Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Racial Teasing & Identity in Transracial Adoptees

One of the reported results from the Evan B. Donaldson report on forming healthy racial and adoptive identity in transracial adoptees was that 78% of Korean adoptees experienced racial teasing in childhood (sometimes/often/all the time). Racial teasing also trumped teasing about adoption for Korean adoptees – only 21% of Korean adoptees were teased about adoption (the figure was 35% for white adoptees).

And more important than the high incidence of racial teasing, is the reported effects of racial teasing for transracial adoptees:

Comfort with racial identity and comfort with adoption identity are highly associated with each other; however, some of the other variables are associated with one of these and not the other. For example, for Koreans, scores on the Parent-Child Relationship Scale (lower scores are more positive) and the Family of Origin Scale are significantly associated with their comfort with their adoption identity, but not with their comfort with their racial identity. Also, high life satisfaction and positive self-esteem have stronger associations with comfort with adoption than other variables examined (with the exception of comfort with race); and less teasing related to adoption or race is associated with greater comfort with their adoption.

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Similarly, positive self-esteem has the strongest association with comfort with racial identity for Koreans, followed by a stronger ethnic identification, higher life satisfaction, and less racial teasing. Also, it is interesting to note that more positive scores on the Parent-Child Relationship Scale and the Family of Origin Scale are strongly associated with less racial teasing. Racial teasing also was lower for children growing up in more diverse communities, and those experiencing less racial teasing reported higher life satisfaction and more positive self-esteem. In other words, those transracially adopted individuals who reported less racial teasing came from more diverse communities and more functional families, and they also as adults had more
positive adjustment outcomes (higher life satisfaction and self-esteem).

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Overall, Korean adopted adults who scored higher on the Cultural Socialization Scale reported living in more diverse communities as children; having more positive parent child relationships and family functioning; experiencing less teasing related to their race or adoption; and having higher life satisfaction and self-esteem, indicating that parents’ efforts to provide socialization to the child’s racial/ethnic group are linked with other positive outcomes. Also, teasing about race approached significance in that less race-related teasing while growing up was associated with greater comfort with their racial identity as adults.

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Racial identity also was linked to negative experiences, including external events (taunting about race) and internal struggles (awareness that one’s physical features were different from Whites and not esteemed by the majority). Teasing, insults and being stared at were common. One respondent reported not realizing she wasn’t White until another child in pre-school called her “a little Chinese shit.” Daily teasing also highlighted differences between the child’s life and that of other family members. “No one (else) in my family endured this since they all ‘looked like everyone else,'” explained one respondent.
For obvious reasons (see here, here, here, here and here), I’m quite interested in the reports on racial teasing and its effects. The findings reinforce my feelings that we need to take racial teasing seriously. I don’t think it cuts it to tell our children to just ignore it, or to take the position that kids just need to toughen up since racial teasing is inevitable, or to say that it’s no big deal. Not only does that attitude leave children unprepared to deal with racial teasing, I think it weakens the bond between parent and child. How can our children trust us, if we don't take their problems seriously? More positive parent child relationships does correlate to less reporting of racial teasing, and at least one reason for that might be that parents helped their children cope with discrimination:
Also, those Korean adoptees reporting more positive parent child relationships, as well as higher family functioning, reported less racial teasing. We do not know if this is because their parents helped them to cope with discrimination in a more positive way or whether they actually experienced less of it. Whatever the case, these experiences highlight the importance of educating parents who have adopted transracially to prepare their children to cope with discriminatory experiences.
And the take-away paragraph for those who are in the "no big deal" camp is this one:
Experiencing racial teasing can be detrimental to the overall adjustment of adopted children; this study found it to be associated with lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem. This finding reinforces the work of Cederblad and colleagues in their 1999 study, which concluded that being teased for their “foreign looks” was associated with lower self-esteem and more problems in mental health for international adoptees in Sweden.
On a somewhat positive note, 56% of Korean adoptees reported that they were extremely comfortable or very comfortable with their racial identity, 27% said they were somewhat comfortable (Table 7 combines these two, but the text sets out the "somewhat" comfortable figure separately, and I think that's an important distinction). It seems, though, that for many of those who have formed a positive racial identity they've done so in spite of their adoptive parents, not because of them. Not surprisingly, then, the report recommends much more education for prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents on racial identity issues.


travelmom and more said...

This is interesting, I guess now I need a better "tool box" to give my daughter about how to deal with racial teasing. What do I do as a parent to address racisim? what do I say, how do I coach her to advocate for herself, when do I intervene, how do I intervene? I have some ideas, but I would love a brainstorm session to come up with some concrete ways to help my daughter and my students deal with racial teasing.

Wendy said...

I only have a second, but there are several good websites that deal with racism. One that is direct and provides solutions is LoveIsn'tEnough--formerly Anti-Racist Parent