The Dance of Identities

The Dance of Identities: Korean Adoptees and Their Journey toward Empowerment

John D. Palmer
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  • Book Info
    The Dance of Identities
    Book Description:

    Korean adoptees have a difficult time relating to any of the racial identity models because they are people of color who often grew up in white homes and communities. Biracial and nonadopted people of color typically have at least one parent whom they can racially identify with, which may also allow them access to certain racialized groups. When Korean adoptees attempt to immerse into the Korean community, they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome because they are unfamiliar with Korean customs and language. The Dance of Identities looks at how Korean adoptees "dance," or engage, with their various identities (white, Korean, Korean adoptee, and those in between and beyond) and begin the journey toward self-discovery and empowerment. Throughout the author draws closely on his own experiences and those of thirty-eight other Korean adoptees, mainly from the U.S. Chapters are organized according to major themes that emerged from interviews with adoptees. "Wanting to be like White" examines assimilation into a White middle-class identity during childhood. Although their White identity may be challenged at times, for the most part adoptees feel accepted as "honorary" Whites among their families and friends. "Opening Pandora’s Box" discusses the shattering of adoptees’ early views on race and racism and the problems of being raised colorblind in a race-conscious society. "Engaging and Reflecting" is filled with adoptee voices as they discover their racial and transracial identities as young adults. During this stage many engage in activities that they believe make more culturally Korean, such as joining Korean churches and Korean student associations in college. "Questioning What I Have Done" delves into the issues that arise when Korean adoptees explore their multiple identities and the possible effects on relationships with parents and spouses. In "Empowering Identities" the author explores how adoptees are able to take control of their racial and transracial identities by reaching out to parents, prospective parents, and adoption agencies and by educating Korean and Korean Americans about their lives. The final chapter, "Linking the Dance of Identities Theory to Life Experiences," reiterates for adoptees, parents, adoption agencies, and social justice activists and educators the need for identity journeys and the empowered identities that can result. The Dance of Identities is an honest look at the complex nature of race and how we can begin to address race and racism from a fresh perspective. It will be well received by not only members of the Korean adoption community and transracial parents, but also Asian American scholars, educators, and social workers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6087-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XVI)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Dance of Identities
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the summer of 1999 the first Gathering of Korean adult adoptees was held in Washington, D.C.; more than four hundred Korean adoptees came from around the world to share their life experiences, rejoice in their accomplishments, reveal their sorrows and pains, and develop lifelong connections. Some attendees admitted that this was their first time openly speaking about their adoption stories; others shared their experiences of returning to the Motherland; a few narrated their searches for birth families. Even though the adoptees traveled to the 1999 Gathering through a variety of identity paths, they shared the common bond of being...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Wanting to Be Like White: Dancing with a White Cultural Identity
    (pp. 21-44)

    Charlotte and Brenda, like several of the other adoptees, were challenged with offhand remarks about being bananas and more serious taunts of being sellouts. Most participants held fast to the belief that assimilation into the White middle-class culture of their adoptive parents was a natural, nearly unavoidable aspect of most Korean adoptees’ life. The adoptees pointed out several contributing factors, namely cultural racism and the promotion of colorblind philosophy, that contribute to this natural process of assimilation (Rosaldo 1993). They also reflected on how assimilation was not their fault and that they should not be blamed (which they often were)...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Opening Pandora’s Box: Dancing in Between and Nowhere at All
    (pp. 45-70)

    At some point in their lives the Korean adoptees of this study encountered a racial experience that sent them into a spiral of angst and uncertainty. Underlying this debilitating pain from being called a “gook” or “chink” was the shattering of their sense of reality—that the world is not colorblind. In 1903 W. E. B. DuBois stated that Blacks were constantly compelled to develop and struggle with “second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world” (2004 [1903], 38). The individual develops...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Engaging and Reflecting: Dancing with a Racial Identity and Transracial Adoptee Identity
    (pp. 71-96)

    Dancing with a White cultural identity is a time when Korean adoptees are lulled into a state of denial and disempowerment about their racial and transracial adoptee identities as they grow up within the status quo of their culturally White-informed homes and communities that promote assimilation, a colorblind philosophy, and silenced dialogues around issues of race, racism, and White privilege. Later, there is an awakening, when the adoptees acknowledge that their racial and transracial adoptee identities cannot be denied and disregarded, because the world isnotcolorblind, and assimilation into their White communities is limited because they arenotracially...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Questioning What I Have Done: Dancing with Tensions, Conflicts, and Contradictions
    (pp. 97-132)

    If “dancing in between and nowhere at all” can be considered the opening of Pandora’s box, then dancing with a racial and transracial adoptee identity should be regarded as rummaging around inside that box. The adoptees’ explorations to discover their identities gave rise to tension, conflict, and contradiction, especially with the people who loved and knew them best. Many of the adoptees remarked that digging into their identities was the most tumultuous period in their lives. Some even wanted to end their journey as their discoveries were neither pleasant nor gave them the answers they sought.

    While they took pride...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Empowering Identities: Dancing with Empowerment and Executing Social Change
    (pp. 133-164)

    The previous chapters illustrate how the participants’ identity journeys ultimately led some to gain empowered identities. Indeed, I described the process and the initiating factors that allowed the adoptees to develop these identities. This chapter discusses in further detail the characteristics of these empowered identities and, more important, the social justice agendas these adoptees initiate within the transracial adoptee community. By engaging in critical and sustained explorations of their identities, some adoptees were able to take control of them. They no longer felt that their identities were boxed into certain racially defining categories. They neither felt obligated to explain their...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Linking the Dance of Identities Theory to Life Experiences
    (pp. 165-174)

    The dance of identities theory appears to resemble Cross’ (1971) established racial identity development model that includes the stages of pre-encounter, encounter, immersion/emersion, internalization, and internalization-commitment. The pre-encounter stage is evident in the ways the Korean adoptees assimilate into their White cultural identities; the encounter stage is similar to the “awakenings” and the opening of Pandora’s box; immersion/emersion resembles the engaging and reflecting of their racial and transracial adoptee identities; and internalization and internalization-commitment reflect their empowered identities.

    By critically examining the lives and reflections of Korean adult adoptees, it was my intent to bring attention to the lives of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 175-180)
  12. References
    (pp. 181-190)
  13. Subject Index
    (pp. 191-196)
  14. Index of Korean Transracial Adoptee Participants
    (pp. 197-198)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-200)