Category Archives: Racism

annoying stereotypes & microaggressions

inmyshoesI enjoy meeting and talking with other international and transracial adoptees. That we are adopted persons gives us a social identity that is unique. The environmental contexts in which we grow up are doubtless very different, and our adoption journeys are unique; however, when I talk to other internationally adopted persons, there’s a connection. It’s like, he or she gets me. We get each other.

Towards the end of my last semester of grad school, I learned that the student who sat right across from me in my Advanced Practice class was also an adoptee. She was adopted from Korea and grew up in Michigan. She is some twenty years younger, yet I immediately felt that kinship with her. We met for coffee one afternoon after class to commiserate over school and swapped stories about adoption. We laughed about stereotyping and how we have managed to live in a predominantly white world. It felt good to connect with another adoptee who also happens to be a social worker!

Earlier this month, I met with another adoptee, a friend. She, too, was adopted from Korea. We met for lunch at a Vietnamese sandwich shop to catch up. During our conversation, she asked me about my feelings towards international adoption after having completed my thesis and if I had an interest in working in international adoption. It is such a difficult question to answer, and I don’t think that I have a definitive one. We talked about our conflicted feelings towards international adoption. On the one hand, orphans need permanency and loving families. On the other hand, the complexities of international adoption are significant, and there is a great need for others to be educated. There is still so much to learn about international adoption, how it impacts the psychosocial development of adoptees, and how to help prepare and support adoptive parents, as well as adoptees – not that any parent regardless of adoptive status or not could ever be fully prepared for parenthood. But there are ways to better educate the general public and adoptive families and to offer a more realistic picture of this process.

My journey through adoption continues to evolve. Although I have experienced incredible personal growth through the years, I’m not sure that I could work in international adoption, at least not in the capacity of a caseworker. I’m sure that my own personal challenges as an adoptee have much to do with these conflicted feelings. I can help educate adoptive families, provide cultural training and support, try to impact international adoption policy, but don’t think I could manage the actual adoption process. I have several friends who have adopted children internationally, and I always think in the back of my mind that international adoption is a business. I would support greater efforts to prevent the need for adoption altogether…preventive services and services to keep families together.

While we were sitting and conversing, an older white gentleman walked over to us and interrupted our conversation to ask if either of us knew of a good Asian salon where he could get his hair cut. He told us that most of the Asian women he encounters don’t speak very good English and upon hearing our conversation and ability to speak “good” English, felt like we could point him in the right direction. I felt completely annoyed. I told the man that I did not know of any Asian salons as did my friend. The look on his face was one of complete shock. It told me that he assumed we knew the right salon to direct him to. We did not tell the man that we were both adopted and knew as much about Asian salons as the man in the moon. Instead, we watched him walk away, perplexed, and returned to our conversation. I could not shake off how ruffled I felt. Although this man was completely unaware, he had committed a microaggression that was just plain annoying.

I’m glad to have visited with my friend. It was encouraging to hang out with another adoptee, someone who has walked in “my shoes” in many ways. I didn’t ask her if she felt as annoyed as I did by the man who asked us about a hair salon. She seemed to brush it off and was so polite. I took her lead and decided to be polite, too, despite my feelings.

 

transracial parenting

When I was a very young girl, I didn’t think much about being adopted. I didn’t think about the physical differences between my white parents and I. Since my parents and almost everyone around me were white, I thought of myself in the same way – white. This became a problem when I entered kindergarten and realized that my physical appearance was different than the other kids around me. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I grew up in a predominantly white area, Bossier City, Louisiana. Our neighbours were mostly white, middle-class families. There were African American families, too, but I knew that I wasn’t black. There was prejudice and discrimination all around me. I was too young to understand the implications of such bias. In my family, we never talked about race, my race, my adoptive parents’ race, racism, prejudice, etc. But I perceived very early that whites were “superior” to other races. It makes me very sad that such racism existed (and still does) where I grew up and, furthermore, within my own family. I often wondered how my adoptive mother felt about me when I heard her make racist remarks toward others of a different race. It made me struggle and lose respect for my mom. I thought silently that she was a hypocrite.

At my current internship, I spend time with families who adopt children transracially through the child welfare system. These are typically white families who adopt African American, biracial, or Hispanic children. Maybe it’s me, but I am always surprised at how little time is spent discussing with adoptive parents issues of race, culture, and identity. Couples in the process of adopting seem to minimize the importance of these issues often thinking that because the child(ren) who will be placed with them permanently are so young, they have time to plan how to manage such issues. I would dare say that parents of internationally adopted children receive even less education on race, culture, and identity (less overall required training in general) than families who adopt through child welfare. Prospective foster and adoptive parents must complete a 10-week training at many Arizona adoption agencies called PS-MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting). Arizona is a little more diverse than Louisiana, but still mostly White at 84.3% of the population (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/04000.html). I would hope that White adoptive parents would want their adopted black or Hispanic children to grow up with a strong sense of identity and connection to their cultural heritage. I personally believe that, in the best interest of the child, children should be placed with families of the same ethnic/racial background. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, African American and Hispanic families who adopt children from the child welfare system, at least here in Arizona. I wish that we could recruit families of African American and Hispanic descent who are financially able, willing, and have the emotional/psychological capacity to adopt children through child welfare. I do believe it’s better for a child to be adopted into a family capable of providing the kind of love and care necessary regardless of race rather than languish in the system.

We would like to think that racism does not exist. We would like to believe that love is enough. Some would like to embrace the idea of being colorblind – that we are all human beings and that the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. But in our society it does matter, and being colorblind does not really work. Racism is alive and well, granted that some areas of the country hold to racist views more than others. There are potential risks inherent in transracial adoption. Adoptive parents must develop cultural competence and the tools necessary to help their adopted child(ren) manage and integrate cultural differences. There are children’s books that discuss race at a level meant for very young children. Family discussions held regularly on issues of race and culture are another way to prepare children for racism and/or discrimination and to help children develop a sense of ethnic pride. Proactive is better than reactive. Studies show that adoptive parents who demonstrate a high regard  toward their adopted child’s race foster within their child(ren) a greater sense of ethnic pride.

Transracially adopted persons will explore their ethnicity sooner or later. Familial support, especially during the adolescent years, will help transracially adopted children develop a greater sense of self and ethnic identity. It may seem insignificant, but how race, culture, and identity are negotiated in a transracially adopted child’s developmental years will undoubtedly affect his or her psychological and emotional adjustment across the lifetime.