Transracialism isn’t real

January 21, 2016 — by Isabelle Yang

As Japanese and Korean culture becomes increasingly popular in our society, my Facebook newsfeed has more and more often displayed posts about and links to koreaboo.com and various anime fan sites.  

In addition to the casual fans who share this type of content, there are also extreme followers who subscribe to the idea of “transracialism”: that members of one race can simply decide to identify with another race of their choice.

Although the term was originally used  to describe adopted children raised in cross-cultural homes, transracialism is now used to describe extreme appropriation of ethnic cultures.

As the “Hallyu wave,” which refers to the increasing popularity of Korean culture, has spread to the U.S., many fans that are not ethnically Korean have begun trying to “be Korean,” following everything from Korean celebrities to Korean diet trends.

Recently, according to the Huffington Post, a Brazilian man claimed to have gone through 10 cosmetic surgery procedures to look  Asian. “Max,” who was determined to “become a Korean,” changed his name to Xianh Nishi and claimed that after his procedures he has “become much more handsome.”

To obsess over another culture that is ethnically not ones own is odd. This extreme adoration that transracialism comes from is often based on excessive love for a certain culture’s media. Because of this, many “aspiring Koreans” have a skewed perception of Korean culture, since it is almost entirely based on the culture portrayed in Korean dramas and other forms of media.

But real Korean culture — like any other culture — is not, and cannot be, accurately portrayed by its media. But many who subscribe to transracialism fail to acknowledge this, instead taking advantage of and stripping cultures of their uniqueness, which only further contributes to unfair and inaccurate stereotypes of minority cultures.

This topic gained further traction last year when Rachel Dolezal, the former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People charter head of Spokane University, sued Howard University for racial discrimination. Despite the fact that her parents are part German, Czech and Swedish, Dolezal claimed to be ethnically African.

The concept of transracialism should be discarded because it helps more privileged justify their appropriation of different cultures, while still experiencing the benefits of their true  ethnicities. Many people are already stereotyping cultures by following  unreliable sources found on popular social media sites such as Twitter or Tumblr. These stereotypes, such as “all Japanese girls wear school girl uniforms,” are both unrealistic and offending, which opens the path for transracialism.  

Transracialism takes advantage of stereotypes and idealizes cultural insensitivity. Aside from being distasteful, there is the fact that transracialism is not a legitimate condition.

A culture is not an outfit that one can choose to wear one day and throw away the next. Self-tanners, lip injections and an obsession with becoming another race or ethnicity cannot help anyone have a more “exotic” look.

Eating kimchi and drawing thick brows doesn’t make anyone else who is not Korean become actually Korean. Wearing dreads and tanning your skin does not allow you to invade the spaces of ethnically black people. Becoming the stereotype  of another culture  does not change your race.

This idea of transracialism argues that the idea that some people today has gone too far in stereotyping and disregarding different cultures. It is unreasonable to believe that by simply following all of the latest trends of a country — or even getting thousands of dollars in plastic surgery — that you can become something you’re not.