(Photo via 10News WTSP)
Many people find that their race and/or culture (among other things, such as religion and career) gives their life meaning and rightfully so. One may take pride in the beliefs, art, and/or cuisine that they have learned and enjoy sharing with others. It is quite possible that these things have been passed down and maintaining certain customs keeps one generation feeling connected to a previous generation.
The retelling and sharing of particular traditions and practices throughout history can be beneficial as long as they essentially do not cause anyone harm. However, it should be remembered that race is not always directly linked to a specific culture and accepting a specific culture does not make one automatically connected with the ethnic group that is closely associated with that culture.
Apparently, these distinctions have not been made apparent to some, especially a particular Floridian, who appears to be one race but yearns to be another.
The recent story of a Caucasian male from Florida desiring to identify as a Filipino person opens the door for questions about his mental health and perception of reality as well as accusations of cultural appropriation on his part. Adam, or Ja Du (as he may prefer to be known as), is a young man that has immersed himself into some of Filipino culture, if that is what can be said of his love for Filipino food, events, and driving a Tuk Tuk (an Asian-derived vehicle used for public transit in the Philippines supposedly). Oddly enough, it is not said if he knew how to speak and/or write any Filipino or the other 19 official auxiliary languages. Then again, he may be able to bypass this hurdle, due to English being an official language of the Philippines as well.
This racial identity case with Ja Du may cause people to think back to the story of Rachel Dolezal that brought the idea of a person transitioning from one race to another into public knowledge. Dolezal had been the president of a Spokane, Washington branch of the NAACP, but stepped down after controversy surrounded her because of the revelation that she been born Caucasian.
Although ‘transracial’ is nothing new, it still prompts others to be skeptical of the individual’s motives. They are suspected of trying to ‘use’ another race/identity to gain something. Ja Du wanted to dispel this idea and really just wants to be happy with himself. In the 10News WTSP (out of Tampa, Florida) post, under the section titled, “Preventing Fraud,” Ja Du says, “I believe people will [take advantage] just like other people have taken advantage of their identity to get their way, but the difference between me and them [Garin] is that I don’t want that. I think that we all have the freedoms to pursue happiness in our own ways.”
Of course, it is hard to just take someone’s word for it that you do not know. Plus, it still may cause many of us to ponder of his need or Dolezal’s (or anyone in his Facebook group with similar inclinations for that matter) to completely identify as being something (or like someone) that does not match the color of their skin nor is a part of their cultural make-up. Is race really something that is fluid? Can we become someone new out of a feeling? Where does it start and where does it end? Can we completely identify as another group of people by taking some or even all of their customs and/or beliefs? Is this realistic?
These kinds of questions can be placed under issues with transgenderism as well. But, for some individuals on the left, to speak of ‘transracial’ as being akin to someone identifying as ‘transgender’ would be a falsehood. Zach Ford, LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, wrote a piece over two years ago that tried to dispel this notion, while at the same time giving a definition to ‘transracial’ that dealt more with individuals that have been called transracial adoptees (children of one race being adopted by a family of another race).
It is interesting that in the aforementioned ThinkProgress.org piece, one individual, Andy Marra, an author and a transgender woman, questioned Dolezal’s authenticity. She said: “I am open, honest, and proud to claim the various traits and experiences that made me who I am today. And there’s a lot to me too — I am a Korean American, a transracial (and transnational) adoptee, a transgender woman, and a person of color. Who I am today hasn’t been actively determined by disingenuous actions. I don’t have to lie or pretend about who I am. There is no deliberate effort to conceal my background. And I’m not following a script or abiding to a rulebook of what it means for me to be authentic.”
This questioning of Dolezal and the social media responses towards Ja Du from those who are presumably progressive seems to be permissible only when you are seeing it all through the right social philosophical lens. If these individuals had been conservative in their views about Dolezal as well as, say Caitlin Jenner, then they would be seen as only bigoted and not just being dubious about a person’s beliefs or ‘transitioning’. Maybe this skepticism works best when you are progressive enough about LGBTQ issues and exist as a social justice warrior.
Nevertheless, whatever Ja Du may be defined or identified as (since ‘transracial’ may have two definitions that is unknown to many people), he is a person that will have a lot of questions to answer for himself. Then, society will have a number more conundrums on its hands, such as how to handle cases like Ja Du’s and Dolezal’s (especially as they grow) and should it be accepted as normal, among many others that would be legitimate.
Originally published on The Daily Nerv – November 28, 2017
Jerome Danner is a member of Project 21, an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook for more of his thoughts and commentary. For more of Jerome’s writing, please check out his website. Jerome accepts email at firstname.lastname@example.org.