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. Gabby’s input below is included in our full papers here which we submitted to the AHRC.
I was born in 1966 in Auckland New Zealand. I am 100% Chinese and at the time of writing, I am 56 years old. I started coming out of the adoption fog at 48 years of age, after meeting my birth mother in 2004. It seems old but to clarify, at 48, I finally connected with other Asian adoptees and found validation, support and the language to express my feelings around my life experience.
I have a huge respect for parents. I am a step parent but have not done the heavy lifting that parents do. It’s hard being a parent. Throw adoption or fostering into the mix and that becomes very hard. Throw transracial adoption into that mix and the challenges become even more so. These are my thoughts around racism. All of our experiences are different.
I am very happy. I see the value of good relationships with friends, peers and family, and acknowledge that all of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives. However, I have struggled with racism my entire life with my difference pointed out almost daily by classmates, co-workers and friends. Not too regularly, I have also been attacked and harassed on the street and was bullied badly throughout my school years. Jokes and micro-aggressions seem harmless and it took me decades to understand why I was constantly angry: an innocent question about my name/my origins/my nationality seems innocuous, but day after day, often from complete strangers makes a person exhausted, wary and sad/angry. I often withdraw.
I have this to say – I could not tell you this at age 12, 18, 25, 30 or even 40. It took decades to begin to process, understand and articulate what I am feeling.
Dear adoptive parents
Here is what I would like you to know about my life experience as a transracial adoptee:
- Please understand my life experience is, was and will always be different to that of my white peers, siblings and parents. Like it or not, quite often we transracial adoptees are treated very differently to our white siblings and peers. I noted a big change in people’s behaviour towards me when they saw one of my parents come into view. Racists are sneaky – they are not going to say stuff with you around. And it comes in many subtle forms: how many brown kids are watched like a hawk as soon as they enter a store? How many brown girls are told they talk too much or are too loud/naughty when their white classmates are termed ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘confident’ for the same behaviour?
- I was raised colourblind. It was the 60s, 70s and 80s. We knew no better. I was 55 years old when the penny finally dropped about my own family’s response to my experience with racism. An older sister said, “But we just assumed you were one of us,” (therefore, it was impossible for you to experience racism). Another piece of the puzzle solved. However, my 7 year old me would not thank my family for the dismissal, harsh words or outright denial that anything had taken place. Things are different now. We have resources and so much information available.
- If you are triggered by the terms: white privilege, white fragility and wilful ignorance then think long and hard before adopting a child of different race to you. We are looking to you to teach us, to have our backs and stand up for us. And this includes your circle of friends, your own family and peers. I was raised in the age where children were seen and not heard. I accepted outright racist comments/acts from neighbours, friends, extended family, and later, colleagues because I felt that it was my lot or I was undeserving of better. But think about what that does to someone over a lifetime! Is it any wonder that we adoptees are 4 times more likely to have substance abuse or suicide? Let’s try to change that.
- Believe us. I was 5 or 6 years old when I reported my first racist incident to my parents (and this was because I was scared. I didn’t report the ‘ching chong’ chants, the pulling back of eyes and harsher treatment by certain nuns because I was brown and clearly born of sin – those were a daily occurrence). Two much larger and older boys cornered me and pulled down my pants to see if ‘my bum was the same as the other girls’. Horrific and it still haunts me to this day. In response to sharing what happened, I was punished and told not to lie. So I stopped. It was clearly not safe for me to speak up and I didn’t want to be punished for it (to be fair I think it was the mention of private parts that had them more outraged). I left NZ for good in 1988. I put distance between myself and my family because of the above and some bonds were sadly broken for a while. Do you want this for your own family? If your children do not trust you to have their back they may be reticent to report more serious stuff like abuse, bullying and even date rape/domestic violence.
- Just because we don’t tell you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I finally found the courage to speak up in the last two years. I cut friends, extended family members and suppliers for my own mental health and sanity but also I finally understood that I didn’t have to engage with such people.
- Words hurt. And the hurt lasts a lifetime. So those jokes you make about other races — their food, shopping habits, hoarding, driving skills … all those lazy stereotypes that the Australian media like to peddle – well, your kids are listening. When we see racist incidents reported be dismissed or downplayed by the media (especially if it is a footy star/ celebrity accused), how do you think that makes us feel? We don’t need to hear:
‘They weren’t racist to me – are you sure it happened?’
‘What did you do to make them act in this way?’
‘Rise above it!’
‘Can’t you take a joke?’
‘I’m sure Xxxx didn’t mean to be offensive…’
This ain’t it. Do better.
- Quite often we are rejected by our own race – we are seen as ‘too white’, too culturally ignorant, and our names are white. This can be very confronting.
We grow up, study, work and socialise generally in white spaces. We adapt to our environments to fit in but can be treated very harshly by our own race because of this. A heritage camp and trip once a year can’t help with this and if we are living in a white country – it is understandable that we just want to fit in/fade into the background like everyone else. But we can’t. Don’t shame us for trying to survive in our own environments.
- Racism is hard to process when the perpetrator looks like a member of your own family. An Asian child who grows up with their own cultural background watches how their parents react and behave when they are faced with racist incidents. They see how their parents behave and speak to the offender. Nothing may be said but there is a shared experience within the family and younger members can learn from their elders – and even grow up to challenge passive responses.
Check out Gabby’s amazing Art Mentoring that she does as a volunteer with younger Chinese adoptees.