I don’t judge Rachel Dolezal. For anything. On The XYZ we have had some fun at the expense of the idea of being able to change one’s race, and by extension that means we have, along with the entire internet, made fun at her expense. But I doubt you will hear many people say that they feel bad about it. I do feel bad about it, because I have no idea why Dolezal has acted the way that she has. It doesn’t mean I won’t speculate on it, and make judgements about society and politics based upon it, but I have no right to judge her.
So, moving forward, the story of Rachel Dolezal being a white woman pretending to be black is the elephant in the room for the “trans movement.”
For years, academics have being trying to tell us that gender is a social construct, or that there is a difference between biological “sex” and socially constructed “gender.” Extremely rare examples of humans being born with both male and female sexual organs, males lactating, or animals changing their sex; or the way in which gender roles or gender stereotypes have evolved since ancient times and especially in recent generations; have been shoehorned into a theory that gender is socially constructed and fluid, and thus one’s feelings on whether one is male or female count more than the facts. What were once obscure theoretical arguments have now entered the mainstream, with those seeking to make fun of Bruce Jenner’s recent “transition” to a woman quickly dismissed as bigots.
Likewise with race, ivory tower leftists have been attacking this very notion, arguing it is a social construct designed to reinforce repressive and exploitative power structures. But now, when a white woman pretends to be black, and then announces, in defence of what she has done, that she identifies as black, the same people who gushed in awe of Bruce Jenner’s “bravery” denounced Dolezal as a fraud, her claims as illegitimate, and basically make her out to be an idiot.
This is doublespeak on a grand scale. If gender is a social construct (and even though it is most often located with physical traits, this is not necessary) you can change your gender, that means that if race is a social construct, you can change that too. But instead, Dolezal, when referring to herself as “trans-racial,” has been told that “she does not get to use this term” (see: http://mediadiversified.org/2015/06/15/transracial-doesnt-mean-what-rachel-dolezal-thinks-it-means).Apparently, this term is already taken by people who grow up in a country or culture not biologically their own, and the idea that this term could now mean something more closely related to its “transgender” equivalent is just completely out of the question.
It has been argued that given Rachel Dolezal does not have black parents, and did not grow up a member of the black community, she therefore does not have the lived experience of racial discrimination that black people grow up with, nor the inherited trauma of slavery and generations of discrimination. But Bruce Jenner did not have the sledgehammer of reality that is one’s first period hit him when he reached puberty. He was not born with the generational trauma of foot binding. As an extremely gifted man, he was able to exploit his talents to their fullest, reaching the pinnacle of his chosen sport, bringing him adulation, wealth, and a beautiful family.
As left wing John Oliver said in his straw man argument in favour of mandatory maternity leave last month, “You can’t have it both ways.” But this gets to the heart of the matter. The people and institutions who have been driving this idea, once marginal but now becoming more and more mainstream, that gender and race are social constructs, have been having it both ways for years.
Regarding gender, the argument is made one moment that there are not necessarily any behavioural differences determined by whether one is biologically male or female. But when determining if someone is trans-gender, examples of behaviour which defy their biological sex will be cited.
With regard to race, consider what Dolezal said in her interview when trying to explain what she did. She said, “I identify as black.” Now think about it. If a white/ European/ Anglo-Saxon/ Caucasian person, whether it was someone in the public sphere or some regular guy you knew, said, “I identify as white,” there is one word that would promptly be shouted from the rooftops.
The beauty of this whole saga is that it has revealed the absurdity of the whole academic construct that gender and race are themselves constructs. The whole argument rests on denying the undeniable facts staring one directly in the face. A is A, but the “race is a construct” construct tries to argue that A is B. One could not have hoped for a more fortuitous chain of events, for the same people who were praising a man for changing into a woman one week, to be condemning a white woman for identifying as black the next.
But I guarantee you that it will be these same people, in a few years time, who will be arguing in articles or on talk shows, through memes, or through whatever new form of communications get invented, that whoever they have chosen as their cause célèbre is a pioneer for wanting to change their race.