Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Exotification Factor in Transracial Adoption

From an adult adoptee at the Huffington Post:
In an August 15, 2011, story for The Atlanta Post, "Unraveling the Black Adoption Myths in America," reporter H. Fields Grenee writes: "Adoption. At first glance it's just another word in the dictionary. But its power is vested in the weight of the word -- conjuring images of abandonment, cherished blessings, adamant secrecy and self discovery."

To whom, I wonder, is "adoption" just another word? And when exactly does the weight of the word come into play with its power of "conjuring up images of abandonment, cherished blessings, adamant secrecy and self discovery"? As an adoptee, I can tell you that the emotions described therein are neither conjured nor imagined -- they are real and they are heavy.

While there are certainly many feel-good stories about successful, long-awaited adoptions, as well as happy birth reunion stories, such as the recent story in which Facebook reunited a birth mother with the child she gave up 63 years ago, there tends to be little focus on the plain and often uneasy facts of adoption, particularly when race is involved.

To wit: Nobody talks about the exotification factor of interracial adoption -- particularly among white fathers and their brown-skinned or non-white daughters.

* * *

I was 19 years old when the news broke that Woody Allen had left Mia Farrow for her adopted Korean daughter Soon-Yi Previn in 1992. I didn't think too much of it, except "eeewwwww," like everyone else. My birth mother had a sharply different take. "Sound familiar?" she said with a sort of casual cruelty to me one afternoon. "Like how?" I asked. "You and (your [white adoptive] father) are not all that different in your dynamic."

The shock of her insinuation, the shame I felt in the complicity she implied, the heinously unfair assessment of my father -- I was devastated. In one moment, the safety and ease I felt as my father's daughter changed forever.

Revisiting the memory, which feels less now like a memory and more like an old emotional injury that aches when it rains, puts into sharp relief the unasked questions surrounding the rampant adoption of the international Other, which is a popular trend among celebrities right now. Will people question Brad Pitt's relationship with Zahara when she gets older and turns into the gorgeous, statuesque young black woman she is sure to become? Is Woody Allen alone in his lust for a girl-child whom he didn't biologically father? Did he feel less like Previn's father because she is Korean? Think about it.


Molly W. said...

Woody not only didn't biologically father Soon Yi, he never -parented- her. Andre Previn is her adoptive father, Woody didn't start dating her mom until Soon Yi was 9, and Woody never lived with the family while Soon Yi was growing up with Mia.

But even if I think Woody Allen is a bad example, I can't dismiss the larger phenomenon. There was a photo shoot some years back that had white dads posing with their Asian daughters (most of whom were wearing qi pao, if I remember right), and some of those photos seemed a little creepy to me. (,%20Daddy%20%26%20I%20.html)

Jessica said...

Rebecca Carroll is entitled to her opinion, but reading the entire article gives a fuller picture of her relationships with her adoptive father and birth mother than does this excerpt.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that is one nasty birth mother.


Louise said...

Molly W- Creepy, why? Because they don't look alike? Are you stereotyping the " white male who lusts after the Asian woman " ?

Reena said...

I don't know much about Woody Allen-- other than the stepdaughter story. I always thought of it more in terms of incest than anything else.


I remember that photo shoot. And, as an amom to two daughters born in China, I have to agree that the pictures have a definite 'creep' factor to them. DH thought so as well.

There were several discussions on the list boards regarding the intent of the pictures.

One discussed exotification of Asian women and revolved around the importance of aparents being aware of this as well as being aware of how some people will think the father and daughter are a couple as the girls grow up.

Another topic discussed how TRA looks different to other people in our community-- that we become immune to seeing our differences but that we need to be aware because how other people around us react to our family impacts our kids as the mature.

Molly W. said...


Not -all- the pictures are creepy, in fact I'd say most of them are just cute photos. But there are several where the body language displayed in the photo disturbed me -- the girls have more adult poses, or the physical contact between the father & daughter looks more couple-y than parental, or the father actually seems to be leering.

I dragged a colleague over to look through them with me, and for the most we were in agreement over which images were a little disturbing and which were thoroughly benign, so I don't think it's just me.(Of course, I'm sure the photographer took a zillion photos of everyone, and who knows why she chose the particular ones she did to display.)

My daughter is Chinese, and I don't see a creepy vibe in photos of her with my white husband -- but we've encountered men who dote on our daughter and tell us all about their Asian girlfriends, and I don't think I'm unfairly stereotyping to think there's something going on there.

Anonymous said...

"we've encountered men who dote on our daughter and tell us all about their Asian girlfriends..."

EWWW. Being an Asian woman I have encountered my share of creepy white men with yellow fever.

I remember that photo shoot and distinctly remember thinking it was creepy as well. And that I thought the photographer was clueless at best.