You are listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 0:06[intro] How are you guys doing today? This is exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge Podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:16[intro] …but I’m going to do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do. So now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.
Latasha Morrison 0:52
Hello, Be the Bridge community. This is Latasha Morrison, your host for the Be the Bridge Podcast. And I’m so excited to be with you today. You know, there’s some things that we do each quarter called Take it to the Bridge. And so this is where we highlight some of the partnerships, some of the programs and trainings of Be the Bridge. And so, today I am excited to really talk about TRA, our transracial adoption trainings that we do with Be the Bridge. And I have some of the fabulous ladies in the room with me today. We’re actually live doing this in person. We’re in the same room. And typically we’re doing this over Zoom. So it’s great to have them here live in the Atlanta studio. Miss Gina Fimbel.
Gina Fimbel 1:52
Hello, it’s great to be here.
Latasha Morrison 1:54
And we have the gorgeous Tiffany Henness.
Tiffany Henness 1:59
Tiffany Henness. That’s right. All the way from Oregon.
Latasha Morrison 2:02
Yes. I was about to say hennessey. (laughter) We have the gorgeous Tiffany Henness. Okay, and so we’re just gonna talk about all things TRA and you know, what it is and the vision for it and like, why we started it. And then we’re gonna, I’m gonna just ask some questions especially to Gina and to Tiffany. And Tiffany can talk from her own experiences. And we think it’s important that we empower those where this is their lived experience to do most of the talking. And so we do not want to silence those voices, because they are not voiceless.
Tiffany Henness 2:43
Latasha Morrison 2:44
There just unheard.
Gina Fimbel 2:46
Latasha Morrison 2:47
So the overall vision is, one of the things is when we started at Be the Bridge, we had just a group of women that was a part of the organization, all of them had adopted transrationally. And so they were interested in justice work. They were interested in reconciliation work, because of their experiences with their children. They wanted to be better parents. They wanted to identify blind spots. They wanted to make sure that they’re doing the best for their children. So their intentions were really great, you know. And so, in doing that, we attracted a lot of people who have that same story, because there’s really been, you know, a push in the evangelical space, of taking care of an adoption, dealing with foster care, orphan care, all of those things. Which we should do that. But we have to make sure that we’re looking through the correct lens, and we’re not doing more harm in our effort to do good. And that tends to happen a lot. So I, you know, that is the overall vision, just looking at the gaps and what people need. And we had so many leaders at Be the Bridge that this is their story. And whether they’ve adopted are their an adoptee and we wanted to really speak into this space because we get a lot of emails and you know, tags on on social media, of people who are trying to figure this out. Grandparents that are trying to figure this out. Relatives that have, you know, children of different ethnicities in their family now, and trying to figure this out so they can create a safe and brave and courageous environment for everyone, you know, especially the children that are a part of their family. So I am not an expert in this. I like to find the experts and let them do their expert things. You know that I think that’s great quality leadership right there. That’s not my experience. That’s not my story. But we can give the mic and make room and create space and give up space for people where that is their story. And that is the story of Tiffany. And go ahead, Gina.
Gina Fimbel 5:17
Well, I just want to qualify that I’m not an expert. Because I’m a white adoptive parent. And so because of that, I know that I have blind spots. And I know that I’ve had to really lean in and get uncomfortable and seek out voices intentionally. And so although I may have experience in child welfare, or a degree in social work, I’m not going to qualify myself as an expert.
Latasha Morrison 5:41
Yeah, I like that. And I mean, and I think that speaks to a lot of parents out there where we have conversations, and they feel like they know everything about racial justice, and anything about the community that maybe their child was adopted from because of that experience. And that, you know, just because you have a Black child or Asian child in your life, that does not make you an expert.
Gina Fimbel 6:12
Latasha Morrison 6:13
Tiffany Henness 6:15
And I want to speak to you, so this is Tiffany here so folks can get to know my voice. No, but I want to speak to your leadership, Tasha. I think that one of the things that attracted me to Be the Bridge, or I should say kept me in the community, was the intuitive sense that you have for what it means to center the marginalized voice. And I saw it in person. You came out to speak in Oregon, the first time I met you, it was a lunch and learn thing.
Latasha Morrison 6:42
Tiffany Henness 6:43
And a woman in the audience had a question about cross race parenting, and you like gave me this big old side eye. You looked at me, you knew I was there. (laughter) And then you said, “We actually have a transracial adoptee here who’s done stuff with Be the Bridge. And so I’m gonna have her answer your question.” And you up there, you’re teaching this whole hour while we’re eating lunch. And we’re listening to you. And we’re telling stories, and she’s seeing you as the person to speak into this thing. But you recognized in the moment, there’s actually somebody else here who needs to answer this question. And you literally passed me the mic for a minute and a half.
Latasha Morrison 7:19
I sure did. I forgot about that. Yeah.
Gina Fimbel 7:20
Tiffany Henness 7:21
That’s Tasha! Right? But I think that’s an important thing. Because when we’re talking about race, we might know that we need to center the particular ethnic group that’s the most at the heart of the of the particular discussion that we’re having. But sometimes that knowledge doesn’t transfer to when we’re talking about adoption. And people don’t always think, “Well, then we need to go find an adoptee or someone who is adopted.” Right? They think, “Oh, well, anybody who’s adopted a kid knows.” But there’s a lot of us who are adopted, and we are here, fully grown adults, with a lot of thoughts and knowledge about our experience. And we’re trying to speak into these spaces, especially where our experience as an adoptee and as BIPOC is overlapping. And the fact that you just have this sense to, “Okay, we’re talking about race, but when it crosses this line of being about cross race, parenting, or interracial, I’m going to bring in somebody who can speak to that from their experience.” And that’s your leadership. That’s why I’m here. That’s why you have Gina here who is a white adoptive parent, but she knows how to engage in the conversation with humility and a posture of learning. And that’s why I’m very comfortable working with both of you, and feel very empowered by the work that you’ve done. So thank you.
Latasha Morrison 8:42
Thank you for that. I remember the, you know, my memory is short. (laughter) But you know, and this was just a couple, like a year and a half ago. But I really think it’s important to pass the mic. You know, I think it’s important to create space. And I understand that as a leader that we cannot be an expert in everything. And I’m not going to try to fake it till I make it. (laughter) I would do a disservice, you know. And so there’s things that you’re teaching me. There’s things that I learned from Gina’s experience, because she’s in this, you know, the day to day that she can help and advise other parents. But, you know, she has a different perspective in this and you have a different perspective in this. And I think it’s important that we highlight those perspectives, because also, the adoptee community is not monolithic.
Tiffany Henness 9:39
Latasha Morrison 9:39
(laughter) And you are all different and there’s different stories, different situations, that maybe there’s some things that are common, but you know, your experiences are distinct. And I feel like you bring valuable perspectives to this. And so, I think it’s important to center those voices. And so those of you who are listening, and if you’re talking on this and you’re not, you know, this is not your lived experience, then I think you need to take pause and really think about this. And I know, and in this journey of, there’s this progression of maturity. I think there’s a lot of people who, you know, did this, you know, because their hearts are big, and they’ve done the right thing, but then I think you’ve grown in it, too. And I think sharing those experiences, and I know, Gina, you share some of those experiences with us a lot. What has that journey been like for you as a parent?
Gina Fimbel 9:50
Yeah. Well, it’s been a very humbling journey. I will say that. I think so often, when we go into adoption, as prospective adoptive parents, we hear things like love is all you need, or that there is an orphan crisis. I mean, who wouldn’t want to help in an orphan crisis? I now know that that particular phrase is not actually accurate. But yeah, ultimately, what we and waiting potential adoptive parents and adoptees we need more than that, you know, we need a perspective of adoption that tells the truth about adoption as a profitable industry. And I hate to say that, but it’s true. And we, we really need to hear the voices of adult adoptees themselves, voices that have been historically marginalized within this system of adoption. And so, you know, we often talk about adoption in such a simple way, black, white, it’s all unicorns and rainbows. And I think that’s a really dangerous and problematic way to frame it, because it really severely limits the public’s perception about the complex dynamics of adoption and the trauma that’s associated with it, not only for first families, but for adoptees as well.
Tiffany Henness 12:04
Yeah, when people talk about race, it’s not a black, white binary. With adoption conversations, we can have similar issues where somebody sees adoption as either you are a grateful adoptee or you’re an ungrateful one. There’s nothing in between. Or some even, you know, folks who see adoption itself is either it’s good or it’s bad. And there’s a lot of adoptees who we live in the in between, of well, it wasn’t fully good, it wasn’t fully bad, either. And that can be a difficult conversation to have. But when we’re thinking about that, I like how you said that, you know, it’s not there’s not a binary there, because some people will tend to think, “Oh, well, I know someone who was adopted, and it was good for them.” And essentially, when they come into that conversation, and we’re talking about the difficulties of adoption, and they say, “Well, I have a friend who was adopted.” Did you just, “I have Black friends” me? (laughter) You know, they’re using one, they’re universalizing one person’s experience, they’re one touch point with it to minimize the people who are trying to have open and nuanced and complex conversations. And because Be the Bridge is so good at understanding the social interaction of why we don’t do that, why we don’t say, “I have Black friends,” why we don’t universalize an individual person’s experience, why we don’t think all Asians are monoliths.
Latasha Morrison 13:27
Tiffany Henness 13:28
That framework, I think, is a huge reason why, as an adopted person, I’ve been able to come into Be the Bridge spaces, and find the space to talk about that particular part of my experience in a healthy way and be heard and seen.
Latasha Morrison 13:43
Yeah. And do you find Tiffany, that it’s hard for adoptees to even talk about their experiences, because, you know, they will make their parents feel bad? Or maybe they’re in, you know, this inward struggle? And so, I know, you’re trying to create some safe spaces for adoptees to kind of talk and share, because some people have never shared this. I mean, we just did a thing on Colin Kaepernick.
Tiffany Henness 14:17
Yeah, we did.
Latasha Morrison 14:17
And so I would love for you to speak to just that question. And then also like, how, maybe the movie kind of identifies with his kind of journey in that.
Tiffany Henness 14:29
Yeah. So the question again, was difficulty…
Latasha Morrison 14:33
Yeah, like, adoptees having difficulty finding a safe space where they can express themselves because they can’t go to their parents. You know, or it feels like you know, like betrayal in a sense. But it’s like there’s some nuances where there’s, you know, parents like Gina who is really trying to learn and educate and really dig in. But then there’s some parents who did this, they love their children, but they are just ignorant to the fact of racial,
Tiffany Henness 15:07
Latasha Morrison 15:08
reality. (laughter) Yeah, you know, and then they had they lived this colorblind approach approach where all you need is love, like what Gina said. And so that is harmful, you know to an adoptee, especially transracial adoptee.
Tiffany Henness 15:24
It is very hard. And for any adopted person to find a place where they can speak freely and when you add the layer of race. So for transracial adoptees, we are typically almost always talking about a child of color who was adopted by white parents. That’s just the history of race in our country and the history of the welfare of adoption as a social practice, as a legal reality, as a as an industry, as Gina said. And so, when you put those two layers together, yes, when transracial adoptees begin to just let it go. And we just start sharing, we do we hurt everybody. We hurt our white family who is sitting there thinking, “I’ve not seen this, I’ve not, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And, and then we know, you know, for some of us who sort of intuit what other people are feeling or thinking, we know that’s gonna hurt them. We know our parents are gonna think, “You’re telling me I didn’t protect you,” oh, and it just crushes their soul. You know, and we don’t want to crush their soul, we don’t want to make them feel bad. But if we are honest about what we’ve gone through, that will happen. And then we could be on the other end of it, we could be talking with other BIPOC. And we could be sharing how, as an Asian person, I’ve never really felt like other Asian Americans have accepted me. Or, you know, we could be talking about how we don’t feel comfortable in our own racial or ethnic spaces, because we didn’t grow up with the culture. We weren’t enculturated into the things that everybody else in this room is sharing and laughing about. And I have no idea. I never saw those movies. I don’t know that musical artist. We feel very outside looking in to something that everyone assumes we know something about and we don’t. So it is very difficult. And I think my experience has been the people I feel the most comfortable with just sharing of myself and talking freely about my experiences are other transracial adoptees. And so I think it’s very, very important that transracial adoptive people have healthy spaces where we can connect, where we can be open and honest. And then when I talk with Gina, I’ll share certain things with Gina as a white adoptive parent. I might not share everything. I’ll share some things. I’ll talk with, you know, the Be the Bridge team and the people of color on the team I might be, you know, share some other things, but maybe not everything. But when I’m with other transracial adoptees, that’s where I have felt the most freedom to be me.
Gina Fimbel 18:07
Wow. Thank you for sharing that.
Latasha Morrison 18:08
Yeah, thanks for sharing that. When I was, you know, I know you and I’ve heard you speak. And when I was watching the special on Colin Kaepernick’s life, one of the things that stood out, you know, just seeing it. And I wasn’t there, like in all of those incidents when those things happened to you, but how he was able to capture some of those things, comments that were said, and I think, you know, those things are gonna happen, like people are gonna say comments. But the fact that his parents, they, in that space as it related to his racial identity, could not be advocates for him that was just
Tiffany Henness 18:53
Latasha Morrison 18:53
Gina Fimbel 18:53
I’d like to say something about that really quick, if I could. And I think the issue is that we are allowing a system to operate in a way that doesn’t protect the whole needs of a child. Because Colins’s needs were not protected. There were conversations that his parents needed to have. Things they needed to know about race, about racial ethnic identity, and we don’t get educated about that as potential adoptive parents, even by our agencies. And so we really need a fundamental reform, I believe, in adoption system.
Latasha Morrison 19:28
Tiffany Henness 19:30
Yeah, no, I agree. I think the series, I really liked the docu-series because in my mind, I knew Colin was a transracial adoptee since he was, you know, up to be recruited. He’s at the combine my husband was already talking about him. (laughter) We’ve been 49ers fan, you know, for a long time. So I knew about Colin before he kneeled. But, you know, he’s never been about transracial adoption, and that’s okay.
Latasha Morrison 19:55
Tiffany Henness 19:56
But I loved that we got to see him, he was very involved, I read very involved in the process and how things were shown. He worked with Ava DuVernay a lot to make sure like his story, and I love that his voice – because even though he’s not been speaking about transracial adoption, that’s not what he goes out for – you could see it in the way that they did things that his perspective as a transracial adoptive, even his interactions with his parents, was centered.
Latasha Morrison 20:21
Tiffany Henness 20:22
And that was huge for me. Because I had questions. Most of the time when you see transracial adoption depicted in media, it’s primarily the perspective of the adoptive parents being told. And usually there’s a bow at the end, everything turned out well, um, you know. And there’s an opposite archetype too, but we won’t get into that, where the adoptee is like crazy murderers.
Gina Fimbel 20:44
Oh my goodness.
Tiffany Henness 20:45
That’s another trope. But I love that they showed a more complexed and nuanced situation. They showed parents who are invested, who cared, but who also didn’t know what they didn’t know. And the harm that it caused was evident. And, and so the way that they were able to do that helped me sit there, and it hurt to watch it because it brought up up some of my own stuff. But it also felt validating to watch it and see that this wasn’t glossed over. This wasn’t just phoned in, thought was put into the dialogue. And, and that really meant a lot to me.
Latasha Morrison 21:27
Yeah, yeah. And I know there’s there’s a lot of struggles in this. And I, I think what what type of conversations are you having with other adoptees? And Gina, I would love to know. You know, what kind of conversations are you having with other parents and then also your children?
Tiffany Henness 21:49
Well, for me with adoptees, because I try to engage with the adoptee community online, sometimes we call it adoptee land. You know, to be honest, most of us don’t have a robust community of adoptees in our real life communities that we can get together with to have those conversations where we seen, we are seen invalidated. So a lot of times you do that online, that’s, you know, if I didn’t have Facebook, as much as Facebook can be frustrating, like it’s a lifeline.
Latasha Morrison 22:20
Tiffany Henness 22:20
It’s for some of us, it’s the only tool we have to find the community where we’re reflected and where we’re welcomed with our nuance. And so when I talk with other adoptees, there’s a lot of hurt. You know, I think it’s the same with any community that has been marginalized in some way. And I think it’s hard because a lot of people listening to this probably have never thought of people who are adopted as a marginalized community. But for those of us, Angela Tucker calls us dissenting adoptees, we come and we bring forth something that questions and challenges and speaks to, we need to be aware of the harm that’s being caused, we need to be aware of the trauma that Gina was talking about, we’re the dissenting voices in adoption. But we do see ourselves and have organized ourselves as a marginalized community. And we are talking about a spectrum of things like you would find in any community. Some people want to completely remove themselves, they want to abolish adoption as a legal reality, as a social practice altogether. You have some folks who just want to reform it, you know, we want to do the changes that make it more child centered. We just want agencies to gear more toward family preservation first, adoption last case resort. Like you have this whole range of people who have so many different, “I’m pushing for this way, I’m pushing for that way.” And it’s good conversations to have. But I think some of the times when I’m thinking from my bridge builder framework, right? I’m thinking how are we having bridge building conversations even within adoption? And definitely there’s an overlay of race that makes the conversation more complicated. All of our intersectional identities make the conversation more complicated. I see common ways in which we talk past each other. So as an adoptee who writes publicly about adoption and tries to challenge the idea that adoption is rainbows and unicorns, love is enough, everything is good, I see people who come in and their understanding of adoption is a general view. It’s unstudied, right? They have, just like with race, we have, everybody knows what race is because we’ve grown up in a racialized society, but we haven’t necessarily studied it. We’ve passively taken in information and then we operate from this, “What does my heart feel about this?” Okay? So some people when they engage in the conversation about race, they’re just like, “Oh, yeah, it’s just, we have different skin colors,” and that’s as deep as it goes. Or that’s as much as they know. And it’s the same with adoption. Everybody knows what it is. If you tell someone you’re adopted, they know what that means. And they have their own heart feeling about it, not because they’ve studied, but because they’re just operating out of their heart, “This is what I feel about it.” And some people feel great. Some people are like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” You know, it just runs the spectrum. Then you have people who have studied it. So this is the studied view of adoption, just like with race, they read Ibram Kendi, they know where the race where it came from, they know the idea of it, they know the harm that it’s caused, they don’t necessarily have a lived experience of being a marginalized, you know, in a marginalized racial group, but they have studied it.
So they’re operating from their head. I just, we just did Enneagram stuff. So I’m thinking head, heart, body here. (laughter) They’re operating from their knowledge. And so they have a more complex understanding of adoption, because they know where adoption came from. They know that adoption has meant different things in different cultures over the course of time, but the version of it that we have today has been very informed by systems of white supremacy. And so they get that or parts of it, because they’ve studied, they’ve done some learning, they read about Georgia Tann, problematic child trafficker who influenced adoption domestically here in the early 1900s, etc, etc, etc. But then you have the people who their view of adoption is what they experienced, just like BIPOC, my view of race is what I have lived, what has been done to me, and how I’ve acted in this racial role, or in this adoption reality. And so when you have those three people if they don’t understand each other, right, I can say, “Yes, adoption is problematic.” And the person with the unsteady view is like, “What do you mean, it’s taking care of kids who need a home? How is that wrong?” Right? And then I say, “Well, do you know the history? We can’t have community without common, you know, memory. Right? That Georges Erasmus quote. Like we’ve got to do, we got to do our definitions, we gotta do our glossary.
Latasha Morrison 27:06
Tiffany Henness 27:06
Gotta do the awareness, the acknowledgement, the listening, the learning, the lamenting.
Latasha Morrison 27:11
All of the above.
Tiffany Henness 27:11
All of the things in adoption, just like we do with race. And then someone who has a studied view of adoption, who knows the history, but maybe hasn’t necessarily experienced it, they can cause harm, too, because I can come in, say, “This is my experience of adoption. And this is my adoption trauma. I was an infant adoptee, it was the day that I was born. And I have these pre verbal trauma.” You know, and I’m using all these terms and words that are from my lived experience. And they’re not necessarily going to be able to hold space for that if it doesn’t fit with the knowledge that they particularly learned. Or me interacting with another adoptee who has had the opposite experience from me. Do we hold space for each other? Often we don’t. And in race, you get that same thing you get maybe somebody who has studied, they know the history of race, they see, “Oh race is a bad category, we need to be all about ethnicity.” But then they talk to a Black person who’s like, “There’s no way I’m going to ever know what my ethnic ancestry was because of slavery. So my Black identity is serving the function of both. And I’m not going to give that up just because you’re telling me race is a category I shouldn’t use.” You know, and so their experience is different. And with adoptees, it’s a similar thing. Some people identify as an adoptee. It’s very internal to who they are. Some are like, “Nope, I am an adopted person. It happened once in my life, but I don’t see it as affecting the rest of my life.” Some people prefer not to use the adoption at all. I know. So I know a great adoptee author, she actually calls herself a displaced person. That’s the term she prefers, right? So we have to be careful. You got to know people come in with a different view and perspective of adoption, different terms. Some people hate transracial. They want to use interracial. “I’m an interracial adoptee.” And vice versa. Some people are like, “Interracial that’s about marriage and choice. I had no choice in this. I’m a transracial adoptee.” Right? So we got to know and take the perspective, I think of the bridge builder to stop. Let’s do our history. Let’s do our learning. Let’s set our definitions. Otherwise, we come into the space and we’re talking past each other and we hurt each other and we don’t know how to engage with adoption. I see the same thing. When we’re talking about it. We need to listen to each other. We need to know, “Why do you use that term? Let me be curious about your difference instead of trying to correct you.” And so really Be the Bridge has been such a great thing for me as an individual. I think the pathway for reconciliation that you’ve set up, it’s the chapters of your book, right?
Latasha Morrison 27:14
Tiffany Henness 28:07
There’s something to that framework that can be universally applied to so many different areas of division. And adoption, I see it I see it applying that way, too. We need to do that same kind of work for each other in adoption.
Gina Fimbel 32:15
So good, Tiffany. You’re amazing. I’ve known that for a long time. But I’m glad you’re shining so that other people can hear that through this podcast as well.
Latasha Morrison 32:24
Yeah. And so with you like you know, I know you’re on a different journey, you know, and I know, there’s a lot of women that are listening that are learning from you, because maybe they have a similar experience. And I just remember this couple came to me, and they were telling me they were going to be adopted, I think it was from Kenya. And what they mentioned, was, you know, someone advised them, you know, and actually, I think the person was there that like, you know, because they were just saying like, what do you suggest? And they were they just asking me questions, I get that a lot, you know, hair and different things like that. But it’s beyond that, you know? And they said, “Well, you know, I’m gonna raise them as African American because I don’t live in Kenya, and I can’t raise them as a Kenyan.” And I just remember thinking, and this was several years ago. But I just remember like, “So you’re going to strip them of their ethnic identity?”
Gina Fimbel 33:33
Could it be both and?
Latasha Morrison 33:34
Gina Fimbel 33:36
Because certainly people are gonna see their child as a Black American.
Latasha Morrison 33:39
Gina Fimbel 33:39
But you don’t want to completely sever the other tie of the child’s first community of origin. Yeah, that’s sad.
Latasha Morrison 33:46
And I was just sitting there thinking like, “Oh, my God, I wish I knew my community of origin. And this child, you know, is blessed to have that.” Although that system is fractured, because system things, you know, but for them to know of that and to honor that. And so to me, you’re not honoring that, or you’re, you know, you see it as something that’s negative. And you’re not gonna honor that in that life. And I just remember, like, not really having the words, you know, because this was such a new conversation back then. But, you know, I would just love your thoughts, you know, and if you’ve had parents come to you with similar things.
Gina Fimbel 34:29
Well, you telling that story does remind me of an experience that I had where it was early on, we had adopted our first child, but not our second. And my daughter was in a class with another Black boy who was also adopted into a family with white parents. And we were talking and she said something to the effect of, “Well, you know, I don’t refer to him that he’s Black. I don’t say that. He’s a Black American. I say that he’s Brown.” And unfortunately, at that time in my journey, I was stuck looking like a deer in headlights, I didn’t know exactly what to say. I knew in my heart that it was wrong, like my body immediately sensed like, “This is not actually honoring that child.” But yeah, that your story just reminded me of that. But a lot of the bridge building conversations that I’ve tried to have with other adoptive parents is really just letting them know that they have to do the work, that’s work that I could not do with them. I can point them to that work. That’s part of why we wanted to create this guide for adoptive parents, because it is something that you have to be intentional about. You have to decide that you’re gonna allow yourself to be uncomfortable, that you’re gonna allow yourself to be challenged, that actually you don’t know everything. And there are people who have the roadmap to a better way. And so I think the biggest challenge that I see is adoptive parents saying things like, “Well, my child’s happy, my child’s fine, my child doesn’t even think about race.”
Latasha Morrison 36:05
I’ve heard that so much.
Gina Fimbel 36:07
It’s like, well, first of all, your child is thinking about race, even if they’re not able to verbalize that. But second of all, as your child grows, if you’re not having these conversations with them, they’re not going to feel safe to come to you. And I think that is the heart behind what my husband and I want as parents is we want our daughters, certainly we realize the importance of them having mentors that look like them. But also we want them to know that they can come to us to talk about race. If they had an experience at school, a racialized slash racist experience, I want them to have the tools to be able to leave that interaction with their dignity still intact. And they can’t do that if we’re not having conversation.
Tiffany Henness 36:55
Amen. And speaking as an adoptee who was the happy kid, who never asked questions about race or really had any concerns that were externally evident. I grew up I was happy. We had ice skating lessons. My you know, we lived in a rural county, my older sister had a horse. We were playing like, I was thinking about boys more than I was thinking about adoption or race, you know. I was a happy kid. And so I would have been the kid that some of these adoptive parents think of and be like, “She’s giving us no signs that she’s struggling.” Right? And there’s so many reasons for that. But what I’ve come to realize now as a mother myself, as somebody who has a whole, you know, lifetime of experiences now. And I need to pause and say, I didn’t know the word transracial adoption, until I found Be the Bridge.
Gina Fimbel 37:52
Tiffany Henness 37:53
I didn’t even know a word or a term. I didn’t know that there were other people who had organized and had groups, I didn’t know that there was anything. I grew up in a bit of a silo away from the adoption world. And I think that was harmful because I didn’t know that there were resources when I needed them. But so that being said, thank you for giving me words and tools for my own things. But right, that’s, that’s kind of the issue is like, you don’t know when, during an adopted person’s life, this will become something that their body or their heart or whatever things they’ve suppressed or repressed or but you don’t know when it will become important. For me, it became important when I had my own child, I was giving birth to a child. It started making me think things and see things in a way I never had before. So I started asking questions about my own experience, my biological mom, what that meant. And that, to me, was the thing that, you know, pulled the plug in, everything fell out. And I was 32. And I’ve spoken with adoptees who it’s not until they’re in their 50s, when their parents have died, their adoptive parents have now left them.
Latasha Morrison 38:35
Tiffany Henness 39:06
And now suddenly, their abandonment, issues are coming up, their parents are gone now. And they’re realizing that’s rooted in losing their first family. They have all these extra feelings. And they’re coming out of the fog, as we call it, coming into their awareness of the harm and trauma they have because of adoption. They’re coming out of that in their 50s. So you never know when that’s gonna happen. And I think what adoptive parents need to hear is that if you lay the foundation (you can’t push a kid to talk about something they’re not ready to talk about yet), but if you lay the foundation in your relationship with them because you’re aware, you’ve done your work, you’re going to be better able to support them or set them up with the resources that when they become adults. “I know you know how to find the resources, because we’ve made that available,” right? So that they don’t go through a crisis alone, unable to talk to anybody, so that they don’t burn bridges in that crisis when they are spiraling. You know, I spiraled for a while and I didn’t know how to have these conversations, I blew up at people because I was like, I don’t understand. And I didn’t have resources. So yeah, like, an adopted child might look and present like they’re fine, and they’re happy, and everything is good. And sometimes it’s because they don’t have words to say they just, you know, push it down and ignore it.
Gina Fimbel 40:30
And it’s easier to do that, let me say that.
Tiffany Henness 40:34
And sometimes, it’s because that trauma is so deeply buried, you know, there hasn’t been something to cause it to surface yet. And that’s something that if we care about these people, we care about these kids growing up into adulthood, we’re gonna recognize they need support for this with their core people over the course of their lifetime, not just when they’re kids, right? We need supports, people that we can talk about, spaces where we can talk about this, resources to talk about what does happen when your parents die, or maybe you’re getting a divorce and your core person is leaving you again. And that’s triggering your abandonment issues. Or maybe, you know, there’s so many different things. So, yeah, you don’t know. But the best thing to do is to get educated, to learn. Be prepared!
Latasha Morrison 41:23
What are some of the when, you know, we talked about some of the struggles, but, you know, like, the mental health part of this. If y’all can speak to that just a little bit. I know, we’re gonna have some follow up conversations. But I know, I see this a lot because of the trauma of losing their, what do you call it? The first family?
Gina Fimbel 41:43
Latasha Morrison 41:43
You know, and just, you just never know, even some of the hereditary genetics things that follow. What have you guys seen in this?
Tiffany Henness 41:56
It’s not just the family too, because for some, I’m a domestic adoptee. But with an international adoptee, they didn’t just lose their family of origin. They lost their culture of origin, their citizenship of origin, their language of origin, there’s so many things that end up becoming what we call a disenfranchised grief. Okay? So it’s a grief that they have over a loss that people around them don’t really recognize as a loss. “Oh, but you were adopted into a great family. You got to move here to America. You had a pool, you had horseback riding lessons.” And people see this, the material things they gained or the loving, stable family that they gained. But so few people are ready to sit with us and acknowledge being taken from your country, losing your language, losing. That was a huge loss for you, even if you were only four months old at the time.
Latasha Morrison 42:47
Tiffany Henness 42:48
And so yeah, so when we have disenfranchised grief, we have somebody who is struggling with something mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically manifestations of it, and there’s no support. And then another issue is just recognizing that family separation, relinquishment, adoption, trauma, not every person who’s adopted is adopted into a great home. There’s a lot of adoptees who talk about the abuse they suffered, or the fact that, you know, they were adopted because of infertility. But then when their biological family did miraculously have a biological child suddenly they were ignored and just kind of pushed to the side. Right? There’s a huge array of experiences, but adoption is not on the Adverse Childhood Experiences list. You know? It’s not an ACES score, it’s not something that people will screen for when they’re talking with you about your life experiences. And so I have had to learn to advocate for myself a little bit in saying, for me, I was adopted at birth, but that was an experience of family separation. And so I count that as an adverse childhood experience. And then, you know, the mental health community can catalog it in their in the way it makes sense to them. But there’s not a lot of adoption trained or competent therapists to really help us when we go through that. So mental health professionals can not knowingly but they can cause more harm.
Latasha Morrison 44:22
Tiffany Henness 44:22
Like think about, you know, as a woman of color think about going to a white therapist who doesn’t know about race, you’d be like, “Not gonna see ya.” (laughter) Good bye, bye. And so for adoptees, we kind of experience that same thing. When we go to talk about our problems, that therapist is never going to say, “Ah, how is your adoption related to that?” They’re gonna be like, “Oh, you’re insecure and you feel like an imposter. Well, we need to do some things to help you see yourself,” but are they gonna know that there’s a layer of adoption related to this and we need to get into that. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. And Gina could probably throw some statistics at you about…
Latasha Morrison 44:59
I know, she’s the statistic person.
Tiffany Henness 45:00
I’m gonna leave the statistics for her. But there are statistics about adoptees and mental health and suicide and things like that, that in the adoption community, we take that very seriously. And unfortunately for those of us who engage regularly online, we recognize when someone in our community hasn’t logged in, and we haven’t heard from them and someone’s like, “Please check on them!” Because we’ve lost too many. We do Adoptee Remembrance Day every October about the adoptees we’ve lost to suicide. So you know, there’s a scary feeling of realizing for some of us when we went through the biggest crisis in our life, all of these mental health issues, the ways that we get pathologized. There was an adoptee, an Asian adoptee, who was killed by the police. And his story has been on the news. And with the way they spoke about him in the article was he was adopted into this loving family. But then he had trouble bonding with them. He had reactive attachment disorder. And it sort of to me it put it on him that there’s something wrong with him, when really, in my perspective, he was a kid taken from his country and community. And he was forced into the arms of these strangers that he didn’t know. That was not his problem that he couldn’t attach to strangers in a whole other part of the world. Right? Like, why did you put that on him that was somehow his fault that he had this disorder? No, he was doing what most kids would do if you took them from their families,
Latasha Morrison 46:30
Tiffany Henness 46:38
flew them halfway across the world and said, “This is your mom and dad now.” And that four month old, four year old would be like, “No.”
Latasha Morrison 46:46
Tiffany Henness 46:48
They would resist that. And that’s normal that we would resist that. And so, you know, there’s so many ways in which we talk about it, that actually leaves us under resourced, under supported, or we grow up and we realize the people who’ve been closest to us our whole lives, we’re not just talking about our best friends, our mom, our dad, our brother, our sister. And then we’re going through a big struggle, who do we want to go to – our family! And yet, these families are not equipped to deal with that, they take it personally, they get mad, they get defensive, they get hurt. And so what do we do? We either keep it to ourselves and struggle with it alone, or we have to go find another community. And at this point, I advocate for all adoptees having a community because we’re just not there. We’re not there where adoption agencies are going to start training hopeful adoptive parents on this. We’re not there were non adoptive people who haven’t even thought further they have a general unstudied view of adoption, know, are aware, or think that these things are worth a reform or efforts to change. So,
Latasha Morrison 48:02
So I’m hearing a lot, you know, we’re talking about adult adoptees. But you know, I’m all about you know, not going downstream, but you go upstream. And I’m just thinking like, you know, I know there’s some parents out there now that are listening that, like, “My child is still in middle school or high school or, you know, upper elementary, and I would love to have them be a part of a community where this has been talked about at a young age. So they’re not having the challenges that some of the adult adoptees would have.” Just like you would, you know, do any type of counseling or therapy for your child like, but this addressing this specific need the uniqueness to that. And just having a support system knowing that, “Hey, I’m not, you know, I’m not alone in this.” Because maybe in their community, they’re the only ones but when they’re connected wider then there’s more? I mean, is there anything like that out there?
Tiffany Henness 49:04
There is. And I would say, so if you want to go upstream, I’d say let’s go further. Let’s talk about family preservation and not taking kids from their families to begin with if we don’t have to.
Latasha Morrison 49:14
That’s really upstream.
Tiffany Henness 49:15
That’s really upstream. I mean.
Gina Fimbel 49:16
Those are the conversations we need to be having, though it’s time, far past time.
Tiffany Henness 49:21
Far part time. And, I mean, right now, if folks know about the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is meant to keep Indigenous children in their communities, as much as possible, it’s being challenged. People want to overturn that because they don’t want to have this prevention that an Indigenous child can’t be adopted by a white family for example. But if they don’t have history…
Latasha Morrison 49:44
But they don’t even know the history, that’s what I was about to say! Of why that, yeah.
Tiffany Henness 49:47
…why that’s in place. Because 25 to 35% of those children were being removed from their Indigenous community.
Latasha Morrison 49:54
When they had family and culture and they were taken.
Gina Fimbel 49:58
A mass exodus of children taken and put into white families. Yeah.
Tiffany Henness 50:02
85% of the kids that they removed had a relative that was fit and able to care for them.
Latasha Morrison 50:08
Tiffany Henness 50:09
And that’s why we have that in place, and it needs to stay in place. Because we have not fixed the problem.
Latasha Morrison 50:13
So we need to, like. Listen, like, if you’re listening to this, you know, and when you hear this in conversation, this is why those policies are put in place as a protection. And so seek out your political leaders to make sure that this is something they’re not looking at this from one view. I know people who have no connection to the history, their Native history at all, because this was done. You know, and the trauma that it has caused in the Indigenous communities. And so that’s important. I want to know, Gina, what is something you know, as you’re in this space, and you were instrumental in creating this TRA guide for Be the Bridge for us to support people, families, organizations, people who are training in this, what is the greatest thing that you’ve learned on this journey? You know, just something. I know, there’s probably a lot that you’ve learned. And I know I just went off script. You know, and I will do that. But I just, you know, just something like, you know, what have you learned? I know your kids, you surround your kids with a lot of different people. I’ve met your children.
Gina Fimbel 51:41
Latasha Morrison 51:42
(laughter) Yes, let me tell you. “You got that Gucci.” (laughter) But, you know, I’ve had an opportunity to spend time with your children, and just well rounded. And I’m just, you know, there’s something you’re doing. And I know you know there’s a lot of different things I know, but I’ve just thought what is your greatest lesson? Because I know sometimes I’ve talked to people who have adopted and because they’ve grown in this and they know information now and they all are there about preservation of families now. But they didn’t know this until they got into this. So, you know, they advise differently than, you know, then where they would have 10 years ago or so. But what is something that you’ve learned from this that makes you an advocate and that made you want to write this TRA guide? And you know, just make sure that you’re not only equipping yourself, but you’re also you’re wanting, you have the desire to equip others.
Gina Fimbel 52:53
Wow. Tasha, that’s a great and big question. And I do want to clarify that I did not write the TRA guide alone. In fact, I was very intentional to seek out adoptee voices.
Latasha Morrison 53:03
Yes, yes. That’s true.
Gina Fimbel 53:04
I do believe that’s such a critical component.
Latasha Morrison 53:06
And you have been an advocate for that, even from the beginning. That, “Hey, we’re doing this, we want to create a blueprint, but we need an adoptee to do this work. I do not want to do this. I’m not.” I mean, you’ve been very clear. (laugher)
Tiffany Henness 53:24
Gina’s running in one direction, Tasha’s like, “Come back.” (laughter)
Latasha Morrison 53:26
Yeah, she was very clear about that. And then also when it came to the guide.
Gina Fimbel 53:33
I think, for me, and this is more on a personal level instead of a professional level. But I’ve really been doing a lot of work on myself throughout this journey. And I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way. But really like interrogating myself, “How do I show up in these spaces?” And I believe because I’ve been a white woman in this society. I have. I haven’t been a great listener. And so I really have tried to cultivate listening skills. And I know that’s a really small and simple thing. But when you listen well, it will change your life. And in fact, I tried to listen to people who rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe in the way they said it, maybe it felt really harsh. I’ve had a lot of tears about all of these issues. I’m not gonna lie. I mean, it’s pain. But it’s most painful for adoptees and their first families, right? But that would be my advice is really lean in and really challenge yourself. Do the work because, for me, it’s been worth it. And I have to believe that it’s gonna be worth it for someone else, too.
Latasha Morrison 54:43
Right, right. That’s good.
Tiffany Henness 54:44
That’s good. And I want to say too, because I didn’t. When you asked, Tasha, earlier like what can we do for kids now to help set them up better? I’m sure folks listening are like, “I want to know the answer to that.” You know, there are spaces, but I think it’s important for adoptive parents especially not to approach that as, “What can I do to prevent my kids from having the problems that these adult transracial adoptees are talking about?” You can’t. Unless you can go out there and fix white supremacy today. You know, unless you can go out there and fix patriarchy and capitalism today.
Gina Fimbel 55:18
We wish, we wish.
Tiffany Henness 55:20
I mean, you know, Be the Bridge, we’re doing our little slice of the pie over here.
Latasha Morrison 55:23
Tiffany Henness 55:23
But you can’t prevent them. Okay, can I you know, you adopted a Black kid, can you prevent them from experiencing race? No, you can’t prevent them from having this harm. But what you can do is, as at first, I think it starts with you, like you just said, you’ve done your own work. And that’s why you’re able to come in with the posture that you do. Okay? And that’s why you know, like, so you do that, as a parent, that becomes a family dynamic. So that person grows up knowing, “I can say these things to my family, and they might need a minute before they respond, but they’re not gonna leave me hanging.” You know? And yeah, you can do things like groups that are adoption related. But in this world, being an adopted person is so rare. A lot of kids pushback about being in those spaces with other adoptees, just like when you’re the picked on kid in the room, you don’t want to hang out with the other picked on kid in the room. You’re like, “No, I’m trying to be cool. I’m trying not to get picked on. I don’t want them to see that there’s more of us.” Right? So when you’re when you’re the rarity, you don’t often gather together because it makes you a bigger target. Same thing with adoptees. And so sometimes you put adopted kids in those spaces, those culture camps, those things and that and they push back against it.
Latasha Morrison 55:26
Tiffany Henness 55:28
You got to be careful about that. And you got to know your, you got to know the kid. I think it’s more important to have mentors, more important to have a family dynamic that makes space for that. And then, as that child comes older, and they come into their own story, if they know that those groups are out there, they can ask to join them, too. But I do know some adoptees, especially Korean adoptees, and so there’s just a whole host of them that came over, there are some who found those groups to be with other Korean adoptees to be really healing. So you just have to know the kid.
Latasha Morrison 57:16
Okay. So it’s different.
Tiffany Henness 57:18
It’s different. You can’t you know, there’s no prescription. But I think that’s why I like the TRA guide that we have is because we give this overview of here’s some of the issues. We’re not going to tell you what to do. We’re not going to say do this, do that, everything will be fine. But we’re going to present you with the information you need to begin to have a studied view of adoption, to begin to make space for people who have different experiences of it. And then you’ll have some of those bridge building tools to then navigate that with somebody. We’re giving blueprints, we’re not giving instruction manuals.
Latasha Morrison 57:51
Right. And we can talk, there’s so much to say about this, and we can talk about this forever. But I know we’re gonna have some more conversations about this. There’s so many resources for TRA families. And you know, and I know we’re gonna have that as a part of this podcast. And then you guys want to say some final things, some things that I’ve may have left out and maybe speak to the resources.
Gina Fimbel 58:20
The one thing that I wanted to share, because I’m really excited about it. So we’ve had this guide kind of floating out there. Right? And we’ve had, you know, I’ve tried to create space in my own community to have conversations around it. But we really, we’ve noticed, we recognized here at Be the Bridge that there was a hole. So in other words, we don’t have a space that adoptive parents can come to, to work through this information. Maybe they have questions about it, maybe they want to wrestle with it. And you know, we want them to have adoptees to do that with. Adoptees who have done a lot of their work, who can walk into these spaces and really be healthy. (cell phone ringing)
Tiffany Henness 59:02
Time for the party. (laughter) So start that again, from like a few sentences back.
Gina Fimbel 59:07
So we’re creating a resource to have an online learning space to have white adoptive parents come to so that we can build a community, and also a monthly live space to be together so we can, you know, maybe answer questions or bring in adoptee experts. Tiffany is going to have a huge role in that space. So I’m really excited about that. And we’ll definitely let you know when it’s going to be available hopefully, early in 2022.
Tiffany Henness 59:37
Yeah, and I will say you know, for November is typically National Adoption Awareness Month, which started to get people to adopt. But what a lot of adoptees are doing is they’re turning that month into a moment to flip the script. And they’re saying, “No, no, no, let’s not focus on why everybody should adopt. Let’s focus on learning about the actual lived experiences of the impact of adoption on us.” And so we get on we use our hashtags: #adopteevoices #adopteemovement, you know all of those. And we start sharing our stories and experiences. And so during that month, we as Be the Bridge, like we wanted to acknowledge that. So we had some social media posts where, you know, I wrote them but it was to speak to the adoptees, particularly the BIPOC adoptees. We see you. We see your voice is needed here. We want to be in community with you. So we also have a blog post on our Be the Bridge website that has some resources for transracially adopted people. And you know, we’ll have other folks on this podcast I hear, who are listed as resources. But there are things out there, I’d encourage people, if they’re looking for resources to go see our blog post, and it’s just a start. There are folks who have adoptees who are mental health providers, and those lists exist. Okay? There’s folks who have books written about adoption by adoptees. Those lists. So there’s a lot of resources out there, and we’re just trying to help point people toward them. So if you’re coming to Be the Bridge, and you’re wanting to talk about race, and you’re like, “Oh, I need to learn more about adoption,” we’re gonna point you to those other adoptees who are writing books or doing trainings. We’re gonna say, “Yeah, go listen to them. Go learn from them.” So there’s a lot of resources out there. And, and I would just say, like, you can start with our blog post if you don’t know where to go. But then you can go from there. And it’ll be a wonderful, you’ll have more books to read and more webinars to watch and things than you wanted. But yeah, I encourage folks, even if you’ve not been impacted personally by adoption, there’s a good chance about half of us know someone who’s adopted (even if we don’t know that we know that). You know, like, even we don’t know they are. But almost half the world knows someone who was adopted, and then you might not know how that impacts them. And there’s a lot of things that we don’t know we’re doing. So, you know, when we talk about, “Oh, let’s adopt a family for Christmas!” Because you’re going to get them like a, you know, a gift or something. And some of us are as adoptees are like, “Oh, that feels so hard to hear you say that because you’re just popping into their life to give them a little bit of something for Christmas, and then hopping out.” And you know, and you’re using adopt an adoption. Or there’s an adoptee I follow on Instagram, she went to a market. And they had a section for “Adopt an orphan cheese.”
Gina Fimbel 1:02:31
Tiffany Henness 1:02:32
She was like, “No, no! Don’t use that language for the last cheese you have a certain kind.”
You know, like, what is that? And so I think if you love people, if you want to build bridges, if you want to care for people in their hurts, take the time to get to know and understand these things. It’s a social skill. It’s a ministry skill, it’s a heart skill for loving people well. And I just I appreciate you giving us the opportunity to share of these nuanced experiences. And I really hope that it helps. I hope people read I hope they listen.
Latasha Morrison 1:03:12
Yeah, we really have to stop adopting vocabulary from other marginalized groups. Like it really does a disservice. So thank you so much, Tiffany, for sharing, and we’re so excited to have you a part of Be the Bridge and that you’re going to be leading our TRA community. Thank you, Gina, for all that you do. And pointing back. I’m not gonna say too much, because I know you don’t like it. Pointing back to others. And I think that’s just something you know, that we all can, you know, learn from. And we’re gonna, we’re just getting started with these conversations; there’s more to come. Go check out the blog post. And there’ll be things in the transcript. And then, you know, I know there was a conversation around, you know, the Netflix special.
Tiffany Henness 1:04:05
Colin in Black and White.
Latasha Morrison 1:04:06
Colin in the Black and White. There’s some conversations we’ve had on that. And there’s a lot of things that we’ve done in the past, panels and everything. And ike Gina said, like, these things are hard. And there’s sometimes like she said, “I’ve had many tears.” And, you know, even her doing this work, there’s conversations she’s had where it’s been difficult for her, but still leaning in, you know, crying in the midst of it, and just doing the best that she can with what she’s been given and you know what she’s doing. And I think this is just a start. And so, you guys, you know, lean into it, and it’s hard and it’s uncomfortable. But you know, this is helping us to be better stewards over all that we’ve been given, that God has given us. And then, we want to educate ourselves. We should want that. We don’t have all the answers, and so I think that’s important in this conversation. So thank you guys.
Tiffany Henness 1:05:08
Gina Fimbel 1:05:09
Thank you, Tasha.
Latasha Morrison 1:05:09
Thank you to the Be the Bridge community. Hopefully this will be a tool that you can use to help yourself, but then also pass this on. If this podcast has been helpful to you make sure you share it with other people. So thank you so much for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast.
Tandria Potts 1:05:29
Go to the donors table if you’d like to hear the unedited version of this podcast.
Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer. And transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been at Be the Bridge production.