by Maya Xian Hewitt, adopted from China to the UK.
I’m sure that most reading this will know and understand the “story”of Olivia Atkocaitis.
I’m sure that it’s triggered emotions and feelings that are too heavy and difficult to think about and process. Or in other people’s minds, perhaps it’s far too removed from their reality and from their experiences in adoption to even consider. I know that when Lynelle asked me for this article, I really didn’t have the emotional capacity to sit and think about this, let alone, write about it. But I realised that she wasn’t asking for a news report and the headlines, as aforementioned, are enough to understand the gravity of what Olivia went through and it’s not just a story for her, it’s her life. As intercountry adoptees, the bigger picture and the call to platform our voices are ever more important, because look at who is platforming this narrative, look at how these “stories” are being headlined. Our voices, our experiences, our narratives, they deserve more to be than just part of a tabloid story that’s going to sell astronomically as a one-hit wonder. And the attention these stories get, they’re provoking the wrong questions, directing the outrage towards the microscopic lens of specificity, that these tabloid articles afford.
The issue with sensationalism in journalism is that it doesn’t just fall short on accuracy, precision and detail, it extrapolates from a larger picture, takes a story from the wider context and makes it seem so far-fetched that it becomes almost a one-hit wonder in terms of a news story. And much like those artists that rose to fame with their catchy tune, they’re memorable, they occasionally resurface for air and then they become a household note on “where are they now”. The very nature of adoption is transactional and I’ve written extensively on the subject, yet with every journalist I’ve come across to ask me about my experiences, whether it be my reconnection to my birth country, searching for my biological family, my experiences as British-Chinese in the United Kingdom, they’ve never offered financial compensation for my emotional labour and they don’t want to hear the authenticity, they want a news story. And so I decided in 2018, no-one was going to write my narrative for me, I’m perfectly capable of writing my own.
Calls to action, calls to anger, calls to highlight the failures of the adoption system, they’re not enough. As intercountry, transracial adoptees, there is enough content out there to be noticed and heard but why bother talking when no-one is listening. Lynelle is correct, Olivia deserves her place in our community, a space to advocate, a space to frame her own narrative and I’m not going to sit here and frame that for her. And I’m not going to call for action, call for anger or call for change, this is a call for empathy. A call for you to sit here and listen to intercountry, transracial adoptees. The issue is that the words ‘adoptee’ or ‘adopted’ alone already connotate the infantilisation of adults and people talk to us like we don’t know what’s best for us. Or the words ‘lucky’ or ‘gratitude’ get thrown around and we get told that “it could have been worse!” How could you push gratitude on people like Olivia, people like Huxley Stauffer or Devonte Hart? How can you assume a full picture without knowing any of the details? And that’s the power that White Supremacy plays in adoption. These systems weren’t built for people like us. The headlines of Olivia Atkocaitis, Huxley Stauffer, Devonte Hart are purposefully sensationalised and designed to exclude any real detail or any real information because who can you hold accountable for the people who fall through the cracks when the reader has descended into chaos, outrage and burning anger?
I could sit here all day and talk about the flaws of the system and the flaws of intercountry adoption. I could sit and bring about controversy, just like the tabloids are spark-noting but this isn’t a call to outrage or anger, this is a call to empathy. Behind the news stories, behind the anger, behind the broken systems, there are people like Olivia who deserve better in their lives and how can you have compassion for people if you reduce them down to a news story? How can you listen to someone when your inner monologue is already framed and narrated by the sensationalism of tabloids, profiting out of these experiences? The primary sources are there, they just need to be heard, not just when we’re the flavour of the month because something sensational has happened. Representation isn’t just about seeing our faces on screen or in spaces we haven’t been afforded. It’s about taking up that space and reclaiming it for ourselves; people like Olivia don’t need advocacy, they don’t need over-compensation. They deserve a place.