- Kara Bos
Seeing Color and Doing Justice
Most adoptees, at least in my experience, are adopted into Christian homes. I put an emphasis on this as “Christian” is interpreted in many different ways depending on the religion one follows and how deeply-rooted the parents are in their beliefs.
I was raised in and adopted to the U.S. Midwest—Michigan to be more precise. My father worked and my mother was a stay-at-home wife, as many were in the generation and region I was raised in. I was raised Baptist, and we went to the local Baptist church close to our home. Our social circles outside of school were primarily, if not exclusively, related to our church. I became a Christian when I was 13 years old.
Before this period, I went through the motions of what my family seemed to approve of, but never made the decisive decision myself until the brink of my teenage years. God became a symbol of someone who would never abandon me, loved me no matter who I was, and was a source of joy founded not in the moment, but deep within myself. With this kind of foundation, my life as a teenager and young adult were filled with certainty. I didn’t question God or my faith, as I knew who God was to me, and that was all that was important. Because of my faith, I was able to focus on always moving forward and the bright future that was laid out before me.
I was a relatively smart student, and was very focused on my studies as I always had a desire to accomplish more than what my small town of Plainwell, Michigan seemed to offer. I knew that the world was bigger than the world I was living in, and that there were more adventures to be had.
In my mind, the only way to pursue these things was to get a high-paying job that would then afford me the opportunities to travel and see what was out there.
I remained strong in my faith and never questioned who God was in my life. I knew He rescued me from far worse, as I was often told this, and any inkling of curiosity regarding my birth mother was stifled quite quickly with the realization that the past was the past, and I had only the future to look forward to.
Being an adoptee wasn’t relevant to who I was at this point, and being a transracial adoptee was even more irrelevant. I was Kara Bedell, an American. I didn’t see color, and continued chasing after the dream of becoming anything I wanted to be as long as I worked hard to achieve it.
This is the dream that is promised to every immigrant that overcomes the hurdles of entering the USA, as it’s what continues to make America so special in the eyes of the outside world.
My university years didn’t differ from my high school ones in regards to who I surrounded myself with in relation to race or like-minded individuals. I never sought out diversity as many adoptees do at university, as it didn’t occur to me that I was ethnically different as well. I truly saw myself as Caucasian as those I hung out with, and never diverged from that path. I majored in business, as I thought this would offer me the most access to the outside world, and would allow me to make the most money. I minored in Japanese, but not because I wanted to know more about Asia–as you the reader may be thinking.
Instead, it was based on practical reasons. I come from Michigan where the auto industry is prevalent, and so I foresaw more opportunity to work for General Motors, or even Toyota, if I could be bilingual. However, being bilingual is no small feat, and with only a minor at university, I wasn’t adept enough even though my ambitious mind had thought two years was a realistic goal. Upon graduating with honors, I managed, even during a recession, to immediately land my first job with Nestle. My career had begun. Thoughts of my adoption and who my birth mother was never crossed my mind. I could only think of whom I might marry, which was the next phase in the rat race of society.
Fast-forward to today…
I’m almost 39 (at least I think so, my date of birth is still unknown). I have had a successful career in pharmaceuticals, am the founder and owner of a business. I travel the world. I’m happily married with two children, and live in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A lot of the dreams of my youth have been fulfilled. I’m still a Christian, and have a relationship with God.
However, I no longer view myself as part of the white racial majority and recognize what it means to be a transracial adoptee. I know I’m American, but I’m also Korean.
Those questions that were stifled and never given the room to be asked, I’m now asking:
“Who is my mother?”
“Why was I put up for adoption?”
“What does it mean to be Korean?”
“How do I assimilate these new identities of now being Korean but not really Korean, being Dutch but not really Dutch, and being American but also not feeling very American after having lived more than 10 years outside of America?”
I’m confronting my past, and no longer believe that God desires us to leave the past there. How God fits into my adoption story has been a difficult journey that I’m still struggling with.
Just as with many social injustices around the world, religion has been the banner flown to rally people to act in the most hideous ways. Think of the Holy Wars, the countless wars between Protestants and Catholics in Europe, domestic and international terrorist attacks done in the name of religion and continuous conflicts with radical Islamists, and adoption.
“What? How can adoption be on the same list as wars and terrorist attacks?”
Being confronted with this truth makes many people uncomfortable, as adoption has been neatly packaged and sold under the slick marketing skills that: “Poor impoverished children are being saved, and without the West’s help, these poor children would meet far worse ends.” This notion then becomes a duty or even a “calling in the name of God to rescue these children.”
However, as more and more adoptees are coming forward with the blatant truth and evidence of falsified records, illegal adoptions, baby farms, stolen children, lost children, embryo farms, and the list goes on...shouldn’t we question this quest that has been countlessly sold as being God’s work?
Shouldn’t those of us who identify as Christians take a more proactive approach in protecting these children, single mothers, and families from being torn apart?
Shouldn’t we, as a society, call on governments to prosecute and change this malfunctioning process of adoption if it’s creating so much corruption?
Magdalene laundries were designed by the Catholic Church and the Irish state to hide away the delinquents and people who didn’t conform to the identity of being Irish at the time. Many of these delinquents were “fallen women”—those who had children out of wedlock. The mothers were then kept on to “work” as slave labor at these laundries as penitence for their sinful behavior; some for the rest of their adult lives.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child filed an inquiry after a mass grave of children was found in 1993 on the grounds of a former convent in Dublin. Even after this atrocity was discovered, it took another 20 years before the Prime Minister finally apologized; therefore, taking responsibility and admitting to Ireland’s dark past. Many victims are still awaiting compensation for the crimes committed against them. It’s estimated that around 2,000 children were illegally adopted to the U.S. during some of these years. How many more children in Ireland under the banner of the Catholic Church were killed, stolen, and sold during these 70-odd years without censorship? How many lives continue to be affected by the lies and loss of identity? And this is only in one country….
Shortly after the trial, my father kept asking me if I found my peace by fighting for this injustice so publicly.
He does not approve of my methods, and thought it should have been handled behind closed doors or with the use of a private detective. One should note that the use of private detectives is illegal in Korea, and if I could have done any of this behind closed doors it would have been done. “Peace,” by definition in a social sense, usually means a lack of conflict and freedom from violence between individuals or groups.
My answer to my father, and to anyone who asks this question, is “No” because there isn’t a lack of violence happening between my biological family and myself. There isn’t a lack of violence happening to the millions of adoptees out there without access to their files, families, and identities.
Violence isn’t always physical; although, initially, for adoptees, it was since we were torn away from our first families and all links were severed. Even if our first families consensually chose to physically give us up for adoption, emotional violence occurred in that trauma that allowed these events to happen. Emotional violence continues to occur around the globe. It singles out unwed mothers, poverty-stricken population groups, and disaster-torn countries where children are labeled as abandoned even though they may be accidentally separated due to natural or man-made disasters such as war. As stated by the United Nations in the Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 8:
1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
Until legal rights to preserve identity are restored to adoptees, and State Parties take responsibility, and provide appropriate assistance and protection to adoptees, this peace can, and will, never be achieved.
Christians will argue that if you just give your burdens or troubles to God then He will give you peace. My father argues this. I argue that God is a demander of justice, and that peace is not attained in this simple way. The justice of God is an essential part of His character, and in the Bible, Micah 6:8 confirms this:
“He has told you, O man; what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Peace is attained by not only giving your trauma or pain to God, but also doing justice; and in my case pursuing restorative justice for adoptees in giving us the right to know and reach out to our birth families, if desired, and the right to know our origins.
Recent events in American politics with the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court has once again brought racism, along with adoption, under heavy public criticism.
The right wing is praising the choice, and in their minds Democrats and Liberals don’t have a leg to stand on as she’s a woman who has two black Haitian children in her family; thereby, "proving” her not to be racist. However, the left is firing back by questioning the legality of her adopted Haitian children and the idea that just because she has children of color doesn’t mean she isn’t a racist.
I do not know her, and feel that any person’s story is personal and their own. I recognize that there will always be criticism as a public figure in the media, and I am not interested in criticizing her personal choices. However, I do want to criticize the general public’s thought-process. As a transracial adoptee, I would say: “Yes, adoptive parents can definitely be racist even if they have children of color; just as any person can be racist if they don’t actively educate themselves not to be.”
She may have educated herself and proactively encouraging her adopted Haitian children to get to know their roots and culture, and may be making these things easily accessible to them, so that they can maintain their Haitian identities as much as possible in the States. Or, just as I was not seen as a person of color in my family, her children may be being raised in a similar manner.
When I was adopted in the 1980s, my parents were told to “raise me as an American, and forget about Korea.” I don’t fault them for their incognizance, which was due to the advice given by adoption agencies and social workers at that time. I’m an embodiment of this “advice.” However, later in life recognizing that I lost my Korean identity, just as the majority of adoptees have, has changed my skin color and my reflection in the mirror. I now see a person of color, and I do not despise the almond shape of my eyes, the color of my skin and hair, or want to be anything other than Korean.
I am Korean, I am American, and I am now Dutch.
These are my nationalities, but I choose to see color, and appreciate it in all of its beauty. Just as my lawsuit was representative of “a girl looking for her mother,” adoptees search journeys are “lost children looking for their lost identities.”
Can governments and institutions get beyond the red tape and see this as well? Just as a beautiful lotus flower grows in muddy water but rises above to pristinely bloom above the water without being tainted by the mud, I hope we, as humankind, also rise above the muck of ignorance and become more enlightened to the truth of color and justice. But, until then, I will continue to “do justice” and see color. I hope that you will join me.