Sunday Times: Unspeakability

What if something that defined your family story, an event that made you who you are today, was possibly rooted in a severe injustice?  What would you do next?  Would you speak openly about your fears, doubts and questions?  Or would you let it be, knowing that certainty may not be possible and that speaking is painful?

Yesterday the New York Times featured a story on international adoption from China.  It was a follow-up to an August 5 piece that highlighted a “lucrative black market in children” in some provinces of China.  The end result is a chance, however slight (and that number is very hard to know) that adoptive parents in the U.S. came by their children after they were forcibly taken from their birth families.

Yang Qinzheng, with his two grandchildren. His third grandchild was seized in 2005.

I don’t really intend to comment about the issue itself right now.  What I’d like to note is the way that unspeakability plays into the situation.  Here’s what I mean:

Most parents contacted for this article declined to comment or agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity. Several said they never discussed trafficking, even with other adoptive parents. To a query from The New York Times posted on a Web forum for adoptive parents, one parent urged silence, writing, “The more we put China child trafficking out there, the more chances your child has to encounter a schoolmate saying, ‘Oh, were you stolen from your bio family?’”

One of my grad school professors talked consistently to us about the danger of unspeakability–when something is off limits, you empower that something in dangerous ways.

Elie Wiesel writes, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

We need to speak, however clumsily, about any situation connected with injustice.  There cannot be things we just won’t talk about.

The more we put China child trafficking out there, the more chances your child has to encounter a schoolmate saying, ‘Oh, were you stolen from your bio family?’”

Perhaps, on the other hand, the less we put China child trafficking out there, the more chances there are that the answer is ‘yes.’

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