Not too many adoptees think about why they think what they do – Jayme Hanson, Korean adoptee
I would broaden that in agreement that most people don’t. Most people don’t question why they are a certain race, religion, sexual orientation, class. Once you begin to ponder these thoughts, it is like a Pandora’s box being opened. It can never be shut again.
I can never walk this earth thinking, wishing, hoping I would be seen as a White person. That ended back when I was about 19. I “knew” I was Korean. I was told, I was reminded, I did not come here as an infant. But that hope to smoothly transition to the White world with my face, and all the non-White attributes on it, was dashed. The problem with no longer being able to think I pass for being part of the majority is that it brings on a certain level of rage. The rage manifested in seeing that I was now looked at as a token, as an immigrant, as a foreigner, as an outsider, as an orphan, as one who should feel grateful. For an Asian American, it can also translate into the rage of feeling invisible or better yet, a model to look at but never really know beyond the superficial.
Releasing Pandora’s box is always assumed to be something bad – the plagues of being a person of color in America. But it is tough to find another analogy for the revelation one feels when they suddenly see their world through the lens of color. Every look, gesture, comment, moment of silence, question, joke, stereotype feels like an offense and it is my job now to figure out, do I respond, do I shrug it off, do I educate, do I ignore it, do I feel put upon, should I correct, should I get pissed off? WHAT THE HELL DO I DO? I know that it is a privilege to think this way. To actually have the time and energy to think about this stuff. But, I can’t help but feel disenfranchised sometimes.
Wearing these new found lenses, what did I do? I became a color junkie. I went out of my way to seek people of color in my life. I gravitated toward the immigrant, the non-English speaker, the one who reflects in me the outlier. I sought those who don’t have the package of being a “typical” American. And in writing this, I realize that if I ever heard a White person say that, I would jet and quickly.
However, I DO hear this from White people. White parents who are raising children of color and I am equally distressed and delighted that this finally happens for some and wish my wishiest it would happen to all of them. To hear a parent get that they live in a multi-racial, ethnic home by virtue of 50% of their family members being non-White is miraculous to me. To see the realization that they can no longer live in their White privilege and simultaneously adore their children who will never be just like them is hopeful. I wish this was celebrated more rather than looked at askance as if these parents were succumbed to the dark side. I wish more adoptees would acknowledge and support this kind of growth. I hope these same parents don’t overdue it and acquiesce to us adoptees at every turn either. Acknoweldging differences, embracing the challenge does not mean to blindly agree with everything we demand. It is a precarious balance to know and know that there will always be things you can’t know.
Here is the last wrinkle in all of this race talk. The odd irony of being an adoptee of color raised in the White world is that I can have that same privilege that feels allusive at the same time. I know what this privilege will get for me, the sense of entitlement it allows me. It simultaneously allows me to lift the veil of racism, challenge it and ignore it too. The tricky part is to figure out when to be provocative and when to be passive about it. Still working on it.
In thinking about all of this, I read a great piece by Toure (I can’t figure out how to put the accent over the e), Black Irony http://ideas.time.com/2012/03/01/the-new-black-irony/. I am not so sure we Asians in America have excised our rage to get to a proper sense of irony just yet, but I look to the communities beyond mine for some insipiration. There in lies the hope.