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Adoption and Child Separation at the Border

On June 1, 2018 Rebekah Henson published an important thread on Twitter critiquing the hashtags #FamiliesBelongTogether and #Ke...

Friday, January 18, 2019

Colonized Through Adoption: Whiteness as Savior and Oppressor*

*The month of January 2019 marks a decade since I reunited with my Korean family. I am publishing a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion" to honor and explore what I have learned over the past decade. In my first essay in the series, I stated that finding my Korean family was the "advent of my Emergence." In the following essay, I elucidate in greater detail what this "Emergence" means to me.


Visiting the DMZ
To emerge from the darkness of the suffocating White Fog as a mind colonized through adoption is to realize that my existence was being used to uphold and perpetuate White Supremacy and White Saviorism, and hence to serve the systems and institutions used to continue to oppress fellow Black and Brown humans.**

I was a trophy to display and parade before the world upon which Whiteness could gaze to find affirmation of its superiority and goodness. To see an Asian person being properly kept in her place to serve the egos of Whiteness. They could look at me and know that they had conquered not only a person but an entire people and nation--that Whiteness had so effectively subjugated not only this child but also her people and country that they too came to believe that Whiteness was ultimately superior, ultimately more worthy of its people, its land, and its children.

This journey of awakening that began over a decade ago has been a painful and startling emancipation from the toxic gas of the White Fog that acts upon your mind like a poison that makes you forget all that you know, that you will remember only what they want you to know. The more you breathe it in, the more you live in it, the more you see the world through it, the more all truth becomes obscured until it completely dissolves beyond your perception that there is no other side or view or possibility other than the unequivocal goodness of Whiteness. And then, the more you lose yourself and become who they want you to be: a proselyte of and an evangelist for their Doctrine of the Infinite Goodness of Whiteness.

Emergence almost feels like a death only to be resurrected into a world more horrific and violent and oppressive than you ever imagined.

Emergence reveals more blood, more brutality, more pain, more terror, more atrocity and genocide and annihilation and destruction than one would ever want to know.

The realization that so much of the world you live in is the result of the violence, genocide, and oppression exacted by Whiteness against your fellow Black and Brown human beings is like the light of a wild, unyielding fire that destroys all that you thought you knew--and the closer you get to it, the more likely you are to be consumed by its flames, simultaneously willingly and against your will. You begin to long for the comfort of the burning roar that gives you the light and the warmth of which your mind has long been starved. And yet, the inevitable pain, wounds, and scars that must emerge with such revelation become all the more prominent and pervasive.

Emergence reveals that the White World is anything but white. Rather it is an insatiable darkness veiled as light. It is the continuous infliction of utter horror and pain upon Brown and Black people re-branded as saviorism and martyrdom to indulge and coddle the fragile White Ego.

I have an excruciatingly difficult time articulating how utterly, profoundly crushing the burden of this emergence is and how it grows. How its weight seems only to increase rather than lighten.

Through adoption, my life became--against my will and choice--the exemplification of Whiteness as both Savior and Oppressor.

My family is my Oppressor. And my Oppressor is my family.

How does one begin to unload decades of racism and colonization within the context of a family, church, and community that I had grown to love and that I thought had grown to love me, only to discover that underneath the surface was a depth of darkness, brutality, and oppression of the people and nation from which I came, along with every brown and black nation on earth. That this beloved community that I called mother, father, brother, sister, friend since infancy had also been complicit and continues to be complicit in the oppression, brutality, and injustice inflicted upon people who look like I do.

I try to tell myself that deep down, they love me. And yet, deep down, I also feel, see, recognize that they loved me, in large part, for how I could serve their Whiteness--not intentionally, but as an inextricable part of their implicit bias passed on to them through a system of white supremacy and privilege that is so ingrained within their life experience that it is almost genetic.

As long as I stayed in my designated role, as long as I played the part that confirmed their biases, as long as I didn’t try to be any part of myself that challenged their presumptions, that rejected their expectations, that acknowledged their privilege, that saw the dark underbelly of Whiteness, that spoke the whole truth of history, that embraced my own origins and history, then they loved me.

But once I began to emerge, the strained and tense threads of that love also became increasingly apparent.

The love that belonged to me from them was of the kind that a colonizer has for the colonized. The love they gave to me was that of a master over his servants. The love that a conqueror has for the conquered. Love given to those viewed as savages, as primitive, as less than they. A love born of pity, because they see the subject as inherently inferior. The love of narcissism--loving only that which loyally and persistently adulates, lauds, and praises the narcissist.

This is the kind of emergence that I have come to both dread yet seek.

This kind of awakening is what it feels like to simultaneously die inside while being born to oneself, over and over again. To realize that you lived the first half of your life subjugated and oppressed, serving every whim, every desire of the fragile ego of your oppressor. That you existed to perpetuate the falsehoods of White Saviorism and Martyrdom. To realize that the ones you called family, the ones you loved with all your heart for all of your life spent so much of that time seeing you not as one of them, but rather as a charitable endeavor to serve their egos and narrow, White-centric worldview where all Brown and Black people are inferior and in need of a White Savior.

And yet even as you emerge, that same oppression continues to pull at your heels, threatening to swallow you whole again.

Maintaining emergence requires daily vigilance. It requires never sleeping again. A relentless state of both exhaustion and alertness.

You have to learn not to fear yourself. 

Emergence requires undoing decades of being indoctrinated to fear who you were born to be. Because that is what my Oppressors taught me, trained me to believe--that who I am is to be feared.

I learned to suppress, denigrate, obscure, devalue any skill, talent, or passion I felt teeming within. And now, as I try to awaken it, as I try to fan it into flame, I feel terror and futility. Like an animal who refuses to exit its cage--terrified of freedom because it has only known captivity. Other times, I feel like an impostor and a fraud, or like a spoke in a wheel spinning hopelessly in the mud.

And yet somehow, I also find the strength, hope, perseverance, and love to finally shed the cold bars of the cage in which I have dwelled for most of my life. Somehow, I continue to choose to venture out, to cultivate the courage and resilience to wander great distances, until I hope one day to find myself to have traveled so far that I will never return.

The truth is that I do not know that I will ever truly break free of the bonds that have held me down for so long. I do not even know ultimately what that would mean or how that would look.

All I know is that I cannot help but try--to pull, push, fight, work feverishly and fervently to allow this emergence to unfurl that I may take on my true form with clarity and power, because I must believe that the world needs all of us to awaken and emerge from the minds that colonize us.


*This is the third essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion," that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. To view additional essays in this series, click here.

**The above words are actually quite frightening for me to publish and put out into the public space, because I know how extreme and radical they will be perceived to be by some. The above essay is to be read within not only the broader historical and sociopolitical context of systematic and institutionalized racism, white supremacy, and oppression upon which this country is built, but also with an understanding of the role that implicit bias and white privilege play. More specifically, it is not that I believe that White parents do not love their adopted children of color. But I do believe that without conscious efforts to educate themselves, White adoptive parents struggle to escape the fog of implicit bias and privilege that clouds their vision and ability to acknowledge and affirm the racial and historical realities of their adopted children of color and the communities from which they originated. And hence, whether directly or indirectly, they become complicit in the oppression and marginalization of their adopted children of color and their communities. And for those readers who will inevitably assume that "She must have had a bad upbringing" or "She must not love her adoptive parents," please read this post, "Yes, I love my parents," at my retired adoption blog, "Yoon's Blur."  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Adopted Babies Grieve*

Photos from my file
When I first joined my new family, in a new home, in a new country with new sounds and unfamiliar smells and foods, I cried and screamed unabated for days on end. My Mom was so concerned she took me to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed me with “acute separation anxiety.”

I was 6 months old.

Why am I sharing all of this?

People tend to casually dismiss adoptee loss and grief by arguing that we were “too young” to know the difference, as if being a baby means our feelings at that time were negligible and without effect, as if our loss and grief then had no impact on who we became and who we are today.

Now that I am a mother myself, I become all the more convinced that such a narrative is a lie and does great harm to the well-being of adoptees.

Babies grieve. Babies know. Babies understand when something is wrong, when someone is gone. When their worlds have been turned upside down and they have lost everything, they know.

Me holding my newborn son
It was not simply “acute separation anxiety” that my 6-month old self was experiencing.

It was profound loss and grief. It was a traumatic separation. First, from my Omma--my Korean mother who had carried me within her own being for almost a year. And then a second traumatic separation from my foster mother--the only caregiver I had known for the first 6 months of my life.

I cried for days on end because I knew I had lost everything.

I was grieving.

Babies of course are not adults.

But they are also not mindless blobs of fat and cuteness.

Babies feel. Think. Know. At the most primal, vital level.

But babies will also do whatever it is that they need to do to survive. And sometimes that means shutting down and trying to forget.

I forgot. Or so I thought.

But now, I can’t forget.

Now, all I do is remember.

Every. Single. Day. Of my amazing, awful, beautiful, painful life.

Never forget.

This is the mantra in the subconscious of every adoptee. Whether they know it or do not. Not because we want it that way, but because that is basic biology--

DNA does not forget.

And neither do our mothers.


*This is the second essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion," that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. To view additional essays in this series, click here.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Don't Believe in Adoption Anymore: 10 Years Post Reunion*

Visiting the Korean War Memorial

A decade has passed. Ten years.

January 7th used to be just another day.

Now January 7th marks the day I got THE phone call.

The phone call that taught me the impossible can in fact become possible. The phone call that opened the portal to the world I thought I would never find again.

The phone call that has also taught me that grief can last a lifetime. And that finding does not always mean knowing. 

In the past decade, I have learned that resolution for those who were lost from one another is elusive. I have learned that pain does not always diminish, but rather it adapts. It metamorphoses. 
There is not a day that slips through my fingertips that I do not carry with me an endless sorrow, because within me there is also a ceaseless love. 
But this endless sorrow and ceaseless love have done anything but diminish from my life. Rather their eternal lingering has enriched my life beyond measure.
With this kind of pain has also come a depth of living that makes every moment feel precious, every relationship golden.
Meal with my Appa in Seoul
A meal with my daughter is everything but mundane. A conversation with my son is everything but ordinary.
Spending fifteen committed years with my partner is everything but unremarkable. 
Because as someone who lost everything before I knew what everything was, I cannot take for granted how fragile, how temporal these moments can be if we do not choose to protect and cherish them. 

Ten years ago, I got the phone call that my Korean mother and Korean father were not only still alive, but that they wanted to meet me--after being separated for over three decades. 
That moment changed my life forever. It is still changing my life forever. It will never stop changing my life forever. 
And it also changed my mind forever.
I used to believe that adoption was beautiful and that it was the best thing for a person like me.
Lanterns at a Korean Buddhist Temple
I don’t believe that anymore.**
Now I believe that families should never be separated. And they should certainly never ever be separated because of poverty or duress or religion or lack of education. 
I used to believe that my Omma gave me away because she loved me. 
Now I believe that my Omma gave me away because she was brainwashed with guilt into believing that she was giving me a better life by giving me away. Now I know that my Omma gave me away because America and her own people taught her that White people are more worthy of her children, because being poor, uneducated, brown, and unconverted somehow rendered her love less worthy than a love that was rich, educated, Christian, and white.
A decade later, January 7th represents to me the beginning of my Awakening. The advent of my Emergence. 

It is the moment I began to understand transracial and transnational adoption in its larger sociopolitical context--as an extension of White American imperialism and colonialism sharing roots entangled with a long history of white supremacy that has relentlessly engaged in the erasure of black and brown people through colonization and brutality, invasion and war, slavery and apartheid, imprisonment and oppression, and yes, family separation and adoption. 

To say that these epiphanies have been a universe-altering paradigm shift is putting it lightly.

And yet, ten years deep into this journey of reclamation and proclamation of who I am and ultimately, of who I now know I have always been--all I can say is brace yourselves, because I am only just getting started.


*This is the first essay in a series titled, "Reflections from the Other Side of 10 Years Post-Reunion" that I am publishing as I examine the past 10 years since reuniting with my Korean family. Click here for additional essays in the series.

**Also, for those who are upset or disturbed by my statements that I do not believe in adoption anymore or that I believe families should never be separated. I encourage you to spend some time reflecting upon why it upsets or disturbs you for me to express these ideas, and to explore the complexities at the root of my statements. What do you think I mean when I state I do not believe in adoption anymore? What do I mean when I say I do not believe families should ever be separated due to poverty or duress? What alternative or additional options might there be to family separation? Can you ponder perhaps the practice of family preservation? What would a commitment to family preservation look like? Is permanent separation and severance from one's family and origins truly necessary? What could replace orphanages? What could replace adoption agencies? Have you ever thought about family centers that could provide support and resources to empower at-risk families facing duress or poverty? To further educate yourself, click here, here, and here. Also, consider reading the book, The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

10 Lessons Being Adopted Taught Me

Adoptees On is a Podcast Hosted by Haley Radke.

1. I learned about being a minority.

Although my skin color is that of the dominant race, I learned early in life that I was part of a minority group.  I was told I was adopted at a young age, so as I grew up, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of people I knew were living in biological families.  In the 70’s,  you mainly learned about other families by spending time with them, reading about them, or seeing them on T.V.  My first realization about the differences was when I saw a neighbor breast-feeding her baby.  I think I went into shock because that was not something ever seen or talked about before in my home.