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Words Hurt: Racism and Microaggressions

Words Hurt: Racism and Microaggressions

Something that has always irked me is when adoptees speak out about racism and microaggressions (or really any not-rainbows-and-unicorns experience) and it is met with comments from adoptive parents along the lines of, “Well my adoptee has never spoken to me about this so they don’t experience it.”

Or worse… “My adoptee hasn’t spoken to me about this so it doesn’t happen to anyone.”

My first question to parents would be… did you tell your parents everything? I didn’t. For various reasons. But I’m naturally a private person who doesn’t like having difficult face-to-face conversations. It took me 22 years to open up about racism, microaggressions, and general adoption challenges… and it started as writing/blog posts.

My next question would be… do you expect your young adoptee to come to you with a fully developed concern about racism and microaggressions if they are confused about what they are experiencing? If they are confused about who they are, how can they be sure what they are experiencing is an attack against their identity. If race and racism are not something discussed in the household, how are they supposed to formulate the questions and conversations? That should be the job of the educated parent.

Especially in elementary school, when kids were experimenting with what they could say and what would gain them popularity, I had no clue that the jokes said to me were racist… that pulling your eyes into slits and singing the ‘Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees’ song was extremely offensive. What I saw was everyone laughing and the people doing it saying, “Aw Lilly, we are just joking, we love you, you’re our best friend!”.

This is extremely confusing to a young kid. And as I got older and realized what was happening, I kept my mouth shut because society was just going to tell me the same thing… “Be proud of who you are. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Parents, I get it. We don’t know what we don’t know. But as a parent, it’s your job to be educated and aware of everything that comes with adoption and transracial adoption. When you are shown ‘negative’ experiences that you’ve never heard of before, do not just write them off because your adoptee hasn’t come to you about it. Do not start listing Examples X, Y, and Z of why the perspective is incorrect.

Take the opportunity to learn that this new thing could be something your adoptee experiences or will experience. Then, use that knowledge to foster a safe environment to have discussions and promote questions. Best case scenario, your adoptee honestly tells you they don’t experience racism. Worst case scenario, they do… but now you are aware and you can work to protect them and teach them to protect themselves.

P.S. Be careful with the leading questions: “You don’t experience racism right?” Whenever I am asked something like this, I immediately want to say the ‘correct’ answer and agree.

Originally posted on Facebook

View Comments (2)
  • Hi Dr. Schmaltz ;),

    Thank you for this great article, which advocates for adoptees and educates all. It is troubling, that society continues to expect Adoptees, to only express ‘gratitude’. Anything else, just confronts this assumption and myth, hence the responses to racism etc..mentioned.

    All the best with your PhD

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