Recently I read an article about a Brazilian reporter “learning” as an adult that she was black. As Conceição Freitas writes, “I wasn’t born black, but from the time I was a very young girl my hair told me that I was from another class. I was raised in Belém, the land of caboclos (European-Indian mixture), half Indians, half blacks. If my skin was not black as coal, maybe I wasn’t black. It is probable that something in myself the girl has formulated this conclusion not to complicate my life even more.” It was only later, as an adult, that she came to a place of identifying with her black-ness, in large part due to her work as a reporter.
“I did a series of reports on blacks in the capital of the country – pele preta (black skin) is confined to the poorer satellite cities, the entrances of the blocos, the service counters and, because it’s now chic, in the designer stores of the Vogue style magazines… What made me black, after all this course of denial, fear and emptiness, were the pretas (black women) and the pretos (black men) who put before me the mirror of my color, shoulder to shoulder, equal to equal… There is a story that constitutes me: it is the history of my country, of the people of which I am a part. It is tragic, it is cruel, it is suffering, it is deep, it is strong, it is powerful, it is creative, it is joyful, it is solidary.”
The article is called: “Black? Who me?! It took me over 30 years to learn to be black”: A journalist explains the process that led her to becoming a black woman. and you can click here to read the full article on the website Black Women of Brazil.
On its own this is not exactly an expat/TCK related post, but I still thought about including it in a Recommended Reading post. Then I realised the reason it resonated with me is it’s a topic that’s coming up a lot in my current research on adult TCKs. I decided that instead of a quick introduction in a Recommended Reading post, I would take time to share with you some thoughts that are still in process.
My current research looks at adult TCKs and some of the long term impacts of international childhood experiences. I’m asking ATCKs about what they find difficult to adapt to, what lessons were most helpful, what areas they felt least prepared for. Issues of race, racism, and privilege have come up frequently. I have spent a lot of time recently considering the experiences of TCKs grappling with the implications of race.
What does it mean to be a person of colour in a country which has social and historical baggage of racism and privilege? And especially, how do you deal with this a young adult who has not participated in that social history as a child/adolescent?
What does it mean to go from being a racial minority expat to a racial majority local – and how do you understand your position of privilege in both settings, especially when you don’t feel a connection to the experience of privilege in your passport country?
How do you handle encountering racism as a young adult when you are new to the culture that formed it in your peers? Whether you are the object of racist treatment, or watch peers who look like you treating those of a different skin tone disparagingly?
How do you learn to see the privilege inherent in white skin when you are accustomed to it being someting that makes you stand out, your features stared at and perhaps mocked? When you grew up knowing you had privileged foreigner status, but that this was also attached to a darker side of attention?
I’ve now heard many young adult TCKs tell me stories of “learning” as adults that they are people of colour. The social implications of their ethnicity were very different in the international environment of expatriate existence. Moving to their passport country, or even to another international destination but into a local community, gave them a different awareness of race and what it means.
TCKs of East Asian heritage who grew up in East Asian counties before moving to western countries for university have told me of feeling they don’t fit into the cultural narratives there of what it means to be Asian. Especially when moving to their passport countries, these TCKs feel a sense of disconnect with the views and experiences others assume are theirs due to their skin colour.
TCKs of African heritage who have moved to live in the US, especially those with US passports (through birth or acquired later) talk about feeling both African and American, but definitely not African-Ametican – because that identity implies a whole range of history and experiences they do not share.
TCKs with mixed racial heritage have talked about how normal their background seemed while attending international schools – how normal it WAS in those contexts. Easily accepted and understood with little or no comment by their peers and even by teachers and other adults in the expat community. Yet on leaving that world, they experienced the discomfort of suddenly being seen as somehow “exotic” by others.
All of these TCKs have shared, to some extent, the experience of “learning” their racial identity as adults. I think that’s why this article resonated with me. As I said, I’m early in my research, but this is one of the issues I’m mulling over and plan to address in my new book. If you’re an ATCK with experiences you’d like to share, please get in touch with me – I’d love to hear your thoughts and add your perspective to the research I’m compiling. And if you’re interested to hear not about my research – including more on this topic – consider supporting me on Patreon. $2 a month gives you access to statistics and insights from my research as I work toward writing my next book – content I share exclusively with my patrons.