“I’m born African, yet the only languages I know are German and English,” Rupi said.
Rupi, a 26-year-old Black woman, was adopted into a white German family at a very young age. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Rupi felt as if she was white and German. Yet her insecurities and peers constantly reminded her that she is Black. Rupi said she never felt like she belonged.
Rupi told the Daily Dot that as an adult, she discovered “race change to another,” or RCTA, the concept that people can change their race. (It’s sometimes also called ethnicity change to another, or ECTA.) Rupi, who asked to use a pseudonym due to bias against the controversial practice, said RCTA made her feel as if she finally belonged.
In an attempt to appear whiter and avoid racial harassment, including being called slurs, Rupi said she purposefully hides her skin color. She often wears long-sleeved shirts and ankle-length skirts. She also styles her hair so it covers as much of her face as possible.
“If I had enough money, I would 100% bleach my skin,” Rupi said.
RCTA first became known in late 2022 when people started sharing screenshots from private Discord servers dedicated to the practice. The posts revealed that most people attempting to “change” their race are Gen-Z or Gen-Alpha—people born in or after 1997 and 2010, respectively—with an affinity for East Asian culture. Many members of the RCTA community endeavor to look like they are from the region. The practice has ignited furious debate between people who claim that it’s racist and misappropriation, and the RCTA community who insist that it’s merely their way of making their physical appearance match the way they feel inside.
“Throughout my life, I was not comfortable being white in a world that is so progressive to minorities. When I saw the BLM protests and how much they welcomed and supported each other, I knew that was who I was meant to be. However, I had no knowledge of what RCTA was until recently!” Adia said in an interview with the Daily Dot. Adia, who says they have transitioned from white to Black, asked to be referred to by their online pseudonym due to stigma against RCTA.
TikToks and social media posts about RCTA reveal what happens when someone joins the community.
The process often begins with new members “claiming a face” that they want theirs to resemble. The faces claimed are often those of models and influencers, but can also be random people. The person whose face is claimed is not asked for consent.
After claiming a face, people who aspire to change their race use practices known as subliminals and manifestations in the hopes this will make them more closely resemble that of the claimed face. While experts say it is physically impossible, people who identify as RCTA believe these methods can actually alter their physical appearance.
Subliminals are videos that contain audio and visual cues, which people play while they sleep in the hopes that it will cause them to physically transform. In July, a 15-year-old practitioner told NBC that she believes that listening to YouTube videos with lo-fi music and photos of East Asian people has made her look more Japanese. The teen was reportedly born in Ukraine and lives in the United States.
In July, a TikTok account dedicated to decrying the practice posted a purported screenshot from a server where people talk about changing their race. A user there wrote, “I’ve been listening to subliminals whilst I sleep and my eye color has gotten way darker!!! Do my eyes look more Mexican now? I think they do but I’m not sure[.] I’ve also been tanning so my skin is darker now also!!”
People who aspire to change their race also use manifestation, a spiritual practice that has become popular in recent years. Through manifestation, people believe that they can create a desired outcome through the force of their will, such as a promotion, getting their crush to fall in love with them, or even altering their appearance. By convincing themselves that they belong to their desired race, RCTA adherents believe that their subconscious will follow suit and change the way they look.
Facial plastic surgeons the Daily Dot interviewed all agreed that subliminals and manifestations cannot change your appearance. Instead, they recommend surgery or other cosmetic procedures to change one’s looks to more closely resemble that of the desired race.
“I’m unconfident about the effectiveness of these practices in changing facial features,” one surgeon said. “I recommend visiting an expert and consulting them about possible solutions…helping you feel good about yourself is our job after all.”
None of the surgeons wanted to be named due to the controversy surrounding RCTA.
Few people outside the RCTA community believe that subliminals and manifestation will change a person’s looks.
One of the transracial subreddit moderators, arisu.exe, told the Daily Dot, “I think if one relies on sublims and thinks they’re gonna work, they’re gonna be disappointed when they don’t. A transrace person I know said that happened to them and they just felt like they were dumb and wasted their time.”
People who believe in RCTA are undeterred by the skeptics, though. They find affirmation in the community and, they say, in the mirror.
As they progress toward their goal, members of RCTA groups share pictures of their progress to seek feedback and validation, which they may not get from friends and family. Some say they hide their efforts to change their racial appearance from family; others report that their family rejects them outright for identifying as part of the RCTA community.
“I am more out [about being RCTA] with friends and people in my daily life than family because they are offended that I am not proud of my lineage. Though I have gotten hate, I know the Black and RCTA community accepts me and supports me,” Adia said of the online support groups.
Once the internet learned about RCTA, people were quick to mock the community for racism, fetishization, and cultural misappropriation. RCTA practitioners have been disparagingly referred to as Weaaboos (Japanophile), Koreaboos (Koreaphile), and other derogatory terms. Critics say that people who believe they can change their race are delusional at best.
The controversial practice nevertheless has a dedicated following. TikToks that include “RCTA subliminal” have over 300 million collective views. TikToks about RCTA have been watched nearly 500 million times. Some people cheer the transformations. Others troll the posts or poke fun by claiming they are also RCTA, then using a TikTok filter to change the color of their eyes.
One critic recently commented on a TikTok about the practice, “RCTA is racist. You just gotta embrace what ur born with and trying to change your race to something else is disrespectful to the race that you originally were and all your ancestors.”
Another facetiously commented on a TikTok by a purported RCTA practitioner, “I was first a flower pot and now I’m a chair.”
Since the public has become aware of RCTA, a wave of trolls have snuck into private groups to expose and bully adherents. Some people in the RCTA community have been doxed and had their photos or other sensitive information posted on public forums without their permission. This has helped foster a culture of fear and mistrust.
“Do you know how it feels like when every single support group you find is either bait or full with trolls?” Rupi said of the infiltrators, adding, “There is no place for people like us. Just leave us alone.”
While much of the online content about RCTA is created by people who want to become East Asian, the community includes people attempting to transition to and from a wide variety of races.
Common patterns emerged among people who spoke to the Daily Dot about their experience with RCTA. While many are motivated, at least in part, by an admiration for a particular race and a desire to change their own, others, like Rupi, grew up between two cultures—one they inherited biologically and the other sociologically.
“Well, I think there are a few other ppl like me, but my case is kinda unique as I am a Black woman who was adopted into a white family in Germany,” Rupi said.
People who practice RCTA firmly believe that their actions aren’t racist and that they don’t simply fetishize another culture. They liken what they are doing to a positive form of cultural appropriation.
“RCTA is not racism. We are embracing the culture of the race that we are transitioning to,” the administrator of the RCTAsafe subreddit told the Daily Dot.
There is some disagreement among the RCTA community about practices that outsiders deem problematic, such as face claiming and manifestation. There are two groups within the community: Those who believe in face claim, manifestation, and subliminals, and those like Rupi, who do not believe in these alternative practices and prefer more tactical solutions like heavy makeup and skin bleaching.
The former has been on the receiving end of most of the flak online. The latter are much less visible and rarely speak out about their transition.
There is one commonality between both groups. They claim being RCTA is similar to being transgender.
“We are trying to escape the bad experiences that we had with our past race. Similar to how a transgender person may feel more connected to another and thus change theirs. We don’t call transgender individuals sexist, now do we?” the admin of RCTAsafe said.
Many people, including in the trans community, resent this comparison. In a thorough article in Boston Review, academics Dee Payton and Robin Dembroff advocated against likening the two. They wrote that race isn’t simply defined by how a person identifies, but “is also a matter of how your community and ancestors have been treated by other people, institutions, and governments.” Conversely, they argued that transgender people do have experiences that are specific to their gender.
“…[C]ontrary to what anti-trans activists such as J. K. Rowling claim,” they wrote, “the experience of gender discrimination and misogyny is not limited to cisgender women—in many cases, transgender women experience more extreme forms of misogyny than do cisgender women.”
While RCTA has only recently become public knowledge and the most visible members of the community are highly online members of Gen-Z and Gen-Alpha, the concept has been around for many years. It is historically referred to as transracial.
A transracial person identifies as a different race than the one associated with their biological identity. This is also known as race dysphoria. Transracial people often adjust their appearance, language, and behavior to conform to their desired race—much like RCTA practitioners aim to accomplish via manifestation and subliminals.
While many people consider RCTA and transracialism to be the same thing, perhaps because of the youth of many who say they’re RCTA, and that many aspire to be East Asian (which is widely viewed to be inspired by pop culture, such as K-Pop), many who identify as transracial view the former as a passing trend. They resent being lumped into the same category as teens who say they’re changing their looks by listening to videos while they sleep.
Author Phil Illy has studied race dysphoria and transracialism, including by surveying people who identify as transracial.
Based on this work and academic research on the subject, Illy believes that RCTA is very similar to race dysphoria despite members of transracial communities rejecting the comparison.
“RCTA refers to imagining oneself as another race or having an enduring wish to be another race,” he told the Daily Dot. “It happens when a person’s race-based attraction includes the desire to be the race they love.”
Illy said that many people he interviewed who identify as transracial describe racial dysphoria in starkly negative terms.
One person described the condition as “hell.”
“It’s the most uncomfortable thing I experience. I feel hopeless and trapped when I experience it,” they said. “I feel physically sick when I see my reflection when I’m having it. Sometimes it feels there is nothing that can be done about it.”
RCTA people also often talk about loathing their biological race or ethnicity.
Rupi confessed that “there are days where I can’t leave my house because I’m ashamed of my skin color.”
Like their RCTA counterparts, transracial people will often resort to various measures to feel like they belong to the race they identify as. Methods include dyeing their hair, wearing makeup that makes them appear more like their chosen race, and altering their style of dress, language, and behavior. For those who can afford it and are willing to go under the knife, plastic surgery is another option.
Illy said that methods such as face claims, manifestations, and subliminals are all ways people use to feel a sense of connection with the cross-race self within.
“This inner connection can also be accomplished through dress, acts, or making art, to give some examples,” Illy said.
Assuming the identity of a race other than one’s own has a sordid history, particularly when a person who belongs to one racial group pretends to be a member of a disenfranchised race for entertainment or otherwise. Minstrel shows are one such example; blackface another.
Throughout history, there have also been people who belonged to a repressed racial or ethnic group choosing to live as if they were a member of a different race or ethnicity to escape discrimination or persecution. Up until the mid-twentieth century, light-skinned Black people who “passed” as white would sometimes live as the latter race. The 2019 documentary The Invisibles told the stories of how some Jewish people avoided being put in concentration camps during the Holocaust in similar fashion.
Living as a white person to avoid discrimination or dyeing your hair blonde so you wouldn’t be arrested and likely murdered by the Nazis is not seen in the same light as being transracial, however. Recent cases demonstrate that people are often outraged to discover that someone is seemingly living as a race other than that they were born into.
In 2015, Rachel Dolezal became the face of being transracial. Dolezal, the leader of a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), described herself as Black, although she was actually white and of European descent.
Overnight, Dolezal went from respected civil rights leader to national pariah. She was accused of essentially living in blackface.
Her story also sparked a conversation about transracialism. People who identify as transracial because they were adopted into a family of a different racial group than their biological race claimed that Dolezal was misrepresenting them and tarnishing their experience. Roughly two dozen transracial adoptees cosigned a letter accusing Dolezal of co-opting and misappropriating the term transracial.
“We find the misuse of ‘transracial,’ describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of ‘blackness’ in order to pass as ‘Black,’ to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous,” they wrote.
“Dolezal and others have perpetuated the false notion that a person can simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity,” they added.
The related subject of cultural misappropriation has become a hot-button issue in recent years. The accusation is predominantly lobbed at white people who adopt the language, dress, or aesthetic of another race.
Many accuse the RCTA community of cultural misappropriation. Arisu.exe, who moderates the transracial subreddit, called RCTA “a dumb Tiktok trend” and added that “they [RCTA people] have a sense of superiority” against transracial people.
Others believe that RCTA is more of a fetish based on admiration of East Asian culture. They argue that many within the RCTA community are reinforcing stereotypes and cosplaying as a marginalized group without the risk of being discriminated against or victimized based on their racial identity.
“By suggesting one can change their race, we are encouraging minimization [and] rejection of certain racial groups/attributes and fetishizing others,” Anjali Gowda Ferguson, a psychologist with expertise regarding racial trauma, told the Daily Dot.
“The ability to alter one’s race to assuage a desire is a privilege that is not granted to many minority communities whom experience life [or] death consequences for their racial existence.”
Some sneeringly call RCTA an online trend that’s racist at worst, cultural misappropriation at best. But people like Rupi say it’s a means of surviving another day.
“I don’t want to look pretty or stand out. I want to look like a normal German so when I look in the mirror I don’t feel wrong.” Rupi said.
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