I’ve just spent 20 minutes looking for a blog post that engages with this question – can Third Culture Kids be racist? And it might just be my poor Googling skills but I couldn’t find one. So here I am, writing it myself.
Something that reared its head again and again during my research with TCKs was what I’d describe as casual, covert racism. The kind of “I love this country but its people are…” or “They shouldn’t club together to speak (any language other than English) when here at school/in the dormitory.” This latter I described in my thesis as language imperialism. That’s a fancy academic term for racism. It’s just racist.
I’m aware I’m being very direct. And that this might be uncomfortable. I’m wondering if I should have cushioned this blog post more, opened with some affirmations that TCKs are very cosmopolitan, tolerant and open-minded… and then I remember that there is a fair amount of that content already out there. And that I’ve spend 20 minutes of my day looking for a different affirmation – that the Third Culture Kid experience is not a vaccine against intolerance or against racism.
I am a White adult Third Culture Kid. I grew up as a privileged minority in a majority Black country. But the critical element of that sentence is PRIVILEGE.
My Whiteness gave me protections, exclusions and considerations that my host country peers did not have access to.
My Whiteness gave me precedence in childhood games, where my preferences were deferred to.
My Whiteness made me the powerful Helper, rather than the grateful helpee, in endless social interactions.
My Whiteness contributes to my racial bias, my own racism.
Being a TCK does not make me immune from these. My time in Black host countries, my Black friends do not protect me from the the insidious effects of privilege. As I wrote in this post, experiences of mobility does not automatically elevate me from these issues.
We can be racist. We are racist. And my time spent with Black and POC TCKs and listening to their stories is hard data that racism exists even within our most multicultural of communities.
We have to hear these stories. We have to look at where our privilege deafens us.
Here are some starting places:
The Black Expat – and some great podcasts they recommend too.
We have to listen. And learn. And fight racism. Even and especially from within ourselves.
Gréât post. I think that many domestic helpers from the local country are employed in house hold jobs also serves to demean and degrade the importance of this work. I agree we white and privileged have a lot to learn
Thank you so much for reading, and your thoughts here!
Hello Dr. Cason, I myself have been on a similar search like you to better understand the dynamics I see at play in TCK communities as a black, Jamaican-American ATCK. I wanted to recommend this article as a great point for reference for this issue: https://gal-dem.com/third-culture-kid/. It’s called “Immigrant vs. expatriate: on being a third culture kid” by Paniz Khosroshahy.
Some examples of these dynamics are the use of the term expat/TCK as being associated with whiteness and positive attributes, whereas the word im/migrant is a dirty word, associated with POC and negative attributes – even though both groups experiences’ overlap significantly. This is especially true in that I and my other non-white TCK friends tend to still identify more with immigrant issues and spaces than ‘expat’ spaces. I am very interested in bridging this divide and am editing a zine that puts TCK issues in the context of migration at large. (The zine is based on this older project: https://alynaomie.com/cross-cultural-perspectives.) As a part of a research project called Health and Migration, I can truly testify that to this reality.
Thank you so much for reading, commenting and sharing these resources, Aliyah! Words and terms absolutely are racially loaded (expat, immigrant) and problematic as you say. Thank you for your work in this area highlighting the inherent assumptions around the use of these terms. I’d be really interested to hear more of your work as you continue – do feel free to get in touch at email@example.com
Hello Dr. Cason, thank you for creating this awesome online platform! Initially, I was rather skeptical of the term expat, but now I am able to see that it’s not the terms that are the problem but rather the way they are used to differentiate people as “good” or “bad” migrants. At the end of the day, they’re just different kinds of migratory experiences and I’d love to leverage some of the “good” qualities associated with TCKs/expats to reshape how we think about immigrants – who also share TCK qualities but whose experiences are often less valued. I will be sure to get in touch and share more as I finalize my project!
Thank you so much Aliyah! Moving away from good and bad towards a more neutral (but accurate/realistic) framing of experience is so valuable… and freeing! Can’t wait to hear more of your work.
Another great article on this topic is “Please Don’t Call My Child a Third Culture Kid” by Pooja Makhijani: https://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2016/04/21/please-dont-call-my-child-a-third-culture-kid/. It also explores some of the same dynamics I mentioned about before.
Hello Dr. Cason, I wanted to let you know that I finished my zine and have sent you an email in case it’s marked as junk mail. Enjoy your evening. -Aliyah
Thanks Aliyah – checking now!
Hello Rachel – I finally have a link to share for the zine. Thanks for your interest and support! Hope you and your family have a nice holiday season.
Thank you so much for sharing!