Gabby Malpas 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. Gabby’s input below is included in our full papers here which we submitted to the AHRC.

by Gabby Malpas, born in New Zealand of Chinese origins and transracial adoptee, ICAV Representative, artist at Gabby Malpas.

Colourblind by Gabby Malpas; watercolour painting

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.
Ching Chong by Gabby Malpas, watercolour painting
  • 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!’
    ‘Ignore 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.

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

In Memory of Seid Visin

By Mark Hagland, South Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA, co-founder of Transracial Adoption Perspectives (a group for adoptive parents to learn from lived experience), and author of Extraordinary Journey: The Lifelong Path of the Transracial Adoptee

What We’re Learning

In the past few days, since the news broke on June 4 that 20-year-old Seid Visin had ended his life through suicide, the Italian and European press have published articles and broadcast segments on his death, with a fair amount of disbelief and confusion involved. There are a number of reasons for the confusion, some of them journalistic—questions over the statement he had apparently made a couple of years ago to his therapist, versus what might have been going on in his life most recently—but most of all, because of statements made by his parents Walter and Maddalena.

Walter and Maddalena adopted Seid at the age of seven; he grew up in their home in Nocera Inferiore, a suburb of Naples. I can understand that they are deeply confused by what’s happened; but it’s also clear to me that, despite their good intentions, that they have no understanding whatsoever of his distress over the racism that he continued to experience. I’ve just viewed an interview with an Italian broadcast program called “Approfondimento Focus,” in which they kept reiterating how happy he was, how his recent psychological issues were related to the COVID lockdown, which they blamed for his recent depression, and how he had no interest whatsoever in his Ethiopian background. They also repeatedly denied that racism had anything to do with their son’s emotional distress.

That last set of statements on the part of Seid’s parents really struck me in a number of different ways, particularly given the excerpts of the text of that letter to his therapist of (apparently) a couple of years ago, that have been released. Per that, Corriere della Sera obtained a letter that Seid Visin wrote to his therapist two years ago, and Rolling Stone Italia has published it. In it, Seid wrote that, “Wherever I go, wherever I am, I feel the weight of people’s skeptical, prejudiced, disgusted and frightened looks on my shoulders like a boulder.” He wrote that he was ashamed “to be black, as if I was afraid of being mistaken for an immigrant, as if I had to prove to people, who didn’t know me, that I was like them, that I was Italian, white.” This feeling led him to make “jokes in bad taste about blacks and immigrants (…) as if to emphasize that I was not one of them. But it was fear. The fear of the hatred I saw in people’s eyes towards immigrants.”

As a sports journalist wrote in Le Parisien, “His death caused great emotion in Italy. In 2019, the young man pointed out the racism he was subjected to, writing a post on social media in which he expressed his discomfort. ‘A few months ago, I managed to find a job, which I had to quit because too many people, mostly older people, refused to be served by me,’ he said. They also accused me of the fact that many young Italians could not find work. The adoptive parents of the victim, however, wanted to provide details. ‘Seid’s gesture does not stem from episodes of racism,’ they told the Italian press.”

Here is the text of the letter; its exact date is not certain, and there is confusion as to when it was written—either very recently, or about two years ago—but in any case, here it is:

“I am not an immigrant, but I was adopted as a child. I remember that everyone loved me. Wherever I went, everyone addressed me with joy, respect and curiosity. Now, that atmosphere of idyllic peace seems very far away. It seems mystically. everything was reversed. Now, wherever I go, I feel the weight of skeptical, disgusted and scared looks on my shoulders. I had managed to find a job that I had to leave because too many people, especially the elderly, refused to be cared for by me. And as if it were not enough for me, they accused me of being responsible for many young Italians (white) not finding work. After this experience, something changed within me. As if I was ashamed to be black, as if I was afraid that someone would mistake me for an immigrant. As if he had to prove to people he did not know that he was like them, that he was Italian.

I have even made distasteful jokes about blacks and immigrants, as if to emphasize that I was not one of them. The only thing that explained my behavior was fear. The fear of hatred he saw in people’s eyes towards immigrants. The fear of contempt that I felt at the mouth of people, even my relatives, who wistfully invoked Mussolini and ‘Captain Salvini’. I don’t want to beg for compassion or pity. I just want to remind myself of the discomfort and suffering that I am experiencing. I am a drop of water next to the ocean of suffering that is living who prefers to die to continue living in misery and hell. Those people who risk their lives, and those who have already lost it, just to snoop around, to savor what we simply call ‘life.’”

A couple of very important notes here. First, it is quite significant that Seid explicitly references not on Mussolini, but also Matteo Salvini, the former Deputy Prime Minister, and still current Senator in the Italian Parliament, who is Secretary of the Lega Nord, or Northern League, which is a right-wing racist, xenophobic political party, whose supporters are pretty much the equivalent of the supporters of Donald Trump in the United States. There has been a massive surge in the expression of overt racism and xenophobia in Italy in the past decade and a half, and the racist xenophobia has exploded in the last several years, particularly as many thousands of Black Africans have entered Italy as refugees from war, conflict, and poverty in Africa. Second, in the letter above, he made it extremely clear that he was deeply distressed by the racism he had been experiencing.

Interestingly, his mother Maddalena, in that interview broadcast on the “Approfondimento Focus” program, kept emphasizing that Seid had recently been depressed because of the isolation imposed on him and others during the lockdown this spring. Obviously, there is rarely simply one single cause for suicidality. Seid could certainly have been depressed during the nationwide lockdown in Italy this spring. But that absolutely does not negate his extreme distress over his lived experience of racism.

Reflecting on all this, I see a tragically classic situation for a young adult transracial, intercountry adoptee, a young person who was racially and socially isolated, who was experiencing ongoing racism, and whose parents, from what we can tell, were in denial about the racism he was experiencing and the distress he was experiencing because of it.

Another tragic loss of yet another transracial intercountry adoptee life.

I’m sharing a post from La Repubblica, with a link to a selfie-video (which has since been taken down so I post this one instead) in which Seid is enjoying dancing.

May the memory of Seid and his life be a blessing.

Related Resources

ICAVs Memorial Page

Read Mark Hagland’s contribution to ICAVs other post: Can we Ignore or Deny that Racism Exists for Adoptees of Colour?

We Need to Talk about Adoptee Suicide, Now

Atlanta Consequences

by Kayla Zheng, adopted from China to the USA.

I am still processing the murder of 6 Asian women in the Atlanta spa shootings. I have been posting and sharing throughout my social media accounts about my anger, my distrust, the audacity of law enforcement and society for protecting white terrorist fragility and blatant denial of racism. I can feel tension like a chink in my armour of forced composure. But I am not only processing this all as an Asian woman. I am also forced to process this threat as an Asian woman adoptee, who has been raised in a world and by people who look like that terrorist. Worse yet, I have been raised by people who have ideologies in similar veins of that terrorist. Where do I begin to grieve, where do I begin to process, how do I begin to let you know how I feel when I have spent the majority of my life living under the same roof of whiteness that claims to love me but harms people who look like me?

If I were to ask my white evangelical adoptive parents their feelings of the mass shooting in Atlanta, they will question if it was race based. After all, not all the victims were Asian. If I were to ask them if certain political leaders in powerful positions where responsible for fuelling anti-Asian sentiments, I would be met with “fake news”. But if I were to ask them if they love their Asian daughter, I would be met with “yes, however, I don’t see you as Asian, you are just our daughter”. How do I process a grief and fear so real and palatable, when it is ignored and denied by those who are supposed to be my forever protectors? How do I put it into words and wrap it, so it is presentable and comprehensible for others to see the contradictions? In this lies the problem, the problem with racism, its systemic and institutional power that is subtle but feels like bullets, and shrapnel, and death.

This is all to say that as much as my white adoptive evangelical parents claim to love me, they cannot love me. Because they cannot recognise the terrorism they have inflicted onto me my whole life. They cannot love me fully because their “colour blindness” has prevented them from seeing the whole spectrum of my identity and how I go through life. They cannot truly love all of me because they refuse to acknowledge their own racial bias towards me, and how they raised me in that environment. They cannot love me entirely because they cannot confront their whiteness, their own racism, and how they contribute to a culture of white supremacy.

I have had some extended adoptive family members reach out to me, reassuring that they care, letting me know they are worried for my safety. On the other hand, I have not heard one whisper from my immediate adoptive family. None of them. Their silence speaks volumes. I am still processing what it means to be Asian in America. I still think about the time I was told me to go back to where I came from, as if it was not whiteness that forcibly re-homed me to a country that despises me. To a country that sees me as a virus, a fetish, a communist spy, a threat and fantasy to be colonised from the East. I am still absorbing and trying to understand what the violence towards people that look like me means to me. I struggle with this all, but I struggle with this in addition to being an Asian female adoptee. I struggle to process what this means when the people I was raised by refuse to see me as an Asian woman. And that refusal could cost me my life.

Read Kayla’s most read article: Decolonizing Moses

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