Move it.

I had reservations about posting this yesterday, posted it for about an hour, pulled it, and then I found Sue’s very nice comment on the post below. Since Sue’s my “ideal reader” and one of the coolest adoptive parents I’ve ever met, and she found a nugget of value in my inflammatory post, I will let it fly. Here goes — and thank you, Sue!


Some of my best friends are white people.

I knew some white people growing up.

I have some white people in my family.

White people like me.

However, one of the things that I like about living in Korea is that white people move out of my way. For instance, if I’m in a store (outside of Itaewon) and they’re in front of something I want to look at, they automatically JUST MOVE. It’s great, and it’s courteous. I would do the same for them and indeed I always have.

However, I did have a rather unpleasant experience with two white ladies who would not get out of my way last weekend.

So I’m at this feminist literary conference at one of the top universities in Korea and I’m giving a paper called “Adoption is a Feminist Issue: Toward an Imaginative Feminism,” basically stating that adoption has to do with reproductive choice and economic justice for women, so why aren’t feminists talking about it? I’m citing the lack of discussion about it as a failure of imagination, and thanking all the literature professors who are listening for cultivating the imaginations of students so they can be more compassionate toward all kinds of people. And I also made the comment that one of the reasons why feminist academics perhaps are not appropriately framing adoption as a feminist issue is because there are so many adoptive mothers within the halls of liberal academia.

Well, believe you me, I had no idea (until the organizer told me the day before) that the woman who was going to read her paper right before me was a Spanish (from Spain) woman who is also the adoptive mother of a Chinese girl! Who’d a thunk it? And although the mother was all mad that I was talking about “white” adoptive parents, it wasn’t me that made her go like TWENTY MINUTES over her time limit which ate up both my time and the Chinese professor’s time after me. (Isn’t it just like white people to help themselves to all the available time and deprive others of theirs?)

Nor did I have any idea that her other white-looking Spanish friend who was along with her was ALSO the adoptive mother of a Chinese girl! Dios madre!!

So here we are at one of the top two universities in Korea at an international feminist literature conference and it completely devolves into — well, let’s put it this way, it was like certain people had suddenly checked their gigantic brains at customs. It was sort of like an adoption panel.

The mother sitting next to me ended up CRYING in front of everybody and talking about her love for her daughter. “I only know the language of love,” she sniffled. Oh Jesus Christo upside down exclamation point, I thought, isn’t this typical that the white lady has a mental break and then the strong woman of color is supposed to mammy her up? Not only that, but she presented her paper on a Chinese Canadian author who refuses to identify herself as Chinese or Asian, but prefers to be called a “West Coast” author. Is that surprising at all, that the author that this white adoptive mother chose to present on is a bulimic Chinese author who has completely elided her own race and who is self-Orientalizing/fetishizing by being a dominatrix and calling it some kind of women’s empowerment? (Is that like, taking Chinese women’s children away is supposed to be a form of white women’s empowerment?)

Meanwhile the other adoptive mother in the audience seemed to have a little more self-control, but simply didn’t seem to get it about economic disparity and why I think it’s a little crazy that while the Chinese peasants are rioting about the government’s one-child law, foreign adopters can buy up the peasants’ kids for 20 times the amount of money it would take for the Chinese mother to just pay the fine and keep her own child. Is that not unfair? Nor did she get the part where I was saying that no, I don’t think that women should be reduced to their biological functions either, however what I am talking about is not relatively wealthy women’s choices in reproductive technology, but rather all women’s choices to simply raise their own (biological) kids. I mean, are we so space-age and post-feminist now that it’s passe to actually have children out of one’s womb instead of adopt them?

Afterwards, it was reported to me, these two white-looking — but more importantly, white-acting women — who just came all the way to Seoul from Spain for a 2-day conference, I suppose on donkey-back with some hardtack packed away in a kerchief, said they are not white, but women of color, and that they are POOR.


Since I wrote my paper far before I ever met either one of them or knew they were going to be there, it wasn’t a personal thing, but of course they personalized it. My paper was not personal, however THIS is, because I really am that petty.

Now, since I am in full venting/bitchingmode, I should mention that then one of my righteous homegirls — hailing from India and more recently Canada — R, who is researching international adoption, made a great intervention into all the silliness during the discussion, which later got her cornered by the Spanish ladies even though R and I had agreed to get out of there for a break afterwards. (I must take up smoking and drinking. It is so sad that in times like those when a smoke break and a martini would be so nice, but I don’t actually like either cigarettes or alcohol. R says we are strong women for being able to handle all this with just a Sprite. I did knock back a Sprite later and no one could stop me!!! No one I tell you!! ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, back to the lobby scene where R is cornered by the two uh, women of color, which I think to them means that they are opaque, not transparent. “Excuse me, but we were just going out for lunch,” I say to the Spanish ladies, physically putting myself in between them and R. And here’s why I’m pretty sure they are white, no matter whether they think they are “women of color” or not: BECAUSE THEY INVITED THEMSELVES ALONG. I was thinking, R and K and I are going out for lunch. NOT YOU. I didn’t ask YOU out for lunch, bitch. (I know, feminists are not supposed to say “bitch,” but at least I didn’t say “cunt.”)

So we ended up going for coffee, and the white-acting lady who did her paper on the Chinese author in denial gets out of her folder like TWELVE PICTURES of her Chinese kid. And I thought, isn’t that just like a white lady to bring twelve pictures of her Chinese kid playing piano to a conference in an Asian space so Asian people will have to act like they care? As if we are not surrounded by cute little Asian kids already, some of whom are apparently being raised in such an anti-feminist way, that is, by the women who so vulgarly gave birth to them? Just because she left her kid at home in Spain, I guess she had to bring the photos along as her ticket into Asian space this time. Good lord, that is the oldest and lamest trick in the book. My friends are a lot more nice than I am, because they actually looked at her photos. I was like, I am not going to play that game with you.

Props to K for keeping the Spanish ladies company in a civilized manner and responding to all their nosey questions about her life as an adoptee, such as “What would your life have been like if you hadn’t been adopted?” which I suppose they felt entitled to ask her since that day they were doing their impression of white people even though they are really opaque. However, I thought, the least I can do since these people have already taken up my time and intruded on my space is learn something about what’s happening in Spain. So I asked some questions about how they’re raising the adopted kids in Spain, and wouldn’t you know it, they have no contact with the Chinese community there (it’s the Chinese people’s fault because they are so closed, they said) except when they take their girls to the Chinese restaurant. “But do you try to build some relationships with Chinese people who are not in service positions?” I asked. She assured me that the Chinese are RICH and they are the OWNERS of the restuarant. My explanations about yes, maybe they’re rich, but they are still asking you what you want to eat and bringing you food, which makes it a service position — went completely over her head. It was all I could do not to bust out into my version of The Scream, beat her with my shoe, choke her to death, steal a lock of her hair for my voodoo doll, etc.

And then the two white ladies went to the bathroom, together, for about 15 minutes, and I was wondering if they were holding each other in there and crying or talking about their dates or what. They were sort of huddled together for the rest of the conference. Yes — clutch each other because it is getting too Asian around here!!

The white people whom I like in Korea were probably also nice folks in their Western countries. Nice, meaning respectful of other people and not hogging up all the time and space and resources and wasting all their time either being racist or feeling guilty for having been racist before or feeling guilty about having been born white or trying to deny being white or trying to cover for their racist friends or trying to appropriate Asian cultures. I don’t think that being white automatically makes one unsavory to be around, but I think in Western countries that kind of behavior is easier to get away with. I guess I’d forgotten what a challenge (i.e., a test of marathon will and mental strength) it is to live in a culture where people are allowed to be like that all the time.

OK, so that being said, certainly the white people in Korea, beyond moving out of my way in the store, are not giving me much of a break, but that is way too long to go into. Basically, Korea is crawling with Asian fetishists, which is why Itaewon is the most dangerous place to be in all of Korea (in my opinion). And Korea manages to be a white supremacist culture, even with a Korean ethnic majority. Just didn’t want you to think that I am letting people off the hook simply because they get out of my way (since they think I can’t speak English).

However, having white people get out of my way, usually, is definitely one of the perks of living here.


3 responses to “Move it.

  1. AWEsome. I am so glad you reposted it. And thanks for the kind words about a comment that I thought was just a throw away. I have to say though that I saw myself in the white-acting “poor” women and need posts like this so I can continue to learn what they teaching my kid in school regarding positive social behaviors. STOP. THINK. CHOOSE.

  2. Such a great post, Jane. Something in me loves written rants. I have to say, living in Korea was really the first time I had to deal with an adoptive parent who wasn’t my own, and it’s definitely, er, challenging to be treated as a child or an ill-adjusted adoptee in voicing my opinions/experience to her. But I guess that’s some more post-colonial/colonial stuff where the person of color is seen as a child-like heathen who needs to be re-educated and converted to the “proper” view of the way things really are…

    Your blog is inspiring, for lack of a better word and the new layout is lovely! I admit, I haven’t been here in awhile, so maybe it’s not so new.

    Will be back in Korea soon.
    We’ll have to go out to eat!
    Dreaming of dosotbimbimbap with processed cheese…

  3. Lori Askeland

    This was a great post. I’m a women’s studies scholar, a feminist, who works on adoption; I’ve been teaching from your works (your memoir and Outsiders Within) in a couple of my classes. I adopted my kids from my sister in an open adoption and it’s been complex. Even within a kin relationship. I have not been perfect at this, there’s lots of old “sibling baggage” attached to these situations. But I am committed to not erasing my sister or, in my research, the other mothers who cannot raise or are prevented from raising their own children. Families like mine, complex and unwieldy, struggle quietly to make two mothers and two fathers “work.” It is heartening to me to have voices like yours troubling the waters of the closed, secret adoption system that the current international adoption reinforces and encourages. The women you met have all but erased the Asian mothers of their daughters, because the system says they can and empowers them to do so. It pushes those mothers well out of the way so Western parents can re-imagine them as “orphans.” Bluntness and rantyness about that situation is entirely appropriate.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I no longer have time to update this blog regularly, but I appreciate your comments, even though I cannot respond to all of them. All comments (except spam) have been allowed to go through unmoderated since June 16, 2014. Any comments you see prior to that date have been read and approved by me. Thanks again, and wishing you peace and blessings.

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