Race, Culture and Adoption

I sat at the PC for ages yesterday considering how to respond to a challenge on RaceChangers. Go over there, read the paper by Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, and then read the comments.

Several of the commenters asked why many adoptive parents choose to adopt from Asia, and conversely why they don’t choose to adopt a white child of child of color from the US.

I’m not kidding when I say I sat for a full hour, probably more, with my fingers on the keyboard, unable to write a single word that didn’t bear out the fact that my subconscious attitudes toward race had influenced my decision to adopt from Korea far more than I would have ever thought. Although I’ve always been honest about the fact that altruism wasn't a motivation, I'd never faced the questions posted on RaceChangers.

Before I go on - please understand that I'm looking at myself here. My feelings shouldn't be ascribed to any other adoptive parents - this post is personal, not a generalization. It also doesn't address my responsibility as an a-parent to support my children's heritage - I've written about that in the similarly-named Race, Culture and Adoptive Families and other posts as well. I hope, though, that this post encourages others to look at the issue of race from a new point of view.

On the surface, it seems pretty simple. What initially drew us to Korea were two things: the fact that, nearing 40, we would be able to adopt an infant; and the fact that as we imagined our life with our children, we were able to visualize being a family with Asian children.

Have you heard the phrase “the other white meat?” Read Julia’s post On Asian Adoption if you haven’t. Julia makes the point that because race in the US is viewed primarily in terms of black and white, white adoptive parents tend to believe that Asian children will meld more easily into a white family, and that by adopting Asian kids, white a-parents can avoid the issue of race altogether.

*light bulb goes on*

When my husband and I adopted, we thought in terms of raising a children from another culture. I don't think at the time we adopted that we fully understood that we would be raising a child from another race. We felt we could accept the challenge of nurturing our children's cultural identities, but didn't understand the ramifications to our children's racial identities of being raised in a white home.

My adoption choices were largely conditioned by my position of entitlement, conferred upon me by virtue of my race and claimed in my life experiences. I shudder to think that this makes me a racist, but on some level, one I can't control, I very well may be, or at least may be considered one by people of color.

I haven't even begun to address the second question, which is why we didn't choose to adopt a white child or child of color from the US. It's clear, though, that ingrained subconscious attitudes about race played a much greater role in that decision than my professed racial enlightenment. And undoubtedly, similar attitudes about class, plus our misguided understanding of domestic adoption at that time, contributed to our decisions not to adopt from the US.

I do want to say one thing, though, that is getting lost in this self-examination, and that is that my choice of Korean adoption doesn't mean that I felt unable to love children of other races and ethnicities. That's simply not the case. What is the case is that the decision to adopt came with many related questions about our ability to raise children from different backgrounds, our environment's ability to welcome us, the support available to us in our area, our family's acceptance of our family, and so on. Although we could always answer yes to the question of our ability to love a child of any race or background, we couldn't always answer yes to the others.

All of this is a mighty ugly self-revelation. It's hard to admit that my decision was not-so-subtly influenced by attitudes toward race that I outwardly abhor. Yet for that very reason, it's even more important for me to do so. And even more important to listen to my children and all people of color, to make every effort to understand the many ways my insensitivity or ignorance of their experience contributes to the racial divide in this country.

RaceChangers challenged its readers to think about intercountry adoption to “begin to see that international adoption is an extremely complex issue that poses many quandaries having to do with race, culture, language, class, power, privilege, economics, politics and the law.”

It certainly challenged me.


MomEtc. said…
I'm probably going to get a ton of crap for this, but I have a minor quibble about this post. I disagree that you were racist because you had a lack of awareness about what it would mean to raise a child of a different race. Not knowing something doesn't make one racist, it makes one unaware, maybe even ignorant, but not racist.

I'm concerned about what I read online these days that seems to indicate that a multitude of thoughts, actions, notions, feelings, you name it, can be identified as "racist". I remember when the term was used expressly to refer to actual institutional racism. That is how I still understand "racism". It's lack of access to jobs, education, healthcare, resources, all on an institutional level. It's very real and I think it cheapens the term "racist" to begin applying the term anywhere and everywhere.

There are more terms for these other thoughts, behaviors, etc., which include ignorance, discrimination, bigotry, prejudice, etc. These are also very real and need to be dealt with just as actual racism does. Both are wrong, but I am firm in my belief that the distinction needs to be made.

And, I also therefore don't buy that we are all "racist". There are so many things we all need to learn about each other. I do believe at times most people will have pre-conceived notions about each other or a simple lack of knowledge about each other. Yes, some of these people will be closed minded and unwilling to change those beliefs. But there are also folks who are open minded and who seek to learn about people different from themselves. Calling these people a term like "racist" I think is divisive and makes it harder for us to come together are really learn about each other. Calling someone "racist" who is not actually racist is a horrible accusation.

Ok, sorry I ranted so long. I think I'm going to write a piece on one of my blogs about this. I think this is something that ultimately divides us, so I think it's important to talk about.
Margie said…
Hi, MomEtc, thanks for commenting - but let me clarify that this post is about my experience and what motivated me to adopt from Korea. I want to make sure that everyone who reads here understands that I'm not generalizing, and in not way am ascribing what I feel to anyone else. I'm sorry if I did that, and will add a note to the post to make sure it's clear.
Lisa S said…
Thanks for speaking 'my mind' so eloquently. It truly is a very complex issue.

You know, at the end of the day...it comes down to making a decision. *You* chose Korea, *I* chose China, others choose white, black, special needs, older kids, you name it. There are prejudices in ALL of us...and if we waited until we had perfect motivations and purely clean hearts, we would never move forward with anything. But you CHOSE to build a family, and you CHOSE a child who was already born but needed a home. And THAT is a good thing. And the fact that you (and I) wrestle through these issues is all part of the journey of becoming whole people.
michele said…
I can't comment on your post - not being a part of this particular type of family... You know my background. I was just stopping by to thank you for being a frequent visitor and to let you know I'm reading, even if it is out of my experience zone. You're so *thinking* in all of your posts (sorry I'm dead tired and can't think of the proper adjective) and I feel that is nearly always a good thing.
Irshlas said…
I started to write a comment but it got too long. So I made it a post of my own.... you gave me food for thought. And continuing questions of my own :-)
Thanks for posting this. I appreciate your honesty and courage. It is so hard to even discuss these things, let alone look into our own hearts. Let's keep this conversation going!
Mollie said…
Hi again, I just noticed that I didn't post the correct link to the article "Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege." Here it is http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~mcisaac/emc598ge/Unpacking.html
Margie said…
Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for adding your thoughts - this IS a discussion that needs to continue.

Mollie, I also wanted to let you know that I haven't been able to read your comment in depth yet, but will, and will circle back when I do. Thanks for adding them!!
Anonymous said…
Thanks thirdmom and Mollie for your posts, they are both very honest and thought provoking and have given me a lot to think about.

bb_oma said…
I really appreciate your honesty and I think it is pretty gutsy of you to think about these really hard issues.

At some level, these thoughts and feelings are not racist, but...I use the term "primal." I am a Korean who adopted a Korean baby. I wanted a baby that looked like me. I didn't want a white baby, a black baby, or brown one. I wanted to look into almond shaped eyes surrounded by black glossy hair. I have searched deep in my soul all my life about racism and prejudice and I can say this is not racist. If I could not adopt a Korean baby, I would have gone to China, or Mongolia, or Vietnam. It is a perfectly normal primal desire to raise a child that looks like you.

So if Asians are 'the other white meat,' by all means, meditate on the deeper issues, but to want a child that looks like you - or more like you - is not a sin.
Anonymous said…
Self loathing and race hatred- towards your own race- seem to be the biggest factors and interestingly, the one you make no mention of at all, except in oblique terms.

The term "racist" as I assume no one posting or reading this blog is aware, was coined by Trotsky- yes that Trotsky as a means of creating divisiveness in the United States, which he had determined would be the crown jewel in Communism's sweep across the globe- and he proved himself right as people such as the author have proven here.

The time of self hatred and White racial nihilism is drawing to a close. Those who have succumbed to it, such as yourself, have already cast your genetic inheritance to the wind, you have ceased to exist except for the few years that remain while others who carry the torch of their racial awareness continue to have their own children and it is to them, and their offspring, to whom the future belongs.
Margie said…
Actually, Trotsky took his ideas from earlier philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

For those wondering about the above comment, go google "white racial nihilism" and you'll see where our anonymous friend is coming from.

Honestly, go troll elsewhere.
Margie said…
Mollie, apologies for taking so long to respond to your comment!

First, thanks for the tips on "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" and "Mirror of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible." I have the first, although I haven't read it yet and must. I hadn't heard of the video, which sounds interesting

Your analogy - either standing on a moving walkway vs. just standing still really makes a lot of sense: if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. It's not enought to just say "I'm not a racist" if your behavior doesn't actively work to stop it.

Thank you for your thoughts.

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