NY Times Op-Ed

Click to download Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White Parents – NYTimes.com, Frank Ligtvoet’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, the one where he mentions yours truly in flattering terms. I am honored to receive mention in such a prestigious, widely read publication. Thanks for the shout-out, Frank!

I do take issue with a number of assertions he makes. For one thing, it’s not clear how he knows that “for many transracial adoptees, every time they look in the mirror it’s a shock to see that they are black or Asian and not white like their parents.” Really? Every time we look in a mirror we are shocked? Based on what evidence?

His claim that “a Korean or black kid raised in a white world has lost his or her culture” sounds sensitive and caring, but what exactly does he mean by a “white world”? The world I live in is peopled by many cultures, and I feel free to move in and out of and through all of them. Does he mean “in a white family with parents who don’t have any black or Korean friends and who avoid any opportunities to mingle with people of color on a regular basis?” If that is the case–and many adoptive parents are guilty of this kind of diversity avoidance– then I would say that the kids have lost out on exposure to different cultures. But how does he know what specific culture was “lost,” or even whether it ever felt found, owned, or claimed in the first place?

And if he means that the kids have lost ties to their homelands or birth communities, say so. Don’t bandy about the word “culture” so loosely. It confuses people. The way Frank uses the term makes it sound as if “cultures” are essential things to be possessed, rather than fluid and dynamic relationships, emotional identifications, and lived practices developed with others over time.

Lastly, I have to correct his appropriation of the term I devised based on my research with white non-adopted siblings of transracial adoptees. His article states, “Even if adoptive parents started out naively… as a white family with kids of color, many of us end up as a nonwhite family. Or in the terms of John Raible… a transracialized family.” I use the term transracialized to describe the ways individual white identities can shift in response to long-term caring relationships with people of other races.

Transracialized is NOT synonymous with nonwhite. Transracialized suggests that some (rare) white members of transracial families reach a new awareness of race and racism to the point where they enact whiteness in creative and unpredictable ways, rather than reinscribing more typical performances of whiteness. In their actions, transracialized individuals participate in race discourses as allies against racism. They are not colorblind or post-racial; they are committed anti-racist allies to people of color in general and to the transracial adoptees in their multiracial families.

But I do appreciate Frank’s attempts to pay attention to his children’s experiences with racialization. For me, to worry about lost “culture” is not as useful as a clear analysis of race and racialization. Racialization refers to how each of us learns to “do” race and participate in keeping it going as a social construct. Rather than speculate wildly about how black people are perceiving and relating to his kids, I hope that Frank starts paying more attention to how he himself is relating to individual people of color and the communities he and his family feel close to. Focus on how you are performing and transforming your inescapable white identity, Frank, and people of color will no doubt take notice. Especially if you look, sound, and act like someone they can count on as an ally. It’s not so much about what “cultures” claim your kids, or which ones they claim. It’s about who they will turn to whenever the racist you-know-what hits the fan.

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5 thoughts on “NY Times Op-Ed

  1. I confess my parents exposed me to all they could. Our local Indian population has been here about the same time as me. Truthfully speaking, I wanted to be a kid and play in the sandbox. I knew where I was from and loved school. Did I give a damn about my birth nation/birth culture?? NO. Was it explained to me many times?? YES. Moral of the story: LET KIDS BE KIDS & each child is different….

  2. As a transracial/transnational adoptee, I have lost ties with my homeland and birth community. I would say, however, that I have also lost ties with my original culture. Even with exposure to cultural elements, I don’t think eating a Chinese meal twice a month, buying mooncakes for the Mid Autumn Festival, and receiving a hong bao at Lunar New Year count as cultural retention. Though these were nice efforts on my parents’ part, I don’t understand the punchlines of jokes that other Chinese people tell, I didn’t grow up idolizing the same celebrities, and I don’t have the same mannerisms. While I think there is some romanticization of the word “culture,” I believe holding onto facets of it are important. I strive to be culturally balanced, so that I can fluidly move through both American and Chinese social settings.

  3. I agree; cultures are not monolithic, monochromatic things, and clear distinctions are often difficult to make. Are my friends — who adopted both their children and are working in places like Mumbai and Cairo — denying their children a “white” culture by living internationally?

    Exposure to different cultures is not a zero sum game.

  4. Interesting. Culture and ethnicity and our evolving fusion societies are shaking up discussions of race. We live in Vancouver where IMO, there really isn’t a “white culture” per se. On the family end, I’m the white third of a tri-cultural adoptive family where my husband in Asian and brown and my son is Jamaica. My son’s friends are South Asian, Asian, Black, Adopted, not adopted, mixed race, immigrants, born here and so on. He’s living in a totally different world from the one I grew up in. He still has trouble ethnically identifying people, which is kind of great. Still I find that we need to stand up for all forms of injustice and where I live, I feel that our First Nations people (and in particular women and girls) suffer the most systemic racism in the country. Any way… loving your posts. Eye-openers.

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