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.

Beyond Culture Camps part 3: Culture vs. Racism

November is always one of the craziest months in the Harlow's Monkey household. Numerous family birthdays, a holiday, plus gearing up towards the end of the semester (for both me and the kids), plus this year, some added bumps and lumps (some positive, some not-so-much) that all families go through. So I never got to the promised posts about the Evan B. Donaldson report during National Adoption Month after all. And even though it's not intentional, maybe that's just actually kind of perfect for me. As you might expect, I have mixed feelings about "National Adoption Month" in general. It was created to be an awareness/campaign to encourage foster care adoptions and has been co-opted into a flowery, sunshine and unicorns, all-out saccharine pro-adoption free-for-all. I was sick of it, of course, especially the multiple "fundamental Christian-adoption" notices in my gmail inbox thanks to google alerts, and glad that I had too much going on to deal with it. Plus, I've been plowing through the ADOPTION USA: Chartbook based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents study just released as well (and of course, I want to write about that too). My head is swimming!

However, I did want to continue with my thoughts about the Evan B. report, so here goes…


One of the stand-out statements that I took my highlighter pen to was this one on page 18 describing a study by Lee (2009) which surveyed 248 adopted Korean American adolescents and their parents.

[Lee] compared parent and adolescent responses on:
  • cultural socialization/pluralism (teaching about the history of Koreans and other minority groups, celebrating Korean culture, developing relationships with other Asian or Korean children)
  •  preparation for bias (educating children about discrimination, stereotypes and racism against Koreans and other groups, discussing how the child's life might be affected by racism) and
  • promotion of mistrust (teaching a child to avoid others who might take advantage of the child due to race).
Responses from both parents and youth indicated that behaviors related to cultural socialization and preparation for bias were only rarely to sometimes engaged in, with parents rating their efforts more highly than did their children. Both parents and youth reported more efforts related to cultural socialization than to preparation for bias.

Of course, I think this is significant and pretty telling. It shows that parents are likely more comfortable with the "cultural socialization" duties, including things like going to ethnic restaurants and attending culture camps or culture schools (especially if the cultural socialization is more about the adopted children socializing and the adoptive parents socializing). What it says in my interpretation is that adoptive parents don't mind so much the fun cultural stuff, what they don't like, and are uncomfortable with, is the preparing kids for racial bias aspect of transracial adoption.

Talking about race is scary stuff. It's scary in my own household, when I talk about it with my teen and my tween, and it always has been. I mean, who likes to tell their children that there are people in this world who might dislike them or even try to hurt them just because of the way they look? But what's scarier to me is thinking that they'll come face-to-face with this on their own without any preparation or understanding of where they can turn to for support. And not only that, I can role model for my kids what to do in situations. When I encounter certain racialized situations, we talk about them at home and talk about my response, and they get the chance to talk about what they would do in those situations.

This is going to be tougher for white adoptive parents with kids of color, since their experiences with racialized discrimination is going to be different. This is why it is so important that white adoptive parents are part of a diverse community, with trusted friends that can help them navigate some of these harder areas of parenting children of color in a racialized world.

When I was working for the County and would attend pre-adoption trainings, I was always amazed at how the prospective adoptive parents were willing to talk about all the potential developmental, cognitive, and mental health needs of children in care, but balked at frank discussions around race. Many prospective parents will acknowledge that they don't think they have what it takes to parent a special needs child, but will rise up in anger if anyone suggests they don't have what it takes to parent a child of a different race or ethnic origin.

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

What were the top actions/activities that influenced a more satisfied sense of racial identity for the adult Korean adoptees in the survey? The top responses were:

  • travel to birth country (74% found it was or thought it would be helpful)
  • attending racially diverse schools (73% found it was or thought it would be helpful)
  • having child care providers, teachers or adult role models of the same race/ethnicity (73% found it was or thought it would be helpful)

And what I thought was interesting was comparing it to what was considered least helpful:

  • having traditional objects (such as dolls, etc.) from birth country (49% perceived this to be helpful)
  • having contact with birth relatives (47% found this to be helpful)
  • studying traditional martial arts from country or traditional dance classes (38% perceived these to be helpful)

Finally, what were the things that Korean adoptees were most likely to have participated in as children or youth?

  • 84% had cooked or dined on Korean food -  68% rated it helpful
  • 80% had siblings (although note that the survey did not ask if siblings were adopted, or if they were also adopted from Korea) – 63% rated this helpful.
  • 79% had read information about their country on the internet, 71% found it helpful.
  • 74% were in regular contact with people of same race/ethnicity – 67% rated it helpful.
  • 73% had books about adoption – 68% found them helpful
  • 72% had traditional objects (dolls, etc.) from birth country, only 49% found those helpful.

The Evan B. report summarizes this portion of the study by stating that:

External aspects of culture – such as having a Korean doll/traditional object or studying traditional dance or martial arts – were considered by a minority of these respondents as being helpful in fostering positive identity.

Overall the majority of Korean adoptees (61%) identified opportunities to engage in experiential supports – including culture camps, but particularly to build ongoing relationships with adopted adults and other minorities – as being helpful.

I want to end with this quote from the study (p.48):

Much of the work related to parenting transracially adopted children has focused on the socialization experiences for these children. However, we must recognize that fostering cultural awareness or ethnic pride does not teach a child how to cope with racial discrimination (emphasis mine).

“Cultural Tourism” – Beyond Culture Camps Part 2

One of the study's limitations is that those adoptees born/adopted in
the late 1970s to 1989 would have had much greater access or
opportunity to specialized Korean culture camps. Korean culture camps
did exist back then, and in fact Holt first started their camps in
1983. I, as a "2nd wave" adoptee would have been 15 years old that
year. A local family camp for Korean adoptees in Minnesota, Kamp
Kimchee, began in 1978. For me, I would have liked to have know what
the age breakdown was for those who attended camps and those who did
not, and if there were any correlations between ages/year adopted and
some of the other variables such as how one identifies
racially/ethnically. My hypothesis would be that it would make a

Deborah Douglas responds to the NYT article about Korean adoptee identity

From the Huffington Post

The Asian-adoptee identity crisis reported in Monday's New York Times might finally lend credence to what black social workers have been saying all along: Ethnic and racial identity matters.

In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers issued a
statement emphasizing the importance of keeping black families intact
by encouraging black-on-black adoptions. Many took this stance to be
anti-white, racist rhetoric, insisting that all children need is love
to survive childhood healthy and intact.

So now we know — at least from an Asian-adoptee point of view.

You can read the article here.

What do you think folks? Is she right?

New York Times article about new Evan B. Donaldson study

This New York Times article features several fellow adoptee friends! It's great to hear their voices.

Adopted from Korea and in Search of Identity

As a child, Kim Eun Mi Young hated being different.

…Growing up in Georgia, Kansas and Hawaii, in a military family, she
would date only white teenagers, even when Asian boys were around.

“At no time did I consider myself anything other than white,” said Ms.
Young, 48, who lives in San Antonio. “I had no sense of any identity as
a Korean woman. Dating an Asian man would have forced me to accept who
I was.”

It was not until she was in her 30s that she began to
explore her Korean heritage.

…The experiences of Ms. Young are common among adopted children from
Korea, according to one of the largest studies of transracial
adoptions, which is to be released on Monday. The report, which focuses
on the first generation of children adopted from South Korea, found
that 78 percent of those who responded had considered themselves to be
white or had wanted to be white when they were children. Sixty percent
indicated their racial identity had become important by the time they
were in middle school, and, as adults, nearly 61 percent said they had
traveled to Korea both to learn more about the culture and to find
their birth parents.

Like Ms. Young, most Korean adoptees were
raised in predominantly white neighborhoods and saw few, if any, people
who looked like them. The report also found that the children were
teased and experienced racial discrimination, often from teachers. And
only a minority of the respondents said they felt welcomed by members
of their own ethnic group.

As a result, many of them have had trouble coming to terms with their racial and ethnic identities.

You can read the whole article here.

Article about Korean “export” of babies

This article just came to my attention. It's from the Seoul Journal, and published in today's New York Times (kind of a companion piece to yesterday's piece on the stigma of single mothers in Koea).
I have some critique of this article, including that the facts seem wrong.
Six thousand Korean children a year – given up for adoption by unwed mothers or abandoned by their parents – are adopted by American families alone.
6,000 adoptions to America a year is not factually correct, and hasn't been since the 1980s. The numbers for the past decade have been in the 1500-2500 a year range.
Last year, according to State Department immigration figures, 5,742 Korean children were adopted by American families.
The number according to the State Department is actually 1,065 in 2008. See here.
But those who support foreign adoptions say very few Korean families are willing to take in children who are not blood relations. In a country where most families proudly display thick volumes of genealogical charts, where the Confucian respect for ancestors remains very much alive, there is little place for children of a different bloodline.
I think this is rapidly changing. Korea now completes more domestic adoptions than international adoptions. And people don't know that Korea used to have an accepted practice of domestic adoptions, (I read a book a while ago that described the cultural acceptance of domestic adoption pre-war. I can't find the citation but when I do I'll link it). While I think Confucianism plays a role, we can't just continue to use that as an overriding factor.
Anyway I thought it was interesting to read. The language alone and use of word choice always fascinates me. In spirit I am glad Korea is critiquing its own practices, I am disheartened that some of their facts are wrong.
Full article here.

Representations of Transracial Korean Adoption in Children’s Literature

From Sarah Park's website . I am excited that this work is out there and it will be interesting to see if anyone tackles other subjects in children's adoption books (China, Ethiopia, etc.)

Representations of Transracial Korean Adoption in Children’s Literature

Abstract: This dissertation examines and analyzes
representations of transracial Korean adoption in American children’s
literature published from 1955 to 2007.  Since the 1950s,
more than 200,000 Korean children have been sent from South Korea to
North America and Europe to be adopted into previously all-white
families.  Over 110,000 were adopted into the United States.  Representations
of transnationally and transracially adopted Koreans have appeared in
over fifty American children’s books since 1955.  Early
titles depicted orphaned Korean children in need of homes in order to
promote the new phenomenon of transracial/transnational adoption.  More recent titles depict adopted Koreans’ experiences in the United States.

Based on my analyses of fifty-one children’s
books, autobiographical writings by transracially adopted Koreans, and
my observations during an international adoptee conference, it is clear
that this literature does not holistically mirror the experiences of
transracially adopted Koreans.  Most of the stories were
written with the implicitly didactic purpose of describing and
explaining adoption, often at the expense of engaging readers in an
aesthetic reading experience.  Picture books uniquely tell
stories through both text and illustrations or photographs, but there
are often contradictions between text and image in depicting this
experience.  In the more spacious format of the novel,
authors idealize and validate adoptive mothers while de-maternalizing
and invalidating the person of the birth mother.  Text
and illustrations depict adopted Korean children as Other by the
circumstances of when they are told about their adoption, the ways in
which they are named, and their isolation from other adopted Koreans.
My research provides a categorical framework for critically thinking
about the types of adoption literature produced for children and gives
insight into the characteristics and uses of ethnic and adoptive
children’s literature.

For more information, visit Sarah's website here.

Actions speak louder than words

From the "You said it better than I could" shelf, I would like to bring your attention to this great list that atlasien from Upside Down Adoption created in response to a question posed in last week's Racialicious post about Rebecca Walker's quote on adoption.

A reader named Melanie asked,

 "what are the options then for orphans living in any country, including
the US? As a person who simply wants to be a parent and is completely
not interested in doing so biologically, how can I work towards justice
and transparency in the US (where I live) and in other countries where
orphans/orphanages/adoption is concerned?

…I am genuinely interested in what POCs and/or those against transracial
adoption feel is the best way to serve children, any children who are
orphans. As a perspective AP, I read a lot of criticism of adoption but
very rarely does anyone move or point to a solution. Maybe there isn’t
" (comment #37).

Atlasien has kindly given me permission to post her response:

The options for children in crisis are: living with parents,
living with extended family, living in a group home or orphanage,
living in foster care, some sort of guardianship arrangement,
independent living with supports, informal or formal adoption. Or a
combination of any of these. Adoption is sometimes the best solution,
but most of the time, it’s not. And one thing I learned in the last few
years that surprised me… although foster care is generally better than being in a group home, being in a good group home is much better than bad/inconsistent foster care.

Things you can do in this country:
– Get educated about issues in domestic adoption/foster care here in the U.S.
– Actively work to dispel myths about domestic adoption/foster care here in the U.S.
– Volunteer as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate, called Guardian ad litems in some states)
– Volunteer at a group home as a mentor
– Become a foster parent (a good one, not one of the bad ones)
– Become a social worker (a good one, not one of the bad ones)
– Advocate for specific, targeted, effective reform in the system.

For international adoption:
– don’t adopt internationally unless you have strong ties to that
country (e.g. your ancestors are from there, your relatives are from
there, or you can speak the language)
– don’t adopt from any country where you can’t keep easily keep the
child in contact with many people closer to their culture of origin.
– if you adopt internationally, work to establish contact with your child’s biological family.
– educate yourself, work to dispel myths and also try to combat the silencing of adoptees and others in mainstream media
– take adoption corruption seriously
– support homegrown organizations working for social change in the
country; don’t assume that foreign-led organizations and foreign
charity leaders understand the whole picture.

Overall, putting charity and adoption hand-in-hand is dangerous. It can be insulting to adoptees… adoptees should ideally be wanted; they should neither be a living penance, nor a prize for winning a moral contest.

If you want to work for an NGO, work for an NGO. If you want to
adopt, adopt… and acknowledge and try to deal with the ethical issues

One foster care adoption blogger I follow once wrote “You can only save a child once. After that, it’s called parenting.”

I love that quote, because I actually don’t think it’s possible to take the salvation narrative entirely
out of adoption. In fact, if the adoption wasn’t about “saving” in some
way — if the child would have been better off without adoption anyway —
then that’s really, really unethical. But the salvation narrative
should be limited and contextualized; it shouldn’t drown out the
child’s own story, or the story of their original family (which is
usually more about tragedy than salvation).