by Anti-Racist Parent Columnist Jae Ran Kim
When I think about what it means to me personally to be invited to be a guest blogger on Anti-Racist Parent, it is wholly in contrast to how I was raised in the 1970’s and 1980’s in the Midwest.
I grew up the oldest of three children in a middle class home in the suburbs of Minneapolis in Minnesota. My parents have been together since they were teenagers and are still together 42 years later. In the summers my siblings and I would ride our bikes to the beach, or to the local dairy for cheese sticks and ice cream. We walked to school. My mom volunteered at our schools and my dad owned a small business in town.
The only thing that was unique is that unlike the other kids in my town, I was adopted from Korea at age 3 and plopped into a white family, white town, white church, white school. The diversity was 20 miles away in Minneapolis, yet my family stayed firmly ensconced in our small town life. There was no need to go to the “city” where the gangs, drugs and problems existed. My only exposure to “diversity” was when my high school church youth group volunteered at an “inner city” community center – ironically, not too far from where I currently live. Diversity and racial issues were things that happened elsewhere, not in our own back yard.
Except that it was in our own back yard. I was the target of racism in school by my peers and teachers, in my church by Sunday School teachers and in the community. My parents, who loved me unconditionally, were naïve to the idea that others in my community might not feel the same way. So when I told them about the name calling, the eye pulling, the ching-chong chanting, they told me I must be mistaken. As a result, I grew up without a vocabulary for identifying racism and without any means of talking about race and culture.
I grew up fearing other Koreans and Asians. I wanted to forget that I wasn’t white. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I looked at my daughter and recognized that she was a person of color. And that changed everything.
My kids are now 13 and 8 and I am raising them with everything I wished I’d had in my own childhood – a recognition that they are people of color, a vocabulary to describe their experiences of race and racism, a community of others who mirror them, a school where they are not the only brown faces in their classroom photos, and the opportunities for them to engage politically and artistically in their own identity evolution. While they will not have the same experiences of being transracially adopted, they will have their own experiences as multiracial individuals.
Now that I have a vocabulary to talk about race and have “found my tongue” I can’t seem to stop talking! So I talk and write a lot – about transracial adoption, constructions of race and culture, diversity and the implications of all these issues in my field – social work.
I am looking forward to being a part of Anti-Racist Parent and sharing dialogues with a blogging community committed to supporting the racial and cultural identity of our children.
Jae Ran Kim, MSW is a social worker, teacher and writer. She was born in Taegu, South Korea and was adopted to Minnesota in 1971. She has written numerous articles and essays and is most recently published in the anthology “Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption” from South End Press. Jae Ran’s blog, Harlow’s Monkey, is at http://harlowmonkey.typepad.com/