Okay, so if you read my previous post, I'm sure it was quite clear that I was ummmm, how shall we say it, just a tad bit pissed off?
I know I don't really owe anyone an explanation for the atypical rant on my own blog, but this follow-up post serves more as a journal entry for myself to reflect upon my own trajectory of racial consciousness and how it's evolved over time, especially since becoming a parent, and where I am now and where I envision myself in the future. More importantly, I want to challenge myself to make sure that my introspection about where I am on this path includes tangible action. Yes, it's great to talk and no one doubts that I can do that quite well until the cows come home, but I want to take a critical look at how closely aligned my thoughts and feelings are with the actual doing part and make the changes necessary to get them as congruent as I think they should be. And yes selfishly, I want to be the very best role model for my kids by giving them a mom who not only says she is committed to working towards social justice and being an anti-racist educator, but one who really acts upon those intentions. I know there are some places this arena where I do very well and others that need improvement. Talking about this here helps me work that out.
When I was younger, one of the things I remember my parents always telling me is that I should be proud of who I am. Proud of being an adoptee. Proud of being a Korean. Proud to be a "Family surname". Looking back I have no doubt that in me, my parents saw a beautiful, intelligent and poised young girl who had much to be proud of. What I'm sure they didn't realize and what I don't think I even realized at the time was how to be proud of those multiple identities, when I wasn't even sure what any of them represented. How was it possible to be proud of being Korean when I didn't even know what another Korean person looked like, let alone personally knew one? Yes, it was easy for people to say that I should claim pride in the fact that I was adopted because it made me special, unique and chosen, but what about the part that left the deepest part of my soul feeling empty, unwanted and unworthy? How was it really possible to reconcile those two feelings in order to find pride? And being a Johnson? (Not my real last name.) Well, what did THAT mean exactly? Yes, legally I was a Johnson. But most everywhere I went, I was challenged on that part of my identity. Besides, I may be a Johnson now, but I was also something else before that - so what exactly does make me?
So here I had all of these questions, these thoughts and feelings about my identity, yet possessed no language to help articulate what it was I was going through. I had no role models who had gone before me to share her own experiences to let me know that yes, all of these feelings are NORMAL and that I am normal - what I would have given to have heard those words just once in my childhood and adolescence! And despite parents who were progressive and harbored only the best of intentions, I felt that any real opportunity to have critical, open conversations with my parents to help process it all simply did not exist - not necessarily for their lack of trying, but honestly, what did they know about being a Korean-adoptee who was part Johnson, part not? What did either of my parents know about trying to find the balance just to stay upright on that proverbial saddle? What did they think it meant when they'd insist that I "Just be myself", not realizing the Herculean effort it took on my part to carry and manage every aspect of the many identities that inhabited my heart, my mind and my soul and that I didn't know who myself even was.
Obviously, being raised in a white family, in an all white environment no doubt influenced my own behaviors, thoughts and attitudes about race. I have read and heard countless personal narratives of fellow transracial and transcultural adoptees whose racial identity awareness mirrors my own.
Am I white? Am I not? I feel white, but I'm not treated as white. I am fully immersed in white culture (yes, white people do possess a culture), but am constantly asked by others to prove why and how I can inhabit such a culture when it's clear that when all is said and done, that it's not where I reallybelong. And when I leave the insulated family and community environment where I've finally negotiated some understanding between myself and others of my honorary white status, BAM! it's off to college, or work or the REAL WORLD where I'm back at square one of having to figure out just who the heck I am. And so it begins once again. Am I white, because I still feel like I'm white - just like I have all along, but damn, that is NOT the reaction I'm getting out here. What? People think that I'm like all those other Asians? What does that mean exactly and why am I so uncomfortable around people who look like me? (That's a little messed up, isn't it?) So just where do I belong? What exactly am I? I identify as one thing, am perceived and treated as another and I have no freakin' idea about how to navigate through all of the baggage that people are putting on me just because of what I look like. But I'm adopted - I'm from a white family. I don't know and haven't been taught any differently. You don't care? But I'm trying to explain who I am. Huh? I am so confused. I don't know who the hell I am anymore.
And though I'm not trying to diminish the first few decades of my life into the condensed internal dialog above, I do think it offers an accurate glimpse into the kind of struggles I've had over the years to find my own identity.
And so here I am, almost 40 years old and I can say without exception that I am a proud and confident Asian woman. But it took a while - and a lot - to get here. And it's not that I'm angry at my parents per se for what they did or didn't do in regards to giving me the resources to help me claim that pride earlier in my life, but I am angry at the mindset of a country that doesn't place a high enough regard - not even close - on the value and importance of raising children of color. I'm upset and disappointed that the only advice my parents received from their agency was "Take her home and love her as if she was your own. Don't focus on the differences and don't worry, because love will be enough."
And I become frustrated when I see and hear some white adoptive parents who still believe that that advice is sufficient enough for today. That somehow we've come so far in this so called post-racialized America that white people raising children of color isn't that big of a deal and that focusing on the human race is indeed the direction we should all be aspiring towards. And I just have to put this out there - what really DOES upset me is the delusional mentality held by too many white adoptive parents of Asian-born children that being Asian is interchangeable with being white. I am here to tell you that it is a grave misunderstanding and huge detriment to think that an Asian child can/will/has assimilated so well into the white world that his Asian identity takes a backseat to what you think he is: your white son. I know this doesn't apply to many of you reading, so please don't laugh - I hear it all of the time from APs of Asian-born children how they don't see their child as being anything other that their own flesh and blood (read: white) kid. We've come a long way and thank God there is a growing contingent of APs who realize how truly significant the responsibility it is to raise a child of color in this country, but there is still much to be done in terms of educating others - and just not white APs - about why race DOES INDEED MATTER and why we need to be teaching our kids everything that some of us may not have been taught in regards to the history of race and the way to truly talk about race in a way that moves us forward.
I had the privilege of attending Pact Camp a few weeks ago and I cannot tell you how inspired and encouraged I was by the commitment and intentionality that so many of these parents possessed in doing whatever they could to be the very best advocates for their adopted children of color. I am going through a bit of a culture shock myself after leaving that environment where parents were so actively engaged in the struggles that their children are facing - many parents who were more than willing to stand in solidarity with their kids to help carry extraordinarily heavy burden that often comes with being an adoptee of color. Since my return into the "real world" I've faced more than a few racist and ignorant comments, many coming from white APs themselves. But you know what? I'm not concerned about myself - I'm a grown adult and I feel pretty confident in my ability to stand up to these people who think they can throw their privilege around. What I am concerned about is all kids who are witness to these kinds of acts - but especially kids of color - - and especially kids of color who are being raised by parents who have not or will not do the hard work necessary to really become the ally that their kid needs. Dr. John Raible and Jae Ran Kim of Harlow's Monkey speak so powerfully to the importance of being an ally and what exactly that means. If I may be so bold to join their efforts - I too, would like to put out a call to white parents who are raising children of color to truly learn what it takes to be an ally and how to be an active one in your daily life and in your family's life.
Another often repeated refrain used by my parents was that they just wanted to give me and my brothers a better life than what they had growing up - to learn from their mistakes and to have things just be a little easier than how they had it. I know not every adoptee of color is going to go through what I did - and believe me, I would be the last person to ever presume so. I know my son, also a Korean adoptee, will have his own road to travel - some experiences might be the same, but many will not. I acknowledge and accept that and am doing what I believe is necessary to best prepare him for all of those experiences that I can anticipate he will have. I also recognize that is incumbent upon me to provide my bi-racial daughter with every resource that I can to help grow and strengthen her own sense of self and identity - one which I cannot identify with personally and therefore am deficient in my ability to do it on my own.
Sometimes - okay many times - it can be really exhausting, trying and frustrating to feel that it's my job to teach and share with white people my experiences of what it's like to grow up as an adopted person of color. And I know that no one can make me do anything that I don't really want to do, but I say that because when I don't speak up about my experiences, I find that people will insert their own perceptions of what they believe my reality to be. And so I feel it's necessary to speak up and to speak out - to be my own voice and best advocate to fight for what I think is right. And yes, on some level I absolutely do it for myself and my own kids, but mostly it's for my fellow adoptees - especially the younger generation. Maybe one day they will read my blog and know that they are not alone and perfectly normal for what they're feeling. Or maybe their mom or dad will stumble upon this and find something here that propels them to learn more about being a parent to an adopted child of color.
I have to remind myself that sometimes it's good to get pissed off - it makes me evaluate where that source of passion is coming from and how to best channel it to affect what I believe is a positive change in my family's life and for those around me. After all, we're always in constant motion on this trip called life and what better direction to be going than to be moving ahead.