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Part 1: Asian Raisins discusses colonialism, white supremacy and white saviourism

Based on the infamous quote: “Being able to save even one”, from adoptive father and writer Jan de Hertog, transnational adoption mainly from Asia became popular during the 70s. In the TV-show Mies-en-scene in 1967, Jan encouraged the Dutch public to adopt after he and his wife adopted two Korean children. According to him, there were thousands of abandoned, lost kids orphaned by war, who needed saving. After this one particular episode, the show’s editorial office got swamped with calls from viewers, each requesting: “I’ll take one of those Koreans!”. This initially seemed harmless as transnational adoption can be a way to realise humanitarian aid; serving and prioritising ‘the need of children’. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Adoption has been the result of colonial thinking and its system legitimises and reinforces both the ‘white saviour mentality’ as well as the sense of white superiority.

Transnational (and often transracial) adoption is a modern Western concept rooted in the colonial oppression of the Global South. In colonised countries, children who were the products of violent sexual relations between white men and indigenous women were separated from their mothers to receive the whitest and most Christian upbringing possible. This was done in hopes of them not growing up to become ‘savages’. For example, the indigenous populations of Latin America and Canada were forcibly assimilated. Indigenous children were separated from their families and sent to ‘boarding schools’ to be re-educated with Western norms and values. Here they were stripped of their cultural identity: language, traditional clothing, spiritual beliefs and way of life. The children were considered subordinates and were ought to be domesticated like animals: they were mistreated, abused and murdered. The many mass graves in present-day Canada provide proof for this. Transnational adoption is a disguised form of Western imperialism, in which Western countries exploit the Global South for their resources and labour and lay unsolicited claims to these children.

The general reasoning that motivates people to “rescue” children from the Global South, stems from the white saviour mentality where white people are convinced they hold a moral high ground compared to the “underdeveloped” indigenous person of colour. The idea is that they are the best person to ‘save’ or ‘improve’ the lives of people of colour. This idea is also reflected in the countries who receive the adopted children; viewing themselves as superior and modern, ultimately infantilizing and stigmatising the sending countries as nothing but ‘developing countries’. Transnational adoption’s origins lie in the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-1953), and was a part of many geopolitical agreements. In the media, it was advertised as a rescue effort for mixed-race children whose mothers were classed as outcasts. Many countries from which people were adopted had very fragile political and humanitarian situations, such as (civil) wars, famine, poverty and natural disasters. This combined with the weak position of girls and women in general and unmarried pregnant women and mothers in particular, created the ideal conditions for opening new means of adoption.

Supporters of transnational adoption and many adoptive parents claim not to see colour, but try to emphasise the appreciation and equality of so-called multiculturalism within adoptive families. Besides the fact that there is no multiculturalism in the laundering of adopted children, racism regularly occurs within adoptive families. This is in line with the skewed distribution of the countries who send children and the countries who receive. Adopted children’s countries of origin are often characterised as countries suffering from global inequality. These children are often adopted from Asia (China, Korea, Sri Lanka) and with an orientalist mindset. In the West, Asian children are seen as docile, submissive, smart, hardworking, quiet and small in stature. These are characteristics of anti-Asian racism that align with the myth of the so-called model minority. This also feeds into the idea that Asian children simply adapt (assimilate) and that they cause little to no problems when it comes to raising children. At the end of the day adopting a child should always remain fun.

Transnational adoption is steeped in colonialism, racist ideas and racial hierarchy. From a Western perspective, people define what adoption should be, who is even considered worthy of adoption, and which children are adoptable. Those with higher incomes, will often be able to afford the ‘right’ to even have a child. Knowing this, countries embracing Western capitalism will remain as prominent adopting countries. The results however, involve a title deed (adoption deed) with which the ties between child and family are irrevocably and fundamentally severed, and with which the child from the Global South is legally appropriated by complete strangers.