by ARP Columnist, Ji In
Greetings, anti-racist readers! My name is Ji In, and I’m delighted to join Anti-Racist Parent as a contributing blogger.
As a woman of color and transracial adoptee, I am deeply invested in the discussion surrounding anti-racism strategy and raising race-identity consciousness. I grew up as one of two Korean-born adoptees in my family of six in rural Iowa. Both my parents and my two eldest adoptive siblings are white, of Swedish-American descent.
Racism was not part of my family or community vernacular as I was growing up. In our pastoral, idyllic bubble of Scandinavian homogeneity, no people of color meant no need to address racial differences – no need to address race.
Accepting something of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, my family, in effect, minimized the fact that my sister and I were of a different race – treating our Koreanness less as a matter of racial variation, more as a matter of assimilation. In hindsight, I can pin much of my low self-esteem in childhood onto this (failed) assimilation approach. At the same time, I realize that the dynamic in late-’70s, early-’80s Iowa was not conducive to a lot of critical race dialogue, especially when coupled with transracial adoption.
Among my peers, being Korean was something I could be pardoned for. (“It’s not your fault you were born Korean. At least you’re American now.”) My race was something that could be masked with the right amount of optimism. (“I see you as white, not Korean.”) What’s appalling to me now is that these points of view were intended – and received – as compliments.
These things represent the type of racism that school officials and even parents tend to turn a blind eye to, because it’s not necessarily mean-spirited. It’s not conspicuous racism, like violence or racial slurs.
I experienced those overt types of racism as well – name-calling, eye-pulling, physical and verbal harassment. These things went virtually unacknowledged, too, by my teachers, who downplayed such incidents as “sticks-and-stones,” “kids will be kids”– things I needed to get over and grow a thicker skin against.
Unequipped to deal with racism, poorly prepared for the challenges that accompanied parenting children of color, my parents couldn’t offer me the type of firsthand understanding that I craved, and they instead encouraged me to simply “ignore.”
Minimizing and ignoring are ineffective strategies to address racism because they place the burden of responsibility on the target of racism rather than the perpetrators. Ignoring taught me little more than how to suppress my emotions, while minimizing taught me how to be ashamed of my race.
Today, my husband (who is Filipino American) and I make our home in Hawaii. Our decision to move here was deliberate, largely influenced by the rich Asian/Pacific Islander culture that plays a unique role in Hawaii’s history and contemporary society.
As an “aspiring” parent, I think daily about how my husband and I can prepare ourselves and our future children so they will feel supported and never pressured to ignore or minimize their ethnicity. And as an aunt of seven children of color, I bear in mind that the dialogue I engage in through community-building and writing is helping to construct a foundation for my nephews and nieces to stand upon as they mature as people of color in a world culture at war.
I look forward to deconstructing racism where it intersects with parenting here. I hope that together, we can work toward identifying some proactive strategies for anti-racist parenting, so that none of the children in our lives will feel unsupported or helpless, and we will not feel helpless to help them.