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Tue Jun 16, 2015, 06:54 PM

Transracial doesn’t mean what Rachel Dolezal thinks it means


Transracial is a term to describe interracial adoptees and is commonly used in organisational and academic contexts. Simply put, a transracial person is someone raised in a culture or race different from their own. Having been raised by her white parents and choosing to identify as a person of another race, Dolezal does not get to use this term.

I am a transracial adoptee. I was born in South Korea in the late 80s and I am ethnically Korean. My birth family, struggling with sickness and poverty before Korea’s economic boom in the 90s, put me up for adoption. I was adopted to Australia and raised by Australian parents. The people I call Mum and Dad are white. They are of Irish, German, Scottish and English descent and grew up in inner-suburban Sydney. They do not speak any other languages apart from English and some long-forgotten high school German. People would ask my mother if she had an Asian husband. When I was older, neighbours thought I was an exchange student. A creepy man in our neighbourhood with a mail-order bride asked my father, when I was 14, if I was his wife.


I don’t regret my time in Korea, but I am constantly reminded that no matter how hard I try, I will never truly be Korean – every time I open my mouth and my Australian-accented Korean comes out, when I forget to take off my shoes or hold my right elbow when I give something to someone and all these little rules that I never knew about until 2013. The worst is when I am reduced to communicating with my own family with English and Korean baby talk and exaggerated hand movements. I’m torn between berating myself for not getting my own culture “right” and seeing it through a privileged Western lens, as well as the frustration that I was cut off from it for 25 years through no fault of my own.

This confusion over racial identity is a very common experience for transracial adoptees, and something that I would not wish on anybody.

Being transracial is hardly similar to “feeling black”, like Rachel Dolezal claims. It’s not like gender dysphoria either – the politics of race and gender are not interchangeable in this context. Unlike many black Americans, Rachel’s family background does not carry the trauma of slavery and institutionalised racism. Unlike people who really are transracial, Rachel has not been physically torn between two cultures and denied intimate knowledge of her birth culture. Unlike people who are black and transracial adoptees, Rachel has not had to deal with both of these life-affecting experiences at the same time.

~~~~more @ link~~~~


For clarity, I am not the author of the post that I linked to. I am not transracial, but I follow Kevin Vollmers' Land of Gazillion Adoptees (LGA). The true transracial community is quite large and it is very sad that with so many adoptive families on this board no one has stepped up to say that yes, there is a very real thing called transracial. There are dozens of transracial groups out there, creating a space where adoptees can share experiences and come to a place of empowerment and educating adoptive families on the unique issues that their transracial child will face.

There is an excellent web show Adoptees In The Wild that interviews transracial adoptees. I highly recommend it to anyone connected to a transracial person.

on edit: I would like to thank the two DUers who have made reference to the correct usage of the word transracial on another thread. DU is a wonderful tool to inform and become informed. On issues like this where there is very little known to "outsiders" it is important to inform our community members.

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Reply Transracial doesn’t mean what Rachel Dolezal thinks it means (Original post)
me b zola Jun 2015 OP
beam me up scottie Jun 2015 #1
me b zola Jun 2015 #2
me b zola Jun 2015 #6
beam me up scottie Jun 2015 #7
Spazito Jun 2015 #3
me b zola Jun 2015 #4
Spazito Jun 2015 #5
me b zola Jun 2015 #8
beam me up scottie Jun 2015 #9
me b zola Jun 2015 #10

Response to me b zola (Original post)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 06:56 PM

1. Thank you for this, me b zola.

In case I haven't told you lately, you're kind of awesome.

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Response to beam me up scottie (Reply #1)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 06:59 PM

2. Ah, shucks

I've always thought that you're awesome!

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Response to beam me up scottie (Reply #1)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 07:59 PM

6. Thank you for recognizing this thread in the other

I understood what the author of the other thread was saying, very much like the writer in my OP, but lacks the understanding of the very real issue of transracialism.

My threads are panned on a regular basis, so I hope that someone close to this issue will take it upon themselves to begin a thread to educate the DU community. But then again, I am still hoping for my unicorn that farts rainbows.

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Response to me b zola (Reply #6)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 08:09 PM

7. You're welcome!

I knew I had heard the term before and I enjoyed reading about it.

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Response to me b zola (Original post)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 07:05 PM

3. Exactly...

I did point out that transracial was in reference to interracial adoptions in one post but didn't go further in explaining it.

Thanks for posting this.

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Response to Spazito (Reply #3)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 07:09 PM

4. Thank you for speaking up

I didn't wade through all of the responses in the other thread and I should have. Thanks again for speaking up for the real transracial people out there.

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Response to me b zola (Reply #4)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 07:12 PM

5. I am glad you made an OP on the true meaning of transracial...

my reference to it was not near enough. I just wanted you to know there are some here who do understand.

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Response to Spazito (Reply #5)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 08:59 PM

8. Yes, I saw another poster with a connection to adoption correctly made reference to transracial

It is also clear that people with no connection to the issue do not understand the term at all. Sadder yet is that this lack of knowledge is reflected in the media when discussing Rachel Dozeal. My hope is that the DU community will become informed on the meaning of transracial.

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Response to me b zola (Original post)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 09:38 PM

9. Kicking!

Up to the top with you!

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Response to me b zola (Original post)

Tue Jun 16, 2015, 10:09 PM

10. More from others in the transracial community

An Open Letter: Why Co-opting “Transracial” in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic

June 16, 2015

Please direct all media inquiries to Kimberly McKee, PhD at mckee.kimberly@gmail.com.

This past weekend the world took to social media to dissect the events surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the former president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter who came under heavy scrutiny for falsely representing herself as black. As part of this real-time discussion, the term transracial is being co-opted to describe Dolezal identifying as black despite being born white.

As members of the adoption community — particularly those of us who identify as transracial adoptees — we are deeply alarmed by the gross mischaracterization of this term. We find the misuse of “transracial,” describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of “blackness” in order to pass as “black,” to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.

Transracial is a term that has long since been defined as the adoption of a child that is of a different race than the adoptive parents. The term most often refers to children of color adopted by white families in the Global North, and has been extensively examined and documented for more than 50 years by academics and members of the adoption triad: adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents.

Dolezal and others have perpetuated the false notion that a person can simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity. As extensive evidence-based research and first-person narratives have shown, we do not live in a so-called “post-racial society.” Damaging forces like racism make it virtually impossible for those with black or brown bodies to simply “put on” or “take off” race in the same or similar manner that Dolezal has employed. For transracial adoptees, navigating and negotiating the racism in our families, schools, and communities is a regular and compulsory part of our lives.

We also join others who have raised concerns about the misappropriation of the word “trans,” and the analogy made between Dolezal’s deception and the experiences of transgender people. For transgender people who have struggled to live their truths in the face of horrific violence and discrimination, we reject this flawed comparison and find it to be irresponsible and offensive.

As our collective cultural awareness and knowledge of racial and gender identities continue to evolve, it is clear that our understanding of them, as well as our understanding of the relationship between them, is outmoded and in need of better expression. The widespread and acute public response to Dolezal signals the pressing need for critical thinkers of all backgrounds to turn their attention to refining language and theory to better reflect our ever-changing lived experiences.

Writer and adoptee Lisa Marie Rollins recently wrote about Dolezal’s deception and how it derails meaningful conversations about adoption and race. As Rollins explains, the process of transracial adoptees asserting ourselves as people of color is often challenged by either white people or the very communities that mirror our racial and ethnic identities.

In Dolezal’s interview on NBC’s Today show, she justified passing as “black” in order to be recognized as her son’s parent. This questionable and even extreme approach to parenting goes against how families with transracial adoptees should actually tackle issues related to race. Scholars including Barbara Katz Rothman, Heather Jacobson, and Kristi Brian, among others, have examined how adoptive parents incorporate and support familial understanding of their children’s birth culture.

Adoption scholar Dr. John Raible affirms how a deeper consciousness of issues related to race may occur among white families with transracial adoptees. But this does not mean that white parents become people of color in the process. Instead, adoptive families need to create spaces for transracial adoptees to explore and construct their own identities.

Many of us in the adoption community have experienced the complex, tenuous, and life-long process of claiming our authenticity, making Dolezal’s claims and the current discussion all the more destructive.

We invite people to become active allies of transracial adoptees. It begins by listening. Actively listen to those who speak about and from the transracial adoption experience.

If you are an ally, we challenge you to examine the various ways that you appropriate our voices, cultures, and identities. Stand behind those of us who are working to dismantle this racist narrative that abuses, discredits, and erases the lives of transracial adoptees, and erases an entire field of academic inquiry. And use your privilege to lift up marginalized voices that need to be heard.

Finally, we encourage people to take time and explore the many articles, organizations, and experts who have worked on transracial adoption issues in order to educate themselves on this important current issue.

Co-opting the term transracial to describe Dolezal’s behavior exposes the deep denial and erasure of decades of research, writing, and art of transracial adoptees. That’s why we need everyone to stop trying to make this new definition of “transracial” happen. It’s not (and should not) be a thing.


Kimberly McKee, PhD
Assistant Director/Advisory Council Member, KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network)
Grand Rapids, MI

Krista Benson
PhD Candidate, The Ohio State University
Adoptee Ally

Katie Bozek, Ph.D., LMFT
Transitions Therapy, PLLC
Grand Rapids, MI

Erin Alice Cowling, PhD
Hampden-Sydney College
Adoptee Ally

Martha M. Crawford, LCSW
Adoptive Parent, Psychotherapist
Author, What a Shrink Thinks blog

Sarah Park Dahlen, PhD
St. Catherine University
Adoptee wife, ally and researcher
Minneapolis, MN

April Dinwoodie
Chief Executive and transracial adoptee
The Donaldson Adoption Institute

Erica Gehringer
Land of Gazillion Adoptees
Ypsilanti, MI

Shannon Gibney
Writer, Educator, Activist, Adoptee, Co-Chair, MN Chapter of Adopted & Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD)
Minneapolis, MN

Shelise Keum Mee Gieseke
Land of Gazillion Adoptees

Rosita González
Transracial Adoptee, Author, Artist, Lost Daughters Editor
Madison, WI

Susan Harris O’Connor, MSW
Practitioner, Educator
Author, The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee
National Solo Performance Artist of her Racial Identity Theory narrative
New England Regional Director of American Adoption Congress

JaeRan Kim, PhD, LISW
Researcher, educator, and author of Harlow’s Monkey blog
Minneapolis, MN

Andy Marra | 홍현진
LGBT advocate and writer
New York, NY

Lisa Marie Rollins
PhD Candidate, University of California, Berkeley
Writer, Playwright, Researcher
Founder, Adopted & Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora
Oakland, CA

Matthew Salesses
PhD Candidate, University of Houston
Author of The Hundred-Year Flood, Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity
Houston, TX

Stacy L. Schroeder
Adoptive Parent, Sibling of Adoptee, and Adoptee Ally
Executive Director/ President, KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network)
Camp Hill, PA

Dwight Smith
Transracial Adoptee
Pact’s Adult Adoptees & Foster Alums of Color Advisory Board member
Advocate/Mentor for Bay Area adoptees and foster youth of color

Julie Stromberg
Author, Editor
Lost Daughters, Board Member
Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights

Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston, MSS, LSW
Adoptee, Author, The Declassified Adoptee blog, Founder, Lost Daughters, Founder, Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights
Greater Philadelphia Area

Angela Tucker
Transracial Adoptee, Author, Speaker
Seattle, WA

Kevin Haebeom Vollmers
Executive Director, Gazillion Strong
Mihee Kim-Kort and 2 others recommended
Tagged in
AdoptionTransracialRachel Dolezal
Go to the profile of Andy Marra | 홍현진
Andy Marra | 홍현진


*it is my understanding that an open letter can be reprinted in full. If this is not the case please inform me and I will edit this post.

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