Racism in Intercountry Adoption

I can’t believe that in the 24 years of running ICAV, I’ve not done ONE paper that brings together our lived experience of racism as intercountry and transracial adoptees! Well finally I’ve addressed this! It’s long overdue and I had the impetus to get this done because of the work in Australia by our Human Rights Commission to create a concept National Anti-Racism Framework paper. I was shocked into action when I read through the paper and realised our minority group does not even get a mention as one of the groups targeted for consultation. I wanted to do something about this, to bring visibility to our community who have long shared about racism and its impacts in our private adoptee only forum. From the many conversations I’ve had with fellow adoptees around the world, racism is one of the top issues we endure yet barely gets a mention in most adoption literature, research, policy, practice or education. At ICAV we aim to raise awareness of racism and the intersection with intercountry and transracial adoption.

Here is the submission we put together for the Australian Human Rights Commission and here is a supplementary paper, our latest ICAV Perspective Paper – Lived Experience of Racism in Intercountry Adoption. Our paper provides a collation of lived experience input to help educate about our experience of racism. We also include in our responses what we suggest be done to better support intercountry and transracial adoptees.

To provide further support and education for professionals and adoptive families, next month on Tuesday 17 May @ 2pm AEST, ICAV will be hosting a webinar Racism as Experienced by Intercountry Adoptees to bring you the voices and experiences in-person. If you would like to attend, you can contact ICAV so we can keep you informed.

Together with our Perspective Paper and the upcoming webinar, I hope these resources will help to begin/continue the conversations about racism in intercountry adoption.

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

Gypsy shares about Adoptee Anger

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 Gypsy Whitford, adopted from the USA to Australia.

I am angry because I’m a product of a broken billion dollar industry. Because I had a price tag and got treated like a new toy. Because I could have been aborted if the health care system in the USA was better but instead, I was sold to the highest bidder. Because instead of abortion, I was bought by a white family that took my blackness and turned it white with no care or empathy for who I really am or where I should be. Everything I should know was striped from my very core.

I believe race, culture, and biology plays a big part in who we are. The generations before us are part of our identity and not having biological family affects us on a deeper level than most understand.

I’m angry because it’s not just me living as a transracial adoptee with adoptive parents that have whitewashed me to the point they expect me to just deal with racism because they can’t comprehend how it really is. Or they say things like, “Well, we raised you white so that’s what you are.” Or “Well, you could have been left with your real family”, except they truly had no idea about my bio family and my mum; no idea other than to use the manipulation and collusion my mum faced before my adoptive parents signed that cheque to buy me.

We are not all unwanted! We were loved but a billion dollar industry stepped in and sunk their teeth into them, in turn, breaking that mother and baby bond in the name of $$$.

I am angry and will remain angry until the private infant adoption industry is dead!

You can follow Gypsy on TikTok @gypseadoptee

My realities of being adopted from China

by Xue Hua adopted from China to the USA.

Hi everyone! My name is Xue Hua and I was adopted as a 1 year old from Hunan, China. I live in Indianapolis in the USA, where I’ve grown up. My (white American) parents had 3 biological children and then adopted me when their youngest was 7 years old. About a year after adopting me, we adopted another girl from China, and then another about 3 years after that. So we are a family with a total of 6 girls – 3 biologically related and white, and 3 adopted and Chinese.

While it’s definitely been nice having siblings who are also POC and adopted (which I know many do not have), it’s also been quite hard having siblings that are white. Over the past 2 years, there has been some serious family fall-out, and on my part, much because of how we have communicated/not communicated about race and adoption. It’s hard because I had really looked up to my older sisters, and they have prided themselves on being very “woke” and social justice-minded, but yet, they have largely refused to acknowledge how they have contributed to my experiences with racial trauma in our family, and that’s been a recent big breaking point in our relationships. Fortunately, although my mom is fairly conservative, she has been much more understanding and willing to look at herself honestly.

Another major theme in many adoptees’ stories is abandonment issues, which I am no stranger to. In addition to obviously being put up for adoption and living in an orphanage as a baby, my adoptive father, who I was very close to, died when I was 8 years old. While my mom and I have always been close, she had the tendency to shut down when conflict and stress increased, so I spent a lot of my childhood (especially after my dad died) feeling emotionally abandoned as well. I see many other fellow adoptees in our social media groups who share similar struggles!

One thing that’s helped a lot throughout my adoption journey is becoming friends with other Asian women. While there are moments of feeling “more/too white,” I have, more often than not, felt very included and welcomed. It has also been a great outlet to discuss race and racism with fellow adoptees who truly understand what I’m talking about / experiencing.

Another thing that’s been helpful is writing. I recently wrote a personal creative nonfiction piece on being a transracial adoptee and it won “best of” the nonfiction category at my college’s literary & art magazine! It was so cathartic telling my story to others and being so generously recognized for doing so. I highly recommend for any other adoptee writers out there to share your story – whether for personal or public use!

Hurtful Words

by Wes Liu, adopted from China to the USA.

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.

Check out Wes’s YouTube conversation on Dealing with Racism with FCCNY.

COVID Makes Me Rethink My Birth Country

East vs West

Most of my life, until I returned and had a chance to reintegrate my Vietnamese identity with my adoptive identity, I thought of Vietnam as a backward Communist country. I absorbed the mentality I heard from my privileged white western adoptive country. Emotionally, I felt compelled by the assumptions I absorbed, to question how anything good could exist in a country where they couldn’t look after their own children. I was raised to think negatively about my homeland and I was always told how “lucky” I was to be adopted to Australia. Being lucky usually implied “Australia is better”.

Most times, when people make comments about my adopted status, being “lucky” refers to material gains – plenty of food, shelter and clothing; a good education; and plenty of opportunities. Yes, I have had all that for which I am thankful! But having spent over a decade trying to integrate my lost identity after being in the fog about the lifelong consequences of being separated from my birth land, culture, and people — I speak out now to help others realise there is more to being adopted than the material gains in my adoptive country.

COVID-19 has further challenged my beliefs about my birth country compared to my adoptive country. It has been the first time I’ve read something in mainstream media to highlight a positive about my homeland over my adoptive country. Here’s the recent article on Vietnam’s response to the coronavirus. I’ve seen more about other birth countries being held in high regard (see Taiwan and South Korea). It’s an unprecedented time to see some of our birth lands viewed with pride in mainstream media. In contrast, is the wealthiest, first world democratic country America and how it is responding to COVID-19. Right now, with the media coverage, I imagine the whole world is questioning whether America is better than anywhere else. From an adoption perspective, American intercountry adoptees have been trying to voice for some time that not granting automatic citizenship and actively deporting intercountry adoptees back, after 40 years, is completely unethical, unfair, and wrong. No other adoptive country does this yet America has still been upheld by most birth countries as the land to send children. Perhaps now, after seeing how America handles COVID-19, birth countries might think twice about sending children to America? Maybe the rose coloured glasses might fall away?

COVID-19 has made it quite apparent that our birth countries aren’t all backwards! They are different, but not less. Seeing our countries portrayed positively in mainstream media is novel for me. I wonder how many South Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese intercountry adoptees in America might be, for the first time, wondering why they believed the mantra about how “better off” they are compared to being raised in their birth countries? This COVID-19 is impacting far more American adoptees than those impacted by non-citizenship or deportation! And with racism towards Asians at an all time high in so many of our adoptive countries, there’s a lot that COVID-19 raises in our minds.

Right now, the whole world is re-evaluating many things but what it does for me as an intercountry adoptee, is it encourages me to look critically at how our countries are portrayed and challenges me to re-evaluate how I regard my birth land and people. I rarely see any birth country portrayed in a way where other democratic first world governments might look to them as an ideal. I’m sure I’m not the only intercountry adoptee to notice these changes and ponder what it means. This period in time adds yet another layer to consider what it means to be intercountry adopted.

We have been Brought into a Place of Hate

Notes on becoming less human by Vicente Mollestad
(Bolivian adoptee raised in Norway)

On 10 August 2019 in Bærum, Norway, a 22-year-old white male attacked a local mosque armed with shotguns. While failing to kill anyone at the mosque, the arrest and search of his house revealed the murder of his stepsister, an intercountry adoptee from China, only 17 years old.

Upon our arrival, we were once told the laws of the new world, but the reality we inhabit speaks of ignorant wishes and in the worst case, fatal lies. They spoke about us as equals in this society, of us belonging to this country, neither as foreigners nor as immigrants. Words we repeated to ourselves.

But the idea of us as innocent, gullible, dream-fulfilling children became more complicated as we mutated into more hideous and unknown beings of puberty and adulthood. The hair grew long, black and unruly. The skin, dark and distinctly different. The body did no longer resemble the idea of a child but had the features of a stranger. A stranger to our surroundings, a stranger to ourselves, and sometimes even a stranger to those closest to us.

Boys eventually fit a media profile for the cause of violence and danger in society. Girls grew to become sexually desirable and fetishised. This dehumanisation leaves us vulnerable to the current state of the West as the threat of the foreign hangs over Europe as a ghost, a ghost conjured by its involvement in a bloody past. We became targets in the line of fire in a war that isn’t ours.

As intercountry adoptees we are being assimilated in the worst way, losing our languages, our biological families and our cultural roots. Meanwhile, we still carry the negative sides of not being assimilated at all. Because our physical traits are still those of an outsider, of the threat, of the barbarian. And that description and image of us makes us enemies for nationalists like Phillip Manshaus.

Even now, when our position is manifested in the worst way, the society and media at large fails to recognise or support our position and discourse. For us there will be no marches, no mention and no grievance. Even when we are so intertwined with the current state of affairs, we are not yet heard, we are not yet given platforms. If this country insists on bringing us into the place of hate, I suggest they at least give us a chance to speak our cause because I refuse to die at the hands of a white nationalist.

Rest in peace Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen.

ICAVs Intercountry Adoptee Memorials

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