January 2018, Week 5


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Material of Interest to People on the Left 



 Lydia X. Z. Brown 
 January 5, 2018

	* [https://portside.org/node/16285/printable/print]

 _ And people of color (and white accomplices) who call out such
racism must do so without erasing our stories, identities, and
existence. _ 

 Shutterstock, “Transracial” is part of my identity, life history,
and lived experience. Being a transracial adoptee into a white family
has meant that I’ve benefited—especially in childhood—from my
parents’ white privilege. 


In November, a major news network broadcast video
of a white woman* claiming to be “transracial” because she
identifies as Filipina. Many Black, Latinx, indigenous, Asian, and
multiracial people in the weeks since have expressed an outpouring of
anger and condemnation that a white woman is once again seeking to
profit from claiming the cultural heritage—and legacies of
colonialism, trauma, and oppression—of people of color. 

Especially after the far-reaching, highly public damage caused by
Rachel Dolezal, the white woman in Washington state who claims to
identify as a Black woman, I’ve been witnessing other people of
color say things like “transracial is not a thing,” and
“transracial doesn’t exist.”

Every time I read these words, a piece of me dies inside, and I’m
torn between hiding under the nearest desk or punching out the nearest
window (which probably wouldn’t work anyway, because I’m weak and
afraid of broken glass).

You see, I’m transracial—I’m a Chinese, East Asian person of
color, born in Suzhou in the province of Jiangsu, and removed from my
ancestral home to join and be raised by white U.S. citizen parents.
I’m also a genderqueer, nonbinary trans person. We do exist, and
these racist white people need to stop stealing our term. And people
of color (and white accomplices) who call out their racism must do so
without erasing our stories, identities, and existence. 

For literally decades, adoptees and researchers have referred to
“transracial adoption” to mean when a child of one race is adopted
by a family of another race; it is most often used for transracially
adopted children of color, or adult adoptees of color, whose adoptive
family is entirely or majority white. More
more [https://birthproject.wordpress.com] of us
[https://placedblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/letstalkaboutrace/] are
speaking [https://bitchyouleftme.wordpress.com] and writing
publicly [http://www.transracialabductees.org/speak/] about our
experiences as transracial and transnational adoptees, especially at
intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and disability.

Transracial and transnational adoption is a reproductive justice,
disability justice, racial justice, and decolonization issue.
Transracial adoptees live with the lifelong impact of cultural
erasure, exploitation and tokenism, cultural and linguistic theft, and
abandonment and familial trauma. Transracial adoption has been used as
a tool of cultural genocide, especially for indigenous and First
Nations children stolen from their families and tribes and nations.
Transracial and transnational adoption has also often been a tool of
white proselytization through Christian “civilizing” missions
meant to rescue children of color from our own cultures and societies
so we might be “saved” by white, Christian families. 

“Transracial” is part of my identity, life history, and lived
experience. Being a transracial adoptee into a white family has meant
that I’ve benefited—especially in childhood—from my parents’
white privilege. It also means intensified othering, exile, and
marginalization in everything: strangers’ assumptions that my
parents cannot be related to me; aggressive interrogations about where
I’m “really” from or why I speak English so well and without a
(racialized) accent; my own heightened sense of disconnect from my own
cultural heritage, and ancestral knowledge and wisdom; and existing at
the margins and outside of both white U.S. society and
Chinese-American culture alike, never really belonging anywhere. 

It means fending off aggressive and smug claims of superiority and
knowledge of orientalist “truths” about how “my people” must
hate girls and how my adoptive family must have rescued me from a
“backwards” and politically repressive society. It means white
people assuming I’m a “safe” person of color to express openly,
explicitly racist ideas around because I’m “almost like them”
and will not challenge them. When I _do_ challenge them, it means
simultaneously being dismissed for overreacting and facing aggressive
demands for the free emotional and intellectual labor of personally
educating them as to why something is racist. It means gaining the
privilege of navigating the world with a name and speech patterns
coded as white, even as strangers demand to know why my last name is
Brown or what my “real” first name is.

It means struggling with my own positionality as a target of white
supremacy and descendant of ancestors brutalized by white Western
settler-colonialism. At the same time, I am a kind of
expatriate-in-exile, from a nation where my ethnic group remains
dominant and we are the colonizers of others such as Tibetan,
Taiwanese aborigine, and Uyghur peoples. It means being told I must be
grateful because I live in the most free country on earth—despite
the fact that the United States puts more human beings in cages than
anywhere else on the planet, and is a country built on centuries of
genocides of indigenous peoples and exploited labor of enslaved Black
people. And it means knowing I’ve gained the enormous privilege of
U.S. citizenship at the cost of attaining settler status on stolen and
occupied land, even though I was brought to this country as an infant
without my knowledge or ability to choose.

It means never comfortably fitting into Chinese language lessons, and
then a special pain and absence when wandering through Chinatowns
unable to understand what people are saying to me. It means witnessing
my culture and racial history erased when it would be too
uncomfortable for white people, yet exoticised and commodified into
something cool, ethnic, cosmopolitan, or worldly when convenient or
politically expedient. 

Transracial is not a fun trendy word for white people to steal and
appropriate, or a laughable fake term for activists of color to demean
and mock. It is my identity, rife with complications and nuances, and
layers upon layers of trauma—trauma that many other transracial and
transnational adoptees share, whether we might use this word or not,
and whether we might feel direct, personal, everyday impact or not.

In some cases, transracial and transnational adoption occurs as a
result of local corruption, and children are literally stolen from
their families and thrust into a dark underbelly of human trafficking.
Our bodies are sold for profit—so that our families of origin can be
fed lies about foster care and economic opportunity (with the promise
of our return), and so that a nice white family can be sold the myth
that they are saving a child of color from a life of poverty and
suffering. In reality, they are pouring
into unscrupulous
agencies [http://www.slate.com/id/2301180/entry/2301181/]. Sometimes,
children are repeatedly re-victimized
[https://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part1] and
treated as quasi-property
leading [https://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part3]
to horrifying
[https://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part4] abuse
[https://www.reuters.com/investigates/adoption/#article/part5]. In
other cases, we were in fact voluntarily given up or abandoned.

Many (certainly not all) adoptees later experience further abuse,
neglect, gaslighting, and damaging projection from adoptive
families—including becoming their sole target for abuse,
exploitative and devalued labor, and scapegoating. For those of us who
are also disabled, we must also reckon with the painful reality that
many adoptive and prospective adoptive families tell supposedly
“inspiring” stories of either how they wished for a “healthy”
child (read: non-disabled) or else how they specially saved a
“sickly” or “special needs” child via adoption. 

Worse are the stories like one I saw in an article displayed as a
kind of achievement, telling how a family was presented with one
disabled infant after another and kept sending the disabled infants
back to the orphanage until they were provided with the promised
“healthy” child. There are also the horrifying stories of Deaf
children adopted into hearing families deprived of access to Deaf
culture and communities, and transgender children adopted into
families that abuse them for not sufficiently performing their
coercively assigned gender, and later abandon them a second time
through disownment. 

(And while I’m not Black and can’t speak for Black people’s
experiences, I’ve also witnessed stories
of Black
transracial adoptees
[http://mommymeansit.com/racism-in-adoption-community/] into white
families deprived of human contact—let alone full
relationships—with other Black people, and never even taught about
basic safety as Black people in an entrenched white supremacist
society, which is so incredibly dangerous and could result in literal

The extreme dehumanization and exploitation is fucking real,
especially in an industry so commodified with thinly veiled charitable
white saviorism as transracial or transnational adoption. 

When racist white people who believe they can simply identify as
people of color and become their “real” race describe themselves
as “transracial,” it actively contributes to the erasure of real
people of color and the often intimate familial violences and “for
your own good” traumas we’ve survived.

Such actions also contribute to the arguments popular among Twitter
trolls that if we reject these white people’s “genuine
race”—no matter that the latest white woman is claiming to be
Filipina, which is an ethnicity, not a race—then our arguments for
the validity of transgender people’s gender identities fall flat.
Since that recent video made the rounds, my notifications have been
bombarded by those co-opting the hashtag #TransRightsAreHumanRights as
a taunt: a way of saying _gotcha_ to trans activists of color and our
cisgender accomplices.

This is blatantly wrong. Both gender and race are, in part, socially
constructed. They are also rooted in certain lived experiences
separate from abstract concepts, but there are significant
differences. Gender can be shaped, often intensely, by culture. The
contemporary underpinnings of the gender binary itself are rooted in
imperial colonialism, where the white saviorist civilizing mission
included enforcing patriarchal and restrictive gender roles onto
Black, brown, Asian, and indigenous peoples’ societies wherein
gender roles often spanned multiple categories and allocations of
labor—including in Filipinx culture. Yet race, unlike gender, is
tied to intergenerational and biological histories.

For me as a genderqueer trans person who also happens to be a
transracial, transnational adoptee, it is enraging, devastating, and
heartbreaking all at once to witness the constant stealing and
co-optation of the language I and those like me use to describe our
experiences by racist white people making light both of our own
cultural heritages and of our gender identities. Earlier this year, a
well-meaning fellow queer activist even saw the word “transracial”
in my biography and mistakenly assumed that I was another Rachel
Dolezal, except claiming to be East Asian instead of Black. That’s
not only disgusting, but horrifying to realize how nearly complete the
erasure of actual transracial people has become—and worse, aided by
allegedly progressive and even radical fellow people of color.

This theft is yet another example of how terribly violent and powerful
white supremacy is—that it seeks to simultaneously erase and exploit
our narratives and lives, while claiming sole authority over our
identities and experiences. It’s time for us to educate ourselves
about the real meaning of transracial, and uplift the work and
struggles of transracial and transnational adoptees of color in the

*_Note: Ja Du is not a man, as many articles, even from supposedly
more “progressive” websites have described her. She is a
transgender woman._

_Lydia X. Z. Brown is an advocate, organizer, and writer whose work
has largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled
people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing.
They have worked to advance transformative change through organizing
in the streets, writing legislation, conducting anti-ableism
workshops, testifying at regulatory and policy hearings, and
disrupting institutional complacency everywhere from the academy to
state agencies and the nonprofit-industrial complex. Lydia teaches a
course on critical disability theory, public policy, and
intersectional social movements as a Visiting Lecturer at Tufts
University. _

	* [https://portside.org/node/16285/printable/print]







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