Rachel Dolezal is the future liberals want. So let’s talk about it.

I’m not Black. Not even the most generous liberals would indulge claims to the contrary. I wasn’t born Black, I wasn’t socialised Black. My hometown was over 90% White and less than 2% Black. I can’t speak for the identity of Blackness or what it means to be Black.

Today I live in an ethnically diverse city with friends of all backgrounds. Still, most of what I understand about the experience of Blackness comes from seeking out writing and art from contemporary Black voices. I look to Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Colson Whitehead, Kendrick Lamar, and countless strong Black voices on Twitter. Even so, I can only imagine what it’s like to be born Black. To come into awareness of one’s Blackness, to grapple with what Blackness means for you.

Blackness is not a monolith, either. Young Black people write about finding their Black identities. They write about being chastised in school for speaking in AAVE or goaded by their friends for sounding “too white.” Reni Eddo-Lodge writes in The Good Immigrant, “It is up to you to make your own version of blackness in any way you can – trying on all the different versions, altering them until they fit.”

So I can understand why Black Twitter has a lot to say about Rachel Dolezal. It must be disconcerting to listen to a White person with a tight perm, too much bronzer, and a book deal talk about how she’s always just “felt Black.”

What does it mean to be ‘transracial’?

Trans activists are upset by Rachel Dolezal’s “transracial” claim. Some say she trivialises the experience of gender dysphoria. Meanwhile, many gender-critical radical feminists question whether there’s a difference at all.

There are parallels: like race, gender is a social construct. Like race, gender is used to subjugate a class of people who tend to share certain physical features (dark skin, secondary sex characteristics). Like race, gender forms a critical component of identity. And some group stereotypes, which once served to reinforce oppression of the out-group, become points of unity and pride.

Now Rachel Dolezal has packaged those stereotypes up as the “essence” of that group, and she defines herself in relationship to the fictional monolith she calls “Blackness.”

I hope that people on all sides–White, Black, man, woman, trans people–can see why this resonates with many women. We are women born female. We have grappled with what this identity means. And we’ve been policed to death for being “too feminine” or “not feminine enough,” sometimes in the same sitting.

To have someone adopt all the stereotypes of that identity and to say, “yes, this is me, I am this! I have always felt this way!” It feels like my identity has been flipped on its head. All the things I spent my whole life unlearning–the feeling and the performance of femininity–others now use to define womanhood.

The future that liberals want

Liberals embrace the right of anybody to identify in a way that feels authentic to them. This is the question we’ve ignored for too long: how do we respect the individual’s right to self-identify, while also respecting the experience of people in the oppressed class?

It’s evidently reasonable that people like Rachel Dolezal acknowledge the privilege of growing up White, even when they choose to identify as “trans-racial.” Gender-critical feminists will seize this opportunity to highlight the parallels and ask for the same respect.

A postscript

If you like what you read here (or just came for the Dank Meme Stash) please consider liking PWMR on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks fam!

Leave a Reply