Sunday, April 04, 2010
Justice Means Having to Say You're Sorry
On June 19th, 2009, the U.S. Senate on Thursday apologized for slavery, making it the second body in Congress to approve such a measure. The vote comes a year after the U.S. House of Representatives apologized for slavery. The resolution admits that Africans were "forced into slavery" where they were "brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage." And it acknowledges that many enslaved families were "torn apart after family members were sold separately."
In 1993, the U.S. government apologized to native Hawaiians for overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii, but a similar apology to American Indians, though proposed, has never come to pass. Now Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), has re-introduced the Native American Apology Resolution, offering an “official apology to Native peoples for the poor choices the federal government made in the past.”
“I firmly believe that in order to move forward and have a true reconciliation, the federal government needs to formally apologize,” said Sen. Brownback in a press release.
Just the other day, Karen W. Buterbaugh's wonderful article about Adoption-Induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Mothers of the Baby Scoop Era came out and is a must-read for anyone with questions about the criminal nature of the treatment we received during that awful time. The forces and attitudes used against us formed the model for the more subtle coercion of today. Closed records began in that era, to protect those who adopted against the possible intrusion into their lives of the grieving, natural mother.
All manner of wrong was done, with impunity, to a specific segment of our society and we and our children have suffered for it. I will state, at this point, that, while the pain was different for the adopted and mothers, each was equally intense and damaging. Decades later, some of the mothers from the BSE are still so emotionally paralyzed that they cannot face the truth about that time in their lives.
People have said we need to leave the past behind and get on with reformation. Well, let's look at how this affects reform. I doubt, since the case of the Tuskegee Airmen was placed in the public eye and a formal apology was delivered by no one less that the president, that there will be further government experiments on ethnic groups who have less, shall we say, "autonomy" than others. With recognition and an apology, an injustice was faced and a new set of checks and balances became part of our society that would prevent this heinous thing from happening again.
It is no longer popular to ignore the fact that the US imported Africans and kept them as slaves and, after the Civil war and the Emancipation Proclamation, kept them in a place of second-rate citizen status. It is no longer smart nor politically correct to waltz in to a peaceful culture, such as Hawaii, and "Americanize" it, replace their religion and cause the dying-out of the leaders of that culture. It certainly makes sense that many of us, now, get an uncomfortable feeling when we realize we are probably owning property on which Native Americans lived for centuries and from which they were barred.
Yet, people still believe that the separation of mother from her child, especially if that mother is young and/or poor and/or single, is just Okie-Dokie. Where others who were injured by society are seen as worthy of recognition and redress, the aging mothers of the BSE seem to still be seen, by our Puritanical culture, as "girls who made a mistake," or "sluts who didn't have to raise their skirts." Notice that the guys who participated in the conceptions of our infants were not included in either the category of brainless or morally challenged.
I don't remember who said it, but I have heard it often enough to believe it has reached the status of an adage or truism. Paraphrased, this adage states that, in order to change the present and the future, we must understand and learn from the past. Those of us who want justice for the mothers from our era are not "living in the past" but using it as a valuable learning tool which, if heeded and addressed, would change a lot of things in the here and now. An official apology, such as was offered in Australia, would shine the light on the fact that something was done that was just terribly, terribly wrong.
So, what's the difference between the groups mentioned above and natural mothers from the BSE? I don't think it has to do with race, gender or culture. I also don't see our trauma as any less harmful and real than what happened to the others. But I do notice that while grabbing the land of other cultures and using people of other races for experimentation do not come with their overtly booming industries, adoption does have just that. It is a money-maker for individuals and state governments, It has its own spin-doctors and lobbyists. If we learn from the BSE and if it makes our nation view the separation of mother and infant differently, then the bottom line of a thriving business will be threatened. The rosy, pink cloud picture of adoption would change to show the dark and painful background of surrender and loss. The goose would no longer lay the golden eggs.
That would really be tough...gee. It would be like depending upon our own exploration and new ideas for energy rather than letting OPEC and Big Oil run the show. When (not if) that happens, one door will open as another closes. It happens every time. People would no longer feel entitled to the child of another just because they are infertile or want to be saints. Young mothers-to-be would no longer see adoption as another form of birth control without the "guilt" level of abortion. Hey, they might even start allowing education on birth control in our schools. Wow!
But, until the doers see the damage they have done...until our nation understands that many, many of their sisters, mothers, daughters, wives and friends had their human rights most painfully taken from them with no remorse or compassion by the takers, it will be business as usual for agencies, adoption attorneys and the God-playing social worker.
There are two goals, then. Reforming adoption and addressing the injustices of the BSE are not mutually exclusive. This isn't an "I was hurt worse than you" contest. It is an actual historical happening, made notable by the huge numbers of mothers separated from their babies. And, to me, it is a first step in making changes happen.
Our nation made a BIG mistake all those decades ago. Let's learn from it, not ignore it.