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  • Ana Clancey

Introduction to a Never-ending Identity Crisis

My passion stems from promoting equity, advocating for underrepresented communities, and continuing to explore brain-based relationships involving perception. Transracial adoptees are the paradigm for walking, talking contradictions, which provides us with the power to forge our own journey and create a pathway for others, despite what society believes.

However, there are real-life repercussions of transracial adoption, such as being outcast by Asian and white communities. Most transracial adoptees are adopted by white families due to the institutional racism that places generational wealth into the hands of white people. Many do not have the opportunity to reconnect with their culture until they develop critical thinking skills, gain multicultural exposure, and secure an empathetic support system. We are often reduced to objects, and our ethnic identities are stripped off like a band-aid on an open wound where white families can praise how lucky we are or exotify our identities, leaving the open wounds still unhealed.

Thankfully, I was raised in a diverse city, but I constantly question the mental health, identity development, and constant invalidation that transracial adoptees raised in rural, white neighborhoods experience.

Being adopted by a white family forces the adoptee, who is in the role of the token child, to raise otherwise undiscussed topics of race and discrimination to “colorblind” family members. This helps explain why many adoptees, including myself, are diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. Every adoptee’s experience is different, whether it’s immersing themselves into their heritage, having indifferent feelings towards their background, or showing racism towards their own racial identity depending on the environment and community they were raised within.

I was adopted from Yueyang, China at 18 months old by an Irish-American family. My family provided unconditional love and support, financial stability, and a childhood I am eternally grateful for. My small, predominantly white neighborhood was a privileged environment where I didn’t yet understand the complexities of racism. Families knew I was adopted, and I felt comfortable being surrounded by a white community then. It wasn’t until middle and high school where I connected with various cultures and ethnicities, and in university that I truly began to dissect my dynamic and ever-changing relationship with racial identity.

As humans, it is important to acknowledge, reflect, and applaud the progress that we make, and this need is especially critical for transracial adoptees, given that we face constant invalidation.

My journey began from the constant void I felt during my time enrolled in university. I felt isolated from my family, hadn’t healed from my adoptive mother’s death, and couldn’t forge relationships, even though I was surrounded by students my age. I felt alienated from my white friends, because they did not understand the struggles minorities faced, yet embarrassed and frustrated with my minority friends because of the lack of empathy for navigating two identities from multiple perspectives while they did not consider mine. That time of my life was filled with despair, hysteria, depression, and substance misuse from knowing something was missing and being microscopically close to understanding; yet there was a barrier blocking my path to redemption. I couldn’t escape the constant reminders of society ingraining adopted children with the notion that we’re not loved and the deeper sense of isolation of being constantly surrounded by others and yet feeling that no one is truly there.

One day, a Ph.D. student emailed a survey studying microaggressions, familial pressure, self-identification, and multiculturalism on campus to students who self-identified as Asian nationals and Asian-Americans in their university records.

The majority of transracial and trans-ethnic adoptees experience the imposter syndrome when self-identifying as “Asian” on census forms. We are not culturally Asian, but still experience racism and discrimination. This question that usually caused me anxiety and confusion led me on a path to finding my community. The Ph.D. student and I discussed microaggressions, the sense of belonging, and the lack of cultural diversity on campus. I even shared that although exotification is dehumanizing, I partially enjoyed the attention. It was refreshing to gain new perspectives, share similar experiences, and understand that my complicated relationship with exotification may be due to my lack of cultural connection. Being exotified was one of the ways I finally felt connected to my Asian identity. An expected 15-minute interaction lasted for two hours, and I finally felt inspired and motivated to search for other adoptees and begin my journey to finding myself…


My name is Brianna Clancey, and I was adopted at 18 months old from Yueyang, China. I have never returned to China, but that is the top destination on my travel list! I love being engulfed in nature, painting, learning new things, and studying brain and neural pathways involved in preconceived contradictions. I graduated from the University of Rhode Island in May 2020 with degrees in Psychology and Criminology, and I hope to pursue a career in cognitive sciences with a specialty in transracial and transethnic adoptees to the provide developmental support I hadn’t received. Please feel free to reach out, I love connecting with other adoptees!

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