Adoptee Kit Myers shares how his life experience as an Asian American shapes how he plans to parent his daughter. This piece was originally posted in 2015 alongside reflections on race and parenting from two other Asian American adoptee parents.
My biological daughter is 16 months old. She is half Chinese, half Hmong, and I’m hyper-aware of how outwardly friendly new people are to her. I think this parallels the experience of many adoptees.
Babies, in general — just like young adoptees accompanied by their adoptive parents — rarely encounter blatant racism. Because of her age, the racism I experienced as an Asian American has not affected how I’ve raised her to this point. However, as I look into her future, I know that it doesn’t take long for racism to rear its ugly head — a fact that makes me anxious about my role as her father.
I have been called “Chink,” “Chinaman” and other derogatory names; complimented on my good English; asked where I’m “really from”; stared at; denied service at a restaurant while with a large group of other Asian adoptees; and the list goes on. There are other instances where I’m pretty certain race has played a role in how I’m treated, because it’s often assumed that Asians are passive and won’t speak up against unfair treatment.
These experiences, along with my education, have taught me that racism is real. Racism is perpetrated by individuals, but also embedded in the fabric of our society. And despite what society assumes, racism often targets Asian Americans.
I hold an advantage when it comes to teaching my daughter about racism because I study its complex history for my vocation.
I will make sure my daughter knows the history of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, including exclusion laws that lasted until the 1950s and ‘60s; segregation that helped create opium dens, sunset laws and ethnic enclaves; internment and dropped bombs; as well as employment discrimination, racial resentment and hate crimes. These institutional forms of racism against Asian Americans have largely hinged on Asians being perceived as the enemy threat, forever foreigner or the model minority. And despite widespread beliefs that we’re living in a post-racial society, prejudice and discrimination continue to manifest in new ways.
But I’ll also need to remember that my daughter’s experiences will be different from mine. She’ll encounter things that I, as a male, didn’t face. I will try to foster an open and strong relationship so she feels comfortable talking to me about her experiences, whether positive or negative. And for the times that she might confide in me about an incident of racism or sexism, I will make sure to listen to her story and affirm her feelings rather than simply telling her to ignore what others say.
Lastly, I’ll try to impart on her the various privileges that she might carry. She is a citizen, and her parents are middle class and educated. There are so many groups and categories that society fears, demonizes or dehumanizes. I will teach her to love with all of her heart, but also instill in her that racism and other forms of discrimination are real. I will tell her that we should use our experiences (good and bad), knowledge and privilege to work with others and fight the many forms of injustice.
Dr. Kit Myers is an assistant professor of history and critical race and ethnic studies at the University of California, Merced.
Click here for an age-by-age guide to talking about race and racism with your kids, written by Joemy Ito-Gates and Wei Ming Dariotis.