Adoption & Slavery
by JS LEE
I understand adoption trauma on both the personal and systemic levels. I’ve shared intimate details of my own experience and have written extensively on how society overlooks the harms of adoption—from identity fractures and high suicide rates to child trafficking, abuse, and murder. The industry is also racist, classist, sexist, and ableist. While I believe there are good adoptive parents and healthy adoptions, I’d like to see the current system abolished and replaced with a non-profit system that provides family preservation resources, kinship care, and legal guardianship as a last resort. Removing profit from the equation would result in less procured children “in need”. Choosing guardianship over adoption would maintain the child’s identity and legal rights post-placement.
It’s painful to have our truth ignored. People have witnessed me speaking about adoption for over a decade, yet they still discuss adoption as a beautiful, simplistic solution. Many believe parenting is a human right and aren’t interested in the rights of others involved—including the children they say need saving. Facts are denied. We’re gaslit and pathologized. It’s tiring and infuriating.
At the same time, I’ve been noticing a growing trend of White and Asian adoptees comparing adoption to American slavery. I subtweeted about it last week and want to elaborate further.
Let’s start with what they might have in common:
In intercountry adoption, as minors, we’re taken from our countries without our consent. Our roots are severed; our identity, fractured. We’re forced to assimilate for survival as we’re disconnected from our families, history, language, and culture. White folks have taken Black and Indigenous children from their families and homes from the onset of this country’s colonization. And many adult adoptees—domestic and same race, included—have shared numerous accounts of emotional, sexual, and other egregious abuse. Too many have not survived.
But here’s why I don’t think adoption should be compared to American slavery:
The adoption industry was not designed to provide our adopters with free labor, nor was it developed to strip our people of generational power through a deficit of human rights—despite how in some ways, it may. Our bodies and the bodies of our offspring and their offspring are not the legal property of our adopters. While, horrifically, some don’t survive their adoption, most do and are free to live their own lives when they come of age. I’m not saying it’s easy or without lifelong effects. I’m still struggling with the aftermath of mine. But there’s no “adoptee patrol” or system in place to round up adults who cut ties with our adopters. Moreover, abusing a child can result in severe repercussions. In contrast, abusing Black American slaves was legal. Chattel slavery was devised specifically to oppress generations of one race of people. I believe we can do better without, but if we need an analogy, adoptees being placed in abusive households is closer to indentured servitude. The difference matters.
The Irish were indentured servants and many White folks still claim it was slavery, too—despite it having been debunked numerous times. While terrible things have happened that shouldn’t have, it’s incomparable to the slavery of Black Americans. The majority of Irish Americans are White and as a people, they haven’t been systemically and violently oppressed in America for hundreds of years. They’re not locked up en masse today, or killed by cops at anywhere near the same rate of Black Americans. And neither are non-Black adoptees.
Adoption is full of grave injustices. I am angry at how it has hurt—and continues to hurt—so many. However, comparing it to chattel slavery is offensive and the inaccuracy distracts from our cause. Our experiences needn’t be crudely analogized to be valid and real. While it’s frustrating to keep speaking into the void, there are better ways for adoptee trauma to be heard. Co-opting the suffering of Black Americans is not the answer.
September 8, 2021 @ 3:33 am
Thanks so much for this. I find the slavery comparison terribly inappropriate. You really said it well!
September 11, 2021 @ 5:51 pm
The Search Cooperative
September 7, 2021 @ 11:45 pm
Several other posts looking for daughters and sisters born at that hospital on K Adoptions
September 7, 2021 @ 11:35 pm
Is this you?
Name of the relinquished child Choi, Se Young
Gender of a child Female
Birthdate of the child 1989-01-01
Ethnicity of the child
Distinquishable physical or behavioral condition of the child
Place where the child was born Daegu Fatima hospital
Approximate time (year, date, etc.) of relinquishment 1989
Any item left with the child at the time of relinquishment
Reason for relinquishment
Other related information My daughter was born in 1989 at Daegu Fatima hospital. I raised her for about a month or two. However, my grandmother sent her away for adoption in Pohang. I remember she was born in winter. If you think you know her, please contact Korea Adoption Services. Thank you.
September 11, 2021 @ 5:52 pm
No, but thanks.
The Search Cooperative
September 7, 2021 @ 11:05 pm
I agree with everything you said except for on the subject of the post which is whether referring to the practice of adoption as slavery holds water. The legal construct of child adoption is certainly analogous to to the business model and broadest meaning of slavery. I have not read any articles or comments that compare adoption to “American Slavery” or “Black American Slavery”; such a narrow comparison would easily be derailed by opponents who would shame and admonish the author for daring to compare their experience joining a family through adoption, with all the rights and privileges of a biological child, to the extreme deprivation and suffering of African diaspora during the North American Slave Trade. No. The point to be made would be lost in the weeds and the author’s credibility would be called into question.
When freedom and liberties are denied to one group of people so that they have no choice but to be placed into service for another group of people – you have slavery. When identifying documentation is withheld to in order to keep people from abandoning the rolls they have been assigned to play in return for food and shelter – you have slavery. When someone thinks they can rename a human being just because they put a roof over that person’s head and put shoes on their feet – you have slavery. How do you think millions of African Americans got surnames like Washington and Jefferson? 200 years ago it was legal to shoot a man for stealing a horse and it was legal for a person to beat their own offspring, beat their wives. Times have changed, slavery, legal slavery has changed. The business model is the same: restrict the freedom of some in service of others. Forget “getting access to original birth certificates”. Why do you think, despite all the logic in the world, every state in the union still allows for the identifying records of human beings to be falsified upon adoption? There are lofty academic papers written that state adoption is in the economic interests of the state because poor children of unmarried parents are a nuisance, an economic burden for the state to deal with. It benefits the state to remove children from poor parents and place them in the care of financially independent people who will support them to adulthood at no or little state expense. Parents lose custody all the time without their sons and daughters losing their kinship rights within their maternal and paternal families. Parents lose custody and parental rights, their children become wards of the state and yet their children still have a right to their parent’s financial support and their birth certificates are not altered, their parents names are not erased. The state has a financial interest in giving the children of the poor to the childless rich because the state won’t have to underwrite the upbringing of poor children, and because it allows the state to artificially sterilize the poor, erasing the existence of their children with the goal of reducing or eliminating generational poverty and the crime that comes with it. The state has an interest in artificially reproducing the upper class because people with children spend more which is good for the economy, their children are less likely to commit crimes and are more likely to go on to college and gain the skills that help the nation compete in the global economy. Adopted people are denied constitutional right to equal protection under the law deliberately for the purpose of keeping them in a position of servitude permanently unable to return to their original identities as legally recognized members of their own families because the whole house of cards would collapse if adopted people had the same freedoms and liberties as the rest of the population. They are not even allowed to see their own records in most states let alone reject the falsification and reinstate their truthful identities. Their rights are sold out if not sold, by the state in order to get or keep indigent children off the public dole. One more time – disadvantaged minors have their rights stripped so that the state can lessen its welfare burden because most people are not willing to do the work of a parent without that much prized parental title – permanently. It’s not enough that an adopted person assume this false identity while they are minors and are receiving something in exchange. Adopted have to lose their rights as kin within their own families, have to loose their identities permanently in exchange for someone meeting their basic human needs until they are 18. When who you are on paper changes based on who is willing to feed you, you have slavery. If someone does not have the freedom to have the truth of who they are written down on their identifying documents because they were transferred as property rather than cared for as a dependent human being – you have slavery. The thirteenth amendment prohibits withholding of a person’s identifying documentation to prevent them from leaving their position because it is an indicant of slavery. The government however is able to do it. The government can do all the things the private population is forbidden to do if it is deemed to be in the economic interest of the greater population and so taking children from the poor and giving them to the rich is absolutely treating people as property as tools which is the foundation principle of enslaving part of the population. Beating children and forcing them to do hard labor is its own separate crime now, so slavery and the comparison of adoption to it is not about that.
Did you know the only reason other than high treason people get stripped of their citizenship in their home countries is adoption? People think nothing of stripping a child of his or her citizenship in their home country because we thing American citizenship is so much better than citizenship in some crummy third world country. Why can’t a child have the right to retain citizenship in their own country of birth just because someone decided to move them across the globe to raise them? Shouldn’t they have the choice at 18 to give up or keep citizenship in their own country? Did you know that taking the children of an enemy country is a method of weakening that country and turning its own population against them? It’s a thing. Kidnapping the children of an enemy, you grow and the enemy shrinks. The laws of adoption in every country serve that country’s immediate economic interests which is why adopted people have never been able to convince law makers to allow them equal protection under the law. If they had equal protection they could not be controlled. So that is why the analogy of slavery to adoption is made, because it’s happening and it won’t stop until that reality is understood by society as a whole.
September 11, 2021 @ 5:53 pm
There can be parallels and similarities but I stand by my belief that the analogy is offensive and co-opting. We seem to otherwise be in much agreement.