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Archive for February, 2009

Partitions by sume

I came across an article on the Pact website written by Elizabeth Bartholet. In it she says:

The research does indicate some interesting differences in transracially-adopted people’s attitudes about race and race relations, which critics of transracial adoption cite as evidence that supports their position. But this evidence is positively heart-warming for those who believe that Blacks and Whites should learn to live compatibly in one world, with respect and concern for each other and with appreciation of their racial and cultural differences as well as their common humanity. The studies reveal that Blacks adopted by Whites appear more positive than Blacks raised by Blacks about relationships with Whites, more comfortable in those relationships, and more interested in a racially integrated lifestyle. They think race is not the most important factor in defining who they are or who their friends should be.

The Editor’s Commentary makes some good points concerning Bartholet’s ignorance of the realities of transracial adoptees and people of color. Part of me laughs at her myopic interpretation of the study she mentions while another, less eloquent part screams, “Duh!”  Of course “Blacks adopted by Whites appear more positive than Blacks raised by Blacks about relationships with Whites, more comfortable in those relationships, and more interested in a racially integrated lifestyle.” It’s not like they have much of a choice. Being raised by white people forces the adoptee of color to be open and tolerant towards white people because “White” becomes the dominant race in their lives.

Whether transracial adoption promotes “respect and concern for each other and with appreciation of their racial and cultural differences as well as their common humanity” is questionable. It might force an adoptee to be tolerant, but it doesn’t necessarily carry over into the larger community. In fact, quite the opposite can happen, or even worse, cause an adoptee to be alienated or rejected from that community. Did Bartholet ever stop to wonder how comfortable those adopted “Blacks” would feel in relationships with other “Blacks”?

Are TRAs suppose to act as Trojan horses sent out to win over the rest of the community?  Are we suppose to scream out, “Look! My white adoptive parents saved me (from you), and I turned out great!  White people rock!” It seems in her zeal to create this racially tolerant world of hers, Bartholet forgets something. Most transracial adoptees don’t grow up with an appreciation for their birth ethnicities, they grow up with an appreciation for that of their adoptive parents.

Bartholet appears to be pushing that unrealistic “bridge” ideal which dehumanizes and forces the adoptee into the role of go-between. TRAs do not exist to serve her or anyone’s goal of creating a colorblind society and shouldn’t be used as pawns toward that end. How is it that she tells her adopted sons that their racial differences “makes no difference” to her and yet on the same page speak favorably about society’s “appreciation of their racial and cultural differences”? She puts the onus on “Black” adoptees by concentrating on their “relationships with Whites”.  All together now, boys and girls!  PRIVILEGE. Did she stop to think about how “Black” adoptees might be perceived and treated by “Whites” in our racialized society?

I didn’t think that race was important either until I took a closer look at my dating history. Throughout my teen years, my boyfriends had always been white. While environment is the obvious thing to examine, I wanted to try and paint a more complete picture of how my surroundings contributed to my developing psyche. The mental wall that existed between myself and other people of color was as incorporeal as air. It was that intangibility that gave it strength. The only way to bring it down was to reverse engineer it and then deconstruct it brick by brick.

For the most part, I’d been isolated from other Asians, but that didn’t explain my homogeneous dating history. There were plenty of African American and Latino guys from which to choose. Why had I only seriously considered white guys as possible dating partners? Was that a reflection of my attitudes towards men of color? Had I simply internalized the whiteness of my family as the default or was there something more to it?

My small town while legally integrated remained socially segregated. Everyone went to the same school but whites and people of color lived almost completely separate lives outside of activities that forced them together. The town itself was mostly divided by a set of railroad tracks between white and the “others”. There was a significant number of people from the white population who lived on the mostly non-white side of town, but almost all of the African American population was confined to a small area on the outskirts. From what I remember, Latin Americans, consisting of mostly Mexican Americans, divided themselves between rural areas and “the other side of the tracks.”

Human memory, however, is flawed, so perhaps it only seemed that way in my small world. My young life revolved around my family which consisted of and centered on a predominantly white sphere. My family, the congregation at the church we attended, the birthday and slumber parties I went to and my circle of friends all consisted of white Americans. Interaction with my town’s non-white population was restricted to school and sporting events. Even then, it was very limited.

My mother never specifically told me I could only have romantic relationships with white males. She didn’t have to, because the racial boundaries were already set into place. Unlike my adoptive father’s side of the family, few members on my mother’s side of the family were overtly racist. As a matter of fact, blatant racism was frowned upon. However, my existence in an all-white family and the rules of acceptable social interaction enforced a definite dividing line that placed me on the opposite side of other people of color. Attempts to cross over would have been met with strong disapproval from family members and friends and might have forced me to choose between the two sides.

Still, my parents have never been shy to remind me of my stubborn, rebellious nature and how it manifested itself during my early childhood and adolescence. Even though I would like to think of myself as being a goody-good (and in many ways, I actually was), I notice a history of defiance. Whether that was just normal teenage rebellion or something more is beside the point. It doesn’t make sense that acceptable social norms alone would have been enough to keep me where I supposedly belonged. Even though I rebelled, I didn’t go beyond the limits of acceptable social interaction between races.

In addition to the social aspects, I wonder how much racial imprinting contributed to my preferences. My family was all I knew for the first few years of my life.  They were the familiar and trusted while people of color were the strangers – the Other. My perception of them would have been mostly filtered and shaped by my family, friends and the media. I think that would also prove true when it came to standards of beauty.

I can remember wishing as a child that I had blond hair and blue eyes or eyes that at least weren’t “slanted”. It makes sense that if I internalized Caucasian standards of beauty when it came to myself, that it would carry over to apply to the opposite sex. Combined with everything else, men of color were almost completely relegated to a forbidden and/or undesired status. However, none of that stopped me from trying to peek over the wall especially when it came to anything that even remotely resembled “Asian”.

I needed to see that there were others out there like me whether it was in the theater, on television, in books, department stores or the Chinese restaurant in the next town. I can remember going to the local furniture store and making a bee-line to the “Japanese” section to stare at the large silk screen on display. I envied the fake, silk kimono my best friend’s mother owned. My intense craving for all the Western, pre-packaged Orientalism I could find points to feelings of deprivation. I was like a starving person digging through the garbage for something to eat.

There’s also my reaction to Vien to consider. He’d been adopted by another family in my hometown and arrived from Vietnam when I was around 10 years old. I’d sustained a crush on him until the age of 12 or 13. I’ve yet to figure that one out. Years later, we tried to talk about it, but couldn’t come to an agreement. I told him I’d had a crush on him, and we mused over why we never ended up dating. I can count on one hand the times we had any personal interaction.  

Around 14 or 15, I moved to Bellevue, Nebraska which was much more diverse, but that did nothing to alter my choice of dating partners. I had even met and befriended Asian boys my age, but it had never occurred to me to date them. I’m sure stereotypical media portrayals of Asian men didn’t help. They did anything but make Asian males desirable. Even though I did find them attractive, I still question what the exact source of that attraction was.

Maybe the point is moot anyway, because desire alone didn’t translate into a realistic expectation. Me dating real Asian males with real Asian families? How was I suppose to pull that one off? I didn’t know the first thing about being Asian. Either way, I felt like a big fake. Moving to a more diverse environment only emphasized the fact that I felt more comfortable being around white people than I did around other Asians.

I suppose even that is of little importance because by that time I was living with my adoptive father. He made it clear that white was not only “right”, but the only option.

Despite all of that, I still believe that race shouldn’t be a factor in who one loves nor do I believe my case is the norm. However, the potential is there. The sad reality is that sometimes race does matter especially when it involves the sin of omission. When my parents omitted my ethnicity in favor of their own, they drew the first dividing lines between me and other people of color. To remain trapped behind those boundaries, all I had to do was remain oblivious to my own blindness.

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