Reblog: Choose your own identity

From the New York Times, December 14, 2015. Whilst not about transracial adoption, I always think we have a lot in common with biracial / mixed race people – we are often part of one culture with a predominant race (usually white) whilst appearing not all or one of the other races. 

Despite what my parents assume, I’ve never once identified as white. As soon as I knew what race was, I knew I wasn’t white. I am not black either, and we live in a society which is often binary. I don’t get to be either. (I live in London, the “melting pot” of the U.K., and even here it is very clear there’s a white strata of society that I can play in but never belong to. And I realise that the US has very different race issues than the U.K.)

And finally, because this is more about a reblog than me(!), I thought again yesterday about how absurd it is that we distinguish and judge people on skin colour. I mean, it is absurd. This may be going against the “modern” idea that we shouldn’t be “colourblind” but come on, people. What. The. ????

Do you realise skin colour’s no more choosable than height? That it has no more correlation to a person’s character than the length of their eyelashes or the widened of their mouth? Should we construct a society based on something as uncorrelated with meaning as the span of someone’s hands? (Oh… We just did.)

 

“I never realized how little I understood race until I tried to explain it to my 5-year-old son. Our family story doesn’t seem too complicated: I’m Chinese-American and my husband is white, an American of English-Dutch-Irish descent; we have two children. My 5-year-old knows my parents were born in China, and that I speak Cantonese sometimes. He has been to Hong Kong and Guangzhou to visit his gung-gung, my father. But when I asked him the other day if he was Chinese, he said no.

“You’re Chinese, but I’m not,” he told me, with certainty. “But I eat Chinese food.” This gave me pause. How could I tell him that I wasn’t talking about food or cultural heritage or where we were born? (Me, I’m from Queens.) I had no basis to describe race to him other than the one I’d taken pains to avoid: how we look and how other people treat us as a result.”
More here:

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/12/14/magazine/choose-your-own-identity.html

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6 comments

  1. 30yr old nothing

    This is very interesting. I often wonder which race my child(ren) would identify with being that they would be mixed race and what I would say if they asked which race they were. My father said to not discuss race with my children. At first I was angry because I would want them to know where they came from but then I realized that I grew up in a “race-less” house (in very racist apartheid South Africa). I had friends of all races and never knew the words white or black or asian. I just had friends. I had no idea there was such a thing as racism until I got to high school and found out some people didn’t like me because of my skin colour. While it was a sad realization, I think I’m grateful that I was raised with a blank canvas. I hate that once you put someone in a race box you automatically make assumptions based on it whether you want to or not. I’m rambling. My point is that I wanted to raise my kids knowing what races they are but my father is right (again) and I should raise them to play with everyone…even the smelly kid.

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    • Nara

      Yeah, I’m in two minds about it. I never really noticed race until I went to a certain school. When we lived overseas, it wasn’t a thing, but maybe it would have been when we got older – I don’t know. It definitely was a thing in England. And I think white people (including my partner) can’t understand that it is a thing. Like, he’s sympathetic but I think if you haven’t experienced it you don’t necessarily understand how pervasive the judgement is and what it feels like always to be someone Other.
      So I think it is nice to think we are all colourblind but that really is not how the world works. If you have a son who is black, you know that he will face very different attitudes and reactions in the world than if he is white. If you have an Asian girl you have to understand that she will be sexualised and expected to be subservient. If you have an Indian/Asian boy he will be expected to be good at computers and maths… etc. All these things are societal judgements that aren’t levelled at white people. People think they are harmless stereotypes but as someone who is ethnic minority who lives in a white world, I can tell you it gets tiring to see how I get judged and my white family/friends don’t.
      For example, coming back through immigration, I have to answer questions at passport control and my white partner doesn’t. I have a British passport – I’ve been British since I was adopted as a baby. I only speak English. In a “posh” way – I don’t have a foreign accent. And yet, the first judgement people usually make is that I’m a foreigner.

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    • Nara

      Also, I don’t know if you are white or non-white but that makes a big difference to whether you can be “colourblind” or not. That’s what I’m trying to say. I do exist in a mainly white society which I grew up in. I’m comfortable around white people. Most of my friends are white. But my best friend is biracial/mixed race, and I find I automatically gravitate towards black people, gay people even though I am not black or gay. Because there are not many like me in my life / at work, but I feel a kinship with people who are Other. I definitely don’t think skin colour should be important because it’s completely out of your control – but the fact is, if you’re not white then you will have a different experience. And honestly, if your kids are not fully white then I think you would do them a disservice not to acknowledge that. There is a difference between being colourblind (like my parents were, mainly, and they are great and love me very much but absolutely could not understand the intense bullying I got at school and how much I hated myself for being not white and different) and acknowledging that although YOU love them, the world may look at them differently.

      (I am not trying to have a go, honestly. I do feel that as adult transracially adopted people we have to try and advocate for the kids still coming through this. I know yours aren’t but as I said I think that there are a lot of things in common with biracial and transracially adopted people – they are both often non-white in a predominantly white culture.)

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      • 30yr old nothing

        I agree with you that the world will look at my kids differently sometimes (I’m non white btw and hubby is white). But I think it’s remarkable that my father raised us to not hate white people or acknowledge race, while those same white people were throwing petrol bombs through our windows. When I hear the stories of what was going on around us and how my parents never let on once how angry they must’ve been I think I owe it to them to at least try to foster that in my own house.
        I also thought that I would be doing my child a disservice by not letting them know who they are and where they come from and prepare them for whatever may come based o their skin colour but I feel like you run the risk of putting them in a box that they think they won’t be able to get out of.
        It really is a grey area though. I do remember some instances of very serious racism at school when my eyes started to open but nothing to make me too bitter. I don’t think I would have married a white man if it had :).
        That’s not to say that I am not aware of being treated differently. I am very aware of it now and I keep trying to teach my husband but he doesn’t get it. We still get funny looks when we hold hands in South Africa and he never notices. Ah, to be a white male, what a charmed life.

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