Left to right: the Author’s family: Brother (Jordan, also a Transracial Adoptee), Niece (Summer), Sister-in-law (Christin), Mom (Cheryl), Husband (Ken), Me (Photo Credit: Leigh Ann Cobb Photography)
If you hear the words, “banana” and “Twinkie,” what is the first thought that comes to your mind? A yellow fruit that you peel to eat, and a cream-stuffed yellow sponge cake? Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear those words are descriptions of myself.
No, I do not mean I’m a piece of fruit or sponge cake. I’m talking about being “yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” Apparently that’s the “best” way to describe transracial adoptees that were adopted from Asia, but raised in a Caucasian home.
To be quite honest, I think I am the one who started identifying myself that way; along with saying, “I am the whitest Asian you’ll ever meet.” What does that mean? How can a person be the “whitest” anything you’ll ever meet? It took almost 30 years for me to realize that I used racial jokes and ethnic stereotypes to make fun of myself because I was sure that’s what others were thinking, so I wanted to beat them to the punch. It was a defense mechanism. I still do that today.
I never thought that I experienced much direct racism growing up. There were a couple incidents that took place in which I didn’t even realize at the time that people were being racist – I just thought they were just being mean and unfair. I was very naive.
When it comes down to it, I did experience a lot of racism, but I did not think of it as that at the time, and I don’t think the people who did it realized it either. Anytime a joke was made towards me – usually involving being good at math, playing the violin, being good at technology (I am good at one of those), or my eyes being “shut” when I smile – these were moments of racism that I thought was okay; mainly because I would say the same things about myself to get a laugh from others. At least they were laughing WITH me and not AT me, right? Or were they still laughing at me?
Growing up in a predominately white part of Grand Rapids, there wasn’t too much diversity. It was especially when I got switched to a Christian school that I realized this. I became more aware of the fact that I looked different than 85% of that school, which was filled with blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids who fit the mold of being “perfect” or “normal.”
For most of my life, I have wished that I looked like the majority of the people I grew up around. It seemed like things just came easier to them, and they were the spitting image of what society thought was “beautiful.”
This caused me challenges and many self-esteem issues. How was I supposed to fit in when I was raised by a white family in a very conservative city in the Midwest, but looked pretty much opposite of what I was being told by the world was good? How was it not confusing to myself as a child/teen that I acted “white” but was not?
Although I have read that it is good for transracial adoptees to be around others who were also transracial adoptees (especially those of the same race or ethnicity), that was the last thing I wanted. I did not have a good view of Asians. The only Asians I was familiar with growing up were the martial arts actors, and that game show where there were obstacles they had to get through, and the voiceovers were speaking in English, clearly mocking the contestants.
I was determined never to be seen in that manner, so I started making jokes about myself, or giving myself a label because, I think, part of me was trying to save the pain I would go through if I knew others around me were doing that on their own.
I could go on and on regarding being a transracial adoptee. I could have conversations with people for hours about experiences and other perspectives and why there are so many issues. However, I know that if someone is not a transracial adoptee, they will never fully understand some of the obstacles and struggles we have gone through, especially being raised in an environment that is predominately of one race.
In my opinion, most people don’t mean to be offensive or racist, at least when making a joke or referencing a stereotype. I have personally enabled it to be done in my life, and almost encouraged it by letting my own insecurities degrade my individuality and my origins by being vocally racist towards myself. Although I probably will always have some sort of identity issue stemming from being a transracial adoptee, the older I get, the more I am able to embrace being a different ethnicity than the majority of people around me, and I am slowly beginning to create my own definition of “beautiful.”