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The Dance of Identities

Korean Adoptees and Their Journey toward Empowerment

John D. Palmer

Publication Year: 2011

Korean adoptees have a difficult time relating to any of the racial identity models because they are people of color who often grew up in white homes and communities. Biracial and nonadopted people of color typically have at least one parent whom they can racially identify with, which may also allow them access to certain racialized groups. When Korean adoptees attempt to immerse into the Korean community, they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome because they are unfamiliar with Korean customs and language. The Dance of Identities looks at how Korean adoptees "dance," or engage, with their various identities (white, Korean, Korean adoptee, and those in between and beyond) and begin the journey toward self-discovery and empowerment. Throughout the author draws closely on his own experiences and those of thirty-eight other Korean adoptees, mainly from the U.S. Chapters are organized according to major themes that emerged from interviews with adoptees. "Wanting to be like White" examines assimilation into a White middle-class identity during childhood. Although their White identity may be challenged at times, for the most part adoptees feel accepted as "honorary" Whites among their families and friends. "Opening Pandora’s Box" discusses the shattering of adoptees’ early views on race and racism and the problems of being raised colorblind in a race-conscious society. "Engaging and Reflecting" is filled with adoptee voices as they discover their racial and transracial identities as young adults. During this stage many engage in activities that they believe make more culturally Korean, such as joining Korean churches and Korean student associations in college. "Questioning What I Have Done" delves into the issues that arise when Korean adoptees explore their multiple identities and the possible effects on relationships with parents and spouses. In "Empowering Identities" the author explores how adoptees are able to take control of their racial and transracial identities by reaching out to parents, prospective parents, and adoption agencies and by educating Korean and Korean Americans about their lives. The final chapter, "Linking the Dance of Identities Theory to Life Experiences," reiterates for adoptees, parents, adoption agencies, and social justice activists and educators the need for identity journeys and the empowered identities that can result. The Dance of Identities is an honest look at the complex nature of race and how we can begin to address race and racism from a fresh perspective. It will be well received by not only members of the Korean adoption community and transracial parents, but also Asian American scholars, educators, and social workers.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xvi

I was raised to believe in the American way of life—one that was founded upon the beliefs and values of meritocracy, freedom, and justice for all. With my classmates I pledged allegiance to the flag, learned about the great White explorers who discovered America and the founding fathers who fought for independence, and sang songs that upheld the belief that “this land was ...

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Chapter 1. Dance of Identities

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pp. 1-19

In the summer of 1999 the first Gathering of Korean adult adoptees was held in Washington, D.C.; more than four hundred Korean adoptees came from around the world to share their life experiences, rejoice in their accomplishments, reveal their sorrows and pains, and develop...

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Chapter 2. Wanting to Be Like White: Dancing with a White Cultural Identity

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pp. 21-43

Charlotte and Brenda, like several of the other adoptees, were challenged with offhand remarks about being bananas and more serious taunts of being sellouts. Most participants held fast to the belief that assimilation into the White middle-class culture of their ...

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Chapter 3. Opening Pandora's Box: Dancing in Between and Nowhere at All

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pp. 45-70

At some point in their lives the Korean adoptees of this study encountered a racial experience that sent them into a spiral of angst and uncertainty. Underlying this debilitating pain from being called a “gook” or “chink” was the shattering of their sense of reality—that the world is not colorblind. In 1903 W. E. B. DuBois stated that Blacks were constantly...

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Chapter 4. Engaging and Reflecting: Dancing with a Racial Identity and Transracial Adoptee Identity

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pp. 71-96

Dancing with a White cultural identity is a time when Korean adoptees are lulled into a state of denial and disempowerment about their racial and transracial adoptee identities as they grow up within the status quo of their culturally White-informed homes and communities...

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Chapter 5. Questioning What I Have Done: Dancing with Tensions, Conflicts, and Contradictions

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pp. 97-132

If “dancing in between and nowhere at all” can be considered the opening of Pandora’s box, then dancing with a racial and transracial adoptee identity should be regarded as rummaging around inside that box. The adoptees’ explorations to discover their...

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Chapter 6. Empowering Identities: Dancing with Empowerment and Executing Social Change

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pp. 133-163

The previous chapters illustrate how the participants’ identity journeys ultimately led some to gain empowered identities. Indeed, I described the process and the initiating factors that allowed the adoptees to develop these identities. This chapter discusses in further...

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Chapter 7. Linking the Dance of Identities Theory to Life Experiences

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pp. 165-174

The dance of identities theory appears to resemble Cross’ (1971) established racial identity development model that includes the stages of pre-encounter, encounter, immersion/emersion, internalization, and internalization-commitment. The pre-encounter stage is evident in the ways the Korean adoptees assimilate into their White cultural identities...


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pp. 175-179


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pp. 181-189

Subject Index

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pp. 191-196

Index of Korean Transracial Adoptee Participants

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p. 197

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860875
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833718

Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 768352459
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Dance of Identities

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Interracial adoption -- United States -- Psychological aspects.
  • Intercountry adoption -- United States -- Psychological aspects.
  • Adoptees -- United States -- Psychology.
  • Korean Americans -- Race identity.
  • Korean Americans -- Ethnic identity.
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