I attended my last class session in the University of Washington School of Social Work on Saturday. Having made multiple commitments outside of school, I decided to take only one course this quarter, one I’d been waiting to take since the start of the year, called Anti-Racist Organizing for Social and Economic Change.
The course dealt primarily with understanding social locations – both specifically referring to our racial or ethnic backgrounds, in addition to the professional identity of social worker – in relation to structural racism, and focused largely on exploring strategies for moving toward greater racial equity.
As I reflect upon my in-class experience, I am struck by the level of impact that our course content had on me – personally and professionally. It wasn’t an easy class to take, but it was thought provoking and powerful, and I did learn a lot. I’d like to share one of the most significant pieces of learning that I took away from my experience, because I think it’s important for understanding the content of this blog, and the direction that I’ve chosen to take in writing it.
Because the class was held on Saturdays, we met four times throughout the quarter for six hours at a time. The class was condensed to twenty-four hours throughout the quarter, so after we met in the mornings, we would take a one-hour lunch, and come back into what would then be considered the second session of the day.
On the afternoon of our first day of class, we did race-based caucusing. I was unfamiliar with the practice of caucusing until this year, which is basically just a fancy word for meeting in a group. So we divided into two groups – People of Color and White – and in groups, talked about what our respective identities meant for us, both individually and on a societal level.
Right off the bat, because I identify as a Person of Color, but was socialized within a White family, I struggled with where to go. On one hand, I am brown. But I also recognized that my belonging to a White family shaped how I view and move through the world. Feeling and eventually naming this tension, I decided to caucus in the Person of Color group, but soon realized that the Person of Color caucus was not meant to hold the complexity of what it means to be a transracial and transnational adoptee.
I left that day struggling with the space, or lack thereof, which had been given for me to air my views. I’d named the complexity of transracial adoption within the group, and left feeling unheard. Was I owning my privilege as a light-skinned Person of Color? Was I owning my privilege for having been raised in a White American family? After reflecting on the purpose of the class, and thinking more about the purpose of the caucus, I realized that it wasn’t a mistake of the caucus that I hadn’t felt I was granted space to share my identity. It just simply hadn’t been the space for that kind of work.
In the week that followed, I sought out material relating to transracial adoption. I wanted to find out whether other adoptees had written about their experiences, and what they had to say about them. I started reading a blog written by a transracial adoptee, who like myself, had grown up with feelings of difference, and chosen to do work around sharing her story. I soon realized I was not alone. And in the process of reading her blog and connecting to many others, I decided to start my own.
So how does this relate to Anti-Racist Organizing?
As it so happens, I found my caucus. Since starting my blog, I have had the honor of connecting, through social media, and in person, with other transracial adoptees, and have begun conversations that have affirmed my commitment to, not only sharing my own story, experiences, and perspectives, but also my commitment to creating a platform so that others, who want to, can do the same.
This experience has also led me to reevaluate my own privilege. I define privilege as not having to think about one’s own social identity as it relates to having certain benefits, which are not otherwise granted, in whole or in part, to individuals that belong to another social identity group.
As an adoptee who has reunified with my birth family, who has knowledge of my origins, I have privilege over those who do not have access to their birth records. As an adoptee who identifies as a Person of Color, but who can “pass” for White when I straighten my hair, I have privilege over those who cannot – those for whom it matters. As a transracial adoptee I have privilege over those who have not achieved permanency.
Having the support to do this work would not be possible without a community of courageous individuals who speak truth to the realities faced by transracial adoptees. I hope this blog can be an extension of that truth, and provide a space for those “placed” to know they’re never alone.