Something I've been thinking about since I wrote the post last night – I wrote:

Read how the Korean American adult adoptees responded in the Evan B. survey:

  • 78% experienced racial discrimination as a child
  • 48% experienced racial discrimination by childhood friends
  • 38% experienced racial discrimination by their childhood friends' parents
  • 75% experienced racial discrimination by their classmates
  • 39% experienced racial discrimination by their teachers

But what has been nagging at my mind all day is this…these are self-reported accounts of discrimination.

You know, it took me until I was in my 20s to recognize racism and racial acts. Like the time my middle school geography teacher ching-chonged at me in class? I remember that so clearly, including how uncomfortable it made me when the whole class looked at me in response -  but wouldn't have called it racist or racialized discrimination at the time. I only knew the physical taunts, the "slanty-eyed" pull at the eyes. I didn't know the "c" word and the "g" word were comparable to the "n" word back then.

If I hadn't learned as an adult about all the nuanced forms of racism and racialized discrimination, how would I have answered the question? Would I have forgotten about those incidents?

I'm always surprised when I meet a transracial adoptee who grew up in an all-White community and school who says they were never the subject of racialized discrimination or racism. A part of me says, "wow, that's pretty cool you never experienced that." And another part of me wonders if they just didn't recognize it for what it was.

You can't name something if you were never taught the language to describe it. In my own case, as a kid I wasn't taught that racism existed unless you were an African American and it involved slavery, lynchings or the KKK. I didn't have the language to describe what happened to me in my geography class.

Food for thought.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

4 thoughts

  1. That’s a powerful addendum. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how hard it is for white adoptive parents like myself to convey the impact of racism to children of color (in my case a VN adoptee). It’s not that I don’t believe in racism–I do–and I know I’ve seen it in action with my child. It’s that my son doesn’t see us grappling with it all the time, and he may very well not recognize racist acts for what they are. It’s like not having the language to express a concept.

  2. Very true.I used to put it down to general stupidity or someone having a bad day.I never thought it could be because of my skin colour. As an adult,I see discrimination against me by my own people because they think I’m foreign.Ignorance is bliss.

  3. Whenever I meet an adoptee who denies ever having been the target of racial discrimination I can’t help but think they’re in denial. As if they’re trying not to discuss race because talking about race will prove they’re different, or perhaps like you said they just didn’t remember or didn’t know.

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