Why Some Asians Marry White: It’s Not Always What You Think (Part One)

A Korean Transracial Adoptee’s Perspective On A Traditional Asian Debate

Asian activists know of the intense controversy surrounding dating partners, particularly concerning white male-Asian female relationships. In this two-part series, I’ll present a transracial adoptee’s perspective using academic literature and studies. I hope it encourages more intercountry and transracial adoptees to speak out.

I started my writing journey back in November 2017, solely an adoption writer hoping to confront race within the confines of transracial adoption and the American family. Like all great ideas, I built mine on 70% strategy and 30% whatever happens.

As I took on this space, I didn’t feel I had enough credibility to speak toward race. On my blog, I discussed academic research and general racial conversations, mostly based on microaggressions. My first mainstream attempt was non-confrontational and benign. I asked: White or Other: Who Do Transracial Adoptees Pick As Partners?

I wrote White or Other because of the lack of academic research on the subject of transracial adoptee dating and marriage. Plenty of studies exist relating to interracial relationships, but transracial adoptees occupy a unique space. I asked

By choosing White partners, are transracial adoptees elevated to their White family’s status?

I reached out to blogger Eliza Romero after reading Dear Asian Women, I’m Calling You Out On This One. She’s since become a friend, both of us bonding over kids and being Asian and our love of social activism. But our conversations and my chats with my friends in Plan A Magazine revealed is a serious issue regarding who Asians pick as partners.

This isn’t new to the Asian community.

But I suspect this is new to Asian adoptees who never felt they really had a choice. After hearing many of the heated arguments about the Asian Female-White Male (AFWM) pairing — the one that generates most debate — I wanted to insert a transracial adoptee perspective to add balance.

The Background

Looking at research covering:

  • transracial (white/POC) family socialization
  • racial identity issues in transracial adoption
  • adoptee demographics, and
  • cultural competence

I’ll provide reasoning for why AFWM relationships are more nuanced than simple preference, racism, and self-hate.

It’s Not Just A Matter Of Choice

One of the loudest arguments against AFWM is that partner choice is a conscious effort to undermine Asian men; or, more nefariously, active internalized racism.

But in a study regarding a group of white mothers and their racial socialization attempts,

none of the mothers currently lived in the birth culture of their children, and none professed to live in a well-integrated environment.

When asked how often parents discussed race, one mother wrote:

We don’t want the over-whelming thoughts in their head to be Asian, Asian, Asian, Asian. So we pretty much peddle it lightly. We talk about specifically about their birth parents and why were they adopted.

When examined through a distant lens where Asianness isn’t so much denied as casually accepted and maybe feared, a child will be less likely to attach to their outward racial presentation. But how does this happen and what impact will it have on later relationships?

In an article on racial identity formation, Ruth McRoy studied several transracially adopted black children. She points out that racial identity formation — adopted or not — typically happens in two stages:

  1. The child draws conceptual differences between races (early childhood)
  2. The child identifies himself as a member of a racial group (between 3–7 years old)

During the latter stage is when McRoy says children’s “attitudes towards their racial group are again heavily influenced by their interactions and observations of the attitudes and behaviors of significant others.”

Let’s reframe this with Vonk’s study. Those white mothers attempted to racially socialize through superficial means (socializing only with other adoptive families, possibly attending a church event, eating ethnic foods, etc.), temporarily departing from white culture and utilizing the child’s birth culture as more of a visitation.

If children are not sufficiently racially imprinted, it would seem their later choices in partners would default to their “permanent” culture; that is, the one of the family, not of external society.

Is It Self-Hating Internalized Racism?

Modern well-meaning white mothers understand racial socialization’s importance, but few studies examine its long-term impact. One study suggests:

[A]lthough the mothers in our sample reported relatively few behavior problems in their children, variability in cultural socialization/pluralism did predict differences in externalizing behaviors.

In each study I’ve referenced, white mothers were found infrequently engaging in external cultural activities. As such, “parents’ influence on young children’s development is greater than any other microsystem, such as peer groups or day care,” and if home-based racial socialization has been minimal or non-existent, it’s found to negatively impact grades and behavior.

Each study didn’t emphasize the parents’ racism, although several do. Miriam Klevan spoke with several white families about race and their adoption decision. In some families — those Klevan considers “high-resolution” adopters, or those who display racial consciousness — their child’s race ultimately became a “fate” they were expected to choose. In “low-resolution” adoptions — where parents adopted a colorblind approach or even met with ostracization from extended family — the families appear hesitant to contact racial support networks or even discuss persistent and overwhelming confusion.

In both situations, then, combined with McRoy’s discussion of racial identity formation, we must consider

  1. How white parents’ early racial uncertainties formed their child’s long-term identity
  2. If and when a transracial adoptees’ dating preferences form, based on conditioned parental responses and unexpected parental barriers to partner choices.

Stay Tuned!

In Part Two, I’ll look at “Being Raised by White People”: Navigating Racial Difference Among Adopted Multiracial Adults, one of the few studies discussing outcomes of adult transracial adoptees from their perspectives. I’ll also examine a few studies on cultural competency and how it relates to transracial adoption and development.

By tying this together, I argue that partner selection — specifically AFWM — is less about self-hate and internalized racism and more about the deep family values instilled upon transracially adopted Asian adoptees. Just as this identity was subconsciously thrust upon Asian adoptees, so too is their partner’s race — perhaps this is privilege. Maybe not.

These values’ immutability will be discussed in part two.


Looking for more info?

Feel free to reach out to me for more information or check out a (very brief) listing on my site.

In the meantime, please help!

If you’re a transracial adoptee, please participate in this very informal and anonymous survey about this topic: Transracial Adoptees: Partner Choice and Race. Survey responses are anonymous and will be used to populate future articles.


Sunny J. Reed is a New Jersey-based writer. Her main body of work focuses on transracial adoption, race relations, and the American family. In addition to contributing to InterCountry Adoptee Voices and Dear Adoption, Sunny uses creative nonfiction as a way to reach a wider audience. Her first flash memoir (‘the lucky ones’) was published in Tilde: A Literary Journal. Her second piece (‘playground ghost’) is featured in Parhelion Literary Magazine. She is currently at work on a literary memoir. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.