COVID-19 Misconceptions and their Impact on the Transracial Adoptee Community: What We Can Do to Help


By Blake Portnoff

The recent developments of the COVID-19 virus have introduced a new way of living that looks very unfamiliar to us. A time where daily routines have been uprooted, parents work from home, children are learning through virtual classrooms, and stores have boarded up their windows as people socially-distance themselves from their community. While all of this is undoubtedly frightening and affects each of us, there are certain aspects of this crisis that are impacting the Asian-American community in unique and challenging ways that those from other ethnic backgrounds may not be aware of.  And for members of the Asian-American community who are also transracial or transnational adoptees, the impact has been even more pronounced.

While some of us may be in a transracial or transnational family, or parenting children from Asian birth backgrounds, we must ask how are we making ourselves available for our children and our fellow adoptees during this difficult time? As all members of the adoption community, it is important that we remain aware of the challenges and to make ourselves available to help those who might be experiencing the adverse effects of these misperceptions.

While the respiratory illness that is spreading rapidly around the globe is called the Coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19, and has also been referred to as “coronavirus,” which describes the type of virus, there are some who are incorrectly referring to this virus as the “Chinese virus.” This misconception likely comes from the geographic location where the first outbreak of the illness occurred—in the Wuhan province of China—and has been perpetuated by individuals who have publicly referred to the virus by this erroneous name. While this incorrect usage has been discounted and discouraged by the World Health Organization, the intolerant perception of the illness as having something to do with Chinese or Asian peoples has become a serious cause for concern.

The perpetuation of this misconception and incorrect labeling of this illness as the “Chinese virus” has resulted in slurs and attacks against those perceived to be Chinese or Asian. Whether adoptees choose to identify with their Chinese or Asian-American roots or not, their physical appearance has become a constant reminder to others passing judgement to make them feel as though they don’t belong. While many transracial and transnational adoptees may already feel less confident of their birth ethnicities and racial backgrounds due to the mystery behind their biological history, the additional reminder of people’s ostracizing and avoidant behaviors has created a reactive racial tension. There is a heightened hatred as people repeatedly cover their mouths and nose when you enter a room or walk into a subway car, in addition to the fear of the verbal and physical harassments when leaving your home. Many adolescent and teen adoptees are also being confronted with bullying and harassment online and through social media, only enforcing the insecurities related to Chinese and Asian-American adoption identities, and further damaging their ability to build autonomy and move through the world with confidence and a positive image of themselves.

As adoptive parents and adoptee advocates, we must acknowledge these uncomfortable realities during these social and politically turbulent times in order to continue this discussion and provide adoptees with the appropriate supports and tools to empower them and allow them to claim ownership of both their transracial and adoptee narratives.

We must remain mindful to continue educating ourselves on the impacts of racism and how it affects adoptees and their families. Parents can create opportunities to talk about racism by checking-in with their children and encouraging adoptees to share their feelings and concerns related to the misconceptions of the virus. This will help to promote healthy communication and allow children to feel more comfortable expressing how they are feeling. It is also crucial that adoptees are introduced to a supportive network of fellow adoptees and advocates in their community in order to encourage opportunities for discussion based around the experience of racism, and shared cultural and racial backgrounds. By introducing these types of group conversations, we can help to establish a supportive and non-judgmental space where adoptees can openly share their thoughts and experiences, further helping them to feel heard and appreciated.

For adoptees, we must stress that you are not alone in this. The message must be that, “the negative experiences that you are encountering are not okay and should not be tolerated.” It is important that as adoptees, we share the types of negative experience that we are encountering with our parents, family members, and social supports. By finding a safe and comfortable space to talk about these experiences, we can then build support from our community and bring a greater awareness to the racism being faced by transracial and transnational adoptees.

As we continue move forward and adjust to the constantly changing social and political climate brought on by the COVID-19 virus, we must maintain support for the Chinese and Asian-American adoptee community by creating an understanding of the racial realities and embracing the differences of culture and race among adoptive families.

We are here for you!  Spence-Chapin’s clinical team offers virtual coaching sessions to support those connected to adoption.  Contact us at (646) 539-2167 or to learn how we can help during this time.

Resource Articles:

NY Times: Chinese Coronavirus Attacks

NY Times: Asian American Identity Transracial Adoptions

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