Famed percussionist and recording artist Sheila E. has released a new memoir. As an 80’s baby, I’m inclined to love her. LOL She reminds me of big hair and great music, and really, what’s not to love? She was killing the game long before Beyonce, and she’d even had Mr. Graffiti Bridge himself, singing her praises on and off the stage.
Well, the New York Daily News did a write-up on Escovedo’s new book, with tons of juicy bits to entice us to check it out, and while for the most part, I was really pleased and excited, my spidey senses perked up unfortunately. Since I’d seen her “Unsung” episode last year, I was really interested to see what else she was planning to share. More info on her love affair with The Purple One, her uncomfortable but industry-changing sexual revolution, and then, her feelings on friend Lionel Richie’s adoption of her niece Nicole.
Here’s how it’s written up in Sheila’s book, which is co-authored by Wendy Holden:
“Then Richie’s wife Brenda, who had been hungering for a child, suggested adopting Nicole. “Lionel … would do anything to keep Brenda happy,” Escovedo writes.
The Richies convinced Peter and Karen to give up their child.”
Come on man. Stereotype much? We gotta do better.
Now, it’s not all bad, as Sheila has always been very upfront about how difficult it was for her family when Nicole was adopted. She generally comes from a place of love about it, I’m sure. So, assuming that like many, perhaps Holden and Escovedo just don’t realize how the particular phrasing used in their book can be damaging, allow me to share four requests I have from just that short excerpt.
1. PLEASE stop painting adoptive parents as baby-snatchers who want nothing more than to steal children from loving families.
2. PLEASE stop painting WOMEN as the primary offenders, and portraying husbands as well-meaning dopes who move heaven and earth to fill their wives “ridiculous cravings” for children.
3. PLEASE stop painting birth-parents who choose to place their children for adoption, as idiots who are taken advantage of. The decision to place a child for adoption is not a light one, and it is a BRAVE one. Don’t belittle their bravery by wording things in a way which implies that they were basically tricked into doing what other people convinced them was best. This, I’m sure has been the case for some, especially as we go back a couple of decades, but it is NOT the case for all, and when you report on it that way, you perpetuate a stereotype that can hinder more than help.
4. PLEASE stop deciding that someone else’s story should be yours. No matter the auntie heartstrings she may have been feeling pulled from, or how she perceived the situation to play out, Nicole Richie’s adoption story belongs to HER, her parents, and her BIRTH parents. Your feelings about it, your momma’s feelings, the teacher’s feelings, the postman’s feelings, do not matter at the end of the day. No matter how old she is, this is HER story, and it should be respected and treated with a certain amount of care.
Now to be clear, LOL I’m a fan, so I’m not hating on the book, and I’m not encouraging anyone else to. All I’m asking, is that we start to pay closer attention to HOW we say things, and how those seemingly simple comments/statements can have dire implications for others. For every one person who read that excerpt and said, “Oh, that’s interesting”, and moved on with their day, five more were just as likely to say, “Oh, see, I knew our people didn’t adopt, I knew there had to be a story there”.
While adoption is difficult for birth families, there is a time and a place to deal with it, and in my opinion, your memoir may not be that place, especially if you are still feeling some kinda way. What we should take from this, is that there is definitely a need to do more in terms of supporting the relatives of adopted children. There is obviously a wound there that should be receiving far more salve. I found ONE study that stated as much.
When you know better, you do better. We need to get more people in the know.
Regina Townsend is the primary author and founder of TheBrokenBrownEgg. A librarian and writer, Regina’s mission is to make people aware and active about the unique concerns of reproductive health in the minority community.