Rachel Dolezal (from the desk of Jacque Borowski)
As many of know (since this is the topic of the day) Rachel Dolezal recently came out as, what one could call, “transracial”.
The comparison to “transracial” has been made to “transgender”. Caitlyn Jenner recently came out as transgender. For the most part, the world applauded her for her bravery. This article at “The Wrap” contemplates the struggle I’m having within myself, “If I accepted Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, why can’t I accept Rachel Dolezal as African American?” My first thought was “Dolezal lied” and it makes me angry that she lied… to so many people. But didn’t Caitlyn Jenner (when she was Bruce Jenner) lie to protect herself from those who wouldn’t understand? And I thought about it more and I realized that gender is a 50/50 chance we all have at birth. Race is not. Gender is also something that can be easily changed through surgery, Race is not. There are performative aspects to both gender and race (many of them based on stereotypes of what we think gender and race should be or look like) but, race is part of a person’s heritage and a part of a person’s identity that is attached to family history AND attached to world history. Being transgendered is not the same thing as being transracial. Gender and race are two separate topics as gender is part of sexual identity.
What if Dolezal had been adopted into an African American family and had been raised by African American parents? Might I feel differently about her lie then? Ellie Freeman, who identifies as “transracial” has an excellent article on this. She explains, “Simply put, a transracial person is someone raised in a culture or race different from their own.” The reason that Dolezal’s lie is so frustrating and baffling is that, as far as we can tell, she seems to come from a privileged background and is associating herself with a race that has been historically mistreated. Why did she do it? When I’ve discussed this topic with friends, most everyone agrees that she could have been a successful civil rights leader without identifying as African American. I understand that Dolezal formed a connection with an African American man she thought of as “dad” and that her sons are African American. I can’t blame Rachel for wanting to find her place in the world, wanting to find people that she connects with. As Ellie Freeman explains, “It is normal, and quite healthy, to be interested in another culture than your own. But if the people of that culture cannot pick and choose their own race – whether it’s biologically or through shared history – then neither can you. All you can do is be a good ally.” In fact, it’s arguable that she’s undone any of the good work she did as a civil rights leader by not being honest.