Discrimination and Racism in Adoptions

photo courtesy of: http://enidlogan.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/transracial-adoption-photo1.jpg

Discrimination and racism is something experienced by many immigrants and non-immigrants alike.  By nature, people seem to be uncomfortable with change and differences and tend to express their discomfort or curiosity in ways that are offensive.  Many may argue that is not true anymore, and I agree.  Fortunately, modern society is much more international and aware of different cultures and races.  However, not too long ago, things were very different.

My grandmother loves to tell me about the time when I came home from kindergarten, crying, because I wanted to have “yellow” hair, not black.  In elementary school, my classmates sometimes teased me, pulling at their eyes, singing, “Chinese, Japanese….”   As an adult, I was pulled over a few times by bystanders to act as an interpreter to a non-English-speaking Asian, assuming that all Asians could communicate with one another.  I was often praised for speaking “good English.”

However, these experiences did not disturb me too much, because I was not alone.  The rest of my family experienced similar things, and at the end of each day, we shared these stories. We laughed about some things. We got angry about other things.  But in the end, it didn’t matter so much, because we were in it together.  We could relate to each other and learn to overcome the things that bothered us the most.

Unfortunately, many international adoptees did not and do not have this luxury.  Many adoptees described feeling confused and angry about being different from the rest of the family and the community.  They felt lonely because they could not share their frustrations with anyone else. Their parents could not relate to being a minority, or being teased at school because of their race. Or worse, they tried to brush it aside and told the adoptees not to worry about it.

Aside from international adoptees, even domestic adoptees from multicultural families struggle with these issues.  These children are often ill-equipped with the coping skills and the support they need because their families simply are unable to relate to their experiences.

Many adoption agencies urge families not to consider race in their adoption plans, but it is difficult, as a family, to consider these issues lightly.  They want to provide the child with the best support and love a family can give, but can any amount of home study or other training courses prepare them for identity concerns and problems with discrimination and racism?  Adopting a child is, by itself, a very difficult and delicate, on-going process.  Adding another dimension to it, such as adopting a child of a different ethnicity, may seem overwhelming to some families.  Adoption agencies and government agencies should recognize and respect these apprehensions, instead of casting these families in a bad light for “picking and choosing” children based on a racial preference.

The Difficulties of International Adoptions


I grew up listening to my dad’s stories about being a war orphan in South Korea.  He told me how he resented other children for having families.  He told me about school teachers and other children bullying and teasing him for being an orphan.  He told me about the “Oink Food” (i.e., pig slop) feast they had every Saturday that he could not stomach. (Every weekend, someone at the orphanage would gather the leftovers from the mess halls in the American army base, carry it back in drum containers, and serve it – all you can eat – to the starving children.  The children had to pick out the toothpicks, napkins, and cigarette butts, but they still fought over the very last spoonful – all, except my dad.)  Despite all this, my dad told me how much he feared being adopted by an American family.  He did not want to look at the blue eyes and blond hair and feel like an outsider.  He especially did not want to forget the Korean language, because that would significantly diminish his chances of ever finding his birth mother.

I also have friends who are international, transracial adoptees.  Most are very emotionally stable, happy, and they love and are loved by their adoptive families.  They seem to have an understanding that although they do not look anything like their parents, they are nonetheless their parents’ children.  Others struggle more.  One of them joked that his biological mother threw him away and his adoptive parents bought him on Ebay because he looked exotic.  Another resented his parents for adopting him and said wanted to go back to the country from which he was adopted to look for his birth mother.

I have recently been seeing more news articles about the difficulties of international adoptions and the many conflicts faced by both the parents and the adoptees, post-adoption.  Some articles were written from the perspective of the adopting parents, who recounted the long and difficult process of an international adoption.  However, most were written by the adoptees themselves, describing their adoption experiences as disorienting, to say the least.  Many expressed the frustration and resentment of being expected to quickly and completely adapt to their new environment, as well as the self-disappointment and depression when they failed to do so.  A few even described themselves as “monsters” and “freaks” created by society.

Many of us were from the same orphanages. Many of us came over the same flights. Many of us were adopted into predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon communities, many rural. Many of us considered ourselves white trapped in Asian bodies.

              – Kurt Streyffeler, adoptee (The Gathering of the First Generation of Adult Korean Adoptees, The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute)

Reading about these adoptees and reflecting upon what I have heard from my friends and my dad makes me wonder if these people were really better off being adopted.   Does the risk of potential cultural identity crises and emotional harms truly overpower the issues they would have faced if they had remained in the system?