What it’s Actually Like to be Transracial


Since this whole Rachel Dolezal ordeal has blown up in the media, people have been quick to jump on both sides (“Let her be whatever race she wants to be!” “YOU CANT JUST CHOSE YOUR RACE!” etc.). But as many people have pointed out, the term that Rachel has been using to describe herself as, in terms of her identification, is “transracial,” and that is the incorrect use of the word.

Transracial refers to the adoption of a person who is a different race or ethnicity of their parents, not someone who feels they were born into the wrong color of skin. As a transracial adoptee, I find this misuse of the word to be very frustrating and adding to the complications people of color are already facing. For people of color who already “pass” as white, this is going to make their lives a lot harder, and for us transracial adoptees, it’s just going to continue the confusion we already have when it comes to our identity.

My grandparents took me in when I was a baby. My birthparents could not take care of me. My birthmother is white, while my birthfather is black, which resulted in me, a mixed raced child. Genetics are weird, and some mixed raced babies come out looking entirely white (like one of my cousins who has a black father, but she has blonde hair and blue eyes) or more like me, who gets confused for being fully black all the time. I never lived with the African American side of my family. I was raised by my grandparents who finally were able to legally adopt me when I was 6 years old.

Now, this life led to a lot of identity issues that still plague me today. I was raised devoid of black culture, which has caused some issues with the lack of knowledge I have about many things within that community. There was no diversity in my town growing up, which meant never seeing anyone who looked like me. Being raised by privileged white parents meant I had a life that I wouldn’t have had if I had grown up with the parents who couldn’t have provided for me.

None of this should really matter, because we should all look past skin color and stereotypes, right? Well, if it was a perfect world, that would be the case, but unfortunately, that’s not how it works, which means my entire life has been me having a lot of confusion on where I stand. Am I black or white? My skin color is black, yet my culture is white. When people see me in the world, they will always assume I am black until I outwardly tell them of my situation.

Do I identify as black? Of course I do. I will never look white, so why wouldn’t I identify as black? But if it comes to cultures, I feel more comfortable around people who are similar to how I was raised. This is where things get strange and uncomfortable. I am unfamiliar with a lot of what black culture skews towards, and sometimes it scares me. I try to fit in, but I am obviously the outsider, even with people who actually look like me.

I would not trade my childhood for anything though. I absolutely love my parents and am so blessed that they saved my life from a terrible situation. I do wish though that I had grown up in an area with more diversity and had been able to see more representation in the media of black and mixed actors. Sometimes I feel a bit bitter about my upbringing, but it’s only because I defy all stereotypes of my race and wish it wasn’t such a big deal to people that I don’t fit a certain type of black girl that they’re expecting me to be when they look at me.

I would never change my skin to white though and start living my life as a white woman just because I “feel white” and that’s where I am struggling to understand this whole Rachel Dolezal situation. It’s easy to put on darker makeup and change your hair and lie about being black, but if you’re already black or another ethnicity, it’s almost impossible for us to pretend to be something else. At the end of the day, no matter how white I feel, it doesn’t matter because my brown skin color is beautiful and it doesn’t define me as a person. How I act and portray myself to the world doesn’t depend on what color skin the sun particles reflect into other peoples eyes.

Therefore, to be transracial does not mean I feel that I am white and should change my appearance to look that way, it means that I was raised in a way that was not of the culture relating to my skin color, but I can embrace all cultures and be a bridge for people to become educated to what a person can be like if they don’t fulfill a stereotype based on their appearance. I guess if Rachel Dolezal really feels she was born with the wrong skin color, I won’t berate her for being attracted to a different community she wants to be a part of, but to lie about understanding the black woman experience is something I will not tolerate from her.