Are you raising an internationally adopted child or a child of another race? Join our fascinating discussion with Dr. Hollee McGinnis, an Assistant Professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work. She focuses on mental health and identity for internationally adopted people. She is also an intercountry adoptee from South Korea.
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Dawn Davenport 0:00
Welcome to Creating a Family talk about foster adoptive and kinship care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am your host, as well as the director of a nonprofit creating a family.org. Today, we're going to be talking about helping internationally adopted children develop a healthy cultural and racial identity. We'll be talking with Dr. Holly McGinnis. She is an assistant professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work. She focuses on mental health and identity for internationally adopted people. She is also an inter country adoptee from South Korea. And everybody make sure you listen to the end, because we're going to be giving a lot of practical tips at the end. All right, well welcome Dr. McGinnis to creating a family, we're so glad to have you.
Speaker 2 0:48
Thanks so much for inviting me to be on again. Dawn.
Dawn Davenport 0:51
Okay, so let's just start about a really basic question. How is racial or ethnic identity different from cultural identity?
Speaker 2 1:01
Great question. So first, racial identity is different from ethnic identity, which is different from cultural identity.
Dawn Davenport 1:08
Okay, all of them. How do they differ from each other?
Speaker 2 1:10
Exactly. So racial identity is a social construct that is very specifically framed in the United States, that forces people to place their race within a
Dawn Davenport 1:22
specific category. What do you mean by a social construct?
Speaker 2 1:25
So a social construct means that there are actually not racial differences among people, there's more genetic differences within specific racial groups than they are between racial groups. However, society in its organization of itself creates different categories and boxes. And so an example of that is, say on the census or on a survey or on a health form. There will be questions asking, you know, what is your race, and people often think, again, that race is something that's real, that distinguishes us and obviously, I look different from you. However, there isn't a racial genes, that's a it's an example. Now, ethnicity is actually more closely tied to culture. So ethnicity is often the historical cultural food language aspects of one's ancestry. So for example, for myself, if I have to check our racial box, I would choose an Asian Asian American Pacific Islander box, but ethnically, I'm Korean. And that is an example of often we don't even recognize among European Americans, we just kind of collapse everybody into a broad category called White. But even people who are white have ancestry ethnic ancestries that are from Italy, or Germany, or Ireland, and that kind of thing. Now, culture is the context in which you are living, breathing, growing up, and I think culture in particular, it has a very strong imprint when you're young. So often, our culture is the filter through which we are making meaning about our life, who we are, what we value, all of us around the world, we are dominated by one culture, a culture of capitalism. And so we think a lot through a filter of supply and demand. In the United States, we have a culture of certain myths of the American dream, for example. So these are ways that our thoughts are filtered through certain socially constructed mists, beliefs and values.
Dawn Davenport 3:35
So what would you say your culture identity, your your racial identity is Asian or Pacific Islander? Your Asian American, your ethnicity, you would put down as Korean? What would you say? Is your cultural identity? Oh, American? Yeah, I think so. Yeah, very much. So. And we don't think of American as as a culture, per se, but it certainly is, you know, the rugged independence type of thing.
Speaker 2 4:01
Yeah, it's the best way to tap into your culture is to leave. So you experience yourself outside of the US, you know, you travel to Europe or whatever. And I think that I was more American when I'm outside of America that I feel when I'm
Dawn Davenport 4:19
having traveled a fair amount, I totally agree with you. So why then, is racial, ethnic or cultural identity important for the emotional development of a child adopted internationally? I mean, what we hear is, they're all Americans. We brought them here. They were raised here. They're American, should we just treat them that way? Does anything else matter? Why shouldn't it matter? Because they've been raised here.
Speaker 2 4:46
Yeah, great question. So why it matters is because I like to think of identity as layers of a cake. And so for all of us, we have an identity that's our self identity that's often very closely informed. Worn by our culture, unless we start challenging those cultural assumptions about aspects of who we are. Maybe those cultural assumptions are informed by our society, our religion, our occupation kind of thing. And then on top of that, for people in the US, we are a country whose racial and social hierarchies have been based on economy first, but then race. So when the classes that I teach on power, privilege and oppression, for my social work students, we read a piece about the racial contract. So many societies have hierarchies in which power structures are formed. And again, for most societies, that's class, that is your social economic status. In the US, we have layered class with race and racism, specifically as a systemic form. So why this matters is because we have judgments and pre judgments and opportunities and excluded people based on these racial hierarchies in our culture. And they're so pervasive that they're implicit often, most of us think, Oh, I'm not racist, I'm not biased. But we all are, because that's part of our American history, culture and society. And so to not recognize that your child who is adopted from Ethiopia or from China is not going to have a racialized experience, because of the way they show up and the presumptions that are made, is to not see the full spectrum of experiences your child will have. So it's so important to see your child in the racialized body, that they will be navigating the world outside of the protection of their adoptive family. And then a lot of times when adoptees are interested in connecting with the racial group that looks like them, that may hurt them. And often this all happened in college, they will confront their lack of knowledge, experience language of like, culture in which they had been born, but was removed. And suddenly they're in a Korean Student Association, and people are speaking in Korea to each other, or they seem to know each other, or they have these touchpoints of growing up eating rice and whatever. And the transracial adoptee suddenly feels excluded, because they were raised in an Italian American home, and they mostly ate spaghetti and meatballs or whatever, you know, the stereotypes. And so that can often then create a dissonance and then a desire for that transracial international adapted to understand those aspects of their ethnic group. Often because in American society, we flattened out everyone's racial group, that, you know, people who look a certain racially are presumed to know everything about every ethnic group, so not only Chinese culture, but Japanese culture, you know, Korean culture kind of thing.
Dawn Davenport 8:04
Yeah. Particularly with Asians. I think that is the cashlib for Asians. Yeah, it's
Unknown Speaker 8:07
just kind of we're all, you know, mono, mono group,
Dawn Davenport 8:10
even though you're more than half of the world and what hundreds of countries but yeah,
Speaker 2 8:15
yeah, yeah, we flatten all that that out. And then the cultural part is wondering, well, then how do I fit as a non white looking Asian person, you know, and that's part of American culture. So those are three layers of identity that have to be navigated. And often it's navigated alone for the transracial adoptee of color, because their white parents might not be as aware or informed or educated, around how racialized experiences are because they are in a privileged racial group, which is an American society being white.
Dawn Davenport 8:52
That makes great sense. At what age do children start recognizing distinctions, racial distinctions, or cultural distinctions? At what age did that identity begin to start developing?
Speaker 2 9:04
Dawn is a great question, because there's so much research on this, and
Dawn Davenport 9:08
it's changing. It's really interested in this research. Go ahead. Yeah.
Speaker 2 9:13
So we know that young children are little sponges and that by the age of three, they can make distinctions around different racial groups, depending on again, their socialization within their families. And by the time children enter into elementary school, which, again, with preschool happening earlier, also, that might be happening at the age of three, not six, which is typical for kindergarten, children are absolutely aware that there are differences. Now the meaning about those differences, which is really what racism is about that one group is better than the other is still learned. It's not that children just automatically come out pre judging. They also have to get socialized into the values of these differences that they're observing in the world. But yes, as as young as three children are able to see and distinguish differences, but it is a socialization process over time that they begin to internalize. If one group is valued more over another group,
Dawn Davenport 10:14
at what age do they start internalizing that value of superiority or inferiority, preferring in pictures, associating positive characteristics to the dominant race? What data does that start?
Speaker 2 10:27
Yeah, so it all depends, again, on the racial socialization that they're exposed to. So this is what's interesting about research that's looked at racial socialization, ethnic socialization among transracial adoptees is is that in this one particular study, they compared the racial socialization of transitional Lee adopted Korean adoptees to same race, biological family, Korean children. And what they found was that by the age of 910 1112, the children who were not adopted who are Korean, had a better sense of their racial cultural identities than the translationally adopted Koreans. However, if the white parents engaged in racial cultural socialization, so that's kind of fostering pride, language connection, history knowledge, then the Korean transracial adoptees began to understand that aspect of themselves younger. But without that socialization, the Korean adoptees were delayed in their development of their racial ethnic identities. Now, I think that this is also very context specific. So if you are in a community where there is more racial, ethnic diversity, the young person, the translationally, adopted person might have more of that awareness because when they leave the family, even if the parents aren't supplying it, they might be exposed more. So if you're growing up in New York City, I think the transracial adoptive caller is having a different experience than if you're in a very white community and more isolated, you just don't have those same kind of opportunities to have those encounters and experiences with people who might racially look like you.
Dawn Davenport 12:08
Let me pause here to speak to those people who are either running or considering running a support group for foster adoptive or kinship parents, or those professionals who are responsible for training. This same demographic, these same folks, creating a family offers an all in one curriculum that's designed to make running a high quality group or training session, easy, convenient, and really getting to the heart of what we're trying to do, which is empower and strengthen foster adoptive and kinship families. Each curriculum comes with a video, a facilitator guide, a handout, and a an additional resource sheet as well as a certificate of attendance. If you need that for your participants in the group. Go to parent support groups.org today and check it out. You could check out both our library of curriculum as well as preview some of the curriculum as well. Thank you so much. Okay, for children adopted internationally, what are some of the acculturation and assimilation issues that they face? And including all the things you've alluded to many of these, you know, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, things like that. So what are some of the issues you you've mentioned, some trying to figure out how you fit in with your racial group, if you are choosing to do that, when you don't share any of the cultural things that others automatically have that group who automatically pick it up through being raised? But are there others?
Speaker 2 13:40
Yes. So I think what's really important for parents to understand is, is that, you know, I wish I could be colorblind also like and I still feel like that absolutely, is the ideal. Everyone wants to be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the quality of their work. However, that's just not the reality right now. And so to have a colorblind approach to seeing your children actually disadvantages them, because your children of color need to know how to survive in a racialized society and culture. And so what the research shows is that many white transracial adoptive parents are more comfortable fostering ethnic cultural socialization and pride and being, you know, Colombian or Ethiopian or you know, Chinese. However, the research also shows that white adoptive parents tend to be less comfortable and less engaged in preparing their children of color for racial bias. And that's where the rubber really hits the road. That it's not the pride often that transitional adoptee is lacking. It is the tool and the language and the ability to name these experiences that they're encountering out in this society. certain school and other kinds of contexts that are racially based, and it's different depending on your racial group. So if you are, you know, an adopted from Ethiopia, you will be seen as black. And being a black American, African American has very different racialized experience, it's very much embedded in violence. That's different from if you are Asian, or Asian American Pacific Islander, or even I met a lovely adoptee from Kazakhstan, who racially is Central Asian, so she looks Asian, but again, is also Russian, by citizenship, right. And so I again, another nuance, right, and then even for the Russian adoptees who are racially white, they still have to navigate an ethnic identity of being Russian, that's their birth ancestry, as well. So then anti Asian racism looks different, it often shows up as an invisibility, they're simply not seen. And you know, people who are Latinx, again, have a racialized ethnic experience that very much varies by the color of their skin, if they're darker, they'll have more experiences that may be aligned with African American. And if they're lighter skinned, they might be able to pass. So these are these, these nuances and experiences that usually, if you're not seeking to be educated, and you fit into the white racial box, you're not going to know or realize that your child has experience. And I'll tell you, your child is not going to come home and tell you, most likely, because they know implicitly that maybe you will not understand. Or maybe they will try to bring it up with you. But you'll say well, you know, maybe it wasn't what happened. And while your intention might have be benign, to say, you know, maybe it's not that bad. That is actually a form of a racial microaggression, which is to basically kind of dismiss, when a person of color says this happened to me, and it feels like it was face to face. So these are the survival skills. And I'll put it that way on, that your children who are racial minorities will have to navigate and to have their white parents be allies. And this and this is not to expect that every white parent is going to be an expert, but you have to at least be open to the reality that your child will likely be having these kinds of encounters and experiences. And that the most empowering thing you can do for your child is to say, you know, it's not fair. I know that because I am white in this society, I don't have to deal with these things like you do that's talk about this, and you learn together, those are the things that I think are so important. And part of this goes back to the particular challenges that transracial adoptees experience around reconciling their racial identity when culturally they are raised white, were raised is, again, white families. And so I'm very comfortable in white spaces. Because, you know, I grew up in a nice Irish Catholic family, and that is the environment that I know very intimately, I don't have to think about it
Dawn Davenport 18:06
is that a benefit? At times,
Speaker 2 18:09
I think it was a benefit, because I didn't grow up internalizing racial expectations. However, the challenge on was that I had to learn how I was seen in the world, because of my race, and that my parents couldn't help me to learn all of that on my own, which was really one of the reasons why back in 1996, I started a group for adult international adoptees to become mentors to the next generation of us, because I realized that, you know, if I just hung out with people who racially looked like me, that wasn't my full story, either. I only hung out with people who are adopted, but racially did not look like me. That wasn't the whole story. I was really intertwining of both race and adoption, navigating all of those aspects of difference in our society, because I want to remind everyone that we also have a valuing of family in American society. So the privilege family is the biological two parent, heterosexual normal, you know, family, and adoption or staff or divorce families, you know, those are all second to that primary one.
Dawn Davenport 19:18
They don't seem as permanent. They don't seem as, as you say, they're not the gold standard. Right? Right.
Speaker 2 19:24
That's not the privileged family, you know, just as racist the privilege racial category. When it comes to family and family forms. adoptive families are not the privilege one and this includes adoptive parents, you have to navigate that aspect of being different from the quote norm.
Dawn Davenport 19:42
So how can parents walk that balance because we do want our children when when they come our children or our child to fully assimilate and occult trait to their new life? Well, we also want them to identify with their culture of birth, but it does seem like both are important. In a sense, because they are going to be raised in this environment, and we don't want them feeling as if they have an acculturated.
Speaker 2 20:08
So I don't think adoptive parents have to worry about their child being enculturated. Them being raised and loved in their adoptive family, they are getting acculturated. What they're likely not gonna get, though, is education around racism, unless that's going to be an intentional point of conversation. Now, this is not something that you have to sit down and have a serious conversation with your child, like, let me tell you about American society. However, I think that when your child is young, do read some important books around American history, I ended up majoring in American Studies, and I focused on 19th and 20th century American race relations, because I wanted to understand how my racialized experience fit into American society culture. So when your children are young, absolutely begin reading some of those history books, read histories, if you have a child who is adopted from an Asian country, read about or watch PBS shows on Asian American history, this is so important for understanding how, again, not you individually, but how our society has treated groups of people who look like your child. And then as your child gets older, and is able to understand more the nuances and complexities and that can happen as early as six as the earliest as 10. And certainly is going to be happening by the age of 13, and 14, that they are going to need to have language and tools to be able to name experiences that are based on their race in which they might be being pre judged biased, and that sort of thing. And so again, you can really learn with your children. But it would be great if you could, again, start your education earlier, so that you begin to have some language and words, and you begin to be comfortable in your own ability and understanding about how race plays in your life, too. So that you can bring that kind of understanding when your child maybe comes home, and does tell you about something that happened to them and you are be able to be more skilled to say, at least acknowledge that that happened to them.
Dawn Davenport 22:21
Yeah, that makes very good sense. And one thing that I would point out is that waiting until your child is 1011 12 1314. To start that conversation makes it so much more awkward. Children don't want their parents a 13 year old is not going to be jumping up and down, you're gonna see a lot of eye rolling at that point. I speak from experience, if you're trying to introduce concepts at that age. But the beauty of starting young, and I do mean young, you know, certainly five, six, is that you're educating yourself along with your child, and your child is very eager to have you read to them. And I think children's literature is one of the most powerful tools that we can use. Because the child enjoys it. The parents are learning while they're reading. And some of the books not not all, but some of the books actually have a section for parents. So I think he's starting young get smart.
Speaker 2 23:14
I think so too. There is a great book, there's a whole series like who was its biographies, you know, who was Martin Luther King, who was Muhammad Ali, I was reading one of those, the Muhammad Ali one actually. And I loved it because they didn't watered down at all his advocacy around racial equity. And so as I was reading it, and the words were strong, just as Muhammad Ali was, was very much and in his pointing out, I would say, of how racism was showing up, you know, it opened a teaching moment, you know, or connection moment, don't I think that that's the thing that maybe adoptive parents don't realize is that when you actually talk about racism in American society, you are building a point for connection with your child, that if you're avoiding, it creates a sense of separation from that child. And this is what I'm seeing later on and as adults to that, especially given the Trump administration and kind of the rise of all new forms of well, not old, but they're all new forms of racism, that a lot of my adult adoptees, were struggling because some of their white parents were in alignment with some of this conservative, white supremacist thinking. And they were so hurt that their parents and again, these are adoptees now in their 30s 40s 50s. They were so hurt that their parents couldn't see how that worldview was hurtful to them. Because again, these were white parents who clearly love their child but they put an exceptional bubble around their child and their child's race, so I can love you individually, but I cannot love your group. And that becomes really hurtful. Because as an adoptee of color. We know that in society, I'm not seen as an individual, I'm only seen as my racial group. And so there's been lots of stories of estrangement, because, again, being older and being more educated and fully realizing that I have to walk in this racialized skin, I can't even come home to my family anymore, because the racism is being perpetuated.
Dawn Davenport 25:35
And by not talking about specifically, proactively talking about racism, which parents are afraid to do, because they're afraid that they're going to put ideas into their child's head, or ruin the innocence of their childhood, by introducing this ugly concept. Yeah. But by taking that approach, which we all would love to protect our children from racism, I mean, even the concept, even our white children, we just don't want to believe it exists. But it very much does exist. And by not talking about it, what we do is it becomes a verboten topic, it becomes a topic that our kids think we're not talking about it because we're uncomfortable, are just plain ignorant. We don't see it, probably the uncomfortable part may actually be true, but the not seeing it part. Well, it's true, too. Because sometimes if you walk around, as you say, in white skin, you don't see the racism, particularly the more subtle forms of it.
Speaker 2 26:29
Yes, exactly. And and I'll just add on that, whenever you're in a privileged group. So for example, we have lots of different social categories that are based on class and gender and sexual orientation and family, for example. So when you're in the privileged group, you don't have to think about the disadvantages.
Dawn Davenport 26:52
Yeah, you don't because you, it doesn't affect you. Yes, yeah, exactly.
Speaker 2 26:56
So I'm really clear, I'm an able bodied person. And that is a privileged position. So I don't think about all the things that people who are not able bodied have to go through. However, in my racial social category, I'm not in the privileged group of white. So I am keenly aware of the experiences where I have to think about my race. But again, someone who's in that privileged white group doesn't have to, you know, I am not in the privileged gender group, I'm a woman and a cisgender. Woman too. So men don't often think about all of the disadvantages that happens to women, because men are the privileged social group when it comes to gender. So those are all to say that we all have privileges and not privileges, groups identities, and that when you are in a privileged group identity, social group identity, it is our job to understand those who are not in that privilege group, how their experiences are. So again, I think it's more important for white adoptive parents to read books on like white fragility, or unpacking the white knapsack, those kinds of things to understand how you have also been racialized as white, and become comfortable with that. Because what I often see when I teach again, my social work students, and many of whom are white women, is the guilt and the shame that comes up in recognizing the history of how America has created itself based on racial groups and categories and how we've treated everyone. And what I tell everyone is, is that the guilt and the shame actually perpetuates it, because it pulls you back. It says, Oh, my gosh, what can I ever do, and it can freeze you. And so the more that you can work through don't feel guilty and shame, just acknowledge, like, this is just how it is. It's not a personal thing. However, you personally can be very involved in dismantling it. And that is the part that I feel is everyone's job. You know, it's not just you know, your children who have to survive it. But it's especially everyone's job in our society, to help dismantle these ways that we prejudge and box people and give people advantage or not. And so when I started also known as which was in New York at the group for adult international adoptees, I was really clear in the mission. It was first to empower Empower international adoptees to explore and know and claim all of their multiple identities to build build bridges with their birth, country and culture and and community of people who look like them in the US. But the final piece was to transform conversations about race, because I was really clear even back then, that I would not have the freedom to be all of who I am, which is I'm Holly McGinnis. I'm also known as equal young I'm also known as many identities, that I would not have the true freedom to be who I am if I continue To be boxed in by society, into these racial groups, and so that transforming conversations about race is really a call that I make to everyone. Because only when we dismantle racism, can we be free to be just who we are.
Dawn Davenport 30:17
I want to tell you right now about a long time sponsor of both this podcast as well as the entire nonprofit creating a family.org. And that's hopscotch adoptions. They really put their money where their mouth is because they support and education and support based nonprofit. They are a high accredited international adoption agency, placing children from Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Ghana, Guiana, Morocco, Pakistan, Serbia, and Ukraine. They specialize in the placement of children with Down Syndrome and other special needs. And they also do a lot of kinship adoptions, they place kiddos throughout the US and offer home study services and post adoption services to residents of North Carolina and New York. Does any of what we're talking about change, depending on the age of the child that adoption is, you know, probably better than most the age, especially with international adoption, is the age of the children when they are coming to the US and when they are adopted is increasing, they're getting older, does anything change when you're bringing a 11 year old, in from an Asian country or an African country?
Speaker 2 31:32
Absolutely. I think just as I said earlier, that one's culture is most imprinted upon when you're young. So if that child is being adopted at age six 810, they've had that much longer for their bodies, to be exposed and experiencing the sights, smells, tastes of that original birth culture, we can also call it one's ethnic culture, right. So that absolutely doesn't make a difference. But I want to also say that those who are adopted at the age of nine months, they still have had the similar exposure to the sights, sounds smells. In utero, we know a lot that babies in utero are having full experiences, they know the sound of their mother's voice. And so we can't discount that all of that is leaving impressions in that person's body. You know, I have some adoptee friends who were adopted at ages six and 10. And in order to cope with the trauma of being adopted, they dissociated so they kind of cut off all memories. And that always surprised me, because I was like, wow, you were 10. And you don't have any memory. But that, again, was more of a trauma response. But then when they went back to say, Korea, and you know, they had a popsicle, suddenly a flood of memories came through for them. And they just hadn't been exposed to those specific tastes and sights and sounds. So I also think that for an older adoptee when they return back to their birth country, their bodies will have embedded more memories that are in there, that may or may not still be accessible to them, that might come out when they return back to their birth country.
Dawn Davenport 33:10
And it seems also to acknowledge the fact that if you're adopting a 10 year old or even a six year old, they are losing a specific cultural experience. I mean, in you're correct that even if you're adopting a nine month old, which there are not many nine, that those ups are being adopted now internationally, but even for children, that there is a change. But the older the child gets, the bigger the change. And so acknowledging that even things that we don't realize as foreign because it's not foreign to us, are very foreign to the child that we're bringing into our home. Yes, yes. So my next question is, what's the experience like for a child whose name doesn't fit their ethnicity? And you seem to be the perfect person to ask that question to Holly McGinnis.
Speaker 2 33:59
So I think it differs if you're a male or female, and also where you're growing up. So for me because I was the youngest in my family, my adoptive mom and dad had two biological children. I would say that I didn't have much thought around my name until I was older, in high school and then in college, because then that was when I would be walking with my dad and I would suddenly realize that people thought we were a couple, or you know, those kinds of impressions didn't happen so much when I was a younger child, or that people presumed that I was already married, but I was 19 and they presumed that I was married to a white guy, which is why I got my last name of McGinnis. I don't know if that's quite the same as for transmission adopted men and their last names. My husband is actually also an adoptive from Korea and his adoptive last name is not as ethnically sounding as mine as McGinnis. He is a nice British name, you know. So I think that that also matters too. If you have a particularly ethnic sounding last name that seems Italian, there might be more presumptions or curiosity about why you have a name that doesn't match your face. But I think that names are really important, Don, and that some adoptees will want to change their names, to not have to deal with the extra questions, the looks and that for the adoptive parents don't take it personally, it's not about you, that their child might choose to change their name. It's about them aligning their inner and outer identities to how they feel. So it doesn't mean that they're rejecting you, it means that they are choosing something for themselves. And I know that there can be a lot of hurt when it adopts egos about changing their name. And sometimes it's just the first time and sometimes it is reclaiming their Earth last names, that again, adoptive parents try to try to be as supportive as possible and not taking it and receiving it as a rejection of them.
Dawn Davenport 36:12
Would you recommend that parents think about this when they're naming the child to choose a either first name that could at least be pronounced in their country of birth? or maintaining at what their as an additional middle name or the only middle name and the name that they arrived with? Or that they were given at birth?
Speaker 2 36:34
Yes, I think it's, it would be highly recommended to do so. So I spell my name Holly, h l l l e, because my Korean surname is Lee and I can't even give my parents a credit apparently was an aunt who suggested they spell Holly that way. And I've loved it. I knew from from a very young age that my name was spelled that way because it included my Korean surname. And so that I think alleviated a need for me specifically to later on in life want to reclaim my Korean name, because I felt like I always had it within my name is Holly. And I've heard it from other adoptees, too, who really later on as an adult, appreciated the fact that their parents kept their birth name like it as their middle name and stuff. So it would be very thoughtful for parents to be able to retain whatever name that they have. Now, I'll keep in mind too, that sometimes birth name might not have been given to an adoptee by their birth parent, it could have been by an instructor, but it still is a recognizing that you come from two worlds. And I think that the old paradigm of adoption is is that children are blank slates, that we bring them into our family, we chop, you know, cut off whatever their past connections were to their families of origin. And they just start fresh here. And all of my work with adult adoptees really shows that what adoptees need and want is the truth and recognition of all of their families. And that when that older practice of chopping off and just thinking that the family of origin no longer exists, actually hurts adoptees more. And again, that's part of why open adoptions have become more prevalent even in domestic adoptions in the US. But we need to embrace the whole child and embrace that whole child is to embrace the fact that they did have a family of origin to they were born into the world like all humans, and that the more that adoptive parents can incorporate that expansion of family, you are actually helping your adoptee to also be able to expand and accept that they are two families, not just one and sometimes three, because I wrote a piece for Mother's Day recognizing all of my mother's so I had a foster mother as well as my birth mother. And of course, my my mom.
Dawn Davenport 39:00
Let me take a minute to ask you about following or subscribing to the creating a family.org podcast. You can do that wherever you listen to podcasts. We have over 15 years of archived shows. Yep, that's right. 15 Believe it or not, once you subscribe, you can also scroll through our archives and find even more topics related to trans racial identity development, what we're talking about today. You know, we've talked a lot about culture, ethnicity, and race. But let's talk a little about religion. And I think this is particularly more of an issue, the older the children are when they arrived. So how do you handle it if a child is born and perhaps raised into a family with one religion, but adopted by a family of a different religion? Hmm. Well,
Speaker 2 39:53
you know, I think that religion is another aspect of identity, right? So your politics might be you and asked part of your identity, your race might be an aspect of your identity. So I think that when a child initially comes in, you know, you are integrating them into your family. So it's okay to raise them in the religion that you are practicing. However, once that child is of age and is able to make some decisions, and again, it's about giving your kids the roots and foundations, so that they can decide who they want to be. And I think that religious identity is also something that, you know, give your your children the room and space, if they want to reclaim a religious identity, because that was what their family of origin was. That's okay. It's not at that point. It's not about you.
Dawn Davenport 40:48
This is going to be a recurring theme, as it often is, on this show. We do speak to adoptive parents. So in this course, we're going to talk about and we we are speaking to adoptive parents. And so often, the fundamental thing we're trying to get at is, is that this is your child's issue as especially as the age is not a reflection on you. It's not about you. Yeah,
Speaker 2 41:12
yes, yeah. And again, I think, you know, American culture, ties, parental identities to their children's identities. I'm only as good as my children are good. And I think that's an old paradigm. But I think it's still very much hold. And so I'm parenting too. And I have to keep reminding myself, or being aware of when I'm getting anxious, because I'm feeling that my child's behavior is reflecting me.
Dawn Davenport 41:39
Oh, yeah. Been there felt that.
Speaker 2 41:42
Like, it's actually not me, this isn't a judgment about me. This is my child's behavior. And they're not doing it to me. Right, yeah. And so I have so much empathy, because I'm a, I'm a mom, too. And I know how shaming and embarrassing children can be to you.
Dawn Davenport 41:59
Speaker 2 42:02
And we're the grown up. So it's our responsibility to recognize that, and then also, to say, no, but our children are not manipulating us, they are just behaving the way that they are, because they are children. And I want to give them the space and give myself the space. Because when we take full responsibility for everything that our children do, we give ourselves very little freedom then to be with whatever our child needs, because we're being with our own need. You know, we're feeling shamed, or guilted, or whatever, by our children behavior, we're just attending to ourselves. So when we can say our child's behavior is not a reflection of who I am, that actually gives us the space to then attend to the thing that our child is really calling us by their behavior, that they need something from
Dawn Davenport 42:50
us. That's a good segue into, we're talking about the adoptive family, the adoptive parents. But in fact, adoption, particularly when it's a transcultural, transracial adoption, either affects every family member, the of course, the adopted person, but the siblings, obviously, the parents, but also the grandparents. So what are the long term implications for the broader sense of family when we speak a family when adopting multiculturally or multiracial?
Speaker 2 43:22
Yeah, I think the important piece there is that the entire family constellation needs to be educated. Even if the parents are really educated about race and history of racism, that sibling might not be or that uncle or aunt might not be. And again, setting the boundaries around, you know, what is acceptable, what isn't acceptable, or at the least, like what we can talk about. And what we can talk about in the family is, again, I want to say the burden of the grownups in the room.
Dawn Davenport 43:54
Right? Yes, absolutely. You know,
Speaker 2 43:56
and what has often has happened historically, is that it became the burden of just the adoptee of color. They're the ones that solo had to navigate, or just internalize these experiences that they don't even have words for, but they were children, right. And so it really is important for the grownups to have the conversations to say, Mom, Dad, don't talk that way, you know, because that was very hurtful, right? You know, to one's you know, their child's grandparent or something like that. It's the grownups in the room that that needs to bring that awareness and create that environment.
Dawn Davenport 44:32
And there are books available to help prepare family members for an adoption and we'll include those in the resource section. But there are ways to help your family come to terms with the reality of being a multicultural, oftentimes multiracial family environment. All right, as we enter the last third, I want to talk about what does a healthy cultural identity And the same thing, healthy racial identity for and internationally adopted child look like?
Speaker 2 45:08
Well done. I don't think there is one answer. I think a healthy one is one in which the adopted person has the freedom to explore their culture of origin, integrate that into the culture in which they have been raised, and is given the freedom to reject the parts that they don't like and accept the parts that they want to have a healthy racial identity is to have the survival skills to navigate a racist society. And that includes the skills to dismantle and to name systemic racism, which is not about individuals, but sits in every individual. And so that is recognizing that all of us have internalized scripts around racial groups. That doesn't make us bad. It doesn't make us wrong. But we need to be aware that all of us on all racial groups have been imprinted with certain assumptions about who and what different people are capable of based on their race. And so to be healthy and your one's racial identity is to be able to name this systemic way that all of us as Americans have been imprinted about different racial groups.
Dawn Davenport 46:33
Okay, so now we're coming to my favorite part. And that is tips, tips for how adoptive parents can help their children develop a healthy cultural and racial identity. We've already mentioned a couple. And so I will summarize those, and Dr. McGinnis, she can be thinking of others. One is to read books about the history of your child's culture. And in particular, starting young when they're still open and enjoying having you read to them. Or in they also read books to help provide language and tools for this child to deal with the systemic and overt racism that they will likely face depending on their what their race is, and again, starting young and along that same lines, talking about racism, with your child not theory, that discussion for fear that we're going to somehow bring it on by talking about it. Do you have any other tips for parents that can help their child develop a healthy cultural and racial identity?
Speaker 2 47:38
Well done. I conducted a research study back in 2009 at the Donaldson adoption Institute asking adopted adults, what was helpful for them for their racial, ethnic and adoptive identity. And what came up and the sample size was about half Korean American transpersonal adoptees and then same race sweated updates. But regardless of their racial and adoptive type, majority of people said the things that help them with a racial ethnic identity was connections to people who racially ethnically look like them, and to other adoptees. And so that would be my big takeaway for adoptive parents is seek out opportunities to have your child meaningfully connect with people who are adopted and who are of a similar racial ethnic group. And there's wonderful heritage camps for adoptees and adoptive families around the country. I'll just share the Colorado heritage camp has about 12 camps, all for different birth countries of origin. And that includes being African American and African Diaspora camp for there. And those kinds of connections again normalizes because for a transitional adoptee, we are still navigating having white parents and racially looking different. And so to have some touchstones in which they're connecting to other people who have that shared experience. That's what adopted adults at least have identified as being most helpful for them.
Dawn Davenport 49:10
And again, don't wait until your child is a tween or a team to begin this. Kids, when they're at that age sometimes resist, they've already decided what they want to do in the summer, often these camps are in the summer. So if you start when they're young, that becomes a tradition that they they may not want to continue and I would recommend listening to them. But at least if you start young, you're in control and they usually are amenable to anything new.
Speaker 2 49:36
Yes. And just to remind parents to that doesn't mean that you just because you take your child to a camp like that doesn't mean that your child is getting the conversation so still continue the conversations in your family. And my other piece is really think about who are your friends as parents? I think that a lot of times transracial adoptees of color, get implicit message is about who's allowed into the family and who's not. But who comes into the home who are friends and who are not. So if you're always going out for Chinese culture, you're going out for a Chinese restaurant, or you're going down to Chinatown. But you yourself, have no Chinese friends that are coming into the home, except for your child that is sending an implicit message of who is allowed into the family and who's not. And this doesn't mean that you have to become best friends with every Asian person that you see if your child is, you know, racially Asian. But one will make a huge difference in again, leaving an imprint for your child, that my parents accept me and they accept my group beyond me. If you have friends who are racially and ethnically similar to your adopted child,
Dawn Davenport 50:47
what along those lines are actually changing, but also lines of tips. What are your thoughts on homeland tours? First, explain what a homeland tour is, and what age should parents consider when.
Speaker 2 51:00
So I think these homeland tours are wonderful. So often, it's a guided tour to the country of origin of the adopted child. So if they were adopted from Russia, they're usually about 10 days, and you go and you see historical cultural sites, and depending on how the tour is designed, maybe they'll have a chance to visit the orphanage or the agency that helped place them. And in some cases, they might even assist with a birth search. So I think that these tours are fantastic, especially in those countries where adoptive parents were not required to travel to the country of origin to receive their child, for you, as a family to have an experience of the culture of origin and of your children. This is a way again, I think of bonding and connecting and attaching between child and parent, which is so vital. And also it means that your child will have an experience and an exposure with their family that might open the doors for them to return back as an adult as a young adult again. And so I think it lays a wonderful foundation. It gives again, an implicit message that where you came from is a place that we're interested into, and that it really can be a wonderful way of building those bonding attaching relationships between you and your child.
Dawn Davenport 52:25
Thank you so much, Dr. Holly McGinnis, for speaking with us. On helping internationally adopted children develop a healthy cultural and racial identity. I truly appreciate it. Thank you. I hope you have enjoyed this show as much as I have. It really was i i was truly engaged. She said things in a different way that I am used to I really enjoy it. But if you appreciate this content, you'll be happy to know about the free courses we offer at Bitly slash JBf support. It's bi T dot L y slash all one word J B F support. Our partners at jockey Bing Family Foundation are sponsoring a library of courses that will support you learning more about today's topic. It's free. Check it out today. Bitly slash JBf support
Transcribed by https://otter.ai