The Ladybug | The things people say

The Ladybug is a biweekly blog about adoptees and their experiences.

By Abigail Duncan, Staff Writer

As early as middle school, there was a guy that was known as “the guy who dates Asians.” It also happened to be only the adopted Asians. In high school, I dated a guy who, after I dated  him, was also labeled as having a type for Asians. His current girlfriend is also Asian. 

In college, for a short amount of time I dated a guy who told me that his best friend thinks I look like his ex-girlfriend from high school who was also Chinese and adopted. I know a girl who does the same with Asian guys. I know a guy who did the same with South Asians. It’s unfortunately not uncommon — but what’s the difference between a racial preference and racial fetish?  

In my opinion, I think it comes down to context. Having a racial preference might not be publicly vocalized, but it’s what it’s called — a preference. When given a choice of partner, the likelihood of them being a certain race might be higher. They aren’t sexualizing a racial quality. It could also be coincidental.  

I feel like public interactions are a good indicator. When it is every single member of the preferred sex of a race that walks by regardless of how they look, that’s an indicator. Drooling over someone solely because of their racial identity is fetishizing and demeaning. Noticing a stranger’s attractiveness is one thing, but being “down bad” just because that person is Asian is wrong.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced the public to acknowledge Asian-directed racism because of the uptick in Asian hate crimes, many of us have faced microaggressions our whole lives. When my Asian friends and I are out together, we are almost always guaranteed one microaggressive comment. A lot of the time it’s the question, “Are you guys sisters?” Nope, and we don’t even look alike. I’ve been asked this when I’m with my Korean friend, and we are different ethnicities altogether. 

I have been called five other names of Asian girls in one night. It’s not a big deal to call someone the wrong name, but mixing up girls of the same race is sometimes frustrating. My advice is don’t try and name someone if you’re not 100% sure. It’s better to tell them “Hey, I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” I personally prefer someone asking me to remind them than being called another Asian girl’s name.  

Other comments made to my friends and me are “Mmm Asian, I like Asian,” “I like your personality, if you were in a white person’s body I’d date you,” “Crawl back into the box you were found in,” “Since your eyes are small, do you see less than the average person?” and more.

There are many things wrong with these comments, so I’ll break down a few. Some are more common than others. Random people should not be commenting on your appearance and if they don’t have anything nice to say they shouldn’t say it. Using the term “real” when asking about parents is insulting. Our parents are our real parents. The correct term is adoptive parents versus birth parents. Using the term “real” is very invalidating. It’s as if the person is calling your parents not real, which is insulting. Asking if a parent is a spouse is humiliating. A parent telling you that you can’t express your feelings in public because people might think they’re abducting you is not a comment you want to ever hear out of their mouth. 

“Where are you really from” is another common question. I’m from Philadelphia, but I was born in China. It’s not “where I’m really from.” I am American and “my country” isn’t China, that is only where I was born. If the only thing I have in common with a famous person is their race, then I don’t really look like them, do I? If you have to start the sentence with “I don’t want to be racist” then don’t say it. Don’t assume English isn’t my native language because of my appearance. No, I don’t eat dogs. The fact is that only a very small city in China consumes dogs for a particular festival and it has completely painted over the Chinese race with a disgusted light.

There’s also an assumption that children who were sent to orphanages aren’t wanted or loved. We are loved, but because of the One Child Policy, or for whatever reason, our families might not have been able to care for us. Maybe they couldn’t afford to take care of a child. I like to believe we found our adoptive parents for a reason and that it’s a better life than in China. As an adopted woman, I am grateful that I was adopted and have the life that I do today, but when people tell me how I should feel or make assumptions about my life it irritates me.

The things that come out of people’s mouths baffle me. In my personal experience, many of these comments are made by old white men who are set in their ways so saying something is pointless. However, there is still a surprising amount of heinous comments made by white college men who definitely know better than to say the things that come out of their mouths. I hope that our generation does better and is more conscientious of our actions. Sometimes it’s best to ignore it and not give people the reaction they are looking for. It’s up to the person who’s being insulted to decide whether it’s worth their energy. I do not need a white savior in these situations. I can handle myself.

When I’m really disturbed, journaling about what someone said and the emotions that arise from it helps. I’m glad to have learned coping skills to calm down in these situations.

I’m very grateful to have a community of Asian friends who understand and are there to talk to when I have these negative experiences. I’m fortunate to have made adoptee friends in college as well as adoptee family members. This community has contributed to my comfort in speaking on these topics and knowing that I am not alone in my thoughts and experiences. 

I’m also a member of a Facebook group called China’s Children International as well as an Adoptees Only group. While I’m not very active on these pages, this is a safe place where other adoptees can express frustration regarding experiences of racism among other things. The posts in these groups range from DNA genetic testing results, resources for finding birth parents, finding other adoptees from the same birthplace, filing for a passport, representation in movies and more. 

I think it’s important to share these comments to shed light on racism toward Asians to remind people to think before they speak. Taking the time to process how a comment might make someone feel is worth it rather than potentially hurting someone’s feelings.

Abigail writes about adoption and the experiences of adoptees, you can reach her at [email protected] with any further questions or comments.