Lab Note #8

Reflection

I finished reading Colin Kaepernick’s graphic novel, Change the Game. Based on the comments circulating about his book from critics, I thought the book might include scathing accusations against his parents as racist monsters or sentiments of regret for being adopted. But there was nothing in the book that portrayed a young Colin who hated his adoptive parents and definitely no critique about transracial adoption or white parents with kids of color.

Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised by the outrage, because any time a transracial adoptee talks about the ways their white adoptive parents didn’t understand, assist, or support their racial identity development they are sure to get criticized as being ungrateful. Adoption is simplified and widely considered in binary terms – adoption is good and adoptees are happy and “adjusted” or angry/ungrateful. There is little room for nuance and complexity. I know it seems unbelievable to many, but a transracial adoptee can love their parents AND know them to have racist beliefs.

Transracial adoptees are typically considered the exception to their race, not the example of their race. In other words, transracial adoptees are accepted more if they seem to be the antithesis of or exception to whatever [negative] stereotypes are held about their racial or ethnic community. We are exemplars of our racial/ethnic backgrounds if we wear our Blackness or our Asianness or our Latiness or our Indigeneity loud and proud.

If we are seen as people of color who in spite of or despite our race/ethnicity have assimilated to whiteness, then we are seen as successful adoptees. We can be black with a lowercase b, not Black with a capital B. Often, people prefer if we are seen as the most white-assimilated outlier of our racial or ethnic community – if people see us as what Ibram Kendi would call “uplift suasion” (or “racial uplift“) examples.

To equate assimilation with gratitude or goodness is a fallacy.

I re-watched Kaepernick’s series, Colin in Black and White, and the ways he highlights his parent’s confusion during his adolescent identity search in Change the Game was pretty much the same as what was portrayed in the docuseries. I didn’t remember hearing folks saying he was “accusing his parents” of racism back then; or calling him “ungrateful.” [Interesting note that in the series, Colin’s adoptive mother is portrayed by Mary Louise Parker, who adopted her daughter from Ethiopia].

In an NPR review of Colin in Black and White, Eric Deggans writes, “The series itself often feels like a not-so-passive aggressive swipe at the authority figures – all seemingly white – who doubted his goals and made it tougher for him to be himself, including his parents.” Chafing against authority figures is kind of the typical adolescent story, though, isn’t it? Teenagers are trying to individuate, even white teenagers raised by white parents. Maybe the rebellion is focused on politics, religion, musical taste, or what you wear. In Kaepernick’s story, the authority figures he “swipes at” are all “seemingly white” because HE WAS RAISED IN PREDOMINANTLY WHITE ENVIRONMENTS. The critique here seems to be that Kaepernick shouldn’t have moved through Erikson’s adolescent identity stage, like other teenagers. For some reason, Kaepernick should have just skipped through this normative developmental stage?

Deggens mentions other scenes “which don’t make his parents look great” and he muses, “It makes you wonder if they ever realized the impact of such actions on their young Black son, and why they don’t seem to talk to him in-depth about race at a crucial moment in his life.” That, my friends, is exactly the point. Research has pretty consistently found most white parents adopting children of color don’t realize the impact of their lack of preparation in raising a child of color.

As a transracial Asian Korean adoptee, I found Colin’s depictions of his younger self seeking racial affirmation completely believable and resonant. Hateful comments from those who do not understand what it is like to be a transracial adoptee, especially during a time when anti-Black, anti-Asian, and anti-Latine sentiment is so high, demonstrates how strong the ideology is that adoption is always a good thing and that white people who adopt children of color are heroes and saviors. As people of color, transracial adoptees are silenced from speaking our truths. The message is: having parents, family, friends, and peers who say and do racist things is the cost of being adopted and you’re not worthy enough to have people support your racial and ethnic identity. What I find interesting too is that while Kaepernick is a controversial person given his history of racial justice activism, transracial adoptees who are not part of any spotlight get this same pressure to shut up and be grateful. Over and over again on social media, I observe transracial adoptees getting these types of comments whenever they speak about their experiences. I’ve had my own share of these comments – online and to my face – over the past 25+ years I’ve been publicly writing and speaking about transracial adoption.

I find it interesting that Kaepernick doesn’t critique the system of adoption at all. I’ve often wondered if he would ever share his view. Given his critique of institutional and systemic racism, I could believe he could be critical about the adoption industrial complex. Then again, he likely understands what publicly speaking about adoption would unleash.

Recommendations

Here are some items I would like to share:

  • Thanks to Lynelle Long at ICAV for sharing this resource. At MyHeritage, adoptees and birth families can apply for free Direct-to-consumer DNA tests. From their website: “MyHeritage is proud to continue its pro bono initiative to help adoptees and their birth families reunite through genetic testing. DNA Quest has made a tremendous impact since it was first introduced in 2018, resulting in many reunions. Following its success, MyHeritage has decided to donate 5000 additional DNA kits, for free, to eligible participants.” Click here for more information.
  • I learned about a new podcast, When They Were Young: Amplifying Voices of Adoptees hosted by Hatian adoptee Lanise Antoine Shelley. You can learn more about the podcast here.
  • I learned about a new podcast by two Black Late Discovery Adoptees. The podcast is part of the broader work of Black to the Beginning, created by Sandria Washington and Dr. Samantha Coleman.

In the News

Share the Love

Two conferences that have been very important in my own adoptee consciousness process include the Korean Adoptee Adoptive Family Conference (KAAN) and the International Korean Adoptee Association Conference (IKAA). Both of these organizations are led by adoptees – and have just opened registration for their summer 2023 conferences.

Register for the KAAN Conference HERE. Scholarships are available!

Register for the IKAA Conference HERE.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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