Archive for the 'racial attitudes' Category


A Couple of Blogs on Race and Adoption

I haven’t been around much lately. I still have lots I’d like to share but life has become busy, hectic, crazy, and I have no idea when it’s going to settle down.

But I did come across a couple of blogs today that I wanted to share. This one is written by transracial adoptees who delve into the what life as a transracial adoptee is. This deals specifically with racism.  And I feel the post I’m about to share a link to is a must-read for white adoptive parents.

While white adoptive parents who as the majority in our country will likely never experience what people of color do daily here, we must educate ourselves so we understand what our kids may/do experience in their own lives. We set the tone for our kids; we make it OK to talk about. They have to know we’ve got their backs, which to me means really understanding and being proactive in helping.


I Want to Look Like… Big Bang

So today I had an interesting conversation with J that gave me some insight into how he sees himself. Bear with me as I recount it; it will get around to racial identity eventually.

J: Mom, does God look like me?
Me: Well, God doesn’t really look like a person.
J: But someday we’ll see him, then he’ll be a person.
Me: Yes, someday we’ll see God but when we do won’t look like we do now. The Bible tells us we’ll have new bodies but not what they will look like.
J: Oh. Do you think there will be mirrors in heaven?
Me: I don’t know. Why?
J: Because I want to see if I look like T.O.P. when I’m in heaven. That’s what I hope I look like there.

How, you ask, does this have anything to do with racial identity? Well, because T.O.P. is a Korean singer/rapper who is part of J’s favorite Korean band, Big Bang.

As I’ve learned more about racial identity development, I’ve wondered how J will be affected with so few Asian’s in the U.S. entertainment industry, and those who are often limited by bad stereotypes. Yes, I realize that kids should have role models whom they know and interact with and not idolize entertainers. And hopefully, as J grows he will have those real, tangible role models. But the fact is, like it or not, we do look up to entertainers.  

If his favorite entertainers are white and, given that his family is also white, will he wish he were white too? I’ve always hoped he never wishes that. So when he said he wanted to look like T.O.P., I was proud.

I’m sure that some parents question our decision to let our 5-year-old son listen to Korean hip-hop music. We do closely monitor the lyrics of the songs he hears, but really we feel that he’s gaining so much from this interest. He’s seeing five Korean young men who are successful, talented, and seen as attractive. And he’s hearing Korean for at least an hour every day, and is learning new words and phrases while listening (why the monitoring of lyrics is important).

Plus, we feel that we’re just letting our son be who he is. Even as a baby in Korea, he loved Korean popular music. Big Bang isn’t something we pushed on him. We showed him one video during the World Cup, and he took it from there. He asked to see that video again and again, then asked if they sang anything else.

That was June. Now eight months later, J’s love of Big Bang is probably stronger than ever. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier.


Great Link about Identity

I just had to share this link to an article about helping adoptees develop healthy identities.

The article is written by Chris Winston, mother of three grown children two of whom are adopted and author of A Euro-American on a Korean Tour at a Thai Restaurant in China, and Deann Borshay Liem, who has produced two documentaries about her adoption including In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee. I have great respect for both of these women.

This is short little article about making connections–deep, meaningful, lasting ones–with members of our children’s ethnic group, and gives some advice in how to go about meeting and making friends within these groups. It’s a message is that I feel is very important to interracial adoptive families, and one I fear too many families are brushing off as not necessary.

Granted, it isn’t an easy thing to do. Our son has been home for four years now and we’re still struggling to find ways to meet and make friends within our local community. But we haven’t given up; we continue to look for ways to connect in hopes of becoming a part of the community in a reciprocal way that Winston talks about.

So much of what we feel is important for our son is, we feel, in a good place right now. He has lots of friends who are adoptees, mostly transracial adoptees, and we have many friends who aren’t caucasian. We have open dialogue about race and adoption with him. But we do feel that the piece of the puzzle that’s missing is being friends with more Korean Americans and doing more to be a part of that community.

So I encourage you to check out the article. It’s good advice from two people who have been there.


Can Family Be Harmful?

This past week we’ve been visiting family in the south. We live several hours away from both sides of our family and don’t get to see them very often. We spent most of the visit with my family—my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins—who all adore our son, J. In many ways it’s so nice to be there—to have babysitters whom you know are enjoying their time with J as much as we’re enjoying our time away (just for a few hours, of course).

 But there are things that concern me about prolonged visits with our southern family members. None of them has the understanding of adoption and racial issues that my husband and I have gained during the last four years. For example, one day my mother was talking about a couple that are customers at the business where she’s employed. “She’s Asian, Vietnamese, I think,” my mom said, “and the husband is American.” I quickly debated how to handle this and decided as an ally I had to say something. “It’s likely that she’s American too,” I said. My mother paused for a minute, I guess thinking about what I’d just said, then replied, “Could be” before going on with her story. She seemed a little put-out with me for the next few minutes.

 I know what my mother was saying; the husband, of course, was Caucasian, and I know that Mom didn’t mean any harm or slight in saying what she did. In the past, I’ve worded things in a similar fashion, meaning white or that people of color aren’t seen as “only American” but saying “American” instead. Now I make the effort to clearly distinguish between race/ethnicity and nationality.

 Sadly, though, I think this confusion between race/ethnicity and nationality is a common mistake, especially one made by Caucasian Americans. I think our education and up-bring conditions us to see the United States as “our country,” with “our” being God-fearing, white people. So where does that leave everyone who doesn’t fall into one or all of those categories?

 My mother’s comment—and others made by our families that are racial in nature—makes me wonder how J will process such things as he grows. My first thought about this recent comment was that someday our son will hear such things and may think that he’s not “as American” as those who are white, although his adoption papers say differently. Will he then think that he’s not as much a part of our family because he’s not white? I don’t know, but that thought scares me.

 My mother is beginning to understand and acknowledge how the early losses of adoption do, and probably will continue to, have an impact on J. But other family members think we’re making up his struggles so we have an excuse not to help out family members. And even those who are beginning to understand adoption trauma and loss don’t understand the impact that even “seemingly benign” racial comments (at least in the eyes of white Americans) can have on a person of color, especially if they are coming from your family.

 I know I can’t protect J from everything as he grows. He’ll have to learn the attitudes that prevail in America. But the thought that he’ll learn those hard lessons by hearing comments from family members makes me so sad. And it leaves me in the conundrum of what is best—living closer to family and seeing them more or living far enough way that the impact of such attitudes is minimized, as least for now.


Whitewashing in Religion and Books

It seems like everywhere I turn these days I find evidence that so many people still don’t understand race and subtle racism.

I teach a Sunday school class for little guys (preschool and elementary ages), and have recently been looking at different curriculum for the upcoming months. Most weeks in my class I don’t have even one caucasian student. I have Latino, biracial, African American, and Korean American. And do you know how hard it is to find a curriculum in which the ethnicities of these children are accurately represented? It’s practically impossible.

So often when I find “multicultural” teaching aids, they portray Asian children as wearing traditional Chinese and Japanese clothing and black children as wearing the outfits of native Africa. I realize that the companies are trying. But don’t they see that Asian children and black in America aren’t going to be dressing that way, at least not on an everyday basis? In fact, often natives of these countries no longer regularly dress in the traditional garb in which they are portrayed. People in Korea no longer wear hanbok every day, so portraying them in such a way shows a basic misunderstanding of other cultures.

Not to mention, if you’re religious, have you ever noticed how the people of the Bible are “whitewashed”? Of course, almost all societies tend to depict Jesus and other Bible characters as being of that ethnicity, so they are mostly portrayed as white in our country. But why can’t we just portray these historical figures as they probably looked? After all most of these men and women, including Jesus, were of Jewish lineage, and therefore probably resembled those from the Middle East.

Books are another area in which I’m struggling with race. I  have always loved to read. Now my son shares that love. Finding diverse picture books hasn’t been too big a  problem. Some, of course, are better illustrated than others with more realistic and respectful portrayals of  people of color.

But as we look for chapter books to begin to read to him, I realize how many are about caucasian characters. Almost all of the books considered classics portray the lives of white characters. If people of color are included, often they are portrayed in a derogatory way. Of course, many of these classics he’ll still read and we’ll discuss how people of color are thought of and portrayed. But I feel it’s a fine line to walk–exposing him to those truths without giving him reason to feel he or his ethnicity is inferior.

That’s why I feel it’s important to balance those classics with books featuring positive and realistic storylines about people of color. Yet, that’s easier said than done. In time he’ll read all of Linda Sue Park’s books, which all have a tie to Korea through Korean/Korean American characters and/or history. But that’s only a handful of books.

Then recently I discovered Laurence Yep. He’s written numerous books featuring characters of mostly Chinese heritage. So I’m excited to begin to explore Yep’s books and hopefully share them with our son someday. But as I was trying to learn more about Yep, I found this statement on Wikipedia:

Regardless of the ethnicity of his characters, Yep’s writing is for everyone.

That statement just really struck me. It almost seemed to discount Yep’s work in someway because his characters are primarily Asian. As if people of other ethnicities wouldn’t even consider reading a book about Asian children. And all I could think is how many children of color are required to read books primarily about whites and in some case featuring negative portrayals of their own ethnicities.

I realize that for me this is a recent understanding. I grew up going to church seeing “white Jesus” and never once questioned the image. And almost all of the books I loved as a kid had very little racial diversity in them. But still I wonder about why our country isn’t further along in this understanding? Why didn’t I, who was raised in a diverse area, question these things earlier? And why aren’t Christians further along in racial understanding, given that we’re commanded to love as God loves us? I don’t have the answers. But I’m hoping to be part of the change.


Culture Keeping

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that honoring our son’s Korean heritage is an important part of our family life. So for a while I’ve been wondering what Heather Jacobson found when she researched the culture keeping of Chinese and Russian adoptive families. She wrote about her findings in Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the Negotiation of Family Difference. I found the results fascinating.

The book has six chapters covering how families choose a country when considering international adoption, the purpose behind culturing keeping, negotiating the differences within the family, handling being in the public eye, and her conclusion. I found chapter four, “Negotiating and Normalizing Difference,” to be the most fascinating since it really got the heart of feelings about race and culture.

Basically our family’s attitude about identity, race, and culture didn’t fit with either the Chinese group of adoptive families or the Russian ones.

What Jacobson found was that most families in the Chinese group practiced culture keeping but largely “did” culture through consumerism and group activities with other families that had adopted children from China. This group saw their children’s activities and identities as either American (sports, things that fit in with society) or Chinese (like Chinese school, learning Chinese dances, etc.); few saw their children as Chinese Americans. The families had little, if any, contact with the Chinese American community and when sought the mothers tended to prefer interacting with recent immigrants who they viewed as “more Chinese” but largely saw such interaction as resources, not friends. Jacobson found that the Chinese families didn’t live in diverse areas and their inner circles were very diverse. The mothers largely saw culture keeping as a way of building their children’s self-esteem as a person of color without having to discuss or deal with race.

The Russian group largely didn’t “do” culture. Those who did already celebrated the heritage of the family (such as Irish or Czech) and simply added Russian heritage to the mix. When culture was done, it was done at home as a family, not usually with groups of other Russian adoptive families. Race, of course, didn’t play a large part in the lives of the Russian families since the children mostly were able to blend and share in the privilege of being the majority race in America. Many of the Russian mothers went out of their way to avoid the mention of race. One even went so far as to mention “transcultural” adoption when talking about “transracial” adoption, not realizing that she was actually part of a “transcultural adoption” since her son was born in Russia.

Both groups talked about being aware and leery of doing things that make their children feel different.

In fact one of the Russian adoptive moms was “baffled by the ‘extreme’ culture keeping of friends with children from Korea. She thought her friends were ‘obsessed’ with Korean culture keeping because ‘they’ve gone to the Korean church’ and ‘they went and learned Korean.’ She was ‘bewildered by the fact that her friends ‘completely’ changed decor of their house to a Korean-style theme. She thought a more appropriate approach would have been to limit the Korean decorations to the child’s room.”

As I read that, especially the last sentence, I was amazed. Wouldn’t singling out the adopted child by having only the adopted family member practice and learn about Korean culture do more to make the child feel different and separate from the family? That’s what we’ve always felt.

I found it fascinating how really most of culture keeping or lack thereof came down to race. The Chinese families felt it necessary because their adoptions were obvious and there are certain expectations to be met (knowing how to use chop sticks, speaking Chinese). Russian families felt it wasn’t as necessary because their children blend in.

In her conclusion, Jacobson writes:

“Whiteness and white privilege both give structure to race in the United States and are invisible to those who benefit. Whiteness became visible to the mothers in my study when they adopted across ethnicity and kinship. Through adopting internationally, these women because consciously ‘raced’–consciously white–even as their families lost biological white privilege. This increased visibility, however, created an anxiety centering on that lost privilege. This anxiety was displayed in a focus on finding a ‘correct’ balance between emphasizing birth culture and (adoptive) family, between ‘American-ness’ and ‘Chinese-ness’ or ‘Russian-ness,’ and between whiteness cast as normalcy and culture cast as difference.”

This last sentence defines the difference between our family and the families in the study (and possibly most of the transracial, transnational adoptive families out there). Our son’s birth culture is now part of our family; our son is Korean American in everything he does because that’s his whole identity; and the fact that I feel he views white as normal scares me and shows me the need for more diversity in our lives.

The fact that we don’t want our son growing up feeling “white is right” makes us want to form meaning, close relationships with people of the Korean American community and members of other ethnic groups as well. And I don’t feel that I can learn all I need to know about how to parent a child of color from my white fellow adoptive parents (which was how most of the Chinese adoptive moms felt).

In the past, I’ve envied Chinese adoptive families because they seem to have such a focus on culture that I don’t see in the Korean adoptive family community. While our family and we as parents are far from perfect, this book showed me that I’d rather stick with my views and try to achieve the life we feel us best for our family, even if it puts me outside the “norm” when it comes to views on cultural keeping.


Becoming Transracialized

I knew I wanted it but I didn’t know it had a name–transracialized. John Raible defines it as “the positive outcome can happen when a person of one race spends a lot of time with individuals of another race.”

For someone who grew up in Arkansas, I had largely transracialized childhood. We lived in the part of town that housed the majority of the city’s minority population. That population was made up largely of African American, Laotian, and Vietnamese, with some Latino and Indian (as in from India) families. My caucasian parents talked to me about race early on, when I was 3 or 4, so I knew of race, I recognized it, but didn’t feel it separated me from anyone. Many of my early friendships were with children of other races and later my most serious romantic relationship before marriage was with a young African American man. It was during that relationship that I began to realize that my parents feelings about race had either changed since my childhood or had never truly been what  they espoused them to be.

During early adulthood, I married (a white guy) and started my career. As a newspaper journalist I encountered all types of people, but didn’t really have much time for a social life as I worked to build my career. For many years, by virtue of where I lived and worked, my life became increasingly white. But when our lives settled down some, my husband and I realized that we weren’t comfortable with the whiteness. If we truly believed that all people are equal and race is just a physical characteristic, then our lives should reflect that and we should not be segregated from people of color. It was then that we began seeking and interacting with a more diverse group of people. We began attending a predominately African American church and made many close friends. And we began to feel more “normal,” as if this was what our lives were supposed to look like.

Then four years ago we began our transracial adoption journey. From the beginning we felt the importance of horoing our son’s Korean heritage. And in the last couple of years, we’ve become increasing aware of the need for our son to see himself reflected in those around him. And we don’t want Korean Americans, or Asian Americans, who will only be resources; we want them to be our friends. It will take some work since the community we currently live in is largely segarated, but it’s work we’re willing to do. And if our hopes and dreams are fulfilled, we’ll be able to move to a place where there are even more opportunities to become a part of a diverse community.

As the last couple of weeks have taught me, racism is no longer something that I can acknowledge exists yet choose to ignore. If I am to be ally for my son and my friends who are people of color, I must stand up against the attitudes that allow prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination to continue. I must try to educate those around me who believe it’s better to be colorblind and help them understand that racism still exists and the only way to fight it is to be educated.

If you want to learn more about becoming transracialized visit John Raible’s blog. The link to his blog is in now under Adoption Resources on the right side of this blog. John is a transracial adoptee and adoptive parent to transracial adoptees, so he has a unique perspective. Here’s a link to an article he wrote about nine steps you can take to have a transracialized, multricultural lifestyle.

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