Rachel Dolezal has sparked a conversation that we didn’t even know we needed to have: Can one be transracial? Is it possible for one’s physical race to mismatch with how they feel on the inside?
Proponents say yes, transracial-ness is a thing. Much like a transgender person, they say, it is possible for an individual to be born “in the wrong skin.” Others are skeptical, arguing that the concept of “transracial” is purely another facet of White privilege, and that even if someone identifies as another race, they have the luxury of dodging the burdens that come with.
Regardless of which side of the newfound argument you’re on, everyone has an opinion. Take a look at 11 of the most thought-provoking quotes on the subject that have been floating around the web.
“It is a cardinal rule of social identity that people have the right to call themselves whatever they want. That’s as true for Dolezal as it is for Caitlyn Jenner. But with this right comes at least one responsibility: what you call yourself must be comprehensible to others…The problem for Dolezal is that her “Black” identity does not make sense. Right now, one can only speculate to her motivations. There are plenty of White people involved in the kind of civil rights work she was doing – particularly in Spokane, where just 2% of the population is Black. Her parents say that she had Black adopted siblings, had a Black circle of friends where she grew up in Mississippi – that she has married, and later divorced, a Black man. All of which might make Rachel Dolezal a white woman who identifies closely with the Black community. It does not make her Black.”
Gary Younge, columnist
“As people of color, no matter how hard we try, we cannot achieve whiteness, but the fact that a White woman can achieve Blackness and lie and take space and take resources and on top of it be belligerent when confronted is the epitome of White privilege.”
Rosa Clemente, civil rights activist and journalist
“The fundamental difference between Dolezal’s actions and trans people’s is that her decision to identify as Black was an active choice, whereas transgender people’s decision to transition is almost always involuntary. Transitioning is the product of a fundamental aspect of our humanity – gender – being foisted upon us over and over again from the time of our birth in a manner inconsistent with our own experience of our genders. Doctors don’t announce our race or color when we are born; they announce our gender. People who are alienated from their presumed gender and define themselves according to another gender have existed since earliest recorded history; race is a medieval European invention.”
Meredith Talusan, columnist
“I want to be very careful here, because I don’t want to say it’s the equivalent of the transgender experience. But there is a useful language in ‘trans’ and ‘cis,’ which is just to say some of us are born cisgendered, and some of us are born transgendered. But I wonder, can it be that one will be cis-Black and trans-Black? That there is actually a different category of Blackness that is about the achievement of Blackness, despite one’s parentage?”
Melissa-Harris Perry, talk show host and Wake Forest University professor
“MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry”
“There are people who are wondering how we can cheer on Caitlyn Jenner but not Rachel Dolezal. I want to start off by asking them to have a seat…Transracial actually refers to when families adopt children who are of another ethnicity or race as them. Transracial as it pertains to people feeling like they were born in the wrong skin is NOT A THING, and the comparison with people who identify as transgender needs to be deaded. Although race is considered a social construct, it’s still very real. Socially constructed things become real when they’re embedded in the culture…race is real because it has come to define our societal positions, and it comes with very real and tangible consequences. The idea that you can move between races is only possible in one way: White to Black.”
Luvvie Ajayi, blogger
“[This situation] shows us how stupid the construct of ‘race’ is. It can get you killed, and it can get you an NAACP presidency.”
Broderick Greer, activist
“Identity is very, very complicated and also very, very personal. It is very likely that someone can identify as White, but have Black ancestry given the vast among of racial mixture that has occurred. I do not believe that it is possible to be ‘transracial’ because race is a social construct that is not based in biology. In my opinion, ‘transracial’ does not parallel ‘transgender,’ where one can have the sex of a man or a woman, but the gender of the other.”
Allyson Hobbs, author of A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life
“To conflate trans folks with Dolezal gives credence to the deepest, most malicious lie there is about transgender identity and queer sexuality—that they are deceitful. Being a transgender person is not about misleading the world about your past, in terms of your lineage, upbringing, history, and experiences. It is not about denying who you once were and any advantages you may have had, personally and filtered down through generations. Increasingly, it seems this is exactly what Rachel Dolezal has done through untruths about her life and her experience.”
Khadijah White, Rutger University professor
“…Being LGBTQ, there is strong evidence that there is a biological [reason behind it],” says Derald Wing Sue, a professor of psychology and education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, where he has researched and studied racial identity. “Caitlyn Jenner is not identifying with being a woman because of the upbringing and cultural conditioning…Most people who are transgender, [when they are] as early as 4 or 5, believe already that at some level that they are a child born with the wrong anatomy. I don’t see this [with Dolezal]”
Derald Wing Sue, Columbia University psychology professor
“You can’t choose your position in the hierarchy. The political designation of race is a function of power—or, put differently, you are whatever the dominant group says you are. A Nigerian immigrant might not identify with black Americans, but she’s still “black,” regardless of what she says, and if she gets pulled over by the police, that identity will matter most. And on the other end, a black American with dark skin and African features could identify as white with her friends, but in society, she’s black, regardless of how she feels.”
Jamelle Bouie, columnist
“[Transracial] plays into racial stereotypes, and perpetuates the false idea that it is possible to “feel” a race. As a white woman, Dolezal retains her privilege; she can take out the box braids and strip off the self-tanner and navigate the world without the stigma tied to actually being black. Her connection to racial oppression is something she has complete control over, a costume she can put on—and take off—as she pleases.”
Zeba Blay, columnist,
The Huffington Post
What are your thoughts: Can “transracial” be a real identity?