives to neo-liberal policies. This definition is in its Charter of Principles, the WSF’s guiding document. The World Social Forum is also characterized by plurality and diversity, is non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party. It proposes to facilitate decentralized coordination and networking among organizations engaged in concrete action towards building another world, at any level from the local to the international, but it does not intend to be a body representing world civil society. The World Social Forum is not a group nor an organization.”
The WSF’s slogan “Another World Is Possible,” asks participants to not just formulate responses to the newest global assaults on humanity, but to actually come up with viable and sustainable alternatives to the way the world is currently organized. With this in mind, those working on a variety of issues that often do not intersect are encouraged to do so.
There came a point in all this cross-sectional work that a critical mass of people from the Global South looked to we in the Global North who say we are committed to equity to organize our own Social Forum in the U.S., since so many of the most difficult issues the Global South is grappling with are actually the result of the behavior and policies of our government and corporations. This challenge was the first step towards the 2007 USSF, which organizers defined as “a movement building process. It is not a conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples’ solutions to the economic and ecological crisis,” (USSF website).
Selecting Detroit as the site of the 2010 USSF fit nicely into this vision. The city is a stark example of the shape of things to come if free-market capitalism is allowed to take precedence over community needs and relationships, and also exemplifies the kind of do-it-yourself, don’t-wait-for-someone-else-to-save-you ingenuity that is at the heart of the Forum philosophy. Detroit’s consistently high unemployment, White Flight, decaying infrastructure and urban core, and failing schools are all the result of neoliberalism gone wild in some way, while its flourishing urban garden movement, and dedicated organizing communities inspire those facing similar problems around the country.
As someone who grew up in Ann Arbor, a smallish university-town about 45 minutes west of Detroit, the USSF was an amazing opportunity for me to really experience Detroit for the first time. Sure, our family frequented the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend every year when I was growing up, but Hart Plaza was just about as far in as I got. My perceptions of Detroit were largely formed by the media, and the middle-class friends and classmates I was surrounded with: Abandoned houses, corrupt politicians, rampant crime, and poverty. Detroit was seen as A VERY DANGEROUS PLACE in this context, some place to be avoided, and certainly not visited alone, or God-forbid, alone with a baby, as I did last week. And, to be fair, all of this is true in some way. Detroit has major problems that no one can reasonably deny. The issue is that this is only one reality, amongst many others.
Travelling from Cobo Hall to Wayne State University, back to Wayne County Community College (WCCC) on foot or on the bus during the conference, I was amazed by the hustle and bustle of folks all around me – despite boarded up buildings and houses. Trying to get my son and assorted baby paraphanalia on and off the bus was already a complete nightmare, and would have been logistically impossible, were it not for the assistance of fellow passengers, and the drivers themselves. But people were more than eager to help, and clearly adored my son (you don’t see too many infants being carted all over downtown Detroit). All of the faculty and students I encountered at Wayne State and WCCC were clearly in engaged in the business of getting educated, running their farmer’s market, and helping us directionally-challenged attendees find our way around.
Walking down Woodward Avenue during the Opening March, cars were honking at our signs for environmental justice, job equity, and hundreds of other causes, while people we passed on the street looked entertained, and asked us what was going on, and why.
That’s what wins you over about Detroit: No one puts on airs there, in the way that bristles me when I visit cities like New York, DC, Seattle, or Atlanta. Nor did I experience the coldness or overly-friendly-in-order-to-mask-the-fact-that-you-Black-people-scare-me behavior I have become accustomed to, living in the Twin Cities. Everyone is just out there in Detroit, on the street, doing their thing. There doesn’t seem to be room for a whole lot of pretense, because everyone is really just trying to live.
Was the city gritty? Yes. But that grittiness conveyed a deep sense of history and ongoing struggle that I could appreciate. So, that’s all just to say that the chance to get to know Detroit a little, and on a deeper level, the USSF’s approach to place, were huge highlights of the week for me.
It will probably come as no surprise that our workshop on linking child removal in communities of color to larger social justice issues was another highlight of the Forum for me. Collaboration is never easy, but it its rewards pay dividends. Working with Connie, Ian, and Sunny to facilitate a coherent workshop that would be useful to participants in their work and lives was daunting, but I think ultimately successful. We didn’t agree on everything, but came to a consensus on what we most wanted attendees to take away from the session: That adoption and foster care are major social justice issues. All of us have grappled in some way with the all too common idea that the American family is sacrosanct and beyond reproach – as are the institutions that create, define, and destroy them – so we were therefore committed to making sure we politicized them. We knew that we only had two hours, so there wouldn’t be time for much else. In this sense, depth was much more important to us than breadth.
We began by having participants respond to various images of child removal we had hung up around the room. This was a simple Popular Education activity, in which people wrote down whatever came to mind when they viewed each image, not worrying over any response was “right” or “wrong.”
The image below generated the following responses:
“It seems easier to love as children.” “Everyone is happy.” “Her eyes are so trusting.” “And will the brightness of her eyes fade when/if she takes time to think about the implications of ‘missionary’ work on adoption when she’s older?”
For this image, participants wrote:
“Happiness on a child’s face.” “Who is not in the picture?” “Where are their families?” “Do they know any adults who look like them?” and “Children create community in absence of families?”
This image from the Vietnam Babylift, generated these comments:
“War babies.” “Colonialism/imperialism.” “Forced removal.” “Terrorized children.” “Children lost their homes because of the war.” “PSTD normal.” “Whose tank? Whose bombs? Who’s funding? Then who is adopting?” “Old eyes, old story.” “How will the definition of ‘home’ and ‘identity’ change for them?”
Finally, a photo of a suburban-looking white woman, flanked by two young Black boys generated a flurry of discussion:
“White folks – no matter how well-meaning – are unable to provide children of color with what they need to survive in a white supremacist society.” “I agree.” “Where is the black male who created these young boys?” “I wonder what ‘lens’ these children see through?” “Role of white American women in child removal. Lady smile while kids don’t.” “Children finally have a home to go home to.” “Oh God…Reminds me of a friend’s aunt who is making a habit of adopting Ethiopian children. She is white. And liberal. So she doesn’t get her own racism.” “What makes a family. Sticky situation. Children seem to be in a loving home, but at the cost of losing identity.” “Makes me think of Angelina Jolie – WTF?” “Missionaries ‘saving’ poc.” “Note their hands are all in the same position. Whose idea was that, and is that supposed to mean unity?”
As you can see from all of these comments, participants clearly had some familiarity with issues surrounding child welfare and communities of color – and plenty also had an emotional connection to it, as well. This made our time together all the more meaningful, as folks were eager to engage with the problem on a deep level. The photos made it easy for everyone to do so, as we used a few pictures and written responses to initiate discussions on the role that U.S. war and militarism play in opening up “new markets” for international adoption, the ongoing effects of Indian boarding schools on Native communities today, the Evangelical impetus towards adoption, and the underlying narratives that lie at the root of all discourse surrounding child removal.
“I feel like the idea underlying all of this is that poor, women of color are terrible mothers, and should not be allowed to parent,” said one woman. “That’s why all this apparatus is designed to make real. So that, if an environmental crisis like the one in Haiti comes along, or if there’s a war or something, this whole system can just swoop in, and take advantage.”
The rest of the session was taken up by going through, and responding to, a Timeline of Child Removal From Communities of Color, headed up by Ian. I am not going to include sections of the timeline here, as it is still very much a work-in-progress. The timeline is a project that many scholars and adoptees of color have taken on recently, including Jae Ran Kim , Lisa Marie Rollins, and members of the Adoptees of Color Roundtable . AFAAD has an ongoing interest in creating a collaborative document – something that folks can contribute to online, through Open Source file sharing, not unlike Wikipedia. The issue is, as always, finding funding to do so.
Please contact us if you have any leads on financial or human resources we could use to make this a reality, as seeing the sheer visual reality of child removal from communities of color forces us to grapple with how successful these policies have been, and then, hopefully, strategize on realistic interventions we can make in order to make families and communities less vulnerable.
Sunny gave an excellent summary of Andrea Smith’s “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy,” in order to ground and contextualize the discussion during this activity, which was eminently helpful. I, myself, have been mired in the “oppression olympics” paradigm when attempting to organize or even discuss shared oppressions with other adoptees and people of color, so it is very helpful to have a framework to use that acknowledges the destructive and overwhelming power of white supremacy, while simultaneously acknowledging the very distinct ways that Native, Black, Latino, and Asian bodies are racialized in this country, based on our separate histories.
Although I attended, and tried to attend a few workshops and Peoples’ Movement Assemblies (PMAs…and I say try, because carting my son around the festivities was more or less successful, depending on his mood. But he was a trooper!), the one which affected me the most was called “Poverty Is Not Neglect and We Are Not Powerless: Mothers Reclaim Our Children Back From the Child Welfare Industry.” This workshop was organized by Every Mother Is a Working Mother Network, which self-describes as, “self-help, multi-racial action and support groups of mothers, other family members, former social workers, foster parents and supporters in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, working together against the unjust removal of children from their families by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Children are often snatched, not because of abuse or neglect, but because of poverty, sexism and racism. We fight individual cases, build public awareness, educate the media, work to change unjust policies and practices, and challenge discrimination against mothers throughout the system. We are part of a national movement,” (DHS/DCFS GIVE US BACK OUR CHILDREN flyer).
Although Every Mother Is a Working Mother Network put on the session, they invited other women and organizations who are fighting similar battles for their families to the table as well, including The LaStraw, Inc., Family Connection Center, Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor, and ODVAct. This openness was exemplified by the fact that several women from Every Mother Is a Working Mother came to our workshop on child removal, and contributed their thoughts and experiences to the discussion. I can say that I personally also really appreciated the fact that one of their members also watched my son during their session, so that I could participate and get educated.
One of the woman who came to our workshop also asked me to go to the microphone and speak about my experience and activist work as a TRA, at the end. I told her that this was their space, and I wanted to respect that, since I knew that they didn’t have many places to do so and build together, but she said that she thought it was very important for us to know about each other, and share. She was right, of course. Many of the women in the room approached me afterwards, and wanted to get AFAAD’s information, since they didn’t know we existed, and want to keep in touch with folks who are working on the other side of the issue. I have included their contact information below, because this is such a big and important issue, so please contact them yourself, to organize!
Beginning with a short film these women had produced, DHS – Give Us Back Our Children! (and I encourage everyone reading this to contact Every Mother Is a Working Mother, and get yourself a copy and share with friends and colleagues, as it is just $7), the session was hard-hitting, filled with energy, and inspiring.
Women told short but personal stories about how they had regrettably found themselves at the mercy of DHS and its paternalistic case workers, trying over and over again to comply with their unrealistic demands, only to have their children taken away and placed into foster homes, where they were often abused. One woman told the story of her physically abusive husband who almost killed her, and the subsequent DHS interventions, which were too little, too late. After more abuse, and years of threats, her husband finally kidnapped her child, who she has not seen for years. Another woman discussed the repeated harassment she received from DHS, when she called them and asked if they had any programs to help with food and utilities, as she had barely $150 left from her welfare subsidy after paying rent each month. In fact, a key issue that many of these groups are working on is reforming the new welfare rules, which have made it even more difficult for poor mothers to raise their own children.
A commonly heard refrain was, “I asked them [DHS] why they just couldn’t give me the money to pay for my rent and food, so that I could take care of my own child, instead of paying someone else in the foster care of child welfare system to do it?” This idea is further explored in a hard-hitting series the Philadelphia Daily News published earlier this year, featuring some of Every Mother’s members:
Attending the USSF is a priority for me every three years, as I find that the older I get and the longer I fight various social justice battles, the more important it becomes for me to be inspired. Otherwise, I start to feel completely overwhelmed and cynical. My perspective on the history and reality of social movements – that they are usually a series of crushing defeats, followed by very small gains – starts to become completely unmanageable. Somehow, remembering that it is these gains, no matter their smallness, that alone have the capacity to redeem any semblance of our humanity, becomes next to impossible when I am mired in daily struggle. But being around thousands of activists, organizers, and everyday people, who like myself are just trying to live a self-reflective life that harms as few as possible, reminds me that I am not alone. I begin to believe again that perhaps I really can keep along this path, despite the difficulties and heartaches.
I keep coming back to the response of my good friend and mentor Rose Brewer, when I asked how she keeps on going as such a committed and engaged activist, all these years, and in the face of monumental challenges. We were in the midst of the Opening March, slogans and bodies weaving in and out of the small space between and around us. “What other choice is there?” she replied evenly.
I nodded. Exactly. How could I have forgotten?
Contact Every Mother Is a Working Mother Network at (215) 848-1120, (323) 276-9833, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
Shannon, Ananya Chatterjea, Hui Nui Wilcox, and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley wrote a creative and critical essay together, about dance as labor, as an expression of the truth of women of color’s lives, in the new anthology CRITICAL TRANSNATIONAL FEMINIST PRAXIS, edited by Amanda Lock Swarr and Richa Nagar (SUNY Press, 2010).
The essay is titled, “So Much to Remind Us We Are Dancing on Other Peoples’ Blood: Moving Towards Artistic Excellence, Moving from Silence, Moving in Water, with Ananya Dance Theatre,” and features sections in multiple voices about our experiences carving out a safe and productive space for women of color to explore differences and similarities, learn each other’s cultural histories, and build something larger than ourselves.
As you may have gathered, I have been woefully remiss in publishing and keeping up with my website and blog lately. Suffice it to say that it has been one of the most insane summers and falls of my life — maybe the most insane actually, although all the changes are good (got hitched, having a baby in early February, writing and teaching, etc.).
So, I am now trying to catch my website up on my publications, articles, and other assorted activities recently.
In that spirit, here is an article I wrote for the newly-minted Conducive Magazine, an online publication founded by sociologists who wanted to explore social issues and problems from progressive standpoints.
Certainly, in such a world, the reproductive debate would be expanded to not only include the right of women to have safe abortions if they so choose, but to also raise their children in their own families and home communities.
What if families had every opportunity to remain intact and children were not removed from their midst on a regular basis?Poverty would have to be reconceived in the child welfare system as a systemic process that creates less real choices and resources for those mired in it (mostly people of color in the U.S.), rather than a moral shortcoming of certain “irresponsible” individuals. A ruling of “Neglect” would not be reason enough to terminate parental rights – community-based and elected panels would look into the causes of the neglect (which are often, though not always, catalyzed by a lack of economic and social resources).
In this world, the needs of children would be put first, rather than the needs of parents/consumers. Just as importantly, children would be seen as complex individuals whose needs far exceed those of mere survival. As a culture, we would see ourselves in our children, and recognize the web of emotional, psychological, cultural, communal, and other levels which they/we juggle every day, and which they/we will need to fully engage in order to reach their/our potential.
They (the adoptees) are also committed to exploring a collective solution that redirects the communal/spiritual disruption felt by these children toward something far more positive and far more beautiful.There would need to be a reckoning, throughout all levels and sectors of society, that race and culture do matter in America today. The public would have to recognize the notion that all any child needs is “the opportunity for a good education, a safe neighborhood, and a loving family” in order to thrive in any environment is based on the lie of a color-blind society. We have to face the painful truth that race and racism have seeped into every nook and cranny of American society – including, and perhaps most insidiously, the American family.
In this world, a Christianizing mission, and its historic role in conversion by any means necessary to the point of separating children from their parents, would be undermined. This would be accomplished via a devastating critique from the public and educational spheres, as well as through the de-funding of organizations and groups that purport to determine who is and who is not fit to parent based on a person’s adherence to a specific set of “Christian” values. The connection between Christianization, racism, and cultural genocide throughout the world (especially in indigenous communities in the U.S. and in Australia) would be made so plain that to deny it would be to deny your own heart.
children would be seen as complex individuals whose needs far exceed those of mere survivalThe sexism that women face – be it in a powerful institution such as her employer, or the church, or even from family members – would not be allowed to fester and grow in such a world. Women in every culture would have as much access to education as their male counterparts, and would be encouraged and supported in their efforts to tell their stories and present their reality. Even though she might at times feel like her choices were more limited than she would like, depending on her situation, no woman would ever feel that external forces made her either relinquish a child she wanted, or take on a burden that she could not bear alone. In short, there would be far more understanding and support for, by, and of women in this world.
II. Angle of View
Are these visions of justice so impossible in this kind of world? Are they so far off? In some ways, politicized transracial adult adoptees carry these visions with them in their minds, bodies, and spirits all the time. They embody the response to the all-too-familiar questions, “So, you believe we should get rid of adoption altogether?” or “What should we do otherwise?” Such a polarizing approach to the complicated and often contradictory process of child relinquishment and re-attachment to a new family and new community is as limiting as it is unimaginative. Has society’s angle of vision really become so narrow? Can it really only see what is already there, the mess all of us are standing in?
The visions put forth above are not the stuff of fantasy; they represent the labor, analysis, and dreams of so many people.What a collective group of adult adoptees have done is provide a space to discuss these complexities. The organizers and participants of the Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed Conference look forward to continuing the political education and growing consciousness that is shedding light on the chronic problem of removing children of color from their home communities and placing them in predominantly (foreign) Caucasian ones. They are also committed to exploring a collective solution that redirects the communal/spiritual disruption felt by these children toward something far more positive and far more beautiful.
The visions put forth above are not the stuff of fantasy; they represent the labor, analysis, and dreams of so many people. Socially aware people have noted and identified the intersection of the multiple oppressions and systems of power in transracial adoption: sexism, nationalism, Christianity, militarism, racism, poverty, and so many more.
Shannon Gibney lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she teaches writing, journalism, and African American topics at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. She is a 2002 graduate of Indiana University’s MFA program in fiction, and also holds an MA in 20th Century African American literature from that institution. Gibney was awarded a 2005 Bush Artist Fellowship and the 2002 Hurston/Wright Award in fiction. Currently, she is at work on a novel that chronicles the journeys of 19th century African Americans who colonized Liberia [excerpted in Fiction on a Stick: New Stories by Minnesota Writers, (Milweed, 2008)].