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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sundered: a call to unite female chinese adoptees worldwide

It’s a beautiful thing when transracial adoptees use their exceptional talents to raise our voices and tell our stories. Over the next few months, I’ll be featuring adoptees’ works, whether it be visual or performing art, literature, memoir, or even monthly subscription boxes for transracial family education. I do this in an effort to support my fellow adoptees, as the more we lift each other’s voices, the stronger we will rise. I hope you’ll enjoy their work as much as I do and support their missions!

SUNDERED: A Collective Art Piece by Eva Lin Fahey

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Eva Lin Fahey, a 22-year-old Chinese adoptee, is one such adoptee using art to tell an adoption story. Eva is currently coordinating a project called SUNDERED, a massive effort to unite female Chinese adoptees with their identities. By helping Chinese adoptees visualize themselves not as individuals with missing heritages, but as a collective family with a shared lost culture, this project will bring their stories alive among each other and their greater communities.

Why only female Chinese adoptees?

Eva’s aim is to showcase the female Chinese adoptee narrative, as they were the group most impacted by the One Child Policy.  The world largely overlooks the impact China’s One Child Policy and historical male gender preference had on its lost girls. Also, as a female Chinese adoptee, it’s also the group she understands most intimately.

SUNDERED: About the Project

Purpose

  • To explore the notion of origin and how it reaches beyond a physical birthplace or location
  • Visually explain the dramatic effects of China’s historical gender preference imbalance
  • Embrace our bonds within both our adoptive families and that we share with our birth country and families

The Goal

  • Creation of a hand-stitched document of Chinese adoptee photos, connected through a quilt of faces
  • Creation of a visually impactful painting, demanding the attention our stories deserve

SUNDERED: Your contribution

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As Eva says, “transracial adoption, regardless of your own personal experience with it, has dramatically changed who you are and how you live.”

This is your chance to tell your story.

Right now, Eva is collecting print photos from female Chinese adoptees born between 1978-2016.

Photo specifications:

  • Must be sized 2×2 or 5cm by 5cm
  • Can be of you from any age
  • Optional: A few sentences about yourself; this information may appear in the final project
  • Must be mailed to
    • Eva Lin Fahey
    • PO Box 1378
    • Northampton, MA 01061
    • United States
  • Print photos are strongly preferred. Please contact Eva via email if you’d like to submit a digital photo.

I strongly encourage you to share this post and Eva’s work with any adoptees you know. The more we network and share our work, the greater our chance to finally be heard.

For more information about SUNDERED or to find out more about Eva’s work, please visit Eva’s website.

 

the COLORSBIND BOX: a monthly journey to a not-so-colorblind transracial adoption community

Subscription boxes are one of those things people either love or don’t care about. I always fell into the latter category, because I found them pricey and/or hard to cancel…until, of course, I discovered ipsy. That’s a story for a different blog!

As a transracial adoptee, I’m flummoxed by the lack of ongoing transracial adoption education provided by adoption agencies. Perplexed and frustrated, but not surprised. What COLORSBIND boxes–lanched by Nedra L. and Bryan K. Hotchkins–nobly set out to accomplish is both admirable and massive; through a monthly subscription box, transracial adoptive families of black adoptees will receive a package of themed items (from t-shirts to books). Opening small worlds and forming community connections is the clear goal, offering education and interactions where societal gaps remain.

COLORSBIND boxes help your children see Black people as beautiful, smart and valuable, exposing your family to things that make you laugh and think. -The COLORSBIND website

Unboxing Transracial Adoptive Families

When I discovered COLORSBIND, my first instinct as a Korean adoptee was a slightly bitter, “Why just black transracial adoptive families?” It’s true Asians are routinely forgotten in racial discourse, and in the COLORSBIND box, it overlooks a key fact: Asians are among the most common transracial adoptee, as well as the most common intercountry adoptee, as well.

I got over my knee-jerk reaction quickly, especially after I offered to review one of boxes. Upon arrival, what appeared as a missed opportunity is actually an open door for inclusivity. The COLORSBIND box is a beautifully simple and scalable idea. Its creators, one of whom is a black transracial adoptee, launched the project in 2018 to promote child-centered culturally-competent transracial adoptive families. For Asians, Indians, Native Americans, and other groups feeling left out, don’t: The founders have loose plans for expansion and I know I’d be willing and able to help create a similar box for Korean transracial adoptive families.

The Beauty on the Inside

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Look how gorgeous this box is printed! Take that, Amazon.

I was struck by the care and resources invested in this small, yet powerful, box. Here’s what was under the attractively-printed, full-color box lid (that’s never making its way to my recycling bin–ever):

A book!
A t-shirt!
A beautiful photo of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man printed across the author’s face!
A glossy magazine!
A flag!
Fancy shredded paper that my almost-four-year-old son adored!

The commitment, love, and care invested in this box’s contents (and its mission) were palpable. Each item was nestled on top of the other, carefully folded and arranged in an organized, professional presentation. I couldn’t believe how much it contained, delivering item after informative item.

A themed cultural experience

Each month’s COLORSBIND box is, as I said before, tied into some theme. For June, it was Juneteenth, an event I’d heard of but (shamefully) couldn’t articulate. As I move through each of the items provided, you’ll learn how they’re connected to the theme and transracial adoption.

Let’s go through its contents and I’ll provide the play-by-play of my thoughts.

Note: Due to my excitement, I forgot the actual order in which the items were packed. Sorry!

  1. An actual full copy of Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth.colorsbind june 2018 book
    • “Are you freaking kidding me!? I LOVE books and can’t believe they sent this to me. Holy crap. I never read this book! I still need to read Invisible Man! I’m so behind in my reading! It’s like these people READ. MY. MIND.
      “What is Juneteenth though? I’m so embarrassed, I should know this…if I don’t know this, others surely don’t, too. Good thing they sent it.”I wonder if people will take the time to read it. They better.”
  2. A t-shirt!

    • “OMG they asked my size and really did send me a t-shirt. It’s gorgeous and actually not some crappy CafePress screenprint. Holy heck. But my readers still won’t get a picture of me in it so here’s a piture of some happy dude wearing it in what looks like a BJ’s.”
      guy wearing juneteenth shirt
  3. The full-color, glossy magazine, COLORSBIND Us Magazine 

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    • “Wow, this is legit. There’s a table of contents, a feature story, an Editorial section and…wait? What’s this? They actually featured an area of the USA and represented upcoming black cultural events? That’s a TON of effort. Go them. Respect.colorsbind 2018 events
      “Let’s see, what else…book recommendations for kids and adults, definite plus. Shows they’re thinking more deeply than ‘make this recipe and call it a day.’ An art section featuring drawings by black adoptees, pretty cool. Way to generate inclusion.

      “But what’s this Feature? An article by a white man calling transracial adoption ‘interracial’ adoption? Hmm…okay, common error. But wow, he’s admitting adopting black doesn’t make him ‘woke.’ I wish more people were like him. I hope the COLORSBIND people feature more parents like this, but you know what’s missing? A feature about a black transracial adoptee. That would slay.

      “Totally digging their thoroughness here. And…wow! They explain Juneteenth to me! They honestly did their work here to make sure nothing would be missed. Wow.”

  4. A mission statement and contact card
    colorsbind june 2018 mission cardTotally fridge-worthy. Should be sent to transracial groups all over.

    • “This is going on my fridge so anyone who comes over will ask me about it. Do they make car magnets? I’d totally rock a car magnet.”
  5. This gorgeous image

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    I’m that person who doesn’t remove anything out of its factory wrappings, including the sticky plastic covers on new phones, remote controls, etc. I know, I know.
    • “I don’t know how decided to make this picture of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man transposed over his face, but this is awesome and I hope someday someone creates a portrait of my face with my words. I’m framing this.”
  6. The official Juneteenth flag!
    colorsbind juneteenth flag

    • “Have they literally thought of everything I needed to decorate my barren home office? I didn’t even know a Juneteenth flag existed. COLORSBIND is education and functional. These people are so invested in this project. I freaking love it.”

Is a COLORSBIND Box subscription worth it?

Yes.

I’m a discerning person, but this is an easy (literally, all transracial families have to do is subscribe) way to involve your entire family in your child’s racial tapestry. I

It’s not condescending, it’s not preachy, it’s not corny. And a portion of the proceeds go to the Think Positionality Education Foundation, an organization offering adoptee-led transracial post-adoption education (finally!).

It’s modern, it’s applicable to families no matter where they’re residing in the USA, it’s interactive, it’s accessible.

But again, it’s currently targeted at transracial adoptive families with black children. This limits its reach and might turn off families who already feel isolated. Obviously, with its co-founder being a black adoptee this totally makes sense. On the upside, COLORBIND’s attention to detail and reproducible model makes easily expandable for transracial adoptive families of all colors. And I totally wish I’d thought of it.

Is a COLORSBIND Box enough?

Like other post-adoption education and cultural trainings, signing up is voluntary. The folks who really need COLORSBIND likely won’t ever consider this (or anything else) as a resource, but for those families in the middle–you know, the ones who don’t know it all but are open to learning–will benefit and should subscribe (prices here). So, it’s an excellent start.

I want this idea to take off. I want it to work. I want others to initiate similar projects, not to steal COLORBIND’s thunder but to emphasize and fill in the gaps where adoption agencies leave off. Adoption is filled with memoirs and blogs and social media accounts promising and working for change, but COLORSBIND is taking that activism offline and bringing transracial adoptees’ voices to life through tangible objects and valuable keepsakes.

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Receiving a box for review was an honor and I hope to review their future boxes. This is a novel concept, whose creators embraced a monumentally difficult task (making cultural immersion family-friendly, informational, yet fun) and are, so far, doing it right.

No matter where you’re at in the adoption community, I urge you to purchase at least one box and support the COLORSBIND mission and a transracial adoptee’s work. And please let me know when you get yours–I’d love to hear from you!

Want to order a July 2018 box? They’re taking orders until July 5! New subscribers get 5% off.

move over, primal wound: same family, different colors is transracial adoption’s new guidebook

“Skin color matters because we are a visual species and we respond to one another based on the way we physically present.”

I’ve mentioned Lori L. Tharps’ book in several other articles, but I’ve finally decided that it needs its own feature.

In light of the recent “white woman drives her and her black adopted children off cliff and kills them” story and the “Indian adoptee beaten to death by her white family” event and the many other documented cases of transracial adoption gone horribly awry, I can’t think of a better time to discuss this book.

To be clear, I’m referring to transracial adoption as white families adopting children of color.

When I initially started writing, I took an ambivalent stance on transracial adoption. Specifically, I said

I am “adopt transracially with extreme prejudice.”

But several months ago, I read Same Family, Different Colors and have been sitting with Tharps’ findings ever since, carefully weighing her honest accounts of interfamilial colorism among non-adoptive families with my transracial adoption experience and research. Tharps examines how African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and bi-racial Americans confront color in their own families, questioning her own child’s light skin tone against her own, wondering how society perceives a dark-skinned mother with an almost-white daughter.

Through extensive conversations with ethnic families, Tharps found that even “microscopic” skin color variances can “impact everything from interactions among family members, parenting practices, and sibling relationships to racial identity formation.”

Tharps continues, saying what all adoptees (especially transracial adoptees) know:

[E]ven in the twentieth century, the general public does not understand that families don’t match.

“People expect families to match,” Tharps writes, “despite the fact that interracial marriage has been legal in all 50 states since 1967.”

My aim here is to position Tharps’ work within the scope of transracial adoption and ask: If same-race, non-adoptive families experience colorism, how are transracial adoptive families expected to succeed?

In her chapter discussing black colorism, Tharps states that “[b]lack family parenting might look different than white family parenting.” Specifically, Tharps points out “raising Black children adds an additional layer of responsibility for parents.” This me wonder if white parents are aware of these issues and can adequately prepare transracially adopted children for such survival.

Other academics tentatively suggest that no, white parents cannot prepare black children (or, I’d argue, other children of color) for a racially-colored life. Since, as Tharps makes clear, much of this parental racial “training” is done via “osmosis–meaning most children simply pick up on the opinions and attitudes of their parents–some of the lessons are more overt.” In a transracial family, discussion of race would be anecdotal at best. And, when viewed through a “white” lens, racial attitudes are formed less on colored experiences and more on moralistic views.

One woman Tharps interviewed, Linda, enjoyed playing outside as a child, but recalls her mother’s admonishments that doing so was making her “Black.” Because of the colorism within the family, Linda came to understand that “Black was not something she wanted to be.” Her sisters, meanwhile, were praised for their light skin and straight hair, with her father’s dark skin causing internal family strife so bad it eventually tore the family apart.

In a Latina example, a woman’s lifetime of teasing from her family about her “African nose and springy hair” drove her to straighten her hair and undergo a nose job.

Another interesting finding was that some

“[b]lack parents treat their children differently based on the shade of their skin.”

Current transracial adoptive parents have spoken with me, doing their best to navigate their child’s color and race. I don’t have easy answers but the best ones are those who acknowledge their limitations. There isn’t an easy answer, but my hope is transracial adoptive parents and adoptees read this book now (yes, I’m that excited about it) because it’ll help spotlight the real truth:

  • Color matters.
  • Society will judge non-matching families.
  • You won’t be able to figure it out.

Instead, let’s focus on understanding and admitting our chosen family’s inherent boundaries. Perhaps from within that framework, and with ongoing education, we’ll dispel the hope of a white saving grace, embracing our differences while constantly advocating for deeper conversations on color, family, and the myth of the homogeneous family.

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I can’t emphasize enough how highly I recommend this book. If you’ve already adopted transracially, it’ll give you an amazingly genuine insight into the difficulties color creates, hopefully motivating you to continue learning from, speaking to, and truly listening to transracial adoptees.

If you’re considering transracial adoption, Tharps’ work will prepare you for the intense struggle monoracial and interracial families endure. Consider their perspectives when adding a transracial adoptee to your home.

announcement: holy heck my first nextshark article dropped!

So, I have some amazing friends and collaborators and one of them put me in touch with an even more amazing person and ran my article on Nextshark. Forever grateful and lots of joy here! It’s my first no-holds-barred piece and I’m nervous and scared but it had to be said. Read an excerpt below then take a look at the full piece!

Think Adopting Children of Color Makes You Woke? It Doesn’t

“Transracial adoption is about knowing a good home and a loving family aren’t enough. Kids of color need connections with people who resemble them and not just a few token times a year at culture camp. They need adults who’ve been called a chink and told to go back to their own country and asked to stop barbecuing in public places because those are the people who’ve experienced their reality….

…The white adoptive parents doing it right by their children of color acknowledge their privilege, admit they won’t be able to fully relate to their child, and constantly engage. They engage — deeply — with their child’s ethnic community. They talk to other adult adoptees who don’t just spin happy endings for rainbow families, and most of all, they know transracial adoption means love can’t transcend the loss of racial identity.”

Read more here…

white like me

When I was twelve, my mother – who loved surprising me with books – brought me Black Like Me.  Until then, she’d never shown any interest in racial studies.

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Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

Because of her unusual book choice, the story stuck with me. Although John Howard Griffin’s experiment gets the side eye today, at the time his work validated my struggle. Griffin felt the stares, got asked the probing personal questions, and experienced society’s subtle way of disenfranchising minorities. To me, he was the first White person who got it.

Of course, minorities can speak for themselves now, eliminating the need for a White male translator (though some still try). However, transracial adoptees occupy a unique space in racial conversations. Since we’ve lived as racial others within our families and communities, we know that sometimes it is what’s outside that counts.

But what does being Asian feel like? Or White? Does it feel like…anything? I believe the question should really be: What does not being White feel like?

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Dr. Anna R. McPhatter, Dean of Social Work at Morgan State University,  suggests that  “[w]e are all burdened with the Eurocentric bias that is the foundation of our formal and informal education.” I’d also apply this to family structure: We assume that families in the United States are racially homogenous. Anything different still raises eyebrows.

Transracial adoptees, though, challenge that belief: We take on our White family’s identity despite our visual appearance.

Korean adoptees desire to perform a White identity, but these performances are disrupted when others initiate communication about their Asian identities. – Sarah Docan-Morgan

But identities are fragile. In 2010, Sara Docan-Morgan reported that adoptees often find their family status challenged.  Questions like “Now who is this?” and “Is she really yours?” frustrate adoptees; as noted above, these remind us of the “exclusive conceptualization of families as biologically related and also [cause] confusion about how people could question the bonds between [the adoptee] and the only people [s/he] knew as family.”

Intrusive interactions, defined as “interpersonal encounters wherein people outside the immediate family question or comment on the adoptee and/or the adoptive members’ relationships with one another,” threaten an adoptee’s sense of security, as both a family member and an ethnic individual.

As McPhatter says: “People of color are adept at reading the slightest nuance or cue that carries even the most carefully concealed message of disapproval, discomfort, or nonacceptance because of one’s race, culture, or ethnicity.” Transracial adoptees are no different and in fact, may be slightly hypersensitive because of our constant racialization by others.

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In any case, transracial adoptees spend their lives as outsiders, regardless of how well-accepted they were by their families. Our status as both immigrants and racial minorities makes us particularly vulnerable to how others perceive us.

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I think this is an important start to a larger conversation that could truly benefit transracial adoptive parents. Many TRAps ask how they can support their children in racial identity development, so I’ll be continuing this topic in my next post!

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All references can be found here.

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