Gabbie Beckley on Racism

On 3 April 2022, a group of 19 Australian intercountry adoptees participated in an ICAV consultation for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who have developed a Concept Paper for a National Anti-Racism Framework. We believe intercountry/transracial adoptees are under represented in race discussions in almost every adoptive country and wanted to make sure we had a say. The next few blogs will be a selection of the inputs from adoptees who participated to give a more nuanced insight into our lived experience of racism and our thoughts on what needs to be done to better support us.

by Gabbie Beckley, adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia, clinical social worker.

Speaking out against racism is everyone’s responsibility

I have experienced many and varied forms of racism in my 40 years of living, walking and breathing in this world. It has impacted me in so many ways, how do I write them all down? I have grown up navigating this white washed world as a proud woman of colour, however being proud of who I am and what I have become in my life are not mutually exclusive. It has taken a lot of hard work, soul searching and conscious reflection many times over to become the most evolved person I am to date, and I am constant work in progress.

I have many family stories of racism, ones which now can be seen for what they were, in the time and place and the generational context from the speaker, not a reflection of my family as a whole.

One of the earliest memories I have is being told that a member of my family said, “No black child is going to carry my name!” But once I was put into my family member’s arms, all the racist bullshit fell away and I was treated like everyone else. As I grew up, I in turn had great love and respect for this person, I forgave their ignorance and focussed on our shared love of cricket and footy!

I have had experiences during my primary school years that I can still remember as if it were yesterday. Being kicked in the shins for sticking up of myself, for getting into physical altercations with racist bullies. For having teachers say to me, “I am ashamed to come from the same country as you”.

I have been called the N word more times than I can count. I have experienced overt, covert, intentional and unintentional racism throughout my life. I have been racially profiled by the police, been followed around in shopping centres by security guards.

I have worked in workplaces where people have said to me “where are you from” and what about your “real parents”.  I have had people say to me, “Your English is so good for someone who was not born here”. I have had a boss not talk to me for months at a time because of something he perceived I had done wrong. But it wasn’t the case, he was just a racist asshole and I was so glad to leave that workplace and step into the workplace of my dreams!

 I have not being given opportunities to further my career because of people’s attitudes, resentments and petty jealousy, which really boils down to, we don’t want to work for a person of colour.

I have been underestimated, dismissed, undervalued and not seen my whole life, which is why I probably am drawn to social work and the fight for the underdog and to try and dismantle the structural inequalities that remain so entrenched in our society.

I am a fighter, I am a social justice warrior, I am a firm believer in the power to make a difference and a positive impact on people’s actions, I believe in kindness and giving people a fair-go.

How has this impacted me? Well I consider myself as a person who thinks and reflects deeply about my actions and decisions. I have had the “what to do if you are stopped by the police” conversation with my children, in the wake of the well published murders of George Floyd, Tamar Rice, Brianna Taylor, and not to forget the tragic tale of our first nations peoples with the highest incarceration rate for young people and all the Black deaths in custody in which no-one is or has been accountable. I am sad, I am angry, I am dismayed that this is the current state of affairs that my children and I live in. Yet I do have hope – hope that we can build a community that brings about change, to work with like-minded individuals who share my passion and drive for positive change.

My experiences of racism have shaped the person I am, the parent I am and the social worker that I am. It impacts on my thoughts, actions and deeds. I am mindful with how people view me, I am respectful in the face of racist pigs, and I refuse to be drawn down to their level. I think it has had an impact on my mental health when I was younger, it caused a lot of self-doubt and searching for my place in this world.

I think that one of my saving graces has been the reconnection with my birth family and culture. Getting to know them is getting to know myself! I have spent the last 22 years knowing, growing and loving my family and I am thankful every day that I sit in a unique position where I am part of two worlds and I can sit comfortably in both. 

What would I suggest be done to better address the racism experienced by intercountry/ transracial adoptees?

I believe that adoption does not have to be the first resort. I believe that keeping family together in their birth countries with support via sponsorship/ education/ income generating activities would be beneficial to adoptees in general but specifically in terms of their mental health and connection to their roots and cultures. If adoptions do have to occur – maintaining a relationship with family is imperative! This includes birth parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents and siblings.

There needs to be a greater emphasis on the adopter’s thoughts and feelings in relation to adopting a child of colour. Deep dive into their history and experiences, get them to take annual courses on the impact of racism and how to be an anti-racism ally/ advocate. Ask them to look at their friendship circles, is it diverse? Does it represent a wide range of culturally appropriate, socio-economic, gender diverse people?

I think we should try collectively to share our stories and experiences, in the hope that with great knowledge comes great responsibility – and that is everyone’s business!

For more from Gabbie, read her paper shared years ago and included on our Research page: Human Rights & Social Justice in Intercountry Adoption

Confronting my greatest fear led to my best discovery!

by Sharinda Nathaliya, adopted from Sri Lanka to the Netherlands.

As a child

Last year has been a rollercoaster ride for me. Through it, I’ve come to learn to let go of unnecessary control by looking straight into the eyes of certain fears caused by trauma.

It was a burnout that brought me to a turning point of realization. I needed a different perspective to chance my life by looking at it from another different angle. A new chapter had started. I soon went to therapy that helped me break down the wall I built around myself which I didn’t know how to remove. It was an incredible journey to witness myself, first class at the front row. Finally, I am able to reach were I am heading!

I’d become enthusiastic by confronting whatever I fear. To be honest, I feared to search for my biological mother. She was searched for and found, 7 years ago by a man I didn’t trust. I went on with life in full effect. I felt scared on and off and years went by and I still didn’t reach out to her. I felt ashamed of myself. I felt and still feel guilty. I thought that maybe she would be angry at me, she would blame me that I searched but didn’t reached out. I doubted if she wanted to see me still, or the worst case scenario, that she would no longer be alive.

I had to step beyond my feelings and figure it out, whatever the outcome would be.

My mum and I on social media

On 27 April 2021 my Sri Lankan mother was found. We FaceTimed three times. I told her that I’m sorry I let her wait for so long and explained her what the reason was. She understood, she had a bad feeling about that man too. He treated her like she was less. The information he provided was false. She doesn’t have a mental illness. She’s not educated and that’s it. I don’t have an older half brother. I am the oldest and I have a younger brother by the same father. A father who’s ill and lives with my grandmother. I needed some time to get used to all this new information to switch it with the information from 7 years ago. My feeling was correct and my biological mother had the same feeling.

I recognized the feeling she gave me. She gave me the same feeling my beloved grandmother gave me. Before I saw her online, I dressed up. Did my hair and make up, carefully selecting which outfit to wear. My nerves went through the roof but she looked through it all and didn’t care about my looks. She saw me for being me, her daughter as human being. Something instantly changed in me. A weight felt off my shoulders, I felt at peace which I’ve never felt before. We just stared, laughed, waved hands and blew kisses to each other. Behind my laptop she is watching me on a phone screen. So surreal, so epic, so static!

Me today

If you’d told me 3 years ago that I would meet my biological mother on a digital screen, I would have laughed in your face. I never thought this would happen at all. That was the control, that was the blocked emotions, that was the fear. The pieces of the puzzle fell in place. I was shocked to see the similarities, the smile, the frown.

Days after the first meeting, I stared at myself in the mirror. It felt awkward but my self confidence began to rise. I no longer felt alone through finally seeing someone with the same features as mine.

I finally have the courage to go and meet her, to get to know her, with patience. To take time for these precious changes and chances in life. I want to make a documentary of my trip back to Sri Lanka. To meet her, take the time to know her, meet my father and grandmother. I also need to start the search for my younger brother who’s also adopted and can be anywhere on this world. I want to experience the island of Sri Lanka, the culture, nature, history and art — to do this together with my biological mother. In one year’s time, I want to figure out what Sri Lanka does for my identity and expand my own narrative of adoption.

I have many questions that I want to explore through my documentary. Am I able to connect with my biological family? What happens after? How do I develop a relationship when I have differences in language, culture, values?

For those who are open, I’ll provide all the information I gain during this journey to my fellow adoptees through my documentary. Why? Because it is the least I can do to help others who travel a similar path.

If you’re interested, you can read more about my documentary idea here.

Much Love
Sharinda Nathaliya

For more about Sharinda’s story, her recent Dutch article was published here and watch her self made video with english subtitles.

I Lost My Mother Twice

by Linzi Ibrahim adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia, founder of Sri Lankan Adoptees.

I miss you every day but most of all today.
The pain never fades.
You were taken from me twice, I have grieved you twice.
You lived the hardest life and still managed to be the most incredible human.
You were kind, loving, fun, confident, and an incredible cook!
From the moment I came back, you were instantly a loving mother towards me, picking up where we left off.
I felt like I was home, I felt fully relaxed for the first time.
Amma, I could see the pain and trauma in your eyes.
I know it was hard to see me and remember all of the trauma you felt many years ago.
I had always felt it too.
I miss you!

Linzi and her Amma, born deaf/mute. Linzi was stolen from her and put up for adoption.

#amma #adopteevoices #adopteestories #adopteemovement #srilanka #intercountryadoption #interracialadoption

Dualities

by Dilsah de Rham adopted from Sri Lanka to Switzerland.

Dual Face

Ink, Watercolours, Pastel

This is also about the dilemma of the dualities in life faced by adoptees in general. The feeling of the blind unconsciousness – the sad, overwhelmed feelings when we are not aware, the awareness about our identity, feeling in-between the white and biological cultures we belong to as intercountry adoptees.

#artworkfeatures
#adopteeartist
#artist
#artforsalebyartist
#artworkstudio
#indigenousartist
#ink#pastel#watercolour
#duality#face
#paintingprocess
#paintinganddecorating
#paint
#emotion#cry#eye#close
#painting
#queerart
#dilsahthesolution

I am an Orphan

by Ramon C Manjula born in Sri Lanka, adopted to the Netherlands.

I am an orphan for a few months. I’ve been crying since October 2017 for my adoptive mother and I miss my adoptive father since July 2020.

I know all my life that the world is harsh and missing empathy. Lots of questions sit crying in my heart. Am I longing for the safety of the past? Or do I prefer to travel to a paradise in the future?

My name is Ramon C Manjula. In 1984 I was born and adopted from the city of Kalutara, Sri Lanka. I was seven weeks old.

In me there is a melancholy that borders depression but passes by itself ’cause yes, what more can a therapist say?

I can’t maintain friendships nor find a girlfriend. I can’t go with compliments like, “You can have any woman you want because you are such a beautiful man”. It’s horrible those questions like, “What about women, Ramon?” or, “How is it that someone like you doesn’t have a girlfriend?”

After a life full of well-intentioned praises but without a relationship, I’m at home lonely and disrupted.

A few years ago, in the summer of 2016 — during a party for adopted Sri Lankan people like me — I met more misunderstanding and hurtfulness than a soul mate. I now realise that disappointed and hurt me. For years I screamed that pain with rage and disgust.

The woman who said she “really liked me” and that I was “a beautiful man” but “didn’t feel anything else for me”, pushed me back to the time when my biological mother did love me, but more or less said, “Sorry, I reject you, I will not take care of you”.

But also years before that I struggled with questions about life and asked: “Who or what is God?” As a result, I have started to deepen myself into religion just by watching documentaries, watching films of biblical stories et cetera.

Only around September 2011 did I start to deepen into Islam. I have also been guided — like 99.9 % of humanity do — by corrupt media. Why do recitations of the Quran miraculously disappear from YouTube?

More and more I learned about the vision of life behind the second largest religion in the world. About not drinking alcohol, not using drugs and smoking cigarettes. And especially about the the theological base. What has really changed, denied and corrupted over the centuries through the alleged innocent Roman Catholic Church?

I always wanted to address the world with a vision that would have value even after my death. So I’ve blown characters into life and started processing theological facts with them into a thriller.

For nine years I’ve toiled on the first part of my life’s work but now after everything I’ve been through, I’ve learned about humanity, myself and the world. Today I declare my message that man has completely lost his way with: “The pilgrims trip to a lost paradise.”

*** What do you think? Can writing a book be therapeutic? ***

Little Question

by Pradeep adopted from Sri Lanka to Belgium, Founder of Empreintes Vivantes.

Have you already made an appointment with yourself?

I remember having to forge myself, like many adoptees! Forge my own personality without any stable benchmarks and this mainly due to the absence of biological parents. Indeed, children who live with their biological parents do not realise that their choices, their tastes, their decisions etc., are often (not always) unconsciously oriented, guided, inspired by the bases provided by their biological parents. Example: I won’t be a mechanic like daddy, but I know what I could have possibly done so because daddy did it. Mom is in the social business so I may have a predisposition for this area. Then there are the children who go directly to the same jobs as their biological parents because it seems to them to be a form of safe bet.

In short, what I mean is that I was dumped for a long time, like many of my fellow adoptees, I think. Not all but a lot. And I asked myself a lot of questions. So it is true that this also happens to children / teenagers who live with their organic parents, but in a different way. The basis of the questioning is in my opinion divergent. This is why I also remember having made an appointment with myself. I really took several evenings. Several moments to find myself within me. And ask me simple, banal questions which were of monumental importance to me.

Who are you Prad? What do you like? What is your favourite color? Not the one that will make your answer interesting or make you better. The colour you like. Black. No, come to think of it, I like blue. The same goes for music. What’s your dress style? What is best for you? What are you good at? You seem cold, sometimes distant. Are you really or is it a shell? Is there one area that attracts you more than another? All these questions that we have already been asked in other circumstances, I have asked myself. You love sport? Yes, but I’m not a football fan unlike all my friends. Don’t be afraid to say it, to assume it. For that and for everything else. Be yourself. Think of you. Only to you. Don’t live for others. Not for your friends, not for your great love, not even for your adoptive parents. Don’t lie to yourself, build yourself.

We can build our own benchmarks. Our own bases. It is such a difficult and wonderful exercise for us adoptees. But I think it is necessary because the main thing that remains is to listen to yourself.

If you haven’t already, take the time to meet. Make an appointment with yourself.

With love,
Prad

Read Pradeep’s One More Day Without You

One More Day Without You

by Pradeep (Philippe Mignon)
Founder Empreintes Vivantes for Sri Lankan adoptees, Belgium

One more day without you.

But this day is special because if I believe my adoption papers, it’s your birthday today.

And today I don’t care if they’re wrong.

Today you would be 69 years old.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you.

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss you.

Not a day goes by never to return.

Not a day goes by without giving me hope.

But not a day goes by without taking it from me too.

Maybe one day we will meet again.

Maybe one day you will turn around.

And that day, I’ll be there too, and I won’t blame you.

May you take care of yourself while I find you.

Wherever you are, whatever you do I love you mom.

Good intentions gone wrong

The dark side of Voluntourism and Adoption

by Kristopher Hinz adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia.

In the five year period between 2008 and 2013, struggling Peruvian and Bolivian farmers were plunged even deeper into poverty. Western demand for the world’s latest “superfood” meant that the median price of their staple food, quinoa, skyrocketed dramatically, and suddenly it was even harder for these subsistence farmers to put food on the table (1,2).

Wealthy, middle class and vegan, it was well intentioned white hipsters (who often think of themselves as the most ethical consumers in the market) that were the main drivers of this catastrophe with their insatiable taste for the healthy grain.

This, it seems, was a case of supply and demand gone wrong- a wealthy segment of the market having a disproportionate share of control over capitalism’s puppet strings, which they then unwittingly used to widen the disparity between the developed and developing world.

This is not a new phenomenon, however. The “Quinoa crisis” was merely the latest Western craze to shake the foundations of the third world. Another industry full to the brim of young people’s good intentions has also recently been the cause of much disruption in the poorer corners of the world.

Voluntourism provides the opportunity for university students or high school leavers on their gap year to travel abroad and volunteer at orphanages in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They fly home with smiles on their faces and happy hearts, but there is a dark side to their activism.

Those children they think are so gorgeous on their numerous selfies, who are already vulnerable and emotionally volatile, are left with even greater attachment issues as they watch yet another role model walk in and out of their life after a few weeks of cuddles and a couple of extra toys.

It has been demonstrably shown that many of these children are not indeed orphans at all, and are merely products of “baby farms” that exist solely for voluntourists and prospective white adoptive parents (3,4, 5, 6).

Young mothers mired deep into poverty and desperate for a way out, send their children away to orphanages for a chance at an institutionalised education. This heartbreaking decision is made all the more tantilising by the offer of a much-needed financial incentive. 

What of the lucky ones then? Whose bright smiles and eager hugs are enough to sway their altruistic and lonely white guests to become their adoptive parents?

There are many who are indeed fortunate when they finally make their way to their shiny new developed nation, with it’s big skyscrapers (or neat suburban lawns) and fridges full of foods they’d never dreamed of.

But like the quinoa trade, there simply isn’t enough protection for those where the original point of sale was made. As a result of being able to simply “buy” a child without being checked for their ability to be fit parents (as is the case in the West with a stringent foster care system) many of these adoptive parents make mistakes that cause long term identity issues for their beloved children.

Swept up in the joy of having the family they wanted at last, they neglect to allow their children to fully express all of their feelings about their adoption, requiring only to hear positive thoughts such as gratitude. Many adoptions end in tears for the child, their new family or both. Many abusive adoptive parents are grossly unfit to adopt and do so for intentions related to social status, or simply are not the type of people who should have been parents to begin with.

But even in the best cases, no adoption, no matter how idyllic, is ever perfect for a child’s mental state. The best of parents will still chastise their adoptive children or feel hurt when they express feelings of loneliness or disconnection with their new culture and longing for understanding of their birth culture. Adoptive parents (including in my own experience) will also take it as a personal affront when their child expresses frustration with racist elements of their adopted culture.

Of course, like the vegans, these good parents made a “purchase” in good faith and most of them were full of nothing but positive intentions. But also much like the vegans, the fact the market was skewed so heavily in their favour meant that they were able to do what they wanted without needing to consider how their actions may impact those who are less fortunate.

Across both East and West, prospective white parents’ demands for an adoptive child is seen as an unquestioned right, while parents of colour who have adopted white children are regularly and rudely accosted when in public with them (7).

The skewed market must be balanced back in favour of the developing world. This will allow for greater scrutiny to be placed on prospective adoptive parents seeking children from the third world and will ensure that such parents are adequately informed about the challenges that their child will face as an interracial, intercountry adoptee.

References:

  1. Blythman, Joanna“Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?”, The Guardian, 2013: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa
  1. Long, Yu. “Superfoods Dark Side: Increasing Vulnerability of Quinoa Farmers in Bolivia” 2018:http://web.colby.edu/st297-global18/2019/01/22/superfoods-dark-side-increasing-vulnerability-of-quinoa-farmers-in-bolivia/#:~:text=The%20rise%20in%20quinoa’s%20market,2011%3B%20Hall%2C%202016)
  1. Journeyman Pictures: “Paper Orphans”, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhIMw0ZT8mc
  1.  Al Jazeera: “Cambodia’s Orphan Business: People and Power”, 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hf_snNO9X8
  1. Winkler, Tara. Why We Need To End The Era of Orphanages”,  TedXTalks,2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3nPMWkhbMI&t=2s
  1. Zembla, “Adoption Fraud at Baby Farms” 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSsbRcobbUA
  1. BBC World Service, “I was accused of kidnapping my adopted son” 2020:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOL9MAsx8lM

The Happy Adoptee

by Linzi Ibrahim born in Sri Lanka, adopted to Australia.

This year I had a long time adoptee friend make a comment along the lines of, “Where’s that happy little girl I remember when we were growing up?”

Me: The Happy Adoptee

Depression
Anxiety
OCD
Religious
Self harming
Overdosing
Promiscuous
Excessive drinking
Risk taking behaviour
Impulsive
Low self esteem
Smoking
Drugs
Body dysmorphia
Binging
Starving
Purging
Stealing
Using Laxatives
Learning disorder
Suicidal

Also me:

Happy
Loving
Caring
Thoughtful
Fun
Creative
Talented
Loved
Beautiful
Strong
Resilient

To the world, I’ve looked like the happiest person alive and yes, I was happy.  I was also, very lost and confused. Apparently because I talk about the “dark-side” of adoption, some people find it a bit too negative, and conclude therefore I must be unhappy and need to change, right? Wrong! It’s actually the complete opposite. I’ve never been happier and I’m finally becoming my true self! 

Talking about these important issues, makes me feel more alive, more myself and more positive. That is true healing. ADOPTION CHANGED ME, that’s a fact, it rewired my brain, adoption taught my brain trauma based thinking. But I didn’t know this until I was much older. I never understood the cause of my self sabotaging behaviour, after all, why would I think “beautiful, life saving adoption” could possibly be the cause.

One of the hardest silent battles I’ve been through, is with weight and eating. I’ve been on  diets and have been restrictive with how I’ve eaten for most of my life. I’m starting to now understand that just like the Adoption Industry, the Weight Loss Industry also preys heavily on the vulnerable. I’m learning to eat intuitively. My body, my mind, knows exactly what it needs. I’m not depriving myself of whole food groups. When I deprive, this leads to binging and spiralling downhill .. And inevitably starting a new diet. A cycle that constantly has my body and mind living in fear of eating and not eating.

I was recently on the Keto diet. It made me feel incredible, but I was cutting out all carbs, aside from what was in vegetables. I’ve slowly started introducing small amounts of the dreaded carbohydrates back into my diet, it’s been tough, I’ve felt the most intense guilt at even thinking about eating carbs, that’s not normal. But you know what? I feel AMAZING!! I’m now taking back the power. My body is my home, I will take care of it. That also means, spoiling myself sometimes and being happy about doing that for myself!! Having healthy eating habits will not only help me, it will help my children and teach them good habits too. Time to break the cycle!

Adoption is Complex

by Rowan van Veelen adopted from Sri Lanka to the Netherlands.

My two mothers

ADOPTION

Am I unhappy in the Netherlands?

I’m against adoption and still happy with my beautiful life in the Netherlands. It’s not as black and white as everyone thinks.

I can be happy in the Netherlands and at the same time unhappy about the lack of not knowing my biological family.

ANGRY AT ADOPTION IS NOT THE SAME AS ANGRY AT ADOPTIVE PARENTS

My adoptive parents did everything out of love. What they couldn’t give me as adoptive parents is the mirroring and the comprehension of my losses.

It is very simple to see that they are my parents but there is also the character part, which is organic and where we differ.
Why would I be mad at them about this? This is something unfair to expect from adoptive parents because they can’t give that either.

Just like every parent, they make mistakes in education and that’s okay! So I’m not mad about that either. So I can say personally, I am against adoption but at the same time grateful for who my adoptive parents are. At the same time, I missed my biological parents.
Being adopted is not black or white but grey.

AGAINST ADOPTION BECAUSE .. ?

I found my biological family and my papers were correct. So why would I oppose adoption? As mentioned above, I have good parents, so what’s the problem then?

The problem is that money is made from me at my most vulnerable moment in life when I was a baby.

The moment I depended most on others, my vulnerability was taken advantage of.

For others to make money, I feel like something that was traded. It’s a scarey feeling that people arranged everything in the procedure to get me to the Netherlands. It’s not a safe feeling. This makes sense because it was never about my safety but what I was worth as a baby for sale.

So yes, I’m super happy that my papers were correct and that after 27 years I met my family! But that doesn’t change the way this went and the negative consequences on my development because of these events.

NOT ONLY IN SRI LANKA

Then why am I against adoption from all over the world?
Because as long as money is made from adoption procedure, children’s rights will be violated.

As long as demand from the West exists for babies, the supply will be created in poor countries.
This doesn’t stop until the demand stops.

If you have to adopt if necessary, do so from within the Netherlands. Believe me, I understand how difficult the choices are for being childless, but you must never forget the importance of the child.

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