Profiles of KAD Relations with the Black Community: ’92 to ’20 ~ By Woo Ae Yi (Ame Ai)
(LitPrime Solutions Press, Torrence (CA), 2020, ISBN #978-1-9533-9721-8)
Review by Bill Drucker (Summer 2021 issue)
In 2020, at the height of the racial tensions, something else was occurring. The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) received support from the Asian and Latin communities. Among Asian American supporters was a subset of Korean adoptees (the author uses the term KAD in the title and throughout the book to refer to Korean adoptees). These minority groups all have in common the issues of dealing with social inequity and racism.
Author Woo Ae Yi’s publication could not be more timely. It examines the cultural and historical views of Korean American and African American conflicts in America. Her specific social timeframe is from the 1992 Los Angeles Riots (Sa-I-Gu or 4-29 to Koreans) to the 2020 George Floyd shooting in Minneapolis.
Yi’s observations as spectator and participant resonate on many levels. Black, Asian and other groups are moving in solidarity, and activists are not just demanding a call to action, they are offering workable solutions to the challenging racial moment in which they find themselves. The author believes that the 2020s decade could be the new proving ground for social and racial reforms.
Yi makes a key point that Korean adoptees can serve a significant role in ethnic/racial justice movements, particularly as a bridge to the BLM movement. She sees that Korean adoptees share many commonalities with Blacks, and but also occupy a special status in the social mainstream. As Yi states, Korean adoptees are accustomed to relationships across cultures and races, with whites, Blacks, and other people of color.
The author discusses Korean American and Korean adoptee relations with the Black community. She argues that the media has largely profiled African Americans and Korean Americans in a negative light. While the stereotype of Blacks is that they are a group to be feared, Koreans conversely are unseen and invisible unless some conflict arises, such as the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes.
The relationship between Koreans and Blacks in the U.S. has been poor overall, mainly due to mutual ignorance and distrust of the other group. The racial collision of immigrant Koreans and Blacks in a small, poor section of Los Angeles culminated in the 1992 LA Riots with the burning and looting of Koreatown. There was a slow rebuild of the neighborhood after the riots, but today, LA Koreatown thrives as a tourist destination.
Demographic shifts have altered the landscape and social fabric. The influx of new Asians and Latinos into predominantly Black areas altered the neighborhoods from Black to Black-mixed culture neighborhoods. Koreans moved into sections also occupied by Blacks and Latinos. Korean adoptees also moved into Asian-strong or mixed communities in larger cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Paul-Minneapolis, and New York.
As Yi notes, Koreans and Blacks misunderstand one another. Even when living in close proximity in LA, DC, and other metro areas, Blacks and Koreans have traditionally stayed apart. In community development, the Black community has been strong politically, but weak financially. The opposite occurred in Korean communities. Despite similar social disparities and racism, seldom did the two groups cross over.
If Korean Americans tended to dislike Blacks, they also disliked Korean adoptees. The Korean adoptee brand of Korean-ness was not enough them to be accepted into the very stratified social system which is Korean America. It was only when Korean adoptees found each other that a new international community was created, the Korean Adoptee Nation. KADs united, forming an empowered base. They lobbied for adoptee rights, then moved on to social and racial activism. It was a matter of time when KAD activities intersected with the Black and other communities.
The author also profiles some influential Korean Americans and Black Americans. Among the two groups are the issues of identity and acceptance, racism at home and work, dating and marriage, familial and social expectations, conforming or living outside the box. As adoptees and in mixed-race homes, Korean adoptees experience with racism can be overt and/or subtle. Conflicts arise with family, friends, and co-workers. The same or similar issues may resurface in marriage and child raising.
The first group (interviewed in 2007) are Korean and Black adoptees who belong to white American families. Interviewees include Hollee McGinnis, Jennifer Arndt-Johns, Nabiya, Rhonda Roorda, SooJin Pate, Tabetha Jones and Thomas Park-Clement.
The second group of adoptees (interviewed in 2020) was more engaged in transracial and transcultural relations. As a group, they were more familiar with Black Americans and activism. Issues of racism come up being Korean or Black, or Korean Black. Included are Amy Elizabeth, Bree Davis, David Taylor, Enetty Taylor, Hayley Hoffman, Helsen Valdes, Holly Choon Hyang Bachman, JaeHee Melanie Chung-Sherman, Jessica Farrell, Jordan Davis, Lisa A. Quaites, Matthew Goodman, Milton Washington, Monica Kim, Rachel Kavanagh Baldwin, Renford Reese, Rutledge, SooJin Pate, Yoon-Sook Kim, and Young-wha.
All the interviewees have dealt with racism. They are aware of or witnesses to the 1992 LA Riots and the 2020 George Floyd killing. All have become more sensitive to racial justice issues as a result. For Korean-Black couples, navigating color, race, and gender issues in their personal relationships can be a rude awakening.
The author, a Korean adoptee, writes that adoptive white mainstream parents tend to see their children as white, whether the child is Korean or Black. She questions whether they are colorblind, color-ignorant, or color denying. As Yi states, to deny that an adoptive family is now an interracial family can be as detrimental as prejudicial remarks about people of the adoptee’s race. While parents practice liberal colorblindness, the adoptees unfortunately still feel their racial difference in the home and outside. One Korean adoptee mentions it as the sense of Asian token-ness.
Another adoptee brought up that “most white [parents to adoptees] have seldom been the minority in a room. My surrogate birthmother’s family invited us to a traditional Korean celebration that was in Korean. My mother clung to me, for the first time in her life experiencing what I experienced most of the time.”
Notably, as adoptees select mates, interracial relations impact the adoptive parents. They may act colorblind, the author writes, but race does matter to adoptive parents. Parents may accept out of a sense of liberal posture, push for same race relations, or may outright object. At least two families and two races are involved in negotiating such new relationships, and no choices are easy or simple.
Yi states that among Korean adoptees, colorblindness in itself is considered a form of racism, specifically microaggression. One Black adoptee pointed out that the Black parents see you as the same color, even if you are mixed race. On the other hand, the Korean culture has had trouble accepting Koreans orphans or mixed-race children.
Author Yi discusses the less-addressed issues of racially-motivated emotional trauma. Black and Korean adoptees shared many common emotional issues. Among Korean adoptees, “never rock the boat” is a common mantra. The author asserts that Korean adoptees tend to bottle up traumas, such as school bullying or name-calling. As one adoptee states, maybe if we spoke out sooner, the topics of racism in interracial families could have been addressed more openly, honestly, and supportively.
Korean adoptees have some of the highest rate of suicides in America and Europe. Trauma in this community stems from loss of identity and culture, racism, and abuse. For Black adoptees, the trauma can be more physical and violent. For mixed Korean-Black adoptees, the issues are compounded by racism, color, gender, and status. All three groups of adoptees have experienced racial trauma, as children and as adults.
The issues of Korean adoptee and Blacks and Black Adoptees trauma are underserved. The seminal reference book, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is criticized as being an authoritative reference with a “white” lens. Yi argues for the inclusion of adoption-based and race-based trauma into the DSM.
Yi points out, “It’s apparent that we’re not asking the right questions to understand how we can fix this country, and the problem is that we want quick and easy solutions, but it will require depth and compassion to understand and hear the depth of someone’s pain. What we are actually dealing with is deep trauma, for both the transracial adoptee, the Black adoptee, and Blacks in general.”
The author writes that Korean and/or Black adoptees can lobby for the inclusion of both adoption-based trauma and race-based traumatic stress into the DSM so it can be studied, diagnosed, and treated in an official manner. Adoptees can create forums, open discussions, and provide support those who are experiencing trauma.
Yi and her interviewees often point to educating and correcting white authorities. The white community or the nameless institutions cannot bear full brunt of the tense, racial environment. A better social understanding is necessary. Voicing serves its purpose, but protests and demands only go so far. Solutions should come from adoptees, Blacks, Koreans, and other people of color – in solidarity, to create inclusion in the challenging social issues of the day. Yi stresses that the participation of Korean adoptees can be a bridge between white, Black and other ethnic/racial communities.
Yi was born in Seoul, South Korea and is a U.S. citizen. She was adopted into a white family and grew up in the Little Korea neighborhood of the metropolitan DC area. She has published 12 books on a variety of subjects. She is a volunteer at the adoptee organization AdopteeHub as a copywriter.