A week ago, an amazing panel of 6 transracial intercountry adoptees shared with me about their experiences of racism, growing up in a country where the racial majority does not reflect their skin colour and outward appearance.
The webinar focuses on Australian experiences because we provided this forum during business hours for Australian adoption and foster care professionals. In my experience connecting with thousands of intercountry adoptees around the world through ICAV, racism and how we suffer and live through it, is a globally shared phenomenon, regardless of adoptive country.
Listen to the shared experiences here at the recording of our panel webinar:
Timecode for those who want to get to the relevant parts:
00:00:00 – 00:03:13 Introduction & why we discuss racism 00:03:27 – 00:04:30 Welcome to country 00:04:35 – 00:08:20 Introduction of adoptee panel 00:08:20 – 00:41:14 What does racism look like & its impacts 00:41:15 – 01:09:47 Suggestions on how we can be better supported 01:09:56 – 01:23:14 Questions and answers with audience 01:23:15 – 01:26:02 Thank you and summary of key points
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.
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!
This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.
by Andrea Johnstone, adopted from Canada to England.
I used to be angry as a teenager! I so desperately wanted my adopted mum and dad to see me for who I was and for them to meet my emotional needs. It never happened. I was the school bully as I had to learn to protect myself from all the racial comments.
My school teachers used to say to me, “You are nothing but a nigger!” Yes, that’s right f**ing school teachers. I was pulled up by my jumper and hit against the wall from a PE teacher who said to me, “I hate you Andrea Johnstone!” Wtf!! So yes, I was f**ing angry. The kids never got punished for their racial behaviour. The teachers had no idea that I was living in a very dysfunctional household – mother narcissistic with a depressive, passive father. So hell yes, I was angry!
However, the tides turned and I went into deep therapy after a suicide attempt. It was a long journey back to self. And I’m here now supporting many adoptees in the UK. So it was all meant to be, as I know that pain, I know that anger within. I know the primal wounding because I have been there.
That anger still continues at times to bubble within. But I know now how to soothe her xx and no regrets. All my life experiences are who I am today. I’m a bloody amazing, wise woman who has learnt to truly love herself and to remember I was the one I have been waiting for. To give to myself what I was needing.
All the looking outside myself, the love I looked for with men, nagh … I can only have a healthy relationship with someone when I get one with myself first. And let me tell you it’s taken decades to work that one out.
You have to dig deep ladies and gents because this journey as an adoptee is no walk in the park. xx
For fellow adoptees needing professional support, Andrea is a psychotherapist in the Bournemouth UK area, you can connect with her at Psychology Today UK.
By Lina Vanegas, MSW and adopted from Colombia to the USA.
It is shameful that suicide is so highly stigmatized by society. Religion and the law have contributed to the stigmazitization of suicide. The law has perpetuated their stances by creating laws that make suicide illegal. There are 26 countries where suicide is currently illegal including Kenya, Bahamas and Jordan. It is completely wrong to criminalize, shame and stigmatize people who are struggling and suffering. Religion and the law are not the only institutions or systems to do this but I use them as an example to demonstrate how much impact they have on society. All of these thoughts are absorbed by society which doesn’t inspire or create empathy, compassion or understanding for people who are suffering.
The shame and stigmatization around suicide is evident in the language that we use to discuss suicide. When we say “committed suicide” we are likening it to a crime. It’s truly not a crime. We do not say a person “committed” cancer, a heart attack, a stroke, or Covid, We do say someone “committed” murder, a robbery, an assault, or rape. Those are crimes.. The crime around suicide is that someone died because they were struggling so much internally, mentally, and emotionally. Let’s also stop saying they “killed themself.” What killed that person was a mental health struggles and they died by suicide. It is essential that we create a paradigm shift where we lead with empathy, compassion and understanding.
When people use this terminology, they are stigmatizing suicide. A person who died by suicide has friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances and loved ones. When they hear this choice of words it hurts them—and they are already grappling with the stigmatization of a suicide death. You may know them, but they will probably not talk to you about their loss after they hear you use such hurtful and insensitive language.
Western society stigmatizes and shames those who struggle with mental health issues and mental illness. There are a myriad of expressions and things that use suicide in the name/title that are offensive and cruel to those who have (or are) struggling with suicidal thought/ideations, have attempted suicide, and for those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide. People will use the expression quite freely “I am going to kill myself” and “I will just kill myself” and “Go kill yourself.” These are daggers for those who have been impacted by suicide. These comments are completely tone deaf, insensitive and cruel, and reflect the general lack of understanding and empathy around suicide.
We need to make the discussion around adoptee suicide an ongoing and regular conversation. It is not enough for us to talk about it sporadically. This conversation needs to be had three hundred and sixty five days a year. Adoptees are struggling and suffering twenty four hours, seven days a week and three hundred and sixty five days a year. The statistic that adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide is from research published in 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
We need current research done on adoptees all over the world. I am writing from the United States so the ideal organizations to fund and conduct this are the American foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology. These studies would help inform prevention, awareness and education. Until society realizes the mental health crisis that adoptees are facing, we will continue to be struggling in silence. We are an invisible and oppressed community literally fighting for our lives. We desperately need support and suicide prevention.
I wanted to pay tribute and honor the two adoptees that have died this month. They were both transracial intercountry adoptees. It’s is key to highlight that there is a link between this and mental health struggles, racism and suicide. Many of us experience microaggressions and racism due to us not being white. These experiences impact our mental health . Adoptive parents have no idea what this is like as they do not experience this incidents and many prefer not to see our race so that does nothing to help us. Some adoptive parents perpetuate racism and microagressions which take a toll on our mental health.
Alejandro Gobright died June 2. He was adopted from Guatemala to the United States. He is described from a tribute I read as “a great singer, poet and incredible friend.”
Seid Visin died June 4. He was adopted from Ethiopia to Italy. He played at the youth academies of AC Milan and Benevento. He explained in a letter before his suicide death how he was suffering from constant racial abuse and treatment. It is essential to point out that his adopted father went out of his way to point out after Seid’s death that racism did not play a role in his death. This is a clear example of an adoptive parent ignoring, not listening and not wanting to deal with the struggles Seid was dealing with.
I am extremely sad and angry every time I write about adoptee suicides. These deaths impact the entire adoptee community. Alejandro and Seid are a part of all of us. There are roughly five to seven million adoptees in the world and it’s time that we begin to talk about adoptee suicide.
Read Lina’s other articles on Adoptee Suicide, Part 1 & Part 2.
I’ve decided to share my own experiences with racism, because current events have got me reminiscing about the past. Let’s not get it twisted: much worse has happened to much better people than me. But I do think it’s important that people know that racism has been around for decades; it’s actually America’s favourite past-time. I just think that a certain person exacerbated the situation in how he chose to refer to Covid-19. And for some reason, it empowered cowardly racists to attack elderly Asian men and women (mostly from behind, because they lack the testicular fortitude to actually show their faces), and commit acts of mass murder.
MOST of the people I’m friends with on social media are people I’ve actually met. There’s a handful that I haven’t. So for those of you whom I haven’t met face to face, a little background: I was born in Viet Nam in 1974, adopted by a white family in 1975 (I’ve got three siblings, one being their biological daughter, and they adopted two more kids–both half-Black/half-white), raised in south-central PA, and didn’t leave the area until I went to university. In a round-about way, I ended up in the NYC-metro area and have been here since 2001.
I am pretty sure I had repressed a lot of what happened throughout my childhood, but the increased media coverage of racism-based violence and hate crimes towards Asians got me reminiscing about “the good old days”. I was thinking about the first time I can remember something racist being said or done toward me, which opened the floodgates. This is gonna be long, so grab a coffee and enjoy the ride down my memory lane!
I can’t remember this because I was too young but my mom told me about it: a friend of my mom’s saw me in the stroller and said that I almost looked like my mom, and asked my mom if she was going to have surgery done on my eyes so I could look even more like her. My mom, shocked, came back with, “How about I get surgery on MY eyes so I look more like HIM?”. Her friend was even more shocked and said, “Why would you do something like THAT?!” I am pretty sure they were no longer friends after that. My mom was also thanked numerous times by any number of people when she was out with me for “saving him from the dirty Commies”.
Age 5 or 6, in kindergarten, I recall other kids mocking me with, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at THESE”, and when saying “THESE”, they’d pull the outer corners of their eyes up and out to mimic (supposedly) my eyes.
In my neighbourhood, one of my friend’s older brothers nicknamed me “Hadji”. I think he said it was because I reminded him of Hadji in the Jonny Quest cartoons. It stuck. In my neighbourhood, I was always referred to as “Hadji” until I left, at around the age of 19.
When I was 8, I was walking home from a friend’s house and an older kid (he was probably 16) tried shooting me in the head from his bedroom window across the street with a pellet gun. He was a bad shot and instead hit me in the right hip. When questioned by the police, he said he just wanted to, “Shoot the slant”.
The same friend’s house I was walking home from, I had just left because his father told me, “I used to shoot lil gooks like you from my Huey in ‘Nam.”
I was called “slant” or “chink” a few times a week in elementary school.
That changed to “gook” and “zipperhead” or “zip” in middle school. The More You Know: did you know that “gook” derives from the Korean word for America/Americans, which is “miguk”? It sounds like, “me gook”, so during the Korean War, Americans probably thought Koreans were saying, “Me, gook”, turned it into an epithet and called Koreans “gooks”. That of course, transferred to all Asians, since you know we all look the same to white people. Also, “zipperhead” comes from when American soldiers would hit a Korean or Vietnamese soldier in the head with the stock of their assault rifles, it’d open up their heads like a zipper. “Zip” is just a shortened form of it.
By the time I hit high school, it had morphed into, “Charlie”, “VC”, and “riceboy”. “VC” of course derives from “Viet Cong” aka “Victor Charlie” aka “Charlie”. “Riceboy” is the one that was used the most though.
I was also told to go back to my own country a multitude of times for as long as I can remember through 11th grade.
I kept a brush and a can of paint in my locker in high school that matched my locker, because I could paint over the swastikas that were left on my locker faster than it took me for have maintenance come and do it.
At the beginning of 9th grade, a kid Mike told me to go back to my own country and I decided to tell him to go back to his. I wasn’t a very big kid. He basically picked me up and threw me down a flight of stairs which broke both of my wrists. He got suspended for three days.
Throughout middle and high school, I was asked numerous times by white classmates, “Do your Asian women have slanted pussies, because your eyes are slanted?”
I’d be rich if I had a nickel for the number of times I was asked if I knew kung fu or karate, followed up with a weak-ass karate chop and “hi-yaaaaaaaaaa”. At this point in my life, I didn’t know one bit of martial arts. Same goes for being asked if I ate cats and dogs.
The KKK and WAR (White Aryan Resistance) were both essentially clubs in my high school (not sanctioned by the school but the school did nothing about their presence).
In high school (~1,200 students, and less than a half dozen of us weren’t white), some kid got caught with something like four rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition in the cab of his pickup truck. When asked why, he said it was “to clean the school of all the mud people”. I assumed he was just a terrible shot. He wouldn’t have gotten caught if someone else didn’t see it and tell the principal about it, since it was odd to see outside of hunting season. I met a nice Catholic girl in high school at the local ice rink. It got to the point where I asked her out on a date and she accepted. I went to her house to pick her up on our date night, and her father answered the door. The conversation went as follows: HER DAD: Who the fuck are you? ME: Josh, I’m here to pick up Colleen for our date. HER DAD: That’s not going to happen, and here’s why: you’re not Irish. You’re probably not Catholic. And you sure as fuck aren’t white, so you better get the fuck off my property before I fetch my shotgun. Needless to say, I’ve never attempted to date a Catholic woman since then.
In 11th grade, I threw a football player Jamie through a window in the middle of my English class. For much of the class, he kept whispering, “Hey riceboy” from the other side of the room. I guess it was just a decade+ of pent-up anger that finally came to a head. I was raised Quaker…pacifist. WWJD and all that bullshit. I got up out of my chair, ran across the room, snatched him from his seat and threw him through a wire-mesh safety window (we were on the first floor, he didn’t fall very far). I got suspended for three days. After that, though, no one during the remainder of my junior year or senior year in high school said anything racist to me, ever again, at school.
I had gone to a Denny’s with two friends, Leah (a Korean adoptee) and her boyfriend Jeffrey (a white Italian kid). Jeffrey liked to dress in a punk style, and was wearing black Doc Martens with red laces. We were sitting there and a group of skinheads came over to our table and asked Jeffrey why he was sitting with “two of the mud people”. Jeffrey was confused. They said only earned skinheads can wear black Docs with red laces (as I found out later, black Doc Martens with red or white laces, laced-up in a certain manner, means you’re a skinhead, or have attended a boot party where you stomp on and kick someone). They ended up chasing us out of Denny’s to our car. As I was getting into the driver’s seat, one grabbed me around my neck through the door. I slammed the door on his arm a few times until he let go and backed into one of them that was behind the car (he rolled over the roof/hood). I don’t know what happened to the third one. We just bolted and never went to Denny’s again.
I finally got out of Bumblefuck, PA and went to university. They at least had more black and brown folks around, so it was a nice change. Funnily enough, I tried joining the Asian American Student Coalition/Association and was basically denied for not being “Asian enough”. I couldn’t win anywhere.
I got into what I thought was a nice relationship with this Italian woman when I was a freshman. We dated for a few months, then she ghosted me. I was finally able to get in touch with her and she said, “I was just using your slanty ass to get back at my boyfriend”.
That being said, I didn’t deal with much racism at all while I was there.
I was going to Philly and my car got a flat tire. It was in the evening (it was dark) and I was on the side of the Schuylkill highway. If you know the area, there’s like, zero shoulder. Anyway, I was in the process of rummaging around my trunk getting the jack out when a car pulled up behind me. That was nice because their headlights gave me more light. I heard one person ask, “Do you need any help?” I turned around and said, “No” and the two guys who were approaching me, their expressions immediately changed. They were wearing typical neo-nazi gear: combat boots, military pants and jackets. Out came the racist remarks, telling me to go back to my own country, etc. One pulled a chain and started whipping it around, the other pulled a knife. They started approaching me and I went into attack mode. I had started actually attending a karate school my freshman year of college and I was a brown belt by this time. I had three years of 5-day-a-week training and numerous tournaments under my belt. Chain boy: I bent his leg backwards at the knee. Knife boy: I was able to grapple his knife arm, leg swept him, and heel-stomped his solar plexus. I finished changing my tire and left them on the side of the road.
Fast forward a few years to the company I’ve now been with for 20 years. There were three incidents there during my first five or six years. First one, a delivery driver was walking by me in the warehouse and asked me where the karate school was, followed it with a fake karate chop and “hi-yaaaaaa”. It was actually so long since I’d heard anything racist directed toward me, my first thought was, “Wait, we have a karate school here now?”
A co-worker whom I had dealt with on the phone for months, who I finally met in person at a conference told me, “Your English is so good, I wasn’t expecting someone like you to be able to speak it so well”. I was eating Chinese food with three other co-workers in our little fourbicle and an older co-worker was walking by, popped his head in, looked at one of them and said, “Hey Billy! Y’all eatin’ that gook food now, huh?!” and left. I lost my shit. He came back later to apologise, and the conversation went like this: JOE: Hey Josh, I didn’t mean to offend you with what I said earlier. It’s just that, you know, I fought in the Korean War and they messed up my one hips really bad. But I can understand your English, so you’re OK in my book.(Keep in mind that WE WORK FOR AN ASIAN-OWNED COMPANY!!!) ME: Hey Joe, if you ever open your mouth to me one more time, I’m going to break your other fucking hip and dance on your grave. After I reported him to HR, his employment was terminated.
I’ve noticed that, “You speak good English” is something that gets said more to me as an adult (it wasn’t something I had heard a lot in elementary/middle/high school).
A few years ago, I was at the regular watering hole with a few friends — most not white . Some random white woman from out of town (I think from Texas) told us she was making a movie about the Tuskegee airmen and told us she was calling it, “The Flying N*ggers”. Needless to say, we attempted to not talk to her for the remainder of the evening. Later, we were outside having a smoke and she was trying to get our attention. She called my good friend “Maleek” (that’s not his name) and was calling me “Pol Pot”. “Maleek” finally turned around and was like, “WHAT?!” and she made little flapping motions with her hands and goes, “FLYING N*GGERS!” My friend angrily went back inside because he probably didn’t want to provoke the situation, but I turned to her and said, “Come here”. When she got close enough to me, I whispered in her ear, “If you open your mouth one more time, I’m going to place your teeth on these steps and slowly step on the back of your head until you end up swallowing your tongue”, stepped back and smiled. She gathered her things and left.
When I was living in Ohio, I went to a Subway to get a sandwich and the woman working there started chatting me up like she knew me. She even asked me how my brother Vinh was. I then said I had no idea who she was talking about and she asked me if I was so-and-so. I said no, I do not work at that nail salon. She said, “Oh my mistake. All of you Japs look alike to me.”
Also living in Ohio, I was looking after my girlfriend’s kid (they’re both black). She was hungry, I was lazy, so we walked across the street to Denny’s, of all places. We were seated in the back section. Two other tables were seated, brought menus, water and served before anyone came by to give us menus. I ended up taking her elsewhere for a sandwich and on the way out, asked the manager if it was normal for Denny’s to be openly racist toward its non-white customers. I explained what happened, she apologised and offered a free meal. FOH.
Getting asked, “Where are you from?” answering with “Pennsylvania” because that’s where I identified from being from, and then asked, “No, where are you REALLY from? Like, what are you?”
I fantasised about all the ways I could kill myself for pretty much elementary school through my junior year of high school. There was one failed attempt that took me a bit to recover from. All of this happened pre-Trump. And the shittiest thing about this is, I usually assume people are racist until they prove otherwise.
COVID continues to spread within our communities because people continue to lack seriousness when facing it. Chinese people continue to be blamed. While Asian ethnicities include countless unique, beautiful, and distinguishable cultures, many who are outside of the Asian diaspora can’t tell the difference. This results in anyone appearing Asian (specifically East Asian) to be berated with racial slurs, jokes about eating bats, and “go back to your country” type comments. These occurrences have become more prevalent as a result of COVID-19.
I can’t change the shape of my beautiful eyes. I can’t change my heritage, nor can I change how people speak. But I can share how hurtful words can be. How do you think it feels for my language to be boxed into “Ching Chong Ching Chong”? How painful do you think it is be told I’m not worthy of life because of my physical appearance? How much do you think I’ve learned to hate or be ashamed of my culture that has a history dating back centuries? How scared do you think I am to go in public because I might be the next victim of assault, just because of how I look?
It is not okay to put yourself above someone and their culture because of your ignorance and lack of understanding. And just because you listen to k-pop and watch anime doesn’t make you an expert in Japanese. And no, I’m not going to do your math homework for you. Don’t ask, “What Asian are you”. Instead maybe ask, “What’s your ethnicity?”
Watch your words. I am Chinese and I am beautiful. I am Asian American and I am beautiful.
We are in the midst of unprecedented times with COVID-19 taking over the world but as an Asian intercountry adoptee raised in a white adoptive country, I find myself once again, in that uncomfortable “in-between” space. I have lived the experience of sitting between two very different cultures and races – east and west. I am a product of both but yet at this point in time, I feel ashamed at how human beings can behave and treat each other when ultimately, we are of the same human race.
I have been raised with the white mindset of my adoptive country but I have also spent over a decade embracing my once removed cut-off Asian heritage. My current pride in being Asian didn’t happen easily because I was adopted in an era without education to advise parents that our cultural and racial heritage is of immense importance. I had to put years of concerted effort into reclaiming back my birth heritage, race and culture. So I find this period of overt racism against Chinese/Asians as very confronting. It reminds me of how I once use to hate my own Asian-ness. I was teased as a child for how different I looked — picked on for my slanting eyes, flat nose, and non European profile. I grew up isolated being the only non-white person in my community as a child. I know that for many Asian adoptees (and many adoptees of colour) right now, we are having to relive those racist moments all over again.
What has been particularly triggering recently, is to see the American President choosing to consciously speak about the COVID-19 disaster with pointed fingers at a whole race, calling it the “Chinese Virus”. I felt personally offended. Did you?
When a leader of the world’s superpower labels a whole race in such a negative manner it overtly tells us that racism is very real, acted out by those highest in power. They make it appear as if it’s “normal”, “okay”, “justified” to do so —- but racism should never be okay! So adoptive families, if you haven’t recognised that we intercountry and transracial adoptees experience racial micro aggressions every day, I hope that this period in time, is your wake up call!
Racism is one of the most common issues we intercountry adoptees end up having to navigate. Facing racism and having to constantly explain why we look Asian (or any colour different to the majority) but speak, think and act like a white person in our adoptive country is a constant challenge. This has been documented in many of the resources we adoptees contribute to and create, eg. The Colour of Difference and The Colour of Time. Sadly, not all adoptive parents recognise the racism we experience and many are definitely not equiped to know how to prepare us for it.
Some more-awoke-adoptive-parents have recently asked what they can do to support their adoptive children who are of Asian descent. I’m sharing this advice from Mark Hagland, a Korean adoptee who has been co-educating adoptive parents at this facebook group for many years:
“I think that parents absolutely need to find ways to explain the situation and the environment to their Asian children. Of course, whatever they say must be age-appropriate and sensitive to the individual temperament and stage of development of their individual child/ren. And every child is different. But all children deserve the truth–sensitively and lovingly shared, of course.
Some parents will inevitably say things like, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly harm my child! I want her/him to remain innocent for as long as possible!” Any such sentiment reveals white privilege. All children of colour end up experiencing racism. The least loving thing possible is to avoid preparing one’s child to experience the inevitable. Far better to lovingly explain to one’s child that there are going to be difficult experiences out there, but that they will be okay because they will be supported by you, their parents.
I often tell parents of young children that even the youngest children can understand the concept of fairness. Start with that, if you have a young child. Start with the idea that some people are mean/unfair just because of how someone looks or where they’re from. It IS mean/unfair. With a young child, we need to prepare that child without imparting fear or trauma.
I made sure as a young adult to move to a very large, diverse, welcoming, progressive city in order to live in psychological comfort. And this is literally the first time as an adult that I’m even the least bit worried about experiencing aggressions or micro aggressions against me personally, in the city where I live. I believe it will mostly be okay, but who can say for certain?“
I have also been like Mark and as an adult, I ended up relocating myself to a city area that is much more diverse than where I grew up. In my city of Sydney, Australia, I have found a place to belong where I’m not the only Asian or non white person in my community. I have also married into an Asian family which has helped me immensely to embrace my race.
For young adult adoptees, if you are struggling at the moment due to the increase in racism you see directed towards Asians from COVID-19, I highly recommend joining adoptee led groups and communities where you can connect with others and be supported by your peers. There’s nothing like being able to freely speak amongst a group of people who understand what it’s like! The validation and peer support is invaluable. If you have found yourself hugely triggered and struggling emotionally, please seek out further professional support and surround yourself with a strong support network of people who understand what it’s like to be a racial minority. Here is also a link with some great tips.
Right now it’s not an easy time for anyone, but for adoptees and any people of colour, it is a heightened time for being a target of racist acts/comments and/or for being triggered. Please take time to nurture yourself and join into communities who do their best to support and understand you. Let’s all:
Hello, you may call me FaerieWarrior and I’m a Chinese artist who was adopted to America in 1997 at around thirteen months old. I was raised by a single mother and have always had a passion for drawing. I currently hold a degree in education (k-12) and art. I would love to go back to college and potentially get a master’s in art.
Above is one of my drawings which I call “Locked”. It expresses how after I was bullied in 7th/8th grade and how I always kept my feelings and emotions to myself. I tended to keep people at a distance and never really open myself up.
The bullying started halfway through 6th grade and got more intense at 7th/8th grade. The most popular guy in our class came up to me during recess and told me he had a crush on me. Me, being an intellectual and not liking this guy at all, said: “Ew, no!” So for the next two years, I was bullied about various things from my appearance, my hobbies, and my so-called ‘boyfriend’ (my childhood friend who went to a different school and no, we weren’t dating).
I should probably mention that around 85-90% of my class were white Americans. The other ethnicities in our class were: one Hispanic girl, one Filipino girl and one Chinese girl (me). Given we all went to a Catholic K-8 school, we were all raised Catholic as well.
I was mostly bullied about how “long and disgusting” my hair was (I still proudly keep my hair long) together with my love of reading. While I read, some people would throw random objects at me to see if I would notice. Markers, paper clips, eraser heads, etc were the main projectiles. One time in music class, the guy who professed his crush on me threw a broken pen that hit me in the check.
The ‘friend’ group I was a part of, mostly ignored me unless they needed help with school work (I was usually given the task of doing the experiments and explanations for science labs). Other times they would exclude me from their conversations or small group projects with the snide, “You should work with other people and try to make friends,” while they continued to work with the same exact people. Such hypocrites.
Not only that, there were two (or three, I don’t really remember) guys who would be super creepy and oddly sexual towards me. When the jerk who initiated it walked around the classroom, he would intentionally walk behind me and stroke my back as he went by. Every single time. That led me to hate being touched, especially when it’s from a stranger or unexpected. That guy even had the gall to tell me that he’d, “Make me the next teen mom” (back when that television show was a “thing”). I replied with, “You’d never get close enough to try,” while kicking him in the shin under the table.
There was only ever one incident where my ethnicity was under fire. Some random weird kid who had a love/hate relationship with me called me a racial slur (some days he’d claim he was in love with me and the next day he’d hate my guts). I was a bit confused since I had never heard that word before in my life. I went home and looked it up in the dictionary. I didn’t really particularly care because I had a sense of purpose about who I was and what I’m here to do.
Well, I’ve been rambling on for a while so if you want to know more about this time of my life, I have a story speedpaint where I draw and tell you a more in-depth about my younger years (it’s around 20 minutes long so hope you got some popcorn). You can find it here.
When I reached high school, I started clashing with my adoptive mom. I wasn’t performing at the level she wanted and each year from sophomore to senior year I struggled in one class. We also had many differing ideas on what my career path should be (she did not support me being a professional artist). I constantly felt like I was a disappointment and had no worth. From my resulting ruined self-esteem, destroyed confidence and years of being bullied and abused, those feelings grew into a general feeling of disappointment in my talents.
Anyway, for a more light-hearted conversation, above is a drawing I made for the Chinese New Year 2020. It was a fun drawing to make. I was born in the year of the rat and I always enjoy ‘celebrating’ Chinese New Year. Every year I would get my mom to buy me Chinese food and we’d change the stuffed animal that hangs out in the kitchen (we have all the Chinese zodiac beanie babies). The girl has the Chinese symbol for “metal” on her chest because this year the element is metal. The lucky colours for rats are gold, blue, and green. So I incorporated gold in the dress and blue in the eyes of the mouse. The lucky flower for rats is the lily so I added them in as hair accessories since I always wear a flower in my hair.
I was raised with lots of books about my home country and its culture/traditions so I grew up always proud of my heritage. I really love the idea/concepts of the zodiac and I would totally nerd out with it (ie I compiled notes about personality traits, relationship dos and don’ts, etc). When I was a toddler, my mom took me to Chinese lessons in which I was too shy and antisocial to really participate in, which is something I regret now.
So with my head in the clouds and with all my past experiences, I enjoy making art and stories that hopefully will make an impact on others in the future. If you would like to see more of my work, you can follow me on DeviantArt.
Are you a maid, au pair or prostitute? I have heard all this through my childhood and professional career in Norway.
A Norwegian chronicle by May Martinsen, CEO of IRMI Group. Written in collaboration with the Norwegian Adoptionforum organisation and translated from the original article published in Norwegian newspapers.
I started writing this text nine years ago, but it was filed and stored because I didn’t dare stand up. Have we managed to break the code and have a country without racism?
According to Norwegian People’s Aid, job seekers with foreign names have a 25 percent less chance of being interviewed, and 43 percent of immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America were overqualified in the positions they worked (2012). In Norway, we have section 185 of the Criminal Code, also known as the racism section, but it may seem that we have not been able to solve the challenge.
It is often talked about that Norway and Norwegians are so friendly and inclusive and that there is hardly any racism in this country. But the concept of racism also encompasses attitudes and discrimination that impose on people traits based on race, religion and culture. I was born in Korea and adopted by ethnic Norwegian parents from the West Coast. I would say we were mutually fortunate; they were resourceful parents who wanted a child, and I was a child who needed parents. You’d think I was Norwegian. But society and individuals have often reminded me that I am not.
I recently met another resourceful lady with a Chinese background, but she is Norwegian like me. She wrote a post in Drammens Tidende on April 5, 2016 about what it is like to be an entrepreneur and a woman with an immigrant background who faces the daily racism in Norway. Although I was adopted by Norwegians, held leadership positions for 15 years, I have also not been able to escape racism.
The Visible Racism
I grew up in a village where almost everyone was ethnically Norwegian. Because of this, I had rough parts in my childhood. My parents probably also experienced racism early on. They told me about an episode where I, as a young child, cried on a flight. One of the passengers had told them that “people like her” belongs to Emma Hjort, that is a home for mentally disabled children.
As a child, I had to get used to getting comments like negro pussy, negro whore, fucking yellow geek, etc. Children make pranks and strikes, and it belongs to everyone’s childhood. But if something went wrong, the blame was put “on the yellow one”. I got grounded and more often blamed than what is deserved. It did something to me as a little kid. And I was never a whistleblower. I chose to “suffer in silence”.
I learned early on to acquire the attitudes “if you are going to accomplish something in life, then you must ‘fight twice as hard’ and ‘it’s never about how you feel, but how you take it’.” Instead of getting sad and bitter, I focused on finding a solution for a better everyday life.
My solution was to become a Tomboy with a touch of humour.
But it never stopped entirely. The worst episode was at a church service and we were confirmants. Before the service, several people forced me into the school toilet. They put my head down in the toilet bowl saying, “If you are to be confirmed, you must be baptised first” as they soaked my head with toilet water. I arrived at the church sticky, and some shouted, “I think yellow sewage smells in here!” The statement was followed by scornful laughter from the whole rural school. This was the day I felt I had two choices: to commit suicide by cutting up my artery or drowning; choice number two was to stay focused on the school and think about getting away from the village. I chose the latter.
According to school surveys conducted by the Olweus Group, over 40 percent of those who have been bullied have thought about suicide.
The Youth Data Survey February 2017 says that 10 percent of 16-year-olds have tried to kill themselves. Some, unfortunately, “succeed” with it, so bullying and racism, combined with isolation, have fatal consequences for many young people.
For me, a major turning point came when one of the leading bullies, after many years, apologised to me and acknowledged to their parents and me what I had been exposed to as a child. Not everyone gets the opportunity to forgive as I did.
The Silent Racism
In the book Plausible Prejudice by anthropologist Marianne Gullestad, she writes about invisible racism – the discrimination we do not notice because it is based on beliefs that many people think are perfectly normal. Many seem to think that identity is something to do with descent.
I was of the belief that society was improving. But in adulthood came a new lesson – I have chosen to call it “the silent racism”.
I had given birth to my second child and was rolling around my little blonde daughter when people on the street stopped me and asked, “Whose child are you looking after? Where are you a maid?” Men would frequently approach and asked how much I cost for one night. I have always had a classic and conservative style, so I was surprised. I quickly learned not to get too offended and accept that this society is “just like that”. It is again about attitudes, ignorance and stigma.
As an Asian-looking woman in Norway, I have the impression of being seen as an international commodity: A maid, au pair or a prostitute. When it was tempting to get angry, I let it be. When the “offers” have appeared, I have used humour and responded with a clear West/Midcoast dialect and a smile saying, “Sorry – I’m way too expensive for you!“
Already in 2012, the United Nations expressed concern about rising digital racism. Our children are now learning about online web behaviour through school. But what about the adults?
On digital dating sites, people meet in search of possible boyfriends, girlfriends and future life partners. I know several people who have married, as a result of contact through digital platforms.
Although I have been skeptical of these arenas and thought it best to meet people in real life, I was curious about established and used dating sites while I was single in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, I then drowned in requests for prostitution and bedroom activities, both the visible and invisible explained that I was an Asian. I concluded early on that this arena was most suitable for ethnic Norwegians, and quickly signed out and terminated the account.
Has there been any positive development here in this area for the last 15-20 years, I wondered recently and established a profile to take the test. The conclusion is that fortunately it seems to have gotten somewhat better. But unfortunately it is not entirely gone.
Societal Development and Responsibility
After spending some years in Tokyo as a diplomat for Foreign Ministry, my husband and I moved home, and I started a new director job in Oslo in 2011.
On the first day of work, a colleague asks during a closed program with a guided tour, “Where are you from?” A logical question and the answer was simple: “I just arrived back from Tokyo, but grew up outside Namsos” (a local city in Norway). But the colleague gave me a look as if I should have fallen from the planet Mars: “That is not true!” I laughed before connecting that it was my ethnicity that suddenly came into focus. Given that I was the only woman in the management group and also had a different ethnic background, maybe it wasn’t strange? I politely replied that I was adopted from Korea by Norwegian parents.
The reaction was unforgettable. “No, it’s not called that. Such people as you, are not adopted. You are imported.” I couldn’t help but laugh, also because I didn’t believe my own ears. Had we really not come any further?
In a fiftieth birthday celebration, I was in a conversation with a senior director in a Norwegian directorate, who spoke about the challenges Norway is facing with all the Somalis. I became curious and had to ask more about what that person meant, explaining that I myself was adopted and had Norwegian parents. The answer was, “Oh, you’re from Asia. Yes, people such as you, are so hardworking and sweet.”
“People such as you“?
I thought I was Norwegian!
I travel a lot at work. Amongst all the airports I visit, OSL Gardermoen stands out. 9 out of 10 times, I and my luggage must be inspected. It’s called “random control.” An interesting observation is that this happens all the time, whereas it rarely happens in other European cities when I arrive. I have done sports of it, so when I am with others in the traveling party I tend to say: Keep track of what’s happening in security checks now.
I will not claim that these everyday episodes are racism, but they are my observations. Two weeks ago they tried to be expel me from the EU / EEA queue in passport control, citing that I was Japanese. When I showed my Norwegian passport with a smile, the person who had approached was quite upset and embarrassed.
When it comes to immigration policy, integration and prevention of racism, do not forget the “invisible” Norwegians who are adopted or born in Norway. My daughters have an ethnic Norwegian father and are born in Norway. New generations, young promising adults, will not have to find themselves in comments, prejudices and discrimination. As a mother, I can teach my own children to include and care for, and strike hard when others are subjected to bullying or racism. But we can never manage the battle alone.
We need to increase knowledge and clarify the responsibility we all have for helping to change attitudes. Do not let those who are exposed suffer in silence. The work must be rooted in the politicians and the state as part of an important social responsibility. It is a disappointment that we have not been able to improve any further.