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
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.
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.
Hi. I’m Laney Allison, adopted from Ma’Anshan, Anhui Province, China in August of 1994 by a single mom. I was raised in Dallas, TX and I now live/work in Washington, DC, USA. I am a co-founder/co-president of China’s Children International.
You can reach me @Lane_Xue on instagram and follow the CCI instagram @cci_adoptees
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.