now you see me, but they don’t: invisible faces and races

Like many angsty teens, I wanted a chasm to open up and suck me in so I’d never have to face this cruel, cruel world anymore, but again, like many angsty teens, what I really wanted was as much attention as possible. I wanted someone to look at me and say “Yes, you are different and yes, you’re Asian. That’s cool. Now where’s that five dollars you owe me?”

What I received was the complete opposite. I heard “I see your face and it’s offensive and so freaking weird that it exists within your White family. Now let me ask you about it!” (These are called intrusive interactions and they’re as awkward as they sound.)

But something slightly disturbing happened whenever I’d complain about these unwanted behaviors; I’d be accused of imagining things, of being overly sensitive, of not humoring other people’s curiosity. Worse yet, I’d be told that it was something else about me, some indescribable flaw that made me a target. Evidently, “I’m going to kick your eyes straight!” and “Go back to your own country” have nothing to do with my appearance.

Eventually, my mother would tell me I dreamt these things up and that if they really were happening, I should just stop drawing so much attention to myself (leading me to pen a piece called Shut Up and Smile, in response to misplaced blame).

Her reaction – and society’s as a whole – to subtle forms of racism (aka racial microaggressions) is a quietly dangerous one, serving only to perpetuate the cycle of victim-blaming. The below video is an entertainingly informative few minutes of Derald Wing Sue’s definition of racial microaggressions, but the YouTube comments are perhaps the most telling status of America’s view of race.

I’ll save you the pain of reading through the comments; like everything on the internet, they’re filled with hate and racism and spew forth rage, accusing the professor of imagining things that aren’t really there, telling minorities to grow a thicker skin.

For the transracial adoptee, we need to be particularly sensitive to how racism is handled by both ourselves and our families.  While finding racism where it doesn’t exist isn’t helpful for anyone, transracial families should accept that overt acts of hate, like shouting slurs or getting beat up, exist alongside more slippery ones that evade quantification.

But there’s a solution. All forms of racism, such as colorblindness and hopeless commentary like this:

need to be considered, addressed, and handled. Directly. Be the awesome White parent who acknowledges your child’s race without the dreaded whitewash.

Vagaries like “hate for hate’s sake is bad” can be more effective if discussions include  specific topics like White privilege and the history of the child’s ethnic group in this country.  Admit to the color gap between you and your child; this isn’t an act of mercy or sacrifice or guilt-tripping, but one of empowerment for the future adult you are raising. Doing so will firmly cement your child in a position of security, because her status as a person of color will not be denied.

Celebrating color is not enough – we must concede that White parents and their transracial children will live vastly different lives based solely on race; we must embrace this truth as a starting point for weaving our developing values together. By starting this journey at home, parents have tremendous potential to positively influence their child’s racial identity.

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