by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Paula
Perhaps it’s just me – but as a parent of a biracial daughter and an Asian son – it’s far from my dream as their mother to have either of them enter into their adulthood thinking, believing, announcing and celebrating that they are white (or have our daughter claiming a white-only status).
As I’ve spoken to in previous posts, as a person of color who grew up in virtually all white surroundings, there were many times I identified myself as white. Not literally of course, but in every other possible way. I acted, sounded, dressed, wrote and behaved pretty much like any other classmate, peer or friend I knew, practically all of whom were white. I mean, all that was standing between me and my white girlfriends was my hair, my eyes and my skin. Surely if I could overlook those miniscule details about myself, everyone else could too, right?
Were there times in my past where I wished that I was white? Absolutely. Were there times in my past where I thought of myself as practically white given the context of my upbringing and lack of exposure to people of color, including other Asians? You bet. Were there times in my past where I felt that many elevated me to white-like status because of my family, socio-economic standing, education or because I happened to meet or exceed certain criteria that some associate only with whites? Most definitely. But did I ever truly believe, honestly think and proudly proclaim that I was a white person? Never once.
I know there are other transracial adoptees who are immensely proud of the fact that they consider themselves white. They embrace being white like their parents and siblings and don’t distinguish themselves as being anything but “one of them” in every way. It’s certainly not my place to stand in judgment of anyone who may adhere to those beliefs; each of us is entitled to claiming our own truths.
But for me, my truth – personally and literally – is that I am not white. I will never be white. And after all of these years I can finally say that I don’t want to be anyone else but me – who I was born to be. And I am a Korean-American woman who identifies herself as Asian. Not white.
I once heard a fellow KAD speak about her reaction to seeing another Asian person when she was younger. Like me, she had grown up in an extremely homogeneous setting and was often the only person of color in every circle that she and her family traveled. Her reaction to seeing another Asian was jarring, uncomfortable and hit a little too close to home. As a person who saw herself as white like her family, seeing another Asian was a glaring reminder that if she happened to view this fellow Asian as an outsider, as an “other” and as one who was different in every possible way, it was all too likely that she herself was being seen in the exact same way by others. She described a huge disconnect pertaining to her identity that I could easily relate to as I navigated the choppy waters of my own search for “Who Am I?”
I truly believe that the signficance for the physical affirmation of oneself to be reflected in the media and to be present as meaningful, personal role models as well existing in authentic, supportive relationships, cannot be overstated in helping promote a positive self-identity. Going back to my recent post about white privilege, it is a fact that most adoptive parents have only ever known a time when their physical likeness was represented in every possible medium, where their elected officials – most notably all of the leaders of this country – shared the same color skin as theirs, where people in positions of power, influence or high visibility were most likely to be of the same race as theirs. To live in world that continually validates and corroborates your existence through repeated images, overt and subtle messages, long standing institutions and systems is a powerful message indeed. No doubt that some transracial adoptees may find it easier to presume themselves white than to live as a person of color in this country.
As a mother, I want my children to hold absolutely no shame in declaring and owning their racial and ethnic identities. I don’t want the messages to be internalized as “White is right and therefore I am wrong” or “White is best and therefore I am less”. I don’t want them to think that their self-worth, happiness or value as a human being hinges upon their ability to be perceived as a white person or believing themselves to be a white person. I want our daughter and son to love themselves for exactly who they are and to be proud to recognize themselves for the people they were born as and have become: a Korean-Irish-American female and a Korean-American male.
Regarding personal identity, I believe the question shouldn’t be “What can I do to make sure my child doesn’t feel any different?” but rather, “What tangible measures can I take right now to make sure my child feels most like him or herself?”
Paula was born in Seoul, South Korea and adopted as an infant into her family in 1971. She and her husband, Sean, have two children; a five year-old daughter and a son who is almost three. Paula currently is a full-time mom, part-time volunteer for various social justice organizations and is also a licensed elementary and middle school math teacher. She blogs about her experiences as a transracial adoptee and adoptive parent at Heart, Mind and Seoul.