As I’ve mentioned many times before, my family practiced a kind of colorblindness when it came to me. I guess they figured if they didn’t “see” my color, no one else would. The problem is that other people did notice and on occasion, made it very clear. Try as I might, my blindfold didn’t fit quite as snuggly as that worn by my adoptive family.The ching-chong type taunting is just a given, not that I would dismiss these negative experiences as “just a part of growing up.” These were very painful experiences, but even more so, were very alienating. There was no one for me to turn to who understood on a first-person level. There was no “we” in my town. There was only “me.”
What choice did I have but to bury this “colored” part of myself as deeply as possible? Where did I have to run? The adults available to me had blinded themselves to my color. Racism didn’t apply to me. To them, I was not “the other.” Some part of myself didn’t trust that they would truly understand or be “on my side.” By choosing not to “see color,” my family had accomplished the exact opposite of what they’d hoped. They’d added another layer that separated me from them.
When I hear people hold up their “colorblindness” with defiance and pride, it’s difficult not to want to shout at them. This was a privilege that I was not allowed to have. I could ignore my reflection in the mirror, but not the kids who pointed at me and screamed “chink!” or told me to “go back to where I’d come from.” Even wrapping myself in “worldly love” wasn’t enough to keep racism from leaking in beneath the blindfold. I had no choice but to see, because the world out there wouldn’t let me forget.
I’ve come to view “colorblindness” in part, as another means of identity erasure. By choosing to ignore my “color,” my parents chose not to see “me.” Why was the yellow-brown me and all that came with it so horrible that no one wanted to acknowledge her existence? Why was she not worthy of acceptance? In essence, I became ashamed and tried to bury her. In a way, I began to feel not white, simply transparent.
Some of my TRA sisters and brothers have referred what I call “transparency” as “shapeshifting” or “adapting.” They become what their environment requires of them. As TRAs, I feel that many of us become highly intuitive experts at this. We can do it so well that we, ourselves don’t realize we are morphing until we reflect back on our memories. Sometimes we can become like Ged in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and can be in danger of becoming trapped by the form we have taken. In a way, we lose ourselves.
As most of my readers know, I married a first generation Lebanese immigrant. I married young before I’d really gotten a sense of myself. Aside from being young and impressionable, I was still “transparent” and had little understanding of my own mind. Within the the span of a decade after my marriage, I had completely “shape-shifted” in not only form, but in mind as well. Still, there was the transparency. Identity-wise, I was not only mock-Lebanese Sume, I also became universally Muslim Sume. Both were facades I’d created for myself in order to “adapt” to my environment. “I” remained buried somewhere beneath.