Friday, June 12, 2015


One of the disheartening things about the Rachel Dolezal story is how easy she's making it for self-satisfied right-wing snarkers:
Controversy is swirling around one of the Inland Northwest’s most prominent civil rights activists, with family members of Rachel Dolezal saying the local leader of the NAACP has been falsely portraying herself as black for years....

Dolezal is credited with re-energizing the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. She also serves as chairwoman of the city’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, where she identified herself as white, black and American Indian in her application for the volunteer appointment, and previously was education director for the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene.

In recent days, questions have arisen about her background and her numerous complaints to police of harassment. Members of her family are challenging her very identity, saying she has misrepresented major portions of her life.

Dolezal’s mother, Ruthanne Dolezal, said Thursday by phone from her home in Northwest Montana that she has had no contact with her daughter in years. She said her daughter began to “disguise herself” in 2006 or 2007, after the family had adopted four African-American children and Rachel Dolezal had shown an interest in portrait art....

Ruthanne Dolezal said the family’s ancestry is Czech, Swedish and German. She said the family does have some “faint traces” of Native American heritage as well.
The winger jokes write themselves:

And from Instapundit:
SHE’S TRANS-BLACK. DON’T SHAME HER.... She’s obviously transitioning, and we should support her choice.
Har de har.

Okay, then, let's have this conversation.

I'm not going to back off on support for trans people because sexual feelings and, by extension, gender self-perception are internal and visceral. There are clearly quite a few people on the planet with "gender dysphoria" that needs to be dealt with. Encouraging people with gender dysphoria to live as part of the gender with which they identify seems sane and humane.

But black people's problems in this society are external -- if you're black, what you're dealing with is how a majority-white culture treats you based on skin color.

So, no, it's not hypocritical to embrace Caitlyn Jenner and reject the claims of Rachel Dolezal.

I generally agree with what Elinor Burkett wrote in her New York Times op-ed "What Makes a Woman?": we should "create space for everyone to express him-, her- or, in gender neutral parlance, hir-self without being coerced by gendered expectations," but we should also acknowledge that a woman who lived many decades as a man hasn't had the same experiences as someone who's lived as a woman all her life:
People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women ... shouldn’t get to define us. That’s something men have been doing for much too long....

Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.
Substitute race for gender and the same applies to Rachel Dolezal. She hasn't had a black person's life.

As for whether she's innately, viscerally black, in a way we ought to recognize, sorry, but I'm skeptical. Sex and gender are felt from the inside, and I don't believe race is felt the same way. Your mileage may vary. But no, I don't buy the notion that acceptance of trans people boxes us in with regard to Dolezal.


repsac3 said...

Seems to me that white folks and conservatives are more affected and vocal about the story than liberals and blacks.

I'm not altogether sure what makes a person "black" or "woman" or "Jewish". There's visible physical characteristics and genetics, and then there's culture, beliefs, and how one lives. Is a light-skinned biracial guy who listens to rock music, votes Republican, has an upper-middle class career and dates white women more or less "black" (or "white," for that matter) than a dark skinned man whose life is more typical of most black men?

My take is that transwomen share some identity with cis women, some with transgender folks, and yes, some with cis men. A particularly dark skinned Hispanic or white man may face (and thus understand) as much or more in-the-moment racial discrimination than a very light skinned black man. I don't think any of this is (forgive the expression) black or white.

I'm marginally concerned that the woman was and is misrepresenting herself, and that leads me to question some of the bias incidents she has reported, but if she's doing a good job and the NAACP membership isn't overly concerned, neither am I. It's not my decision to make... (...and I'm certainly not going to take to social media to verbally bully and beat her up. So much of that--as always--says more about who they are than who she is.)

Victor said...

The real shame of this is, that all of the good work she did will now get lost in the media sauce, and Reich-Wing outrage.

I've worked with the NAACP in NC in the past, and I remember that there were white people in a few leadership positions. Of course, looking back, I seem to remember that the white folks I knew were married to black spouses.

And Steve, I think you're on the mark on about people like Jenner and Dolezal know the full scope of experiences that women and black people feel.
Jenner has new experiences to live through, and Donezal will have to deal with the humiliation she brought on herself by faking her racial background.

This is a sad story all the way around.

Philo Vaihinger said...

If she identified herself as a 17 foot tall angel from Tralfamador would we have to play along?

Just wondering where we draw the line here.

Or don't we?

Anonymous said...

What about Michael Jackson? I don't remember there being a groundswell of support for his altering the skin tone and bone structure he was born with.

Joey_Blau said...

"But black people's problems in this society are external". Err no. Not all of their problems are external. Some blacks act in self destructive patterns, and suffer more from it than say whites With the same patterns.

But blacks have honed a harsh anti social attitude where random people.they meet are considered marks and targets for muggings. If they all wore gang colors and rode motorcycles you could tell the difference... but in nyc black people are normal until they are beating the crap out of you.

Unknown said...

J_Blau, got JUST the author and mag for you: name's Podborsky, he runs and rights [sic] for commentary, and he's got stadium rally-full of emphathy with your anxieties.

Grung_e_Gene said...

Well we continue to pretend conservatives arent black heated evil villains and republicans care about peoples rights?

marieburns said...

"She hasn't had a black person's life."

Really? Dolezal's parents reared her with black siblings, she married a black man, she attended a primarily-black college, no doubt many of her friends are black, she claimed to be black, & she has gone to some trouble to make herself appear black. I feel pretty certain that as she was going out & about with these friends & family members, strangers assumed she was black & treated her as such, for better or for worse. Sounds like "a black person's life" to me.

Add to that her gender -- women are marginalized as a matter of course -- & it may help you understand why someone who seems a little unstable (see the Daily Beast's reporting on that -- ) would choose to further marginalize herself. It's easy to identify with one underclass when you're born into another underclass.

petrilli said...

I can't see any broad-based harm done by this woman. The closest thing to fraud I can imagine might be a "Stolen Valor" type complaint, or just the fact that she lied to her employer. If the Spokane Chapter of NAACP is OK with her, who else's business is it?

The Caitlyn Jenner comparison is just specious on it's face. Consider the source. Instapundit. Trolling bros in backward baseball caps, nothing more.

To Grung's point, they're a constituency of people who want to benefit from white privilege, say racist stuff, but not suffer the stigma of being the bigots they are. The fraud from any of them who present themselves as decent human beings.

petrilli said...

Blau, I would tell you to go to Hell, but you apparently already live in one of your own making.

Philo Vaihinger said...

"Fine, let's compare Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner."

Well, they're both liars with mental health issues.

That what you meant?

Why are we doing this?