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The Transracially Adopted Speak Out

Sue Jardine (left) and Claire Martin, both adopted after being brought to Britain from Hong Kong in 1963. Photograph: Andy Hall for the ObserverBut is the government listening?

The government is proposing changes to the adoption process that will make it easier for would be parents to adopt children of a different racial background to their own but have they really done their homework and talked to those who have been transracially adopted.

The following article recently appeared in The Observer and shows how dangerous the government's proposals can be to the well being of adopted children.

She remembers the isolation, the confusion, the racism, the passers-by who gawped at her because she looked different from her parents. Sue Jardine, 50, said she felt neither Chinese nor British, 'a bloody foreigner' in a country that didn't understand her.

'My obvious difference to my family attracted unwanted attention and racist comments that I felt my parents did not understand or want to acknowledge,' she said.

At the time, with Hong Kong struggling to cope with an influx of refugees fleeing communist China, the British government decided to transfer children from overcrowded orphanages to largely white British adopting families.

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering spent three years tracking down and interviewing 72 of them, creating a detailed analysis of the effect of transracial adoption on individuals over 50 years.

Researchers say the study is unique, providing the first glimpse into the long-term importance of ethnicity within adoption and into how issues of race and cultural identity manifest themselves during childhood and adolescence and into middle-age.

Although a spectrum of experiences was reported, some positive, the collective message was that race was critical to the girls' wellbeing, findings that challenge the government's proposal that 'ethnicity should not be a primary consideration for adoption agencies'.

Another of the Hong Kong orphans, Claire Martin, 52, had a very different experience from Jardine, benefiting from being adopted by a mixed-race family, an ethnically Chinese British-born father and a white British mother.

Her adoptive parents' experiences, said Martin, meant they were deeply empathetic and grasped the potential problems of self-identity and dealing with the assumptions of others. Yet playing down the importance of ethnicity in adoption was, she said, misguided.

'I would not like the government to say that love is the most important thing. I just don't believe that's the case. There are enough of the women who have had really bad experiences even where people have genuinely loved them,' she said.

Referring to the Maslow scale, the hierarchy of needs developed by the late US psychologist Abraham Maslow which stipulates that a person's fundamental requirements have to be fulfilled before they can realise their potential, Martin believes transracial adoption can fail to deliver much more than the basics.

'They can give food, shelter and all that stuff, but when it gets to the higher end of people's needs like confirming their identity, self-image, they haven't been able to fulfil that. It's really important the adoption process takes this into account and doesn't sweep race under the carpet,' she said.

Similarly, Martin warned that good intentions are not enough. 'Most of the parents were largely middle-class white people with very good intentions and a lot of them very religious. The intentions were great, but the anecdotal recollections show there were quite a few who just didn't know what it was like to be Chinese,' she said.

Jardine was among those who felt unable to relate to her adopting parents. 'The lack of understanding or support of how I felt meant that I was unable to articulate my feelings,' she said.

Jardine, who rarely saw other Chinese people while growing up in Hertfordshire with white adoptive parents and their four children, eventually turned to therapy to help overcome her sense of "disconnection and isolation" and moved to multicultural London to blend in.

Some found genuine happiness. Jasmine Gillies, 52, found herself in Cambridgeshire with a family who fostered children from different nationalities and who had adopted a boy who was black.

The environment, she said, was inclusive and one where ethnic differences did not matter. Her mother, Diana Davenport, even wrote books on the virtues of transracial adoption. Gillies, who lives in north London with a daughter, said: 'Being raised in a very multinational family, we never thought about being different from each other, or about the colour of our skin or even where we came from. My mother wanted us to be one big family; it made me feel very relaxed and at ease.'

She was staggered when she learned some of the other Hong Kong orphans had been miserable. 'I was amazed at the different upbringing some of the other girls had, with some saying they were picked on, that they stood out in their very white Anglican society.'

Most, though, believed that society's awareness and tolerance had improved, in terms of the needs of adoptive families and how schools and workplaces tackled racism. Yet hostile attitudes towards mixed-race families clearly endure.

Jardine said: 'I still get racist comments [in London] and still hear adoption being used as a threat to children if they are not behaving.'

Martin, who married a white British man with whom she has a mixed-race daughter, also revealed her family suffered racist abuse, describing an incident last year in Crystal Palace, south London, that was so bad her husband called the police. 'We get hassle on the bus sometimes. It's just ridiculous,' she said.

Many of those questioned for the study urged caution before encouraging transracial adoption, stressing that it was vital the adopting parents could first prove they were capable of understanding issues arising from ethnicity.

Jardine said: 'Transracial adoption should be a last resort. Ethnicity and cultural identity are defining factors in how we are perceived and perceive ourselves.' Gillies, a firm believer that transracial adoption works, tried to adopt a child 12 years ago, informing social services in London that the child's nationality did not matter.

'But they told me I can only adopt a child of my ethnic nationality. I thought it was absolutely bizarre,' she said.

Another recurring feature of the study was the resilience of the women, with most overcoming any negativity associated with being interracially adopted by the time they reached middle age.

Twenty years ago, Jardine wrote a poem that she still reads to remind herself how far she has travelled. Its third verse reads:

In this skin, I'm called a

bloody foreigner,

And told to go home,

An easy target for White and Black,

Just a quiet Chinese,

Whose stereotype is to please.



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Source:The Observer

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