race and adoption: the most important conversation I won’t stop having

When I first came to the public transracial adoption space, I was only tangentially aware of the “us versus them” mentality. It’s “adoptees versus adoptive parents,” “transracial adoptees versus same-race adoptees,” “everyone versus the system,” etc. I initially set out to discuss only transracial adoption, saw how interwoven transracial and same-race adoption traumas inevitably are, and thus started speaking on both transracial and same-race adoption, scared to rock the boat too much on race.

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I’m not scared anymore.

I’ve received vicious online assaults ranging from the relatively tame:

“You’re a heartless shrew!”

to the typically condescending:

“Please get help.”

to the hilariously bizarre:

“You useless amoeba!” and “You’re the Jim Crow of adoption.”

When I wrote the infamous Think Adopting Children of Color Makes You Woke? It Doesn’t piece, I was quite clear that I’m not against adoption of any kind; in fact, I recognized there indeed are white parents getting it right with their children of color and understand that yes, many are doing their best.  My experience with adoptive parents is the same as with any other group. There are excellent ones, terrible ones, and many in-between. I appreciate all of them and hope to reach most of them.

This struck a nerve that continues to sting today. When I say, “Let’s ensure cultural competency and racial awareness informs transracial adoption, so children’s racial identities are harmed less,” others hear: “You’re terrible, white people just want to help kids, or else they’ll starve in Ethiopia!” (yes, really).

“Helping” kids of color isn’t “rescuing them.” Many adoptees have said this before, but it bears repeating that rescue is a supremacist-rooted term implying the “greatest country in the world” is the best place for transracial/intercountry adoptees (yes, really, someone said that to me). Is that true? Is the West really best? I’ll let you decide, but consider this: The opposite of helping children of color is ignoring their color.

Far from being racist or Jim Crow of adoptionesque, questioning a system that places kids in colorblind yet loving homes has little basis in segregation. In fact, people of color were systematically excluded from adopting in-race because of exclusionary criteria, usually masquerading as economic, financial, and religious “qualifications.”

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My critiques are founded in historical policies, the social history of family, and race. And yes, my personal experience. Circling back to the accusation that I “make adoption all about race,” there’s truth in that statement. Adoption, like so many other government institutions, is about race. Race, power, and control. No matter how hard some push back on the issue, race matters. Denying its existence and influence on power structures denies the experience of people of color, adopted or not. As a person of color, I feel obligated to speak of color in this space and I won’t stop.

Astute readers know I’ve made the same statement over and over: Adopt kids of color, but be aware of the possible implications.

Regardless of transracial adoption’s obvious minefields, there has never been a call–from myself, anyway–that all white people should stop adopting kids and instead let children of color simply rot away in the system. Or, even more puzzling, is the interpretation of my work as calling for “same-race only” adoptions, which again doesn’t exist in quantity due to reasons already stated.  I’d love for more POC to adopt children of color. As always, nothing is that simple.

Astute readers know I’ve made the same statement over and over: Adopt kids of color, but be aware of the possible implications. It’s that sentence’s second clause that offends and touches nerves of would-be or current adopters; the awareness of love’s inability to protect against societal racial bias, and the idea that perhaps you can’t save a child of color by simply giving them a loving home.

Adoption, it would seem, is far more complicated. It should be, because a child’s life is at stake. Is it naive to believe transracial adoption can be done in the child’s best interest, aside from simply taking extreme “banish it” stances? I don’t think so. Parents, adoptive or not, exist on a continuum of shared flaws and toxic values. It doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the existence of open minds and open hearts, both of which all good parents embrace.

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“AFWM,” the online debate all Asian adoptees should know about

There’s an incendiary topic burning with both racial pride and community outrage and it’s one my fellow transracial Asian adoptees and their families should acknowledge. I’ve refrained from speaking on it because the Asian internet’s reactions range from ambivalent to enraged, but I no longer want adoptees–already suffering racial identity crises–unaware of what possibly awaits them.

Many transracial adoptees and their white parents seek Asian communities to mitigate cultural and heritage loss. They do this throughout the adoptee’s lifetime, or later when the adoptee becomes an independent adult. Most adoptees hesitantly approach Asian online communities and in-person gatherings, fearing “not being Asian enough” or confronting–sometimes for the first time–groups of people who “look like them.”

What an adoptee might find is not a welcoming brother or sisterhood, but one who offers acceptance based on two nuanced things:

  1. If the Asian adoptee is dating or married, their partner’s race, and,

  2. If the Asian adoptee–due to a proximity to whiteness they didn’t choose–is Asian enough to speak as a member of that race.

The dominant Asian community isn’t issuing such superficial judgments, but if someone’s Google search takes them far enough, it might dishearten them when uncovering such hatred lurking among a tiny vocal percentage. Deemed Asian Female/White Male (or AFWM/WMAF), it’s a divisive topic claiming any Asian woman dating or married to a white person is self-hating, suffering from internalized racism, anti-Asian male, anti-Asian, or, in extreme cases, fair targets for hate mail and death threats.

I tried addressing this from an academic and fairly neutral perspective, framing it within the narrow confines of transracial adoption. I tried exploring partner selection from a cultural perspective, citing studies examining how a white family’s influence over a person of color’s identity more related to unconscious absorption of family values and general attitudes toward race, not self-hate. I also say:

When examined through a…lens where Asianness isn’t so much denied as casually accepted and maybe feared, a child will be less likely to attach to their outward racial presentation.

For this perplexing AFWM debate, I suspect that even Asians who were “raised Asian” in diverse communities take away the media’s portrayal of the white standard and shape definitions of attractiveness. While this isn’t excusable and more ethnically diverse media representation is necessary, this theory doesn’t imply self-hate as a catalyst for partner choice.

My informal and brief analysis was predictably met with scorn, because how could I, an Asian adoptee raised by whites, be anything but brainwashed into internalized racism and a strong desire to emasculate Asian males? Also, I am married to a white man but not because I worship my white parents (actually, for anyone following my work, it’s the complete opposite)–I married him because I am an independent-minded, grown adult who lived with racists, so why would I allow that into my life once again?

The AFWM argument insults an Asian woman’s ability to perceive racism. It implies there couldn’t be any other reason, aside from Asian hate, a woman could ever marry outside her race. The notion itself implies ethnocentrism, something minorities have spent decades overcoming. Yes, it’s true some Asian women excuse white male racist behavior but as humans, we’re all saddled with the same insecurities, racial confusion, guilt, low self-esteem, and other personal issues as any other race. To paint an entire community of couples, including their half-Asian children, as hateful forces ourselves back into oppression instead of forward into truth-seeking.

For adoptees, this hurts when we discovering this mostly online battle, as some of us were conditioned into internalized racism from the very people expected to love us. For others, it’s simply a matter of partner availability. Relocating to a more Asian region isn’t always realistic or feasible. Doing so while confronting their own conflicted racial identities and ensuring they choose a racially appropriate partner is even harder. Adoptees are especially sensitive to such isolation as it wasn’t self-imposed (though many anti-WMAF members imply it is) since our parents–like many parents of minors–controlled the majority of our life choices.

Any person of any race can racially “marry up” and not tarnish the reputations of every other person who dates interracially; those outliers exist everywhere and aren’t reflective of an entire group. People will worship whiteness while others campaign against such toxic behaviors, but adoptees must understand their proximity to whiteness isn’t automatic white worship or negative. We have enough identity issues; who we pick as partners should be our least concern. It also doesn’t mean we’re intending to emasculate Asian males or supporting any negative portrayal of them.

The second issue, that Asian adoptees aren’t “Asian enough” to campaign for our rights or activism, implies our losses exclude us because we haven’t enough lived Asian experience. But we still experience racism, we experience prejudice, we experience identity issues–and we do it completely without, for the most part, any support from the Asian community. We lost a heritage, the heritage non-adoptees have that we desperately seek, while living alongside the dominant racial group. Absorbing those white values wasn’t a choice, but we have the ability to make room for and care about our group’s causes. Perhaps because of our parallel lives we’re more powerful than we think because we have lived in two worlds and are ready to share our experiences.

One interesting related note is female Asian adoptees reporting accusations of “not being Asian enough” to date Asian men. One Chinese adoptee pursued an Asian partner, but because of her background and his strong cultural connection, he rejected her. This scenario is worth considering, as it involves being turned away once again, potentially driving some Asians to white (or other races). Again, it’s not assumed to be the situation in every case, but it questions why a person may date interracially (and why is this even a bad thing nowadays?).

Transracial adoptees, please know that many of us are working hard to raise our voices and your partner choice doesn’t diminish your value as an Asian or a person. But know this dispute exists, and know our warm receptions into the community may be absent from a small sector of people. Still, we will keep talking about this and adding our perspectives, so we can transcend hate, whether self-directed or external. We must unite against racism and fear. As blogger Eliza Romero says:

“While people in interracial relationships obviously shouldn’t be the only voice for a community, their voices and opinions should be heard because there is plenty of valuable insight to be offered.”

who owns an adoptee’s story? overshare versus pride in adoption

Do a search for adoption in the news (human adoption–NOT pet adoption; Google likes to lump those two together) and you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of adoption “journey” stories told not by adoptees, but by adoptive parents.

Sandra Bullock, these random white parents of a transracial adoptee, and yet another white woman’s story of adopting a Chinese baby do make for compelling blog posts and articles. We’ve got the fuzzy-feels of saving a child, helping a child, and of course, lots of tears.

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But that’s not all! Countless books have been written on what it’s like to adopt, from the financial hardships, the invasive home studies, the marriage strain, and the pseudo-enwokening of transracial adoptive parents. Most conclude with a happy tale of a family formed, love gained, and a child destined for greatness.

Why is this a problem?

For adoptees, these parent-centric narratives have several unintended consequences:

  • Parents’ voice overrides the child’s before the child can articulate their side
  • By the time the child can speak up, the community’s already defined the kid’s  life, so any adoptee-generated criticism is automatically discounted
  • Weird photos and personal details of a kid’s life are shared without the child’s permission
  • The kid will be a CHILD FOREVER, based on their early portrayal
  • Traps kid in state of forced gratitude forever

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By selling or sharing these stories–undoubtedly coming from a place of parental pride–I wonder if this borders on exploitation.

As a mother, I’m hesitant to share my son’s um, birth journey. I guess the biological kid equivalent would be his story starting from conception to the push out the womb and all the details in between.

First of all, sharing that would be awkward. Second, he’s going to grow up one day and probably direct teenage angst at me for a zillion reasons and my oversharing of his trip from being the sperm that won to a disgruntled teenager doesn’t need to be complicated by my inability to keep my mouth shut.

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This goes for ANY relationship. You know if you’re guilty, so don’t get mad.

Why is that any different for adoptees?

Being adopted, I get the process of obtaining me was fraught with complications, paperwork, stress, and probably heartache. Sharing that over several decades ago, however, was limited to conversations over wall-mounted corded phones and maybe a Christmas card. Today, I get that instant Facebook likes and blog post shares offer a validation more addicting than those provided by an adoptive-parent support group.

However.

We get you love your adopted child.

We understand the process was difficult.

And we acknowledge infertility sucks.

But please remember your child will inevitably become an adult.  An adult who, upon reflection, will want freedom of expression without being chained to their parents’ pre-existing portrayal and public back-pats.

There’s one other less obvious side effect of these stories and that’s the continuation of adoption as a practice without consideration of an adoptee’s experience.  The sunshine-and-roses narrative–while realistic for some adoptive families–means prospective adoptive parents will use these articles as mirrors for their own experiences, leading to potential horror and disillusion when their child grows up and doesn’t fulfill these pre-existing stereotypes.

To borrow a slightly cliched and Biblical saying, pride comes before a fall. In this case, I ask adoptive parents to restrain themselves a bit for their child’s sake, remembering their kid grows up and deserves to tell their adoption story themselves. Adoptees own their adoptions story. You don’t need the validation of thousands of strangers to justify your decision to adopt your child.

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I’m always hesitant to share so-called unsourced proverbs, but this is totally appropriate here.

 

no, i’m not “anti-adoption”

This has become a point of contention for many people. I’ve decided to repost this just as a friendly reminder.

I am not an absolutist, especially in very human situations like adoption and race.

People must remember not to confuse critical discussion with opposition. Real change can’t happen unless we allow ourselves to think openly and analytically.

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Updated 5/31/18

Before you angrily push the “share” button and furiously type a non-flattering explanation of my site, I’ll clarify my position: I am not anti-adoption, nor am I happily bouncing my way into that “pro-” category.

Thanks to the Internet’s uniquely divisive nature, I need to proclaim my stance in the most neutral, succinct way. And here it goes:

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Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

I am “adopt transracially with extreme prejudice.”

This means:

  • Doing legit research (not just blogs, reddit groups, or other online echochambers)
  • Realistically evaluating your understanding of race and your attitudes toward it
  • Reviewing the community in which you live and objectively assessing its ethnic-friendliness
  • Reading perspectives from both sides of the adoption experience and anticipating potential issues

It also means really, truly sitting with your expectations for transracial adoption and really, truly, honestly appraising your ability to provide for the unique needs of a transracial child.

This may mean listening to anyone else but your family and friends and maybe hearing a transracial adoptee’s (TRAd) perspective, peppered with some honest-to-goodness academic research.

Since there are no hard and fast guidelines established yet for navigating these complexities, I’ll offer suggestions (not solutions) based on forty-plus years of research on the subject and leave you to determine what best works for your family. My hope is that you’ll find some common threads that pull it all together and pick out what works for you.

If you are considering transracial adoption,  this site’s for you.

If you are a transracial adoptive parent (TRAp), this site’s for you.

If you are a TRAd, this site’s for you.

If you are simply interested in exploring racial complexities and how adoption isn’t the solution to ending racial problems, then I think you’ll want to sit and stay awhile.

Like this? Want more? So do I! Find out about my upcoming ventures on my Patreon page!