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“Do not be silenced.  Your anger is a gift.”: African American Aaron Cunningham reflects upon those “angry adoptees”

The best advise I received in graduate school came from one of the most intense professors I’ve ever encountered.  He said, “Kevin, when writing you always need to ask yourself two questions.  Is it interesting?  If so, so what?”  These two questions always linger in the back of my head when I post here because one of the goals is to have the conversations that happen in Land of Gazillion Adoptees go beyond the adoption community echo chamber.  From my perspective, this will only happen if folks outside of the community: actually see the posts, podcasts, and videos; deem the posts, podcasts, and videos as something more than, “Hmm, interesting”; and identify/relate with the content.

LGA contributor Aaron Cunningham, an African American, isn’t a part of “our community.”  Nevertheless, Iranian adoptee Farnad Darnell, Indian adoptee A.J. Bryant, and I feel comfortable talking with him about all things adoption.  He “gets it” and, as you’ll see below, he “gets it” in a way that moves the musings, ramblings, and rants of folks like me to the realm of accessible relevancy.


Kevin Ost-Vollmers isn’t angry.  Or maybe he is.  And if he is, maybe that’s a good thing.  Actually, that’s definitely a good thing.  Perhaps we don’t understand anger the way we should…

I really wanted to start with a bang.  I wanted my first contribution to LGA to be about “The N Word”.  And we’ve got plenty of time left in Black History Month for that.  But before I make some of you angry, perhaps it makes sense to begin with an impassioned defense of anger.  As you may have noticed, a couple weeks ago, Kevin shared a rather interesting dialogue between “Good Kevin” and “Angry Kevin”.  I’ve been turning his thoughts over and over in my head since then.  Your mileage may vary as to what was the most interesting part of the post; for me, it was unquestionably the following:

The “angry adoptee” label is divisive.  For example, the label is used to drive a wedge between prospective adoptive parents and critically thinking adult adoptees.  “Those angry (pathological) adoptees who want to end South Korean intercountry adoption are trying to keep you away from the child you desperately wish to welcome into your home.  They want to shatter your dreams and the dreams of the hundreds of thousands of orphans who want a permanent, loving home.”

What Kevin was referring to there speaks to my heart and my head because it is something that I have experienced in my own life: Marginalization.  Make no mistake about it; those who would label Kevin (and those who have similar feelings on the nature of intercountry adoption) are not being unintentionally divisive when they label him as an angry adoptee.  They’re not accidentally creating the wedge he mentioned.  I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that it’s intentional, and I say that because I’ve lived it.  We’ve all lived it.  Perhaps it is because of the color of your skin or the contents of your wallet or your gender or because of who you choose (or don’t choose) to love, but if you’re reading this, chances are, you’ve been marginalized at some point in your life.  Sometimes we have experiences that are uncomfortable for us and, perhaps, even more so for those we’re asking to confront and address those issues.  It is precisely because the things we have to say are uncomfortable that they deserve to be said and heard.

From the conversations I’ve had with Kevin, I know that his anger comes from a very authentic and genuine place.  As an adoptee, he’s experienced bad and knows of worse (or perhaps vice versa) and he wants to contribute to the conversation around adoption so that others might be spared some of the unnecessary horror and heartache.  His motivation is among the most pure that anyone engaging in a dialogue could have: to broaden the scope of the conversation so that all viewpoints can be heard and considered.  That’s a positive thing.  Unfortunately, it’s also inconvenient for some who profit from a situation that they would like everyone to believe is universally happy, nurturing, and a good.  As I mentioned when Kevin interviewed me for LGA last year, I can count myself among those who used to be naive enough to view adoption through that narrow lens.  For reasons I’m sure I’ll delve into in future posts, I’ve been trying to get a more complete picture of the adoption process, the industry around it, and what adoption does to families.  That exploration has lead me to consider perspectives beyond just the adoptees and the families who are doing the adopting, and that conversation isn’t complete without the voices of people like Kevin and those who have had similar experiences.  To marginalize those people and exclude those voices because they don’t conform to a simple, convenient narrative is sick and cynical.  And it is wrongheaded and misguided.

Adoption is not a simple exercise, nor should it be.  There are variables and nuances that the average person on the street probably doesn’t consider (or considers but takes for granted).  I’m not too proud to admit that before I met Kevin (and A.J. Bryant and Farnad Darnell and so many other wonderful people whom I’ve met through those friendships) I was one of the folks who didn’t see those nuances.  We’ve had some profoundly eye-opening conversations for which I will always be grateful.  And while hearing about their experiences certainly gave me a greater perspective on adoption, nothing they’ve said that wasn’t universally positive was so off-putting or horrifying that it made me “anti-adoption”.  Nothing they said gave me the impression that they were “anti-adoption” either; the irony of the situation, from where I sit, is that a lot of what makes an “angry adoptee” so angry seems to stem not from the process itself or from the fact that they were adopted, but from the very marginalization that they experience for expressing inconvenient truths to the very people who have the most to gain from listening to them (including those profit from silencing them).  To all of you who fit this description, I say:

Do not be silenced.  Your anger is a gift.

The world would be diminished if we all looked the same, shared the same viewpoints, felt the same way about everything, and had the same hopes, dreams and desires.  Those of us who have been marginalized, ignored, and overlooked because our experiences are different from the norm will always be stronger than those who don’t want to consider anything beyond the most comforting narrative they’re willing to consider.  We are more readily able to adapt and overcome challenges precisely because we’ve already confronted and overcome challenges; we know no other way.  The key to overcoming this marginalization is not to be overwhelmed by anger.  Unpack it.  Explore it.  Understand where it comes from and consider what you can (and cannot) do to overcome it.  Develop the tools to articulate your perspectives and experiences without losing sight of the reality that they are subjective rather than objective, and that while you may have the courage to share your views, others, including people very close to you, may not always have the courage to hear and accept them.  Own your anger, but do not define yourself by it or allow others to do so.  If you refuse to stand in the margins, you cannot be marginalized.  Your anger is a gift, but it is only if you unwrap it, open it up, and look inside.  And it only truly has value if you share what you find with others.

4 Comments on “Do not be silenced.  Your anger is a gift.”: African American Aaron Cunningham reflects upon those “angry adoptees”

  1. Brent Snavely // February 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm // Reply

    I love it!

    Yes, the marginalization is entirely purposeful, with silencing being a standard power ploy. Of course, should ‘we’ provoke ‘them’ their anger is not only justified, but righteous to boot!

  2. Bert Ballard // February 22, 2012 at 3:09 pm // Reply

    Nicely stated. Great assessment of Kevin as well. (but don’t tell him I said that).

  3. anne pollack // February 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm // Reply

    The main message of your article certainly resonated and I thank you for writing it. Most of us can relate to experiences of feeling marginalized, denied or silenced in ways direct or subtle. As an adoptive mother and LCSW, I affirm the importance of adoptees and families
    accepting the full range of feelings and questions that are imbedded in the experience of adoption.

    In order to create an opportunity for international adoptees to share their thoughts, experiences and wisdom, I am in the process of interviewing people 18 years and older for a book that will be a resource for internationally adopted teens, young adults, as well as for parents, teachers and counselors. This book will be powered by the voices of the adult adoptees, interspersed with original artwork, poetry and stories —–to validate, guide and inspire. The project springs from my desire to create a non-preaching, authentic resource for readers. I have no other personal agenda or organizational affiliation. If any of you reading this blog would like to offer your thoughts, experiences and/or creative expression and are an international adoptee 18 years or older, I would welcome your participation. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Anne Pollack

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