Whose issues?

Subtitled: In which resistance shamelessly steals from harlow’s monkey, rationalizing that long comments are best kept for one’s own blog.

First, this quote from a commenter to the New York Times blog on adoption:

I think that in raising a child the most important thing is to give them a solid grounding as to who they themselves are. As I see it, if you are raising them, your daughters are -your- children, regardless of where they might have come from originally. I think that overemphasizing the fact that they came from China, taking them to Chinese classes for the purpose of learning about ‘their own culture’ is a disservice to them and to because it undermines your parent-child relationship with them and will ultimately cause bad identity issues as time passes. On the other hand, there is nothing inherently bad about learning Chinese, in fact in this day and age, the fact that your daughters are learning Chinese from a young age will most likely benefit them in the long run.

Harlow’s monkey responds with the following:

What is it with John Q. Public and others who feel the need to use scare tactics by saying that teaching their transnationally adopted children about their culture will “undermine the parent-child relationship”?

Identity issues are a normal part of life …

Adoptive parents who adopt transracially should expect that their child will have some “growing pains” regarding racial and adoptive identity. Growing up without growing pains suggests – to me – stunted growth.

I think this is a great point, because the first comment seems to suggest that if you restrict exposure to your child’s culture, they will not have “bad identity issues.” Because why? Because “too much culture” = “bad identity”?

Unfortunately, I’ve heard variations on this theme from a number of adoptive parents, including one who didn’t want her kids to be “too Chinese.”

But what exactly is wrong with being Chinese? (I note that many adoptive parents refer to their kids as “China kids” rather than “Chinese children”–a distinction that seems quite telling.) And is there such a thing as being “too Chinese”?

What I see reflected in these comments is more about adoptive parents’ fears than about real concerns for children’s identity. I also see a lack of understanding about racial identity. The NYT commenter states “I think that in raising a child the most important thing is to give them a solid grounding as to who they themselves are.” So it seems that he does understand that children develop their identities.

What he does not seem to understand is how children of color develop their identities.

I’m going to assume the commenter is white, because the “white identity” is seen as the normative one. It is neutral. Whereas other identities are often viewed as being dangerous, scary, pathological and/or unhealthy.  Therefore, the healthiest stance is for your child to have a neutral identity–i.e., a white one.

So you may want your child to dip its toe into Chinese culture, but you wouldn’t want your child to begin to identify with those people. Because then they might become too Chinese.

Under the cover of concern for the child, these statements are instead more about the adoptive parent. And this is what I hear:

I wish to claim my children as my own.
I feel distant from those people and I don’t want my child to be too much like those people.
My children are MY children but if they become too Chinese I have a harder time relating to them.
People need to be the same in order to be loved.
I fear that my children may grow apart from me.

Ultimately, the adoptive parent must also go through racial identity development and exploration of his/her own culture in order to best parent a transracially or transculturally adopted child. Even if it’s hard or painful. Otherwise you risk that “stunted growth.”

2 thoughts on “Whose issues?

  1. Last paragraph. Really good point. I read that on HM too and thought COP OUT. And I get the temptation to cop out. It’s hard to grow up.

  2. I think this post sums up the confusion some adoptive parents have about the best way to go about finding relationships within the community in which their children are a part of.
    Some might be worried about making the culture too exotic or not be sure about how to avoid appropriation and morphing culture into fortune cookies and dress up clothes.
    So many don’t even make the attempt and I think that’s why the confusion becomes a convenient way to avoid the subject altogether.

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