Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why my race matters to me: It's all that I have left

I had a revelation recently, in part due to a  post I published on race, and the discussions that ensued in the comments.

I finally realize why it is so important to me that my race be recognized. Why it's so important to me that people do not view me through a lens of "color-blindness."

My color, my race--it's all that I have left.

It is the only tangible evidence that remains that I was born a Korean, that I am my Omma's and Appa's daughter.

All other perceptible connections have been erased--the language, the culture, the family, the people.

By these measures--by language, by culture, by family, by people--I am a White American. All that visibly remains of my connection to Korea is the way that I look.

It may seem trivial to you. But it is profound and astounding to me.

You may find it frustrating, confusing, paradoxical that I speak of the racism and discrimination I experience as a transracial adoptee, and yet I also express that I want my race to be recognized. And although that is the nature of adoption--it is full of contradiction, paradox, incertitude--my experience of racism is in part why I want my race to be recognized. I want it to be recognized for its beauty rather than demeaned and degraded. I want it to be recognized as what it is--evidence that I was first born into this world the daughter of a Korean mother and a Korean father.

I did not always feel this way about my race. I spent most of my life wishing I could be someone else, wishing I could look like someone else...like my American mother--White, tall, blond, blue eyes.

My experience of my "Asianness" is something that has changed and evolved for me over time, and in particular since reuniting with my Korean family four years ago. The golden hue of my skin, the almond shape of my eyes, the blackness of my hair have become all the more poignantly significant to me--because they are all that remain visibly, tangibly of my connection to my Korean origins.

I no longer want to look White. I no longer want blonde hair and blue eyes, or to be 5'8" with giant breasts and big, round eyes. I realize all the more that is not who I was born to be. Rather I stare at photos of my Appa and Omma and immediately feel connected to them because of the physical similarities we share.

I love my American family, and I know that they love me. In their big, round, blue and green eyes, I am simply a daughter and a sister.

But I wish that accepting me as a daughter and sister did not mean that my race and original culture had to be ignored, dismissed, erased. I wish that it could feel as though I am seen and accepted as the whole of who I am--neither American nor Korean, but both. 

I can no longer deny that in so many ways I am a White American. And yet neither can I deny any longer that I am a Korean.

This has been a jolting transition and transformation. But one that I am beginning to welcome, not only as a result of reuniting with my Korean family, but also now that I have children of my own. I do not want them to grow up with the same sense of shame about being Korean that I have carried with me for so long.

I don't want my son or daughter to grow up wishing they could be all White. I want them to see the beauty in being part Korean. It feels good to look at my son and see his almond-shaped eyes, knowing that I gave them to him. Or to see the golden tint of his skin and realize that this came from me. I want him to grow up feeling that same sense of pride and contentment when he looks in the mirror.

So, you see, I don't want you to view me through a color-blind lens. I want you to see me for all that I am, both inside and outside.

Overcoming racism, to me, is not learning to be color-blind, but rather learning to see and enjoy all the beauty and diversity in those around us--including the color of our skin, the shape of our eyes, the food that we eat, the customs that we practice, the languages we speak...(We so easily recognize the value of diversity and color in the natural world, why is it so hard to do the same in the human world?)

And overcoming my own insecurities about my race does not mean rejecting my Asianness, my Koreanness, but rather accepting it as a part of me that is just as valid and meaningful and beautiful as the part of me that is White.

I'll never fit into that tiny box in which people keep trying to cram me. And I'm tired of trying to cram myself into that box. I'll never be the full Korean that others think I should be, and I'll never be solely the White American that I was raised to be.

I am finally beginning to accept this--that in between is where I'll be for the rest of my life.

And I'm finally beginning to accept that my race isn't something I need to try to be blind to and similarly, that my Whiteness is not something I need to try to deny.

It's all me.

And it's all worth embracing.