Do you see me? Us? Asian America?
Dear Adoptive Families of Asian Adoptees,
Do you see us? Do you see how the Asian American community is reeling from the recent violence in Atlanta, GA last week that led to the deaths of eight people, six of whom are Asian/Asian American women? Did you check on your Asian adopted family members?
Are you paying attention to the news reports and articles about the surge in anti-Asian violence since the COVID-19 pandemic, while also recognizing that this form of violence is not new? Have you stood up to the rise of anti-Asian racism associated with the pandemic? Or, are you perpetrating it? Did you remain silent as family members called COVID-19 the kung flu, Wuhan virus, Chinese virus, or other racist, xenophobic names? Did you tell your children, “Oh, they didn’t mean it?” as they encountered racism from other children, or even adults? How will you react when they hear “ching chong, ching chong” or “go back to where you came from?”
Or as an adoptive parent/sibling of an Asian adopted person, did you congratulate yourself for your anti-racism because obviously you cannot be racist since you have an adopted family member? Adoptees laugh collectively at this and hold Captain Jay Baker as representative for the racist family members that transracially, transnationally adoptive people may have in their families. He is, of course, the Atlanta police captain after the Atlanta killings who said, “It was a really bad day for [the killer],” and in March 2020 promoted anti-Asian racist t-shirts on Facebook. He also is the sibling to Tony Baker, a Vietnamese adopted person and a Superior Court judge in Cherokee County. Adoptees are not your token “Asian friend” to excuse your racism.
Maybe in summer 2020, you proclaimed your anti-racism, read Ibram X. Kendi and Robyn DiAngelo, subscribed to The Conscious Kid on social media, and patted yourself on the back for all of your hard work. You rallied for Kamala Harris and decried anti-Blackness, but then forgot how we need to stand against the intersectional ways anti-Blackness, anti-Asian hate, settler colonialism, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression interact with one another to combat white supremacy. Your performative wokeness can just stop right here. I’m also not here for what Richey Wyver terms adoptive white fragility, which “actively seeks to prevent race talk, the problematisation of racist desires, globalised hierarchies of race, gender and class inequalities, under the guise of protecting the feelings of white adoptive parents” (74). Unless you’re doing the hard work of confronting your biases and complicity in upholding white supremacy.
Educate yourselves, your friends, your families, your school districts about Asian American history. Do you know about the 1875 Page Act, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and other exclusionary immigration laws? The 1875 Page Act curtailed the migration of women for “immoral purposes” and targeted Chinese immigrants. This language denigrated Chinese women, and Asian women broadly, and trafficked in assumptions concerning their alleged lack of sexual restraint. The Chinese Exclusion Act and its subsequent iterations combined with immigration laws throughout the early twentieth century cemented notions of Asians as perpetual or forever foreigner, even though Asian/Asian Americans have been here since the eighteenth century. Pick up a book, or two, or three and start reading. Make the time. And in the meantime as you wait for your books to arrive, there’s been article after article published providing a quick overview.
Do you teach your children of how anti-Asian racism led to the 1871 massacre of Chinese people in Los Angeles? Or the mobs that drove out South Asian and Chinese immigrants from the Pacific Northwest and West Coast at the turn of the twentieth century? How have you discussed Japanese American internment during World War II? Do you know about the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin? After September 11, 2011, did you teach your children about the intersections of Islamophobia and anti-Asian racism, among other oppressions disproportionately affecting Arab Americans and South Asian Americans?
Have you discussed the contributions of Asian/Asian Americans to American history? This includes the building of the transcontinental railroad. Do you know influential Asian Americans in history? And have you considered Asian American activism that arose in the late 1960s and work of activists such as Grace Lee Boggs or Yuri Kochiyama? Have you considered the solidarities between Black and Asian Americans? And if you haven’t, are you willing to learn more about this work?
Listen to the voices of Asian Americans. Have you spent time sitting with the stories shared by countless of Asian American women? These women share their personal experiences with anti-Asian racism and its intersections with misogyny. Considering the intersections between racism and misogyny makes evident the ways stereotypes of sex work and Asian/Asian American women cannot be disentangled from one another.
Are you complicit in the racist misogyny Asian/Asian American women continue to share in light of this tragedy? Have you invoked the birth mother-as-prostitute trope with your child? And, for what it’s worth, your adult children remember this, don’t think they do not. This is not to stigmatize sex work. I stand with sex workers and the need to decriminalize sex work and encourage you to read the statement by Red Canary Song. Rather, it’s to highlight the ways in which white adoptive parents perpetuate anti-sex worker stereotypes and conflate Asian womanhood with sex work in a derogatory framework as a result of broader histories of the fetishization of Asian/Asian American women. Sumi K. Cho coined the term “racialized sexual harassment” to underscore the intersections of racism and misogyny that Asian/Asian American women endure.
Did you support movies like The World of Suzy Wong or Full Metal Jacket? Do you even see the racism in those films? Do you think that Miss Saigon is an accurate representation of Vietnamese people? Or do you just stay silent at the jokes made at the expense of your daughters, sisters, or other extended kin? At the same time, maybe you don’t even see the racism in The Christmas Story, Sixteen Candles, or other Hollywood productions.
Do you understand your role in fetishizing Asian/Asian Americans every time you call your child China Doll, wonton, dumpling, or something similar? Or, were you like the Pritchett/Dunphy families in Modern Family, making jokes about Asians who may speak English as a second language? Lest you forget, in the first episode of Modern Family season 1, Phil Dunphy asks, “Lily … isn’t that going to be a little hard for her to say?” Given that viewers have been conditioned to expect accented English by Asian American characters, it should be no surprise that the writers of Modern Family included one of the classic racist microaggressions in the first episode.
The stories shared by Asian American women remind me of my own. And they remind me of the countless experiences I have come across on social media of adopted women from Asia sharing with one another and to the world. Adopted women and girls do not exist in isolation. Reflecting on the tragedy, Stephanie Drenka notes: “Thinking about the White mommy bloggers who have touted their adorable adopted Asian babies, but continue to ignore the racist violence happening to people who look like them. Who are more worried about losing followers than honoring and supporting their children.” Echoing her sentiments, Nicole Chung writes,
“While my adoptive family saw me as almost raceless and therefore safe from racists, I lived every day from the age of 7, when I heard my first slur from a classmate, understanding that my Korean face made me hypervisible where we lived—and that it could also make me a target. [...] I hope that white people with Asian family members recognize and internalize the fact that no amount of love, good intentions, assimilation or proximity to whiteness will protect their loved ones from racism. I hope that every parent is thinking about how they will talk about anti-Asian prejudice with their children.”
Drenka and Chung underscore the ways this tragedy ripples through the Asian adoptee communities as we collectively reflect on how we, too, know the racialized sexual harassment Asian/Asian American women experience. At the same time, we also bear witness to how our families may not truly see how what happened in Atlanta, GA or elsewhere as anti-Asian violence continues affects us. Asian adoptees exist within the tension of what it means to know intimately the ways in which white supremacy permeates our families and stand in the face of anti-racism.
When I started this post, I never intended to write an open letter to adoptive families. I wanted to add my voice as part of the collective of Asian/Asian American women telling their story, giving testimony to what it means to be an Asian woman in America. The way adoptees experience racialized sexual harassment intersects directly with our adoptee status. I often think of how adopted women and girls loudly proclaim “Dad” when we are with our fathers or specify the relationship we have with other male relatives who are white because we know too well how we can be misidentified. We negotiate this particular archetype alone or in conversations among adopted women and girls who understand.
I grieve for those killed. I grieve for the Asian/Asian American women who found themselves murdered as a result of centuries old racialized misogyny. This grief is part of a collective grief. I wonder, how much of white America is listening? Then I question whether adoptive parents are listening. And here I’m not only including those adoptive parents of Asian children. Rather, I include all adoptive parents who adopted transracially because they need to do the hard work of reflecting on white privilege, white supremacy, and how anti-Asian violence is linked to anti-Blackness and settler colonialism.
To those adoptees who read this, I see you. I hold space for you. To combat white supremacy we need to work in coalition.
BIO: Kimberly McKee is an associate professor in integrative, religious, and intercultural studies at Grand Valley State University. She is the author of Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoption in the United States (University of Illinois Press, 2019) and co-editor of Degrees of Difference: Reflections of Women of Color on Graduate School (University of Illinois Press, 2020). She serves on the executive committee for the Alliance of the Study of Adoption and Culture. McKee received her Ph.D. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from The Ohio State University. From 2014-2020, McKee served as Assistant Director/Secretary for KAAN and on the Advisory Council from 2011 - 2016.