There’s an incendiary topic burning with both racial pride and community outrage and it’s one my fellow transracial Asian adoptees and their families should acknowledge. I’ve refrained from speaking on it because the Asian internet’s reactions range from ambivalent to enraged, but I no longer want adoptees–already suffering racial identity crises–unaware of what possibly awaits them.
Many transracial adoptees and their white parents seek Asian communities to mitigate cultural and heritage loss. They do this throughout the adoptee’s lifetime, or later when the adoptee becomes an independent adult. Most adoptees hesitantly approach Asian online communities and in-person gatherings, fearing “not being Asian enough” or confronting–sometimes for the first time–groups of people who “look like them.”
What an adoptee might find is not a welcoming brother or sisterhood, but one who offers acceptance based on two nuanced things:
If the Asian adoptee is dating or married, their partner’s race, and,
If the Asian adoptee–due to a proximity to whiteness they didn’t choose–is Asian enough to speak as a member of that race.
The dominant Asian community isn’t issuing such superficial judgments, but if someone’s Google search takes them far enough, it might dishearten them when uncovering such hatred lurking among a tiny vocal percentage. Deemed Asian Female/White Male (or AFWM/WMAF), it’s a divisive topic claiming any Asian woman dating or married to a white person is self-hating, suffering from internalized racism, anti-Asian male, anti-Asian, or, in extreme cases, fair targets for hate mail and death threats.
I tried addressing this from an academic and fairly neutral perspective, framing it within the narrow confines of transracial adoption. I tried exploring partner selection from a cultural perspective, citing studies examining how a white family’s influence over a person of color’s identity more related to unconscious absorption of family values and general attitudes toward race, not self-hate. I also say:
When examined through a…lens where Asianness isn’t so much denied as casually accepted and maybe feared, a child will be less likely to attach to their outward racial presentation.
For this perplexing AFWM debate, I suspect that even Asians who were “raised Asian” in diverse communities take away the media’s portrayal of the white standard and shape definitions of attractiveness. While this isn’t excusable and more ethnically diverse media representation is necessary, this theory doesn’t imply self-hate as a catalyst for partner choice.
My informal and brief analysis was predictably met with scorn, because how could I, an Asian adoptee raised by whites, be anything but brainwashed into internalized racism and a strong desire to emasculate Asian males? Also, I am married to a white man but not because I worship my white parents (actually, for anyone following my work, it’s the complete opposite)–I married him because I am an independent-minded, grown adult who lived with racists, so why would I allow that into my life once again?
The AFWM argument insults an Asian woman’s ability to perceive racism. It implies there couldn’t be any other reason, aside from Asian hate, a woman could ever marry outside her race. The notion itself implies ethnocentrism, something minorities have spent decades overcoming. Yes, it’s true some Asian women excuse white male racist behavior but as humans, we’re all saddled with the same insecurities, racial confusion, guilt, low self-esteem, and other personal issues as any other race. To paint an entire community of couples, including their half-Asian children, as hateful forces ourselves back into oppression instead of forward into truth-seeking.
For adoptees, this hurts when we discovering this mostly online battle, as some of us were conditioned into internalized racism from the very people expected to love us. For others, it’s simply a matter of partner availability. Relocating to a more Asian region isn’t always realistic or feasible. Doing so while confronting their own conflicted racial identities and ensuring they choose a racially appropriate partner is even harder. Adoptees are especially sensitive to such isolation as it wasn’t self-imposed (though many anti-WMAF members imply it is) since our parents–like many parents of minors–controlled the majority of our life choices.
Any person of any race can racially “marry up” and not tarnish the reputations of every other person who dates interracially; those outliers exist everywhere and aren’t reflective of an entire group. People will worship whiteness while others campaign against such toxic behaviors, but adoptees must understand their proximity to whiteness isn’t automatic white worship or negative. We have enough identity issues; who we pick as partners should be our least concern. It also doesn’t mean we’re intending to emasculate Asian males or supporting any negative portrayal of them.
The second issue, that Asian adoptees aren’t “Asian enough” to campaign for our rights or activism, implies our losses exclude us because we haven’t enough lived Asian experience. But we still experience racism, we experience prejudice, we experience identity issues–and we do it completely without, for the most part, any support from the Asian community. We lost a heritage, the heritage non-adoptees have that we desperately seek, while living alongside the dominant racial group. Absorbing those white values wasn’t a choice, but we have the ability to make room for and care about our group’s causes. Perhaps because of our parallel lives we’re more powerful than we think because we have lived in two worlds and are ready to share our experiences.
One interesting related note is female Asian adoptees reporting accusations of “not being Asian enough” to date Asian men. One Chinese adoptee pursued an Asian partner, but because of her background and his strong cultural connection, he rejected her. This scenario is worth considering, as it involves being turned away once again, potentially driving some Asians to white (or other races). Again, it’s not assumed to be the situation in every case, but it questions why a person may date interracially (and why is this even a bad thing nowadays?).
Transracial adoptees, please know that many of us are working hard to raise our voices and your partner choice doesn’t diminish your value as an Asian or a person. But know this dispute exists, and know our warm receptions into the community may be absent from a small sector of people. Still, we will keep talking about this and adding our perspectives, so we can transcend hate, whether self-directed or external. We must unite against racism and fear. As blogger Eliza Romero says:
“While people in interracial relationships obviously shouldn’t be the only voice for a community, their voices and opinions should be heard because there is plenty of valuable insight to be offered.”
2 thoughts on ““AFWM,” the online debate all Asian adoptees should know about”
I just found your blog and already I just have to say I can relate to so much as a Korean adoptee! Thank you for sharing it, I truly appreciate being able to hear from other adoptees.
Responding to your blog post here: I also read from these online Asian spaces (esp. Reddit and Twitter), I want to agree that being both Asian and being an adoptee really does complicate this issue. Internalized racism interacts differently in the minds of adoptees where on the most unconscious level racial isolation and the trauma of those experiences completely consumes the self to the point where whiteness becomes simply a casual part of who you are. And yes, oftentimes there is no chance to even lay that basic foundation of “asianness” and/or we’ve been culturally conditioned into a specific very whitewashed image of asianness by our parents which we problematically internalize as a truthful, honest picture of our birth cultures/people when it’s not. It’s honestly not fair to be so harshly boxed into these guys’ cynical views of Asian women when there’s already so much guilt for the forced imposition of whiteness into our lives. Like, I mostly limited my dating choices to Asian guys because I often, perhaps wrongly, associated my self-esteem issues and lack of confidence to white boys bullying me for most of my childhood and I felt that the only way to humanize myself and my racialized existence was to date Asians who I felt would actually treat me right. (and, to be honest, they often did) I always think about how my experience is so bizarre and uncommon, and how being forcibly whitewashed has still restricted me in a lot of ways when it comes to not just dating Asian guys but also interacting with the Asian community in general. But like I definitely do and would not judge other adoptees who do date white because once again, internalized racism is complicated for adoptees. I mean I can totally relate to that Chinese adoptee’s experience of being rejected for not being “Asian enough” as I always feel like that, and it then it just brings forth this conflict like “well, if this is going to keep happening, then I don’t want to be a part of this community”. It’s frustrating because I don’t want to do that and because I think about how damn difficult it was to familiarize myself with my birth culture and unlearn all the ignorance behind my Asian identity. Also I have to mention that I laughed when reading that line about being more powerful than we think because I think it is so true. I think that we have so much valuable knowledge and experiences to offer for not just Asian American activist spaces but also the Asian American community in general. But honestly, sometimes I think they don’t care much. I don’t know, just my thoughts. (Sorry its so long!)
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White worship 101 in display on this site. Embarrassing.