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A Mother Shares Valuable Lessons of Checking Biases and Stereotypes

May 3, 2021

“Are you going to tell her she is adopted?” This was a question I was asked almost two decades ago when I was shopping with my daughter, now age 20, whom I adopted from China. I smiled and replied, “I already tell her she is adopted, and she would know anyway because she looks different than me.” That satisfied this woman’s nosiness, but it was one of many, many invasive questions I’ve been asked over the years as a white mom who has two daughters adopted from China.

I know most people approach my family based on pure curiosity, but some questions and comments have been insensitive (“how much did they cost?”), and others have been downright mean (“I can’t believe you brought more immigrants here when there are so many Black kids in this country who need homes”). And this past year we’ve heard questions and comments we never thought we would, such as “Are they from Wuhan?” “Why do so many diseases come from China?” and “Is that why so many Orientals wear masks in public?”

Talking with a friend of mine who also has two daughters from China, we dissected how questions about our families have evolved over the years, and especially these past 12+ months. Luckily, our daughters are very grounded and confident in their lives as adopted Chinese Americans raised in white families, but we believe they are feeling more “Asian” than they ever have before. That’s because these types of questions and comments about Asians, Chinese people in particular, reinforce what has been consciously or subconsciously on some people’s minds as a result of the pandemic — implicit bias of blaming people who are different than them for causing negative impact and harm on their lives.   

As my daughters grew up, I realized their unique experiences, challenges, and opportunities. They have been “accepted” and are perceived as educated, high achievers who better “fit in” with white people. But this is based on a stereotype and reminds my daughters that they are in fact different than others. And now this pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges, and people want to place blame on someone.

We all know that our diversity algorithms are built at a young age, and they are very hard to change as we get older. That is why the best way to address bias is to know your bias — and then do something about it. Project Implicit from Harvard University is a great place to learn about and test your partiality to Asians and people from other backgrounds. I encourage anyone who is angry about the pandemic and inclined to place blame on the Chinese to understand their implicit bias — and to stop even thinking my daughters are to blame.

Stephanie Tortorici is a senior vice president & partner in FleishmanHillard’s Chicago office. She leads Chicago’s healthcare group and is the global client leader for one of the agency’s top 10 clients. Stephanie is the incredibly proud mom of two daughters, one a junior in college and the other a senior in high school.