How Imerialism Comdifies International Adoptees and Fetishises Asian Women
I am a Chinese American woman. I was born in China and adopted by Caucasians. I am grateful for the life I have but ultimately my life is affected by imperialism. Imperialism has shaped my value in society as well as yours.
But how does imperialism affect us? What is imperialism? Well according to the dictionary it is a policy of extending a country's power and influence through diplomacy or military force. When someone or somewhere enforces their influence on another place or person they to a certain extent share and force their values, morals, opinions and taste, this of course causes an effect on the place or person’s original beliefs and mannerisms. By labeling one culture as superior comparative to another you form divisions within the social. Visually one of the easiest ways to divide and enforce this is by using skin color as a marker of you are different than me. This difference is what colonization capitalizes on. So Imperialism and it's colonization affects the idea of the social hierarchy which affects how we as a whole interact with each other. You can find that these kinds of interactions manifest themselves in international adoption and the fetishization of Asian women, in the form of human commodification.
First I’ll dive into imperialisms relationship with international adoption. To be more specific, I'll be focusing on adoption from East Asia. Then I’ll explain how this leads to the white savior complex and the commodification of the international adoptees.
I’d like to start off with a quote from the reading “Put up” on Platforms: a History of Twentieth Century Adoption Policy in the United States on page 70 it states “adoption issues can never be separated from class, income, and race. In most cases , people who can afford to do so spend exorbitant sums of money to adopt children whose parents do not have enough money to raise them. Poor countries export children to rich ones, black parents to white, poor parents to better off.” To a certain extent I believe this statement to be true in this current economy. Many of the countries that America and other Western countries adopt from have at some point been colonized by a Western nation or had some sort of militarized interaction with the West. For example, in China’s case you can find British imperialism in relationship to the Opium Wars which essentially lead to Britain colonizing Hong Kong in 1842. Another example is when the US occupied South Korea after World War 2 and aided in the Korean War. These examples are only a small sample of the West’s conquest of others places.
After the West takes control of another nation there is this idea of the civilized and the savage. The colonizer believes their culture to be “civilized” and “ideal” when in all actuality the two cultures are just different, there is no real superior. Although the frame of mind of no superior is not often thought about when it comes to adoption. Often times when someone of color is adopted by Caucasians there is this idea that the country that they are taken from is less developed and suitable even though that many not necessarily be the case. Growing up people have praised my white parents for adopting/saving these poor Asian girls from the life they may have lead in China. When in all actuality who’s to truly say and know if our life would have been bad had we stayed in China. This predetermined notion of Western superiority reinforces the imperialistic relationship of the colonized and the colonizer. This has created the idea of white parents being white saviors to international adoptees.
The White savior is a toxic, idea because it turns adopted children into commodities that prove the humanitarianism of white parents. Many adoptive parents don’t adopt to prove that they are a good person but adopt because they want a family. My adoptive parents were older and had health complications that ran in their families that they didn’t want to pass on, my adoptive mother is also diabetic so they felt that adopting was the best choice for them. Granted everyone’s situation is different and different adoptive parents may have different motives. In this writing I do not wish to vilify adopting parents because I believe adoption both internationally and domestically is a wonderful thing however I do wish to bring to light issues that surround international adoption. Particularly in the social aspect of race. I believe that the racism connected to the white savior theory is connected to the racism of Western imperialism.
When I was a child my adoptive mother told my sister and I to pick out a toy so we did. But we weren't sure if that was the toy we wanted so we walked around holding it as we continued to look. An older Caucasian woman stopped us and told us to put the toy back because we didn't deserve it. She told us how we were being selfish for wanting a toy because our parents already spent enough adopting us. If I remember correctly, I think I was around 5 years old when that happened. Looking back on this situation I now realize how messed up this whole interaction was. Sadly, if my sister and I were white and looked like our parents this probably wouldn’t have happened. Being seen as foreign and saved, the concept of white savior brought up this idea of being indebted to someone.
As a person of color adopted by someone who is white some people had the idea that we owe our adoptive parents because they were so kind for saving us.To break someone's life into the concept of owing another because they showed "kindness" the viewer turns the human into a commodity. By commodifying others they force their opinion on the adopted child. Using guilt and other tactics onlookers in society often try to force the concept that we the adopted child had an invisible debt. There was this idea that I had to be this perfect child that I am not. I had to be smart, well behaved, charming and of course successful because failure is not an option because I was saved. They want the adoptive child to satisfy the adoptive parents desires and fulfill this idealized role that is not only unrealistic but also extremely toxic behavior because it is dehumanizing. All forms of commodifying other humans is dehumanizing.
However these constraints of debt were not necessarily placed on me by my adoptive parents but by others in society. The people who have pre decided that I am different than a birth child because I am adopted from a non white nation are the people that helped form this societal constraint that is ultimately created by racism. I believe that this racism is connected to imperialism. At this point in society we are often taught to discriminate against others. The reading Challenging MonoHumanism: An Argument for Changing the Way We Think About Intercountry Adoption they mentions an important term “MonoHumanism”, this term helps explain the discrimination against people of color in America. On page 414 it says “ The phrase MonoHumanism was chosen because of the juxtaposition of “Mono” with the word “Humanism” to underscore the ethnocentric and myopic failure to include discourses that have their origins in the lives, cultures, and vocabulary of historically oppressed people, in an area that is often conceived of as a''win-win“for all parties involved and as the most humanitarian of endeavors.”“On a basic level, MonoHumanism reflects a collective notion identifying “us” as Americans and everyone else as “the other.” MonoHumanism is fundamentally the notion of American culture as a superior one in comparison with all non-American peoples and cultures.” But what is American culture? Sadly being seen as American and or American culture is somewhat linked to whiteness. The majority of American media is white. Most movies have almost all white cast although we are starting to see more diversity in recent years, American film still has a long way to go when it comes to representation and diversity. The history we learn in America is also mostly white with sprinkles of non white history. The “important” people we learn about in the school system are usually white for example George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B Anthoney and Mark Twain are all white. Even growing up in America today an outsider can see that the nation is still very segregated. When people talk about a “good”, “safe” neighborhood they are usually referring to mostly white neighborhoods while a “dangerous” neighborhood may have a primarily black demographic. This concept of safe and unsafe neighborhoods can be seen in Chicago neighborhoods such as Englewood as being unsafe and the Gold Coast as being safe. These aspects of American upbringing help teach discrimination. The book White Fragility by Robin Diangelo explains these concepts more in depth.The effects of this type of upbringing can be seen through interactions such as when a cacasian American tells an American of color to go back to where they came from. Asian women both young and old are also being affected by this concept.
Although Asian women’s commodification appears in a different form then adopted children in that instead of being a token of humanitarianism they are hyper sexulized.These women are often labeled as “exotic” and “submissive” or “dragon ladies in this society. But why are Asian women stereotyped in these ways? How did the fetishization and commodification of Asian women begin? Well the reading Yellow Fever The Problem With Fetishizing Asian Women by Nian Hu might have the answer. On page 3 it says "It began when the United States first established a military presence in Asia during World War II. This led to the creation of local sex industries around the military bases, where thousands of women were forced into prostitution for the sole purpose of serving U.S. soldiers. Approximately 200,000 Japanese women were enslaved by Japan as prostitutes and serviced American soldiers after the end of the war under the "Recreation an Amusement Association." This practice continued through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, with 85 percent of American soldiers reporting having sought a prostitute. As a result, some of the first encounters American soldiers had with Asian women were in the context of being sexually serviced. To them, the women were nothing but commodities."
Although those interactions may seem like they happened a long time ago they are still relevant because they have helped form the concept of Asian women in entertainment and media which has affected the societal representation and the stereotype people in America have of Asian women.
Some of the first influence of overseas military sexualizing Asian women in media can be seen in the popularized 1887 novel Madame Chrysantheme. The story is a white man’s fantasy of Asian women. Similar iterations of this story can also be seen in 1898 opera Madama Butterfly and 1989 musical Miss Saigon. The story begins with a Western soldier being stationed in East Asia. The soldier then meets an Asian woman and promises marriage or marries her out of convenience depending on the iteration of the story. Shortly after marrying her he returns to the west and marries a Cocasian woman. While the soldier is away the Asian woman births the soldier's child. The soldier than returns with his new wife to the east to take the child. When the Asian woman finds out that her beloved one abandoned her and remarried she commits suicide. This story diminished the Asian women to a convenient sexual object because the soldier had no intention of being with her or caring for her outside of the sexual relations. Despite the man’s cruelty he’s not depicted as a bad guy in fact one could say the leading heroine is depicted as simply being naive.
The story hyper sexualizes the Asian women thus helping create this oriental fantasy that some people believe to be true. Strangers have told me the kind of person I am because I am an Asian women, apparently I have a submissive personality and I plus all other Asian women are so skinny and exotic with our almond shaped eyes and black hair. Categorizing these women into one dimensional tropes both in film and in reality heightens this sexualization of the “oriental”. In the reading White Sexual Imperialism: a Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence on page 282 they quote post colonial studies and lititure proffesor Edward Said. “Edward Said described'' ``orientalism” as a “ western style for dominating, restricting, and having authority over the orient.” he noted the confluence of orientalism and sexism: orientalism views itself and its subject matter with sexist blinders. (the local) women are usually the creatures of a male power-fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality,they are more or less stupid above all they are willing. Moreover, when women’s sexuality is surrendered, the nation is more or less conquered. Thus, the sexual conquest of Asia's women correlates with the conquest of Asia itself.”
In both the populizazed story Madame Chrysantheme and in Edward Said’s description of orientalism the viewer can see a western or white dominated power hierarchy. The social idealism of white supuriorty often leads to sexual violence. Due to the history of Asian women being sexual objects people have made comments about how Asian women have cash registers for souls and how the woman’s words may be saying no but her smile or eyes are saying yes. Comments like those are not only insensitive but can easily escalate into something dangerous.
Although from afar international adoption and the fetishizasion of Asian women may not look like they have any relationship, the two groups are surprisingly connected. Through imperialisms effects on how we view people of color, these two social groups experience a form of human commodification within American. Both groups have felt the after effects of Western colonization and militarization of other nations. These groups of people have both experienced being objects of the Westen fantasy.
So in conclusion, I'd like you to think about imperialism and its effects. Ask yourself am I being affected by imperialism and if so how can I better myself in order to treat other people who are different then me with kindness without commodifying them, falling into toxic social troupes and or behaviors?
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