Wednesday, June 17, 2015

True Identity?

Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane WA chapter of the NAACP, resigned from that position on Monday in the wake of the news this self-described black woman is actually white. So this stirs up all sorts of questions about identity. If Dolezal feels like a black woman deep down inside, should she be accepted as a black woman? 

We seem to be OK with a person with a penis dressing as a woman, calling herself "Caitlyn" and we all agree to address this person as "her". Yet Rachel Dolezal self identifies as a black woman and does up her hair and apparently uses a lot of bronzer to look the part.  What is the difference between one person reflecting outwardly the true person they feel to be inside and another person who is just crazy?  

Is race like gender, is it something that we have a choice over regardless of biology? It's one thing to feel like a woman in a man's body or vice versa. Can one feel black in a white body? 

A mantra of equality is that we are all the same under the skin. The differences between races beyond skin color are cultural and social, set by centuries of racism and separatism. 

Unlike different races, genders are separated by genuine differences in biology. But isn't a lot of what is referred to as "feeling like a woman" or "feeling like a man" predicated on social and cultural expectations. These are differences based on how we expect men and women to dress and behave. Caitlyn Jenner may say she's a woman but she's not going to give birth. The extent of her ability to be a woman is she gets to wear make up and silk blouses; she gets to look like the woman she feels she is inside. Caitlyn Jenner gets to "be" a woman in appearance as well as how she feels and we acknowledge her as such.  

Can Rachel Dolezal make a similar appeal for a reconsideration of her racial identity. Can she be black inside and white outside? And if the white outside feels like a lie, can she declare that she's black? Is being black something you can feel, not just something that you see?  

Or is Rachel Dolezal a confused, delusional individual who needs help? I mean, who would actually choose to a black person in America today where there are constant assaults on dignity and liberty? To be fair, one might ask the same question about being a woman in America today as politicians act to roll back the hard fought and won freedoms of women.  

Can black people declare themselves "white" because they feel white? What does that mean? They have a propensity for mayonnaise, Kenny G and Volvos? History does record African Americans "passing" as white but that was to escape the oppression of racism against blacks and seize the opportunities that came with being white. But can someone feel deep down that they really are white, or black, or Asian? 

Rachel Dolezal may not be the best role model to spearhead this discussion of what does it really mean to be of a given race. She actively deceived everyone around her, engaging in a long term fraud to perpetuate her image as a black woman, doing so to the point she became a leader in a civil rights organization for African Americans. I imagine there is a sense of betrayal of trust on both sides of the racial fence.  

And the deceptions don't end there. Dolezal is an artist who appears to have plagiarized some of her art from other painters. As I said, she may not be the best person to be the focus of this discussion of racial identity. There appears to be quite a bit we can't trust about her. Can we trust that her self-description as black is genuine or is it just opportunism? 

But the discussion of what makes a person black or white is an important one to have. If we can figure out what truly makes us one race or the other, maybe we can get a handle on what truly makes us all human. 

Be good to one another.

Dave-El
I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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