What No One Told Me About Adoption

Grown In My Heart hosted a blog carnival this past weekend called What No One Told Me About Adoption.

Interestingly, several years ago I wrote a piece for a project that was never published, an anthology of creative writing by Asian/Pacific Island women living in the Midwest. I titled my piece, Things They Never Tell You When You're An Orphan In Korea.

When I wrote this piece I had just started coming to terms with realizing the impact adoption had had on my life. The mask I'd been wearing as one of those "happy, well-adjusted" adoptees crumbled. I had not yet gone back to college, I had not yet become a social worker. I had just returned from my first trip to Korea, a trip that did not go well. I had not yet found "my people," those adoptees with whom I could really understand, who "got me." I felt I was being honest with myself but was conflicted because my feelings were not being recognized or validated in the books I read about adoption or in the volunteer work I was doing with adoption agencies. I was definitely a work in progress.

Reading the blog carnival made me go back and look at what I'd written a very long time ago now. And while I no longer necessarily agree with everything I wrote back then, there are definitely some nuggets that still resonate. I'm posting an excerpt of that piece today. Although I won't post the whole thing (there are some very private and personal things I included that I wouldn't want made public, like where I lived and my birthdate), I wanted to give you readers a small glimpse into the Me I Was Back Then. Those of you who are adoptive parents might want to keep in mind that I was in my late 20s-early 30s during this period. If you had asked me even a few years earlier I would have told you that everything was fine, that I had no negative feelings about adoption ever, that adoption was always a wonderful thing. Of course, that wasn't entirely true.

The point is not that there is a right way or wrong way to feel about adoption, the point is that every person who is adopted has a right to own their feelings, either way. And, things change. Having children changed things for me. Going to Korea changed me. Reading and educating myself about adoption changed me. Working and volunteering with adopted children changed me. Working at adoption agencies with prospective and adoptive parents changed me. 

However an adopted person thinks or feels about adoption comes from their own experiences. Adoptive parents and adoption professionals will never know what an adoptee will think or feel about their adoption experience. What I do know is that whether you personally agree or disagree with an adopted person's opinion about adoption it is not your place to tell someone that how they view their experience is wrong. You can support, you can empathize, you can offer other perspectives. But remember that those other perspectives are just that – other perspectives. Your perspective as someone who is not adopted is not better or more correct than the adoptee's perspective.

In my experience the more you try and tell an adoptee how they are supposed to feel, the more likely they will stop telling you how they feel altogether.

Continue reading

Babies as young as 6 months discriminate based on race

From Newsweek, a fascinating article about how children as young as six months old recognize racial differences.

What is remarkable about this study, and the excellent book The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe Feagin, is that there is evidence that young children DO understand a lot more about race and racism that adults want to believe.

From the article:

The goal of Vittrup's study was to learn if typical children's videos
with multicultural storylines have any beneficial effect on children's
racial attitudes.

…Vittrup's first test of the kids revealed they weren't colorblind at
all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly
answered, "Almost none." Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered,
"Some," or "A lot." Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the
questions this way.

More disturbing, Vittrup also
asked all the kids a very blunt question: "Do your parents like black
people?" Fourteen percent said outright, "No, my parents don't like
black people"; 38 percent of the kids answered, "I don't know." In this
supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to
improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to
their parents.


…To Vittrup's complete surprise, the three groups of children were
statistically the same—none, as a group, had budged very much in their
racial attitudes. At first glance, the study was a failure.

through the parents' study diaries, Vittrup realized why. Diary after
diary revealed that the parents barely mentioned the checklist items.
Many just couldn't talk about race, and they quickly reverted to the
vague "Everybody's equal" phrasing.

Of all those
Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six
families managed to actually do so. And, for all six, their children
dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week. Talking
about race was clearly key. Reflecting later about the study, Vittrup
said, "A lot of parents came to me afterwards and admitted they just
didn't know what to say to their kids, and they didn't want the wrong
thing coming out of the mouth of their kids."

Why is this article important for white adoptive parents who have adopted children transracially and internationally?

Minority parents are more likely to help their children develop a
racial identity from a young age. April Harris-Britt, a clinical
psychologist and professor at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, found that all minority parents at some point tell their
children that discrimination is out there, but they shouldn't let it
stop them. Is this good for them? Harris-Britt found that some
preparation for bias was beneficial, and it was necessary—94 percent of
African-American eighth graders reported to Harris-Britt that they'd
felt discriminated against in the prior three months.

Preparation for bias is not, however, the only way minorities talk to
their children about race. The other broad category of conversation, in
Harris-Britt's analysis, is ethnic pride. From a very young age,
minority children are coached to be proud of their ethnic history. She
found that this was exceedingly good for children's self-confidence; in
one study, black children who'd heard messages of ethnic pride were
more engaged in school and more likely to attribute their success to
their effort and ability.

So the point? Parents – even liberal, "color-blind", "we are all part of the human race," parents, even those who live in the "diverse" areas but are waiting for their kids to bring up racism – need to talk about race and racism from day one.

Please read the article in full here. Also, read Resist Racism's excellent analysis of the article here, which points out the very skewed way the writers approached this article, and why so many of us parents of color felt like, "well, duh."

Addicted to Race Episode 116 – Black kids white community, bluest eye, international adoption and culture

How do we raise black children in an all-white community and still maintain a healthy sense of identity? How do we combat Eurocentric standards of beauty? Do
internationally adoptive parents go too far with the cultural
activities, at the expense of talking to their kids about race? Carmen
Van Kerckhove, Tami Winfrey Harris, and Jae Ran Kim discuss, today at 11 Central/12 Eastern, live.

Subscribe here.

Language barrier at CPS

A very disturbing article about how CPS bungled the case of a Chinese-American family. Clearly this child could have been raised by relatives, yet because the caseworker and the agency did not provide interpreters and basically operated out of a white, English-language framework, this child has now been with his foster parents long enough for the courts to consider it in his best interests to remain with them.

As a former public child welfare worker, I believe the agency and caseworker completely mishandled this case and operated out of a white supremacist framework. Harsh words, maybe, but there was a complete lack of best practices here.

Language Barrier at Child Protective Services

For the first year, Baby Raymond lived happily with
his family. Then the agency took him away and even though his
Chinese-American family fought to get him back, they couldn't find the
right words.

If Raymond loses access to his extended family, there is a good
chance he will never be apprised of the facts surrounding his removal
from their lives. This story has tried to present the unvarnished
facts, which are buried in a bungle of oft-­puzzling court orders and
about 1,000 pages of trial testimony and exhibits. Hopefully, if
Raymond ever chooses to read anything about that part of his life, he
will have the time to look at the primary sources.

And if he chooses to read anything else, I hope it would be this:

Raymond, due to language and geographic issues, it has been
difficult to illustrate exactly how much your Aunt Connie loves you,
and how this ordeal has torn her, and the rest of your family, apart.

However Connie appeared to the jurors, her words on paper express a
woman unsure of her tongue and unsure of the legal system, who was
stumbling over herself to, in her words, "try to explain so the jury
member can understand better."

By the time your mother's case went to trial, it really ceased to be
about the truth and about what was best for Raymond Liu. It was purely
adversarial. It was about using your family's lack of English and lack
of legal sophistication against them. And it worked. Sure, it was also
about pointing the finger at CPS. And you can make up your own mind
about that.

This is an extremely long-winded way of saying you have to believe
this: Your Aunt Connie loves you. She fought hard for you. She and your
Aunt Ling were there for the first year of your life. They had such
respect for your grandmother, who they always wanted you to be with, so
she could care for you like she cared for them. And you have to believe
this: You were happy.

You can read the entire article here (it is very lengthy)

How much culture?

I thought this was an interesting article about how much culture adoptive parents should incorporate into their family's lives.

From Brain, Child Magazine website: What's My Heritage? International adoptions and the culture debate.

In December, Rob and I took Nick on a trip to Vietnam, his first
visit back to his birth country. But just weeks before we left, we
found ourselves with a child melting down, who was terrified we’d leave
him there, afraid we’d be disappointed if he didn’t like it. “I don’t
want to go to Vietnam!” he howled. “I don’t want to go to Vietnam!
I…don’t…want…to…go…to Vi-et-nam!”

It was then that I thought maybe I’d gone too far. Was I doing this more for myself than for Nick?

know the caveats. He was too young; it’s normal for a first grader to
be contrary. All true, and he often infuriated me in Vietnam. I was
proud when he told people his name in Vietnamese, but I never felt at
ease. We were on public display more than in any American hospital
hallway. I worried for my boy when saleswomen fussed over the long
rattail in his hair, fingering it, saying he was “lucky.” I kept
wanting to hug his tense little face against my chest.

our trip, I’ve talked to people inside the adoption community and out:
other parents, adoptees, social scientists, Vietnamese Americans. Going
overboard can be worse than doing nothing at all, so I wonder and fret:
How much should I push cultural activities onto my son? How much of his
birth culture is it healthy for him to keep as he grows—and how much is
confusing or harmful, a kitschy pastiche that will leave him
permanently unmoored?

You can read the rest here.

Will Michael Jackson’s kids be in a transracial placement?

I have a lot to say about the custody of Michael Jackson's children, but haven't quite sorted out what I want to say. So in the meantime, here is an article in which a friend of mine, Robert O'Connor, was quoted.

From ABC News: How will Michael Jackson's White kids get along with Black family?

In the coming months and years, 11-year-old Paris and her two brothers,
Michael Joseph Jr., 12, and Prince Michael II, 7, will have many
adjustments to make without their famous father — not the least of
which may be growing up in a family in which their fair skin will
noticeably set them apart.

There's nothing unusual about black families
taking in their kin. Historically, they have often done so, but when
the children look more white than black, eyebrows — and stereotypes —
get raised.

Even with trans-racial adoptions on the rise, it's still far more common to see white parents with adopted Asian or black children
n the reverse. Steve Martin made a joke out of being adopted by
black parents in the movie "The Jerk," but all kidding aside, it's
still extremely rare for black parents to adopt a non-black child.

"It's much less of a two-way street," said Robert O'Connor, an
assistant professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul,
Minn., who studies trans-racial adoptions.

Since we don't know if MJ was the biological father of these children, we don't know if they are actually biracial or monoracial. If they were White and MJ is not the biological father, then they were already in a transracial family – not really recognized because MJ's skin was so fair – so their living with the Jackson family isn't changing that. And if MJ was their biological father, then again, despite MJ's skin color they were still used to their extended family being Black. It appears that these children have long had a relationship with the Jackson family.

Anyway, it is intriguing. The article in full is here.

Do white adoptive fathers of black or biracial-black daughters get a pass?

One of my favorite blogs had this post this past week – The Race™-Approved White Guys.

Authors AJ Plaid and Fiqah write,

[W]e’ve composed a list of white guys who are deemed The
Race™-sanctioned—any Black female performer can be seen with these
white performers and know she’s doing right by Us™. Our criteria:
  1. We know they’ve dated, are dating, are married to, have and/or have
    babies by Black women. (Having Black or Black biracial daughters,
    adopted or biological, is an added bonus. ‘Cause, as some of us wanna
    believe, if the white guy can touch/sex up/adopt/father a sistah, they
    can not possibly be…well, you know the rhetoric.)
  2. They can actually have performing-arts skills. (This leaves out Kevin “K-Fed” Federline.)
  3. They’re famous in their own right. (This kinda sorta leaves out
    Gabriel Aubry. Some early men-watchers know him as a model. But many
    more know him for siring Halle Berry’s baby. If you don’t believe us,
    say Aubry’s name and “model.” Then say Aubry’s name and “Halle Berry’s
    baby’s daddy.” Record the results.)
  4. We get the 6th Sense* that they’ve been with sistahs but aren’t talking about it.
  5. We sistahs have sensed the sexual tension between these dudes and the sistahs on-screen.
  6. They’re not Justin Timberlake.

I don't know…I've known plenty of White adoptive fathers who still have racist views towards Black women and men. In fact, I don't agree with the idea that just having a black or biracial daughter, adopted or not, gives white man a pass.

ETA: I guess the adopting-black-kids part was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and part of the humor of the post. Maybe it's my post grad-year dementia, but I didn't get that part of the humor when I read this post!!!

Transracial adoption – the musical

'Shafrika, the White Girl'
Anika Larsen of 'Shafrika, the White Girl.'

Thanks to a tip from Laura, I found out about a musical currently playing off-broadway about a woman who grew up in a transracial adoptive family. Shafrika, the White Girl is the white, biological child in the family. Written and starring Anika Larsen about her own multi-racial family.

Neil Genzlinger from the New York Times takes the typical description of the topic of transracial adoption:

There are a number of things to admire in “Shafrika, the White Girl,”
an autobiographical musical by Anika Larsen at the Vineyard Theater,
and foremost among them are Ms. Larsen’s parents, who in the portrayal
here embody a quiet heroism that isn’t seen much in this age of
perfectly planned families (full review here).

Marilyn Stasio from Variety goes further in her praise of the play:

Larsen tells her own story of growing up in Cambridge, Mass., with nine
brothers and sisters, several of them adopted from war-wrecked
countries like Vietnam and Cambodia and a few of them deeply troubled,
indeed.  Even if you take into account that her hippie parents were
trust-fund babies, their idealistic vision of creating "a microcosm of
the world" — and fixing its troubles in the cradle — is as sweet and
unselfish as it gets (the entire review is here).

Reviewer Adam Perlman at Theater Mania wrote:

The main problem is that Larsen doesn't know how to handle the
contradictions inherent in family life; for example, how can people
love and yet hurt each other or how you can be on the inside and
outside at once? Larsen's confusion has led to a show that's not so
much about this legitimately unique family as about her processing it.
We watch as she relives her memories and thinks aloud about them…A large multi-racial cast, clad in brightly colored sweatshirts out
of a 1970s kids show, plays the Larsen family with warm, convivial
sportsmanship. Every re-enacted reminiscence seems selected because of
how it made Larsen feel as a child, yet they have been reconstructed
with the clear eyes of an adult — one who seems terrified of offending
anyone. The sharp and scary edges of the memories are dulled to the
point they all register as a big "so what?" Surely, Larsen must have
had memories more fraught than solving the mystery of who wrote on the
living room wall (click here for the entire review).

Honestly a few things stand out to me. Why is the title character's name "Shafrika?" Am I supposed to be amused that the white girl has an ethnic/African sounding name? Should I be impressed that one of the musical numbers is, as Stasio describes,

raising the rafters with
that gospel-inflected voice of hers in "Glory, Glory," or
enthusiastically shaking her booty — appropriately enough, in the
well-executed schoolyard chant, "Shake Ya Booty."

Maybe it was the producing theater's tease of "With a name like Shafrika, it's gotta be a blonde girl from Cambridge, Massachusetts, right?" Oh, ha ha. I GET THE IRONY!!

What about the play's poster ad?

Shafrika, The White Girl

or their YouTube promo:

Or maybe, once again, it's not the adoptee's point of view that is central to the story, that I find problematic.

Nah. I think there's plenty other reasons to be cynical of this play.


Dr. John Raible has a great post, Same Story, Different Decade on his blog. Read it.

John writes,

In the three decades since I went through my own tumultuous
adolescence, we have learned enough about race and the persistence of
racism, that we should be able to anticipate, if not predict outright,
how this young man’s white classmates and neighbors will respond to his
presence in their otherwise all-white social environment. In short, we
know that racism persists, and that there are steps we can (and must)
take to protect and support children of color who live in these
hostile, unwelcoming environments where miseducated whiteness is the
norm. We also have learned enough about adoption and its lifelong
consequences to be in a position to better prepare families like his
for the questions, concerns, and predictable developmental milestones
experienced by many adoptees.

Yet, even with all this compiled research and information about race
and adoption, parents still have not received the message. Too many
families still think it is acceptable in 2009 to raise children of
color in oppressive white environments as the only brown person for
miles around. How many more panels must we sit through where adopted
teens tell their heart-wrenching stories before agencies will stop
approving the social isolation of adoptees of color? How many more
adoptees must sit on panels to share with audiences their stories of
single-handedly integrating their otherwise all-white communities? Far
too many transracial adoptees still are forced to endure racial and
cultural isolation. To read the rest click here.

I agree wholeheartedly with his post. Things should be changing. Social workers think they've done a better job.

Unfortunately, the only way we'll know for sure is when the children of today are the adults of tomorrow.

What will their stories be?