The first time I had heard of someone identifying as a race or ethnicity that they were not born with was in 2017 on a little blue bird app called Twitter. Someone had uploaded a video of a man with white skin and blue eyes and very evidently not Filipino talking about how he “felt” Filipino. As a young Filipina woman, I found this absolutely laughable and thought it to be a joke until I saw an article linked in one of the responses to the viral tweet. The article entails the mind of the man behind the claim, identifying as “transracial”. At the time, I felt like my culture was being taken as a token and fetishized by this white, Florida man. However, after a few years, I have found a few more cases of people claiming to be a different race or ethnicity, and I would like to understand why people may think this way.
Ja Du, formerly known as Adam, is the first person I was aware had this mindset. He claims that he feels like he is in his own skin when he is around the music and food. Going further, Du asserts that he would often watch the History Channel, but nothing intrigued him except for anything about Filipino culture. It is these statements that caused me and a few of my other Filipino friends to feel like our culture and identities were being fetishized and appropriated. The question was whether it was “right”. The more I think about it, I cannot bring myself to completely accept this. However, when it comes to transgender identification, I have always thought people should be addressed as what they prefer, no matter what sex they were born with. How different are the situations between identifying as a preferred gender or race?
This question dips a bit into the idea of essentialism and whether there is a set of characteristics that defines these concepts of race, gender, sexuality, and so on. Questions of what makes a person qualified to call themselves part of a certain ethnic group or identify as different gender are a large part of the debate of whether people can really have themselves recognized as something they were not born as. Personally, I feel like people can do what makes them happy, whether that is asking to be called by certain pronouns or anything else, as long as their pursuit does not cause harm or hurt anyone else in the process. However, this again is challenged when I think about the transracial Filipino man.
Deeper into looking at the idea of being ‘transracial’, I found a separate article of a person who identified as such because they were raised by a family whose race and culture were not the same as what they were born as. The writer was born as Chinese, however they were brought up in a U.S. household by white parents. While they acknowledge their race as Chinese, they were not raised with the culture, do not speak the language, and so on, and so they find themselves to be more American than Chinese. In their article, the writer dives into how being adopted and raised by a family of a different race and culture is a completely different experience than just ‘feeling’ like a different race.
The more I look at articles and try to learn, I cannot help but stay confused about where I stand on the argument. The white man claiming to be Filipino does not exactly hurt me, so why do I feel like I should oppose it? There are plenty of other cases of people identifying as races they were not born with, some of which are famous (Rachel Dolezal, Jimmie Durham, etc.), and are they hurting anyone or any community with their actions? Almost without a doubt these people are offending communities with their actions, but whether they are truly damaging, stealing, or lessening the cultures they wish to identify as is the real question. The article of the person being adopted and brought up in a different cultural and racial household is a completely different situation in my own eyes, and I understand why they would identify the way they choose. As of now, I still do not agree with the Filipino man formerly known as white Adam, and I cannot say if I will truly accept his stance in the future, but I cannot help but feel as if my culture is being used for his personal interest.