Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Adoption and Race: The Elephant in the Room

Martha Nichols deliberates  the perils and challenges in adopting a child of a different race in an excellent feature on Salon.com. Haitian children, of course, are in dire need of loving homes. But the obvious challenges facing these children in a non-color-blind world leaves Nichols–herself an adoptive mother–with concerns over the media’s avoidance of issues of race.

It’s a subject that has been on my mind recently with the success of movies like The Blind Side, in which a white Texan family adopts a black teenage football player. Ostensibly, a heartwarming movie about a family adopting a teenager in need. But how can anyone avoid the racial implications of the white family saving the black child?

Nichols states the issue directly:

Why is the white-savior storyline so entrenched? And why is it so hard for the “objective” journalistic voice to talk about race?

Perhaps because an open dialogue, mindful of the legacy of white colonialism, of polite conversation rather than tough questions, of the persistent, oftentimes subtle instances of institutionalized racism, isn’t what Americans want. We want uplifting stories of rescue, adoption, and reconciliation.

We don’t want to acknowledge that interracial adoptions may have a negative impact, both for the adoptees and families, but also in the context of reinforcing stereotypes of the “white savior” as identified by Nichols.

It’s not that all news outlets avoid the issue of race. In the mainstream media, however, dialogue is often polemic at best, left to alternative or scholarly outlets at worst (as in this article from the alt-weekly Illinois Times, providing facts on the different costs to adopt children of different races. The impact of major newspapers and broadcast networks can’t be discounted; when the Boston Globe trumpets headlines like “Joy, Frustration Brought Home” without a balanced coverage of adoptive issues, images of rosy blitheness, of those who rescue and those who are rescued, is subtly conveyed.

As I was traveling through Uganda in January, I’d often be stopped in my tracks by African children with straight-forward questions like: Why are Americans so rich? Africans so poor? How can I build self-confidence? The directness, the sincerity, of the Ugandan children that I met often surprised me. Not only because I rarely felt that I had an adequate response, but also because the depth of the question asked was not a level of inquiry in the American public domain.

What’s said and what’s lost. It’s a conundrum.

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Filed under: family, media, race, , , , , , ,

Pavement’s Literary Influence: Barry Hannah

As I mentioned in a previous post (and which it saddens me to note), novelist and all-around great guy Barry Hannah passed away yesterday. A modern-day Faulkner, with jarring, sometimes-absurd characters and situations, Hannah was also deeply rooted in the South and its literary traditions.

Airships is one of my all-time favorite story collections, and I like to pass it along to my students when they’re writing particularly knotty or disfunctional stories. This, it seems, is as good a time as any for Hannah’s fiction.

Zach Baron writes in the Village Voice about Stephen Malkmus’ appreciation for Barry Hannah. Malkmus, the lead singer for Pavement and whose self-titled solo album is a personal favorite, noted in a 2003 Believer interview that Hannah was a definite influence for Pavement’s dark, quixotic lyrics. Malkmus and co-leader David Berman shared several qualities with Hannah, in particular that all three were “prone to fragments, dark comedy, loner-types.”

Randy Kennedy also wrote a touching remembrance in The New York Times‘ Paper Cuts blog. Again, Hannah comes across as a wise yet rebellious soul:

He seemed a little let down by the safe direction he felt fiction had taken since the high-wire years of the 1970s, years he had helped to define. “Blandness has taken over everywhere,” he complained, “or just idiot low sensation.” Of the creative-writing students he taught he said: “They’re actually better than they used to be, because they are older. But there is not a drunk among them. Nobody takes drugs.”

I think that’s one of the reasons I admired Hannah’s work so much–the unapologetic nods to being bad, the way he called out the blandness in contemporary fiction. And that’s why I pass it along when other writers are seeking relief from the carefully-crafted yet lifeless workshop story.

R.I.P. Barry Hannah. Thanks for your fiction and your imagined worlds.

Filed under: literature, , , , , , ,

Abraham Lincoln, Badass

I was planning to blog about Barry Hannah, one of the great short story masters, but came across this book trailer instead. Why is the trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter so incredible? Could it be the black-and-white footage with spot color of red? The bad acting, the straight-faced voiceover, the over-the-top facial expressions?

The author, Seth Grahame-Smith, also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. A surprisingly entertaining premise combining stuffy literariness with  oddball humor. Makes me want to revisit the civil war, and witness ol’ Abe in vampire slaying action.

Filed under: pop culture, , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2010
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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