The Widdershins

Activist Monday: A Question of Identity?

Posted on: June 22, 2015

Good Monday, all! As you have most likely heard, the Internets have been abuzz with the strange story of Rachel Dolezal, formerly leader of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, who has been outed as a white woman passing for black. In the past several days, she has first denied being white; then when her parents showed pictures of her as a blonde, freckled teenager, claimed to be “transracial” as Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is transgender. Now, Ms. Dolezal has floated the idea that she may not be her parents’ biological child…a claim that appears to be based more on wishful thinking than reality, if her brother is to be believed.

Rachel Dolezal, the embattled ex-NAACP chapter president accused of lying about being black, insisted this past week on national television she is not white, saying she had no proof she is her parents biological child.

“I haven’t had a DNA test,” she said NBC Nightly News. “There’s been no biological proof that Larry and Ruthanne [Dolezal] are my biological parents.”

Ezra Dolezal, Rachel’s adopted biracial brother, challenges her to take the test.

“She’s obviously related to my parents and she says she’s not, she should get a DNA test, that would definitely prove it,” he tells PEOPLE. “I don’t why she keeps saying it.”

I don’t know either, but it clearly means a lot to Dolezal to identify as black. I recently read a thoughtful piece by Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune, in which the topic of racial identity being potentially selective is interestingly framed in the context of Caitlyn Jenner, Donald Trump’s declaration of his candidacy for President, and the horrible attack in South Carolina. As Jones wrote,

…[W]e all live in a historical context, and our actions and desires are always read in terms of what others are doing. That’s not to say that the legitimacy of role-playing isn’t complicated — even many of those who fully supported and admired Jenner’s right to make a bold splash as a woman were aware that she had not chosen to depict herself as something close to what most transgender people experience. She was not photographed as herself — she was photographed as a retro icon, not as a woman, but as the image of a Hollywood star. That was a constructed piece of role-playing regardless of the gender of the subject.

Was that just Jenner seizing her own brand, which is wise for us all? Who does not want to be photographed with glamour? And why not serve as a role model? But some saw malevolence in the big-media machine, the creation of a marketable figure from which the authentic was airbrushed in favor of a new character, a siren with appeal for the voyeuristic.

That is the problem, of course, with the media saturation of these so-called controversies: However authentic or inauthentic the original impulse, the argument becomes moot. There is money to be made either way. No doubt Dolezal is already fielding many offers of representation — book contracts, reality shows, personal appearances, all surely are in the offing. Will that make the life of her African-American children better? Who is to say?

I wish I knew what motivated Dolezal’s actions. Who knows, maybe ten years from now a lot of people will come out as “transracial,” but for now, she’s caused quite a furor.

What do you think about this? This is an open thread.


22 Responses to "Activist Monday: A Question of Identity?"

Yet supposedly she sued Howard University for denying her a T.A. job and other things because she was white! Go figure! I’m loath to link to Politico but it was the first site that popped up in the search.

R.I.P. Gunther Schuller, wonderful composer and musician.

Also, Christopher Lee. Forgot to put that in last week. TCM is doing a tribute to him today and it’s not just the Dracula movies! 😉

I don’t know about Rachel Dolezal. Her self-identity is her concern. Whether she should have a leadership position in the NAACP is for the local and national chapters. I don’t have a right to have an opinion there. I just don’t understand why this dominated the news for almost a week. It should have been a local novelty story after the first day, but it hit just the right notes for the professional victimhood chorus in concert on Fox 24/7.

What I’m wondering about in a larger sense is this: Obviously there is a great deal of pathology around this woman and her estranged family. You don’t get their behavior without something being really, really broken.

It is a sad commentary when we culturally find fascination with broken-ness. Are we so insecure that watching broken people makes us feel better about ourselves? Sadly, we probably are and probably do.

Prolix asked: Are we so insecure that watching broken people makes us feel better about ourselves?

Of course it does. LOL! As you said, it makes us (some of us) feel better about us. For whatever reason this story took off on social media and the mainstream folks just had to pick it up.

I guess I do wonder if there is such a thing as transracial…

A person can physically transgender to the opposite sex, but no one can physically trans to another race. A spray tan and a perm just won’t do it. Now you can totally immerse yourself in an AA community and work for those causes, which the chapters praised her for. It really up to them, but I disagree with her using the term transracial.

I don’t really see Caitlyn Jenner as transgender. She didn’t transgender into a woman. She transgendered into a 65 year old sexpot with a new reality show, who still has her “manly parts”. But, I wish them both well.

Re transracial: It makes as much sense as transgender.

I haven’t paid much attention to the Dolezal story, because I’m still sick, and really don’t care what she does. Prolix has a great point…why did this weird story become so big? It’s barely interesting, I admit I was bored with it after reading the first story.

Re: Jenner, I have seen him many times up close and can tell you that that spread was photoshopped six ways to Sunday. His skin is very old looking in real life, lots of wrinkles and sun damage. He was very nice looking when he was young.

@4, I just don’t understand either the emotion or logic about reveling in the troubles of others. It is just so foreign to me to think there’s any currency at all in the ills that befall someone else. That whole concept just makes me very, very sad.

@5 & 6 — I’m never one to pass on the journey of another, but to be truly transracial a human would have to devolve into an animal or plant — at least on this planet because there’s only one race — the human race. I suppose there might be those who would claim a transethnicity and if that is the case, that’s their journey.

@8, Annie, where did you see Jenner? I was just wondering if he was one of those celebrities who encourages the paparazzi and then complains. I’m assuming he was Bruce when you saw him as opposed to post-transition.

I’m with branjor. Both those categories make as much (or as little) sense as the other. You can’t say one is valid and the other isn’t. Not based on any kind of logic, anyway. Both have easily noticeable biological, inherited components. Neither has “brain differences” that are inherited. Human brains are shaped by what happens to the body they’re part of.

The more interesting question is why do people respect the feelings of blacks on who is defined as being part of their group. (Dolezal’s feelings about herself don’t seem to be enough for that.) But women, apparently, don’t have a voice. The self-definition of any trans woman at any stage of transition is all that matters.

As a commenter at Feminist Current pointed out, that has actual legal and affirmative action consequences for the civil rights of the group who can’t define itself.

From the tv show What Would You Do?

I will always say “what Quixote says”

Prolix, I’ve seen Jenner many times over my life, he used to frequent a place where I worked, and he is a regular at a Starbucks where I meet my girlfriends. Haven’t seen him yet as Caitlyn, but the last time I saw him he looked feminine. He always seemed pleasant and had nice manners, unlike the rest of his family.

GAgal, I thought that was goofy at first, but it ended up being really touching! Good catch!

GAgal, that was an interesting video.

Now: could they try the same thing with dudes and the low-hanging pants? I don’t know of anyone who would defend those! LOL!

Okay a very generalized statement here but I always knew the Fox talking heads were total idiots and here’s a good example.

Yeah! Let me throw an axe in the middle of New York City!!! 😯

For anyone who hasn’t seen the interview of Hillary in NH: (this is from the comments on stillforhill’s Father’s day post)

I totally agree with quixote.
And I don’t see either trans identity (racial or gender) as valid.

quixote said: But women, apparently, don’t have a voice. The self-definition of any trans woman at any stage of transition is all that matters.

As a commenter at Feminist Current pointed out, that has actual legal and affirmative action consequences for the civil rights of the group who can’t define itself.

There was a very interesting discussion on this going on over at Uppity Woman’s blog particularly in regard to trans women (not completely trans quite yet) who are demanding the right to women’s bathrooms. Also, we were all kind of wondering about just exactly how the “T’s” got included into LGB issues. Honestly I have no idea of when and how transgendered ever got into the discussion of LGB topics.

branjor said: And I don’t see either trans identity (racial or gender) as valid.

Tell that to Christine Jorgensen or Renee Richards. Although, surgeries and removal of body parts aside, if you deconstructed them to their lowest levels they would still have an X and Y chromosome I guess. <—- That's the cue for quixote to stop by and give us confirmation on that.

annie@8: Meant to add earlier, but hope you’re feeling better soon.

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