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Exploring Intersectionality as a Transracial Adoptee

By March 31, 2019 400 Comments

By: Rhianna Hopkins

There are two things you need to know about me: I’m a Transracial Chinese Adoptee and I’ve been misusing the term “intersectionality.” My name is Rhianna Hopkins and I identify as an Asian American woman. What makes me a transracial adoptee is that I was adopted from Shanghai, China when I was 16 months old (my name was 周肖洁Zhōuxiàojié at the time) by the two people I now call my parents, who are White. My story is shared with tens of thousands of adoptions from China, many of which were a direct result of the one-child policy. Many of us were adopted by people of a different race and currently live throughout various Western countries. While my relationship with being a transracial adoptee is deeply personal, I have naturally gravitated towards communities of people with shared experiences that have helped me shape my identity. These communities have helped me feel like I was a part of a group, when I never felt White or Asian. Over the past year, I have had the privilege of studying the various works of Black Feminist Theorists including Audre Lorde, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, and many others. Through their work, I have realized that my concept of intersectionality was doing more harm than good. Like many others, I have used intersectionality for my own benefit. I saw it as a way to enhance my own existing beliefs. For instance, as I conceptualized what it meant to be a feminist, mainly through popular culture and media, I made sure to acknowledge the existence of intersecting identities in that space as well. And for a while, I thought that was all I had to do. Patricia Hill Collins discussed in her article “The Difference That Power Makes: Intersectionality and Participatory Democracy,” the many ways in which popular culture has de- politicized intersectionality and generalized it for public appeal. As a result, popular culture discounts and silences the stories and existence of communities and individuals who engage in political action to survive every single day. Black Feminist Theorists focus on the political power of communities built by Black women. Through participatory democracy, Black women have fought for better schools, clean water, and overall better resources out of care and love for their communities.

As I have been reconceptualizing my understanding of intersectionality, I’ve been captivated by Collins’ words on the power of communities. While I deeply appreciate the work that has been done on intersectionality through a Black Feminist framework, I have noticed that there is a lack of discussion about the experience of intersecting powers as an Asian American— and more specifically as a Transracial Asian Adoptee. Being raised and surrounded by those of a different race from you brings unique challenges and experiences as a result of living within multiple intersections. As transracial adoptees get older, I have seen more voices speaking to their experience– and this should certainly be celebrated. But, I want to dive deeper than what personal accounts provide and break down the political significance of these experiences, so that we can view them as acts of strength. I find that personal accounts tread dangerous territory in focusing on microagressions and negative encounters. Applying Collins’ theory on the political power of the community to transracial adoptee communities enables us to see them as significant in political action. To recognize that transracial adoptees go through great strides to create their own communities is a vital component to uplifting and supporting them. A community I am quite active in is the non-profit organization Families with Children from China, which has helped build communities and has provided various resources for Chinese Adoptees and their families. I joined their Adoptee Board (created and run by Chinese adoptees) in 2017, as well as their Board of Directors (created by the parents of adoptees) in 2018. I have been an active part in the transition of FCC’s leadership from parents to adoptees. I am extremely proud to witness and take part in a community that shifts and changes to support Chinese adoptees. I’m not going to sugar coat it, these changes take time and collective effort—but the love and care to make these changes is what makes community so powerful. I acknowledge that some adoptees choose to join existing communities (i.e. White communities, Asian American communities, etc.). I don’t view these choices as negative. However, I think that it would be beneficial and empowering for transracial adoptees to recognize that they are essential to the building and re-building of whatever community they choose to be a part of– and that’s a form of strength through political and social action.

What I want you to take away from reading this, regardless of whether or not you are a Transracial Asian adoptee, is that there is power in community. You contribute to the building of the ever-changing communities in which you belong, and that has political and emotional significance. We need to acknowledge this so that we can advocate for ourselves and support others. And when we hear celebrities and frontline social actors telling us to “make our feminism intersectional” or “practice intersectionality,” we’ll understand that it’s not just a trend.

Rhianna Hopkins will complete her undergraduate studies in Psychology at The City College of New York in May. Before moving on to graduate school, she hopes to participate in an AmeriCorps program next year to work with students to improve their reading and writing proficiency. She is very passionate about helping and supporting communities that are affected by systems of power. In her free time she enjoys producing videos with the media organization at her school, walking around NYC with friends, and also eating her way through NYC (so she can take pictures for her shared food instagram @meanfoods). Find Rhianna here: Instagram: @rhiannahopkins22 Twitter: @rhi_22

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