When I sat down to decide what to blog about this week, there was only one thing that had been occupying my mind—and rightly so. But the last thing I want to do is make this movement about me, and if it seems that way to you, please let me know. With that said, here goes…
1. As a Korean adoptee, I’ve always felt an instinctive solidarity with other POCs, and yet I’m afraid that whatever I do or say won’t be enough.
I’m afraid that it will come across as hollow and performative—that it will expose the inner white person that I am—raised by white people, who literally thought I was white as a child, who desperately wanted to be white, who avoided other POC while growing up.
I confess that I’m not knowledgeable about the black struggle—though the information is out there, ready for consumption. While I’ve been preoccupied with the violent trauma of transracial adoption and its repercussions (that is NOT a plea for sympathy), I realise that I’ve completely neglected to look beyond my own experience.
2. I confess that I only had a vague, abstract understanding of slavery in the US—
—let alone in Australia, until I started watching the TV mini-series Roots (the 2016 remake), and the brutality of the first episode made me cry. It really brought home for me the way that black people were treated like animals—property—disposable bodies without personal or cultural history. And the gravity of 400 years of oppression and systematic racism, deeply ingrained in every aspect of US society, makes me feel overwhelmed.
3. I have to acknowledge my relative privilege compared to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour).
I confess that sometimes I benefit from the Asian model minority myth. That I’d choose the hard-working, good-at-math, piano-playing, subservient, exoticised, infantilised, Asian woman stereotypes–as much as I hate them—over fearing the police and fearing for my life.
I acknowledge that I sit higher on the dating food chain (at least in Australia), than darker skinned black women.
And that most white couples would prefer to adopt an Asian baby over a black and/or indigenous one.
4. I confess that I gave up trying to talk to white people about race.
I’m tired of trying to explain racial microaggressions to white people who don’t understand, who “don’t want me to take things personally if I don’t have to”, who don’t want me to suffer—because they love me.
I’ve given up trying to explain why I know that a certain look or word—merely a look, a word—held a racial undertone, how I felt it in my body, how I just know, why it’s not paranoia, or residual scars from childhood—though I carry those, yes—and how humiliating it can be to be mistaken for the only other Asian in the room, even though they have glasses and a non-Australian accent and they look nothing like you.
I confess that I doubt, in my heart of hearts, whether white people can ever understand.
I confess that I ignored my Aunt’s Facebook post, with “Fit In or Fuck Off” written inside a map of Australia, rather than engaging with it, because I just didn’t have the energy, or the balls, for a conflict with a relative.
Even though I know that part of the work is educating non-POCs about race, it’s SO. VERY. TIRING. And sometimes I just don’t know where to begin.
5. I never quite resolved the race issue with my white American ex-boyfriend, and it broke my heart.
I remember talking about why it’s black lives matter and not all lives matter, and why white privilege doesn’t mean that you had it easy. I remember storming out of a burger place because I couldn’t explain how I felt when he empathised with rich white South African landowners, forced to give up land to black South Africans.
I remember how race and racism was practically the only thing we argued about, but I couldn’t back down. And the more we argued, the more I had to explain, the more I felt myself slipping away, retreating into a silent, isolated part of myself, deep within, and the life I had envisioned together slipping away.
I don’t know if those conversations, all those years ago, ever made a difference.
6. More people are talking about race…
And my white sister and her friends are sharing social media info about race, and this is exactly what we need: a critical mass of people around the world who care. But I confess that, selfishly, I wish it had been my experience of racism that prompted my sister’s engagement, and not a global movement originating in America.
But then, how could it, when we don’t really talk about race within my adoptive family?
7. Now that I live in Korea, I don’t deal with racism, for the most part, anymore.
“Where are you from?” persists, but I can play the gyopo or adoptee card and it stops. I no longer deal with racist greetings like “ni hao” or “konichiwa” from some drunk guy across the street—or from some well-intentioned, middle-aged white person (who’s trying to, I don’t know, connect with me?).
I don’t worry about tough-looking girls on the train and their verbal bullying—”Look at her fucking small tits, I’d kill myself if my tits were so small”—while I just sit there, immobilised, afraid to talk back because it’s two against one—afraid of getting beaten up or something, afraid to acknowledge it in any way, so I just sit there, on the fucking slow Australian metro train, slowest fucking public transport system in the world, always late, always delayed—until we finally roll into my leafy suburban stop and I get up without a word.
I don’t have to face any of that while I’m here.
Now I wander the streets of Seoul, one face in a sea of Korean faces, and pass under the radar, practically invisible, as I always wanted to be.
As part of the ethnic majority, I feel the cells of my body relax and expand, the layers of self-consciousness and self-protectiveness start to unfurl like flower petals.
Am I still a person of colour? There are times when I almost forget. If I stay here longer, will I still feel like a person of colour? Will I forget that battle that raged inside me for so long?
8. I feel so safe here, in this small Asian female body.
I stumble out of bars and noraebangs at 3am—drunk, loose, silly; I walk down dark, narrow alleys; I tumble in and out of cabs. I wander through this sprawling, messy maze of a city alone, and I feel safe. And it feels so good.
Everyone deserves to feel safe. I think about Ahmaud Arbery who couldn’t go jogging, John Crawford who couldn’t shop at Walmart, Randy Evans who couldn’t ask a cop a question, and all of the other horrific deaths of black people doing everyday things.
9. I guess what I’m saying is, I get a break from a lot of race stuff in Korea. And I feel both guilty and relieved about that.
But though I may have fled the battle, the war against white supremacy and systematic racism rages on.
I can’t ignore it. The gauntlet has been laid down.
My challenge is to educate myself, contribute how and wherever I can, to wrestle with the discomfort of my relative privilege and white adjacency, and to examine the vestiges of internalised racism within me.
Black lives depend on it.