Since Rachel Dolezal's story went viral, "transracial" has been incorrectly used to describe people who identify with a race different from their own. In reality, transracial refers to children who are a different race than their adopted parents.

—Franchesca Ramsey[1]

Chantal Rich and her transracial family.[2]

Transethnic or transracial refers to identifying as a member of an ethnic, cultural, or national group other than the category one belongs to in terms of social, state, and/or other forces.

Transethnicity has two meanings:

  1. a racist transphobic trolling and derailling tactic deployed when trans oppression is being discussed, e.g., a White American person deciding to identify as African American, to use African American Vernacular English, and so on;
  2. an umbrella term that covers all cross-cultural/-racial-/ethnic adoption, e.g., an ethnically Palestinian child who has Black British adoptive parents.

Both these meanings will be explained in this article. The former usage of the term is damaging to both the latter and to discussions on transgender issues.


The term in the context of derailing discussions about trans issues probably originates from a Tumblr troll.[3]

The inherent problem with this style of thinking is that it is a false equivocation. Racial, ethnic, and national identity, unlike gender identity and orientation, is dependent almost exclusively upon external forces (as seen in adopted children). It is not a self-concept.

Another major issue with transracialism is the reality of cultural fetishization by members of the dominant social group, e.g., a white Westerner appropriating East Asian practices and identity. One could consider transracialism an extreme form of cultural appropriation, as it involves the degradation and theft of oft marginalized groups' distinct social identities. Ultimately, even if a White individual "sees themselves" as Navajo, they will never be able to fully comprehend and experience life as a member of that Nation.

Academic use

The academic usage of the term to mean the adoption of a child from a different ethnic, racial, and/or national background is widespread, pre-dating the use of the trolling tactic mentioned above.[4]

Transethnic and transracial adopted children, meaning both their parents are of a different race/ethnicity/nationality to them, benefit from research into their experiences. Studies into transethnicity and parenting have found evidence for why race blindness is a damaging concept to teach children:

One theory could be that transracially-adopted children are more obviously different from their parents and so have a greater need to know and understand their racial identity. A more likely explanation is probably that transethnic parents of Latino children are less likely to impart ethnic terminology to their children than their transracial counterparts. The fact that many of the transethnic adopted people in Andujo’s study used color as a self-descriptor rather than ethnic terminology would seem to confirm the second theory. These children had no language to attach to the difference they perceived between themselves and their parents and the dominant Anglo society. They appeared to use color descriptions to delineate their ethnicity because they had not been given the confidence to use ethnic descriptions the way the same-ethnic adopted people had. [5]

By listening to, and learning from, transethnic and transracial adoptees researchers can further understand how the racism in society interacts with race identity:

Here, Sheila, who earlier spoke of transracial adoption’s positives, says she felt disconnected from her adoptive family because they did not look like her racially. This caused her to question their parental insights as relevant. Further, lacking connections not only with Black persons but with persons who were multiracial, Sheila and others noted the lack of a racial reference group as leaving them racially alone to “fend” for their own survival in a highly race conscious world:

Somebody who’s always grown up looking like their family … everything just comes natural. But with me, everything was questionable. They’re my family, but I’m not totally like them. What could my parents teach me about being me, when they don’t know what it’s like to be around White people and always be different? To always look different. They can teach me what it means to be like them, which is pretty much what happened. When I looked at them, I didn’t see me. You know … I saw THEM (motions away from herself). You’re constantly … on the battlefield … out there to fend for yourself and it’s like you just never have anything to compare yourself to. You’re always alone from the git-go, even though you’re NOT. Even though your family’s there with you—you’re still always alone.[6]

See also

External links