22 March 2009

Q&A: Part III

This question came from Naomi: [E]laborate on your feelings about international adoption.

Answer: This question was the toughest because my feelings on this topic are still evolving. It finally dawned on me that if I waited until my feelings were solidified, I'd never be able to draft an answer. And that's kind of the wonder of things, right? Being able to evolve, change, have an open mind, shift, etc.

For purposes of this discussion, I am going to the definition of "international adoption" to adoptions that are both international and transracial. That is, adoptions in which the adoptive parents and the adoptee are from different countries and are of different race/ethnicities.

If you had asked me this question two years ago, I'd have said that I am absolutely, steadfastly, resolutely against international, transracial adoption. However, as I suspected might happen, the pendulum is slowly but surely swinging a bit.

Let me first explain why I was so against international adoption. (Btw, sit back and get some popcorn, this will be a long one.) I have to admit that I hadn't ever put a lot of thought into it. Then I got connected to a woman named Kristi who was doing her Ph.D. dissertation on Korean-American adoption. I didn't think I'd have a lot to contribute to her work, but I thought I'd do an interview with her.

I found out that I had a lot more to say than I thought I did, probably due to her expertise in asking questions that got right to the heart of the matter. I really liked Kristi, and she and I ended up hanging out after that. My first realisation that I had Feelings about this was when I went with Kristi to a Holt meeting. Holt is one of the major Korean-American adoption agencies. I had to leave in the middle of their presentation to go to the bathroom to cry. At the time I didn't really understand what these feelings meant, so I started to explore them.

My biggest issues with international adoption are: (1) it commodifies children, and (2) adoption agencies don't force the adoptive parents to confront their racial/ethnic attitudes, stereotypes, etc.

There's really no way to get around it. International adoption is a huge market. The governments of both the sending and receiving country benefit financially, as does the adoption agency. One of the most memorable quotes from Kristi's dissertation is when one parent talked about the two children she'd adopted: We went to [the sending country] to get the first one, but we had the second one delivered.

I could go on ad nauseum about the issue of the commodification of children, but I trust that my readers will understand. If not, feel free to comment and I can discuss this more in a future issue.

The second issue. I can't tell you how many times people assume that my adoptive parents must not be racist since they adopted a child of another race/ethnicity. Apparently, adoption agencies assume the same thing. Kristi's work does a MUCH better job at delving into this topic than I do, but I'll try since I don't plan on writing a dissertation on this (ha ha).

I should preface all of this by saying that I believe in a continuum of racism. I believe that all persons have some racist attitudes. Some people do a much better job than others at confronting those issues and trying to change them. Some people revel in their ignorance. And there are all kinds of levels in between.

My issue is that we have white parents adopting babies from other counties and of other race/ethnicities who aren't ready or equipped to deal with raising someone from another country/culture/race/ethnic heritage.

Adoptive parents need to do more to confront their motives for adopting from another country. Is it an attitude of "I can give her/him a much better life here"? If so, on what is this ethnocentric attitude based? Is it out of fear that a domestic adoption will result in the birth parent changing their mind about the adoption? If so, are the adoptive parents really in this to ensure the best for the adoptee? Is adopting a baby from a far-flung country really the way you want to "win" this battle?

It also irritates me to no end that it became the fashionable thing for awhile to adopt a Chinese girl. I commented to Kristi once that a Chinese girl was the new status symbol. Why buy a BMW or a Mercedes when you could just adopt a baby girl from China?

I also don't understand how parents (Angelina Jolie, I'm looking at you) can claim that they will respect the child's birth culture when one of the first things they do is change the child's name. The name the orphange gave me was Jung Sun-Hee (in Korea, the surname is first). The only reason my surname now is Jung is because I had it legally changed a few years back. I didn't take Sun-Hee back because I really don't want to be called Sunny. And Min had meaning for me personally, and it has the bonus of being a historic figure in Korea.

I don't think it's fair to say that NO ONE can adopt transracially when there are clearly people who are equipped to confront their own racism and navigate to the best of their ability a multi-cultural home/family. However, until international adoption agencies take it on themselves to do this with potential adoptive parents, I will continue to advocate against such adoptions.

Another note about adoptions in general. WE ARE NOT A CONSOLATION PRIZE. I have heard, WAY too many times to count, parents say things along the lines of "We tried IVF (or whatever) so many times, but we just couldn't afford it anymore, so we settled for adopting." "Adoption was definitely our second choice, but since we couldn't conceive naturally..."

I could go on about my feelings regarding adoption in general, but I'm trying to stick to Naomi's question. Maybe that will be a topic for a future issue.

I will say that a great resource for exploring some really... interesting perspectives and essays on transracial adoption, check out this site. Some of the essays and commentaries are way left of what I've said above. Keep in mind that this site is one for adoptees to express their feelings on their adoptees and their subsequent socio-political ideologies. Tobias Hubinette is someone with whom I've corresponded in the past on some of his work. While I don't always agree with it, I think it is important for everyone to have a voice, especially when one's perspective is so non-mainstream.

I know this has been one long-ass post, but I hope it's been enlightening and insightful.

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