Define yourself, or be defined
-Cass Corridor sidewalk graffiti-
I am deeply disturbed by lack of sensitivity people have shown toward Rachel Dolezal. For those unfamiliar with her plight, Rachel Dolezal was a Spokane Washington NAACP President who considered herself to be “African-American” or “black.” Recently, it became apparent that her biological parents considered themselves to be “White,” and using reasoning derived from Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” lyrics, “White man, white woman, white baby” journalists concluded that if she was born “white” she must still be “white.” Next came accusations that she was lying about her race, and that her “True race” was “white.”
The implication here is that a person can’t change his, her, or its demographic. Put another way, the paradigm at work here dictates that you’re personality must adapt to the body you were born with, and any attempt to modify your body to externalize one’s inner sense of identity is somehow phony or dishonest. Most people are comfortable in their own skin and don’t wish to change it, but that isn’t any reason to be so harsh on people who are not so fortunate.
To some extent, changing the way one looks, in ways that bypass heredity, is common and accepted. Genetics determines hair color, but people who feel they are more blond, brunet, or red head can chose to be that. Even then there is a bit of snobbishness. Ever see a blond rolling her eyes as another one passes and remark “She’s not a natural blond.” When I was first asked to fill out an application for my drivers permit I was confused, because it asked for eye color. Knowing that my eyes changed color (normally based on what I was wearing), I asked nearby people what color my eyes were. After receiving multiple answers I was tempted to write “rainbow” in on the form, but was later urged to call them “hazel” Since then I have seen people with purple and yellow eyes. There are contact lenses for that.
Switching other traits is much more controversial. This may be because they are groups that politicians like to pander to; the divide and conquer strategy of the establishment depends on a lack of mobility between demographic groups. In these united states of America collectivist politicians love the categories of “race” and sex.
Mobility between sexes has achieved an unprecedented level of acceptance. Lately there has been a lot of buzz about Decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner having sex reassignment surgery and changing her name to “Kaitlyn,” but Jenner walks a path that has been blazed and cleared by a variety of other individuals. One of those people was, the tennis player Richard Raskind. While he was successful as a man, he chose to become a woman. She went on to be the Tennis player Rene’e Richards. When Richards was first outed as being born a male, she faced criticism that was very similar in content to the rhetoric used against Rachel Dolezal now. Richards was accused of pretending to be a woman in order to get an advantage by playing against male rather than female athletes. They would say she lied about her sex. Athletic organizations banned Richards from playing her favorite game because the United States Tennis Association, established an unprecedented women-born-women policy.
Of course Richards laughed off the notion that men would be lining up for the emasculating surgery so they could play professional tennis against men. Of course transsexual and transgender people face different challenges then transracial people. [Side note: Gender is not the same thing as sex. “Masculine” and “feminine” are genders, “male” and “female” are sexes.]
One distinction is that there are structural, functional and chromosomal differences that delineate sexes (though many people are born as hermaphrodites with intermediate or combined sexual traits). Race, on the other hand is a social construct, or a look. The belief in distinct races is a myth largely promoted by the likes of eugenicists and slavery apologists, to serve their particular agendas. Modern humans don’t exist as distinct subspecies, like say wolves and coyotes. So it would seem that changing races is even easier than changing sexes. From a medical perspective this is certainly the case, but social acceptance has ironically proven more difficult.
While Richards scoffed at the idea that someone would have a sex-change simply to gain some advantage, it is possible that someone would, but so what? As a libertarian I believe in peoples right to do as they wish with their property, and the most valuable piece of physical property individuals can own is their own bodies. As a matter of enlightened self-interest, I would hope that anyone choosing to change ones physical identity to such a degree, would be doing so to be true to one’s self. However, that’s not up to me. There are other cases where people have “passed as” members of another race in order to gain an advantage. Examples include Carol Channing, and reputedly Dinah Shore. By “passing” they were able to perform in venues that were off limits to those who held onto the look that was then called “negro” or “colored.” While this is less ideal then people taking on a look that matches their sense of self, such pragmatic “passing” is still morally defensible. If it is to ones advantage to change one’s sex or race, then it seems to me the fault is in the society that makes these changes advantageous, not in the character of the person who is trying to better one’s self.
I don’t know Ms. Dolezal personally, but it is my distinct impression that she is transracial. That is to say, that she has chosen a racial identity that differs from the one that she was supposedly born with. If this is the case, then she can’t be said to have lied about her race. She simply changed her public identity to harmonize with her inner self. I have often been confused when looking at Federal forms that ask people to categorize themselves into narrow racial categories. This is probably more confusing to an educated person who knows that race is mythical then it is to a person who has been duped by racialist politicians. There it defines black as follows, “A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.” These forms also ask what one considers oneself, rather than what one is. By the aforementioned definition, any human could honestly answer “yes,” based on current paleontological and mitochondrial evidence, which shows modern humans to have a common ancestry in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dolezal’s parents showed an attitude similar to the attitudes people used to have toward members of the LGBT community. They said, “We hope she gets the help she needs.” The implication was that she was sick, and needed professional “help.”
There is one thing I have put on the back burner: She lied about her father. Lying is wrong and I don’t wish to defend it, but it is understandable. In an age of discrimination against transracial people, as is evidenced by the harsh rhetoric she has faced, she may have felt compelled to lie about her past. I suspect many transsexuals may hesitate to tell people they used to be a different sex, often as a matter of self-preservation. Perhaps unintentionally, Ms. Dolezal has opened the way for another wave of diversity acceptance. People who have been labeled “Oreos,” “wanabees,” and “wiggers” for instance, may soon be recognized as transracial. At least, that is, until we move past this categorical mentality altogether, and see people as individuals, and not members of politically defined categories.