Ja Du, a transgender white person from New Orleans, also claims to be transracial and identifies as Filipino.
Du was born Adam Wheeler and grew up loving Filipino food and culture -- so much so Du now identifies as Filipino, even driving a purple motorized rickshaw Du called a Tuk Tuk, an Asian-derived vehicle used for public transit in the Philippines.
“Whenever I’m around the music, around the food, I feel like I’m in my own skin,” Du told WTSP. “I’d watch the history channel sometimes for hours, you know, whenever it came to that and, you know, nothing else intrigued me more but things about Filipino culture.”
The comments make Du a member of a small, but growing, community of people who consider themselves transracial -- meaning to be born one race but identify with another.
Perhaps the most famous person to identify as transracial is Rachael Dolezal, the former president of the Spokane, Wash. chapter of the NAACP. Dolezal made headlines in 2015 when it was revealed she was born white, but identified as black and portrayed herself as such.
“I think things that made no sense to most people make sense to us on an individual level in almost every person, like a swelling feeling you feel when you listen to dramatic music,” Du told the Huffington Post. “It’s all sound and vibration but something in it relates to your soul on such a subconscious level that you connect with it, and [that’s] how I feel about the Filipino culture.”
Many members of the Filipino-American community, however, are not pleased, with some even expressing outrage at Du’s assertion, saying Du is overlooking the hundreds of years of struggle Filipinos have endured.
“For Filipinos, who don’t have the luxury of making the decision to identify as another race in a society where whiteness as a default places real constraints about how people of color can decide to move in the world, this smacks of white privilege in the worst way,” Ben de Guzman, an executive committee member of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, told Huffington Post, adding some of Du’s references are not authentic.
He said Filipinos more commonly refer to motorized rickshaws as “trisikels” not “Tuk Tuks,” a description used more commonly by the Taiwanese community.
In a video commentary, Filipino-American journalist Jackie Fernandez said Du’s comments highlight the “thin line between cultural appreciation and appropriation being crossed.”
“Ja Du says he feels like himself when he’s around Filipino food and music and that is fabulous, but to then say you are that race is both unrealistic and problematic,” she said. “Being Filipino means enduring racism, discrimination and micro-aggressions all the time.”
Du hasn't come out to family members as transracial, believing they will laugh at the notion of a different ethnicity.
“I believe people will [take advantage] just like other people have taken advantage of their identity to get their way, but the difference between me and them...is that I don’t want that," Du said. "I think that we all have the freedoms to pursue happiness in our own ways."