Along with dreadlocks and a non-white lover, the coolest accessory of the white liberal “left” these days is a bought colored kid.
How many times have you walked into the office of a union organizer, or a professor of the humanities or social sciences to be confronted with a picture of their adopted non-white kid hanging on the wall (along with other random pictures of non-white people and some photos of more “famous” non-whites)? How many times have you marched with a white person in a rally against war who is holding up a sign that says “Down with US imperialism!” while they wheel their purchase—oops, I mean child—along? (and of course, these people never see any contradiction between their slogan—“Down with US imperialism”—and the non-white child they purchased) How many times have you seen LGBT white individuals and couples respond to homophobia against LGBT parented families by buying a colored kid, neglecting to consider their access to white supremacy even as LGBT people?
How many times have you been sitting in an activist meeting to have a white parent stand up and urgently talk about the racism that his or her “child” experiences as a person of color? How many times have you had to sit and watch how these white people are so delighted to tell non-whites what their child experiences as a person of color? How many times have you been confronted by a white person who demands access to a people of color space and use their bought kid as an entry pass (similar to when they use their non-white lover to get into places)?
Whatever the case, a white “liberal” or “leftist” person who adopted a colored kid is still a white person walking around with a purchased body of color.
Now of course, I can see some corny white people (along with their cornier non-white friends and lovers) getting all red in the face and telling me how much they have provided for the child, how lucky this child is to have a home, to have food. Then, the white liberal or “leftist” will put out their information and historical knowledge on the structural conditions colored kids face. Then, they give their speech about what the children go through and how they’re saving non-white children. All the while the white person is about to have an orgasm from the pleasure of “schooling” non-white people about their history and conditions.
Thanks, but I think a lot of us—adopted or not—already know what the kids go through. We live lives as non-white people, and many of us come from the conditions and countries whose histories you know so well and love to tell us about.
For myself, I am quite aware of what the trade off was. By buying me, my white parents “saved” me from sleeping on a concrete bed in the South Korean orphanage I was housed at until I came to the US when I was three and a half years old. This transaction gave me the “opportunity” to live a middle-class upbringing and to have an entry into the lives of white people.
Of course, I was never really a full member of the household. That is, it was clear that my presence in the house was something to be both ignored and monitored. On many times my family would say stuff to me like, “I love you. I don’t see you as Korean. I see you as my daughter.” Or, when debating immigration, my family would be quick to point out that my presence in the US was fine—it was all the other immigrants that had to “get the hell out of the country” (our presence is always “allowed” if white people can regulate it and determine the terms of acceptability). Often, my beloved family would make fun of how Asian people talked by speaking in a mock “Chinaman” voice, never batting an eye but getting really heated when I said something to them about it. Once, my father told me to “Get your wok and go” in front of his new wife, and they laughed and laughed.
But the white supremacy I experienced, like that others experience, is also highly sexualized. My father controlled my sexuality by making a point to tell me in high school that I was allowed to date only white guys and Asian guys (and of course, only guys). He monitored my friendships with Black, Latino/a and Arab men and Black women. For some reason, he obsessed over who I dated and hung out with in a way that he never did with my white sister. My father also obsessed over my body. For some reason, I was just way too big for him (read: for an Asian woman to be desired by white men), and so I have had a membership to a health club since I was thirteen years old.
Now I know that the white liberals and “leftists” I addressed earlier are saying, “Hey, we’re not like that. We see your color. We see your race. We want you to have many different people of color to the house (so they can feel good at the “diversity” they allow). We think you should look however you want.” And of course, these whites will be right there when all of this goes down. They will be learning the Korean, the Chinese, the Spanish, the Vietnamese, or the Black slang. Or, they will make a point to let you know that they knew all of this before they adopted a colored kid, an argument that indicates they have some kind of “insider” knowledge about our cultures that substantiates their transactions.
Or these white parents will enroll their children in cultural language and dance classes, trying to get their kids to learn Chinese and to take classical Chinese dance. They will try to get their Black kids to listen to hip hop. They will try to make their kids “authentic” minorities. They will push their children to have a “racial” outlook, to be “who they really are” (as if you know). Anything to maintain their authority (both literally and figuratively) of your racial identity. They will encourage their kids to be an activist against racism, even to challenge them as white parents.
They will do stuff to “prove” they are not “hierarchical” (yeah, but who paid for the kid?), such as allowing their children to call them by their first name and other such “crazy” liberal acts they pat themselves on the back for doing.
All of this is fine and good, white mommy and daddy. But what do you do when the child is not willing to work within your paradigm? What happens when the child stops taking your calls, cuts you off? What happens when the bought colored kid is repulsed at the sight of you, even the thought of you?
In other words, what happens when the bought colored kid begins to understand your role in white supremacy? What happens when we begin to see that we are part of a transaction in a global economy of white supremacy? What happens when the realization of all that went down occurs?
You snort and say with hostility, hey, we never stood in the way of you and your culture. You were the one that felt uncomfortable around Koreans for a long time. You were the one that didn’t want to take Korean language classes. You will point out that you did “your job” and it is my fault that I didn’t respond.
Some of you will point out that you even offered to help your bought kids find their “biological” parents (a distinction that serves your need to be the “real” parent).
I guess you don’t get it. The whole point is, there is nothing you can do to make shit better. You’re white in a white supremacist society, and that’s all there is to it. You purchased a colored kid (sometimes two or three) as a white person. You can never take that back. There is little you can do to repair the damage. No amount of cultural lessons, no amount of anti-racist work you do, no amount of money that you give, no amount of slang or phrases that you learn, can change the structure that you are a part of.
The unfortunate reality of all this is, my situation, like that of many non-whites all across the world, including the US, was bad. I was abandoned by my “biological” parents. South Korea at the time was transitioning economically from a third world country devastated and torn apart by militarization to a player in the global economy (and adoption game). I was malnourished. A lot of the kids in the orphanage I lived in died before they were adopted. Shit was bad and I probably would have remained in those conditions until someone adopted me. But don’t ever throw some shit like that in my face to deflect an analysis around white supremacy. That is, as a friend of mine puts it, a cum shot to the face. It is dangling in front of me the conditions of my life so as to make your role in the process that created those circumstances and history invisible.
Now some of you are saying, what can we do, we already bought, I mean, adopted our child? I guess, unlike some purchases, this one is harder to return, right? Well, all I can say is, I can’t help you there. You just need to live with the hostility that some people of color (but unfortunately not enough) have of your position. I am not interested in helping you out with your dilemmas of whiteness. I am not interested in being your colored-adopted-kid-insider that soothes your guilt. In fact, I hope it eats you up inside. It’s little remorse for the transactions that have gone down, but it is something.
Copyright Ó Kil Ja Kim 2003
Please also visit a related site: Transracial Abductees