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Might as well talk about it - Dolezal and Transracialism?
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WheelsOfConfusion



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 8:22 pm    Post subject: Might as well talk about it - Dolezal and Transracialism? Reply with quote

So, this is happening. A quick chronological catch-up on the developments:
Credibility of local NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal questioned
The NAACP stands behind one of its leaders accused of 'pretending' to be black
Spokane police: investigation into Rachel Dolezal hate mail now closed
Rachel Dolezal sued Howard for racial discrimination. Because she was white.
Rachel Dolezal, in Center of Storm, Is Defiant: ‘I Identify as Black’
(At this point, I find The Nightly Show's rundown to be succinct if snarky: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/xk8faw/the-nightly-show-crazypants-white-lady-pretends-to-be-black )
Rachel Dolezal throws doubt on her biological parents: 'I haven't had a DNA test'
Rachel Dolezal's brother: She's 'making up more and more lies'

Now whatever else can be said about Dolezal personally, I don't believe this should reflect negatively on any work she's done for the NAACP. Let's not throw that baby out with the bathwater. The NAACP has stood beside her accomplishments under the organization, and I think we should leave it at that.


This is also, of course, bringing up discussion about whether or not "transracialism" is even a valid concept. So far as I know, Dolezal herself has not framed this as a trans-anything issue. Beyond "I identify as black," she hasn't tried to frame this in trans terms as far as I can tell. But the potential parallels have triggered debates and arguments anyway. I've heard from trans people and allies alike that this story resonates with their experience and the issues they deal with.

Transracialism? Rachel Dolezal herself? Media coverage? Society's reactions? Let us have whatever topical discussions that are to be had.
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I'ma open up by putting out where I'm at right now, just on the transracial issue:

1) I don't believe "race" as traditionally understood is a biological reality. It is a construction dependent on ethnicity, parentage, and broadly typified physical, heritable traits that, at the end of the day, doesn't measure up to the term as biologists use it. We are not genetically different enough to justify classification into human races, despite the traditional usage of the term.

2) I fully accept that physical sex and gender are two separate things, and that a person's gender can be at odds with their physical sex.

3) I accept that gender can be fluid, but still an inherent characteristic of a person that is not under their power to alter.

3) I fully accept that people can identify as a gender they feel is best for them and deserve to be regarded as such rather than their original or physical sex, because the two are separable.


I have not yet reached 2, let alone 3 or 4, with regards to "race." I am skeptical that the ideas are comparable. By "skeptical" I don't mean "that's obviously bullshit!" I can be convinced, but so far I haven't firmly rejected the idea. Neither have I seen sufficient evidence or argument to accept it.

The way I see it, inherent in the assumption of transgenderism is that genders are separable or distinguishable from each other beyond physical sex. But I'm not familiar with any similar concept applied to someone's "physical race" that could lead to a separation between it and a sort of "racial gender." I don't think there's even a term for it, though I haven't looked. The closest I can think of is adopting an ethnicity or perhaps enculturation, but that doesn't seem like a good analog. If someone is transracial, they're claiming the actual background as traditionally understood by "race." Race itself would have to be the gender-equivalent in this situation.

There are people who have a mix of 2 or more "races" in their recent ancestry and I can absolutely understand them identifying as one of those, even identifying as different ones at different times, in different contexts. But I don't think I'd buy it if a person whose parentage is half Irish, 1/4 Congolese and 1/4 Chinese, started "identifying" as Australian Aboriginal. Not until somebody can come up with a racial equivalent of gender, an inherent quality that isn't supposed to be tied to the physical characteristics and heritability that "race" has traditionally meant.
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mouse



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 9:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

when samsally said - what, a couple of weeks ago? - that she tended to look side-eyed at someone who identified themselves as something like trans-korean, i was in total agreement with her. but now this all has thrown me back into re-thinking things....and yeah, it's hard to come up with solid footing.

gender seems like it is a combination of a lot of things - biological sex, yes, but also the interplay of all the sex hormones and other hormones and cultural pressures and who knows what sort of brain chemistry. there is clearly a spectrum of how people see themselves, and i can believe that there is a biological underpinning to that which is capable of being identified (even if we don't yet understand it all). (hey, i'm a biologist! it's how i make sense of the world!)

race is pretty much entirely cultural. there may be some biological markers that are associated with what we call a race (blood type frequencies, melanin levels, genes controlling eye color and hair color and texture) - but society, not the individual, draws the lines that divide one race from another. i remember we used to have a time-life book (can't remember what series), and it had a page of photographs illustrating all the human races - and there were like 2 dozen of them, way more then we tend to use now. people from the subcontinent of india were a separate race, except we know they have a connection with aryans (the sort of ultimate white race), or they can be grouped as asians or with whites and of course the english called them blacks (of course they called pretty much everyone not pasty-white "blacks" but still). and if you look at people from india, people who would clearly be identified as 'indian', you can see skin colors anywhere from pretty white to african-black. so what does that mean about race?

and of course, black in america has its own weirdnesses, because we have such a fixation on the one-drop thing. you mentioned the nightly show - i would have sworn the 1st woman in the sketch was white (the one with straight blonde hair, thin nose and, as it turned out, a black parent). so why is she, and obama, and other children of mixed heritage, black instead of white?

when i heard that dolezal's parent's had adopted 4 black children, that had me wondering how that played into it - did that make her think her parents values black more than white? (and where did they find 4 black kids in montana?). but now she's on the outs with her parents, and in general seems to have some issues. and then i thought, what am i thinking - that someone has to be sick to want to be black?

it seems like the best thing to do is just drop race as a consideration anyway. we can't drop the concept of gender - it is too central to some of the most significant relationships we have, and to the core of who we are. unfortunately, we can't drop race, either, because it still has too much presence in our thought patterns, and too much impact (albeit baseless) on people.

but i don't know....maybe the first step is letting people decide what race they want to be. even if what they want to be doesn't have any sort of "biological" basis. maybe that's the way to start disconnecting it from how we treat people - if you can't make a snap judgement on my race, you sorta just have to treat me as human....right?

yeah, i know, not really likely.
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Rune



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PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 10:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Money is also 100% cultural. But I can't just suddenly decide that I identify as a multi-millionaire and try living like one without that running into some pretty serious, and very real, financial logistics. Money is a social construct, that only has value because we all act like it does, but just saying that I think I should be rich isn't going to accrue any more of that capital to my person. So, just saying that something is a social construct really doesn't get into the meat of how it works: who it affects and how. Social constructs are still real, and still have their own rules of operation.

So, yes, race is cultural, and it's also deeply tied to family and people's histories, and a huge weight of social capital and power dynamics. So, while coming up with a definition for what race actually means sounds a lot like Alton Brown defining what barbecue is, that doesn't mean it's not a real thing with real weight and a real history even so.

And here's the thing: white people have been wielding their privilege to define what race is and what it means as pleases and profits themselves for forever. One more white person doing the same thing, and cherry-picking elements of black performance to put on like a costume, doesn't challenge the social construct very much at all. It reifies white people's constructed racial right to define race for everyone as suits them, to occupy the spaces of any race they please. Regardless of history--white people get to re-write that, and center definitions of culture and race around themselves and how they feel about it, and the stories we want to tell. Doesn't matter if they're true. Doesn't matter if they're told over and eclipse the true stories of people who have had no choice but to be racialized by white people as a whole.

Whether or not a single white person has the power to exempt themselves from the place the social construct of race gives them, for whatever reason they may want to, misses the forest for that one distracting tree. The social construct existing in ways that non-whites are subject to no matter what they might individually choose or prefer, and all the ways the social construct disadvantages darker bodies is a much weightier matter for examination.

Only caring about the fact that race is a social construct so far as it gives white people an excuse to put on other people's races as a costume or a performance, as so many folks talking about it all of the sudden seem to be doing, is just plain messed up.

If we want to challenge the social construct, we have to face the full reality of what it is, what it does, and to whom, and not just play around with the idea in ways that justify yet another white person putting on cherry-picked aspects of black performance as pleases and profits herself.

White people redefining race, yet again, in ways that ignore and erase how we have used it against other people time and time again--that throw out that history of imposition and pain as if it didn't really matter, as if we can just move on without addressing it, as if it's trivial and unimportant to the matter of race itself--is to erase a very real history and the very real stories of those who have been so negatively affected. It is to, yet again, assert white dominance and erase the lives and humanity of racialized peoples. We have galvanized and reified the existence of race again and again through pain and othering, we have strengthened those divides to our own profit. We absolutely cannot just say, "okay, we're done with all that now, let's all just self-identify however, because that's what white people want to do now," and have that be the end if it. It's not that a white person would have to be crazy to want to be black, but it sure as hell takes a crazy level of reality-denial to think they have a right to step into and claim that space for themselves.

Not to mention all the enmeshed issues of cultural appropriation that are attendant to all this as a matter of course.

----------

Here's an interesting and important angle on the whole transracial adoption thing: http://www.thelostdaughters.com/2015/06/transracial-lives-matter-rachel-dolezal.html

Because "transracial" -is- a thing, just not the way everyone has been using it.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 11:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i was caring more about the fact that race is a social construct that white people have used as an excuse for denigrating, marginalizing or otherwise treating as less-human people that they classify as "other race". but as you say - there is a whole lot of history tied up with that, a big chunk of which needs to be dealt with in some way, which is why we can't just suddenly decide to throw it out.
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Sam



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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 2:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As I have mentioned before I find this whole event to be absolutely fascinating in kind of like an anthropological study in identity politics because of how people react to it and how it touches on the nearly identical process thus far by which transsexuality was accepted or rejected, and the battle lines that were drawn on that front.

Simply put, to rehash one of my earlier statements on it:

Second-wave feminist objections to transsexualism were predicated on fairly equivalent logic, in that they thought that men were using trans identity to appropriate female identity and invade women only spaces, by 'claiming womyn identity by fiat' - and now people are saying that Dolzeal is simply adopting black identity with her privilege and that it is equivalently invalid and appropriative.

the exact same process and very equivalent premises by which transsexualism was legitimized against TERF could hypothetically occur with transracialism, regardless as to how much Dolzeal is rejected outright today, because the ways in which Dolzeal is being rejected aren't really that differentiated from how trannsexuality was rejected within feminism. And this includes the many pieces i've read about how no, it's actually not like transsexuality at all.
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Rune



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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Race has a heritable lineage and family history component that gender does not, however. A person's sex and gender exists individually (within a social context) while race exists both individually and through family and heritage (within a social context.) That article about transracial adoption explains a few different angles on that. Any given population will have a mix of genders, but specific populations can be, and often are, racially related. And it gets deeply, deeply complicated, when you factor in matters of transracial adoption and mixed heritage. "Authenticity" struggles, "one drop" racialization, visual stereotyping, the inextricable history of slavery and class power struggles as the driving force of that racialization and a motivation for their maintenance, are all also a part of the picture of what the construct of race actually is. There are some parallels to gender to learn from, and there is a lot to learn from the intersections where they are not parallel but meet, but the constructs of gender and race are not straight-up equivalent.

Dolezal straight up lied about her family, her past experiences, and crimes committed against her. She didn't honestly express her identification with having black family members and living close to cultural blackness. She made up a past, and she made up a heritable connection where none existed. That both recognizes that the heritable connection is an important factor in race, and completely disrespects everyone who actually HAS that connection. And you know what? She could have lived as an ally, shared struggles as an ally, and expressed her associations and identification with a transracially adoptive family and all that entails without all the lying and fabrication. (That would have been much closer to an honest expression of transracial identity.) She could have been honest about what her family connection actually was, but she wasn't. Nevermind the bronzer and perm and whether or not that constitutes putting on blackface; the misrepresentation of her family and was a deliberate lie to manufacture a specific heritage that did not exist, (rather than openly claiming and living a heritage that DID exist but was socially repressed or something,) and comparing that to the struggle to live more authentically that defines gender transitions is a (pretty insulting) false equivalence. Trans individuals are not lying about who they are. Dolezal undeniably lied about a large portion of who she is.

The cherry on the cake is that she's taken it upon herself to police the identities and authenticity of people of color on more than one occasion.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 8:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i came across some stuff about the history of white-passing-as-black (it does have some history) - one part of which was, people passing as black in order to marry black people - necessary because of miscegenation laws. these again were cases of people deliberately lying about their identity, their family and so on....but they were genuinely subjecting themselves to treatment as a black person, and faced much more severe consequences than dolezal if they were "outed".

clearly motive matters, and dolezal's were clouded at best.

while i can see parallels with transgender, to me they seem superficial - the fact that some feminists considered trans women were trying to invade women-only spaces doesn't mean that is what was driving someone to live as a gender different from their sex.

i guess i see gender as an intrinsic characteristic, modified by extrinsic factors (one feels oneself to be female, but how one expresses femininity depend on culture). i don't think race is similarly intrinsic, it seems to me to be a label that has been applied in various ways in different places at different times - so (if, say, dolezal really was telling the truth) - how would her feeling white be different than her feeling black?
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 9:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

mouse wrote:
i guess i see gender as an intrinsic characteristic, modified by extrinsic factors (one feels oneself to be female, but how one expresses femininity depend on culture). i don't think race is similarly intrinsic, it seems to me to be a label that has been applied in various ways in different places at different times - so (if, say, dolezal really was telling the truth) - how would her feeling white be different than her feeling black?

This is about where I am too, which makes it frustrating in other discussions where people act as though not instantly accepting that people can "identify" as black is the same as being trans-phobic against transgendered people, or represents some kind of hypocrisy in accepting one but not the other (whether the accuser is on the accepting side of transgender issues or not).

I can get a sense that there's a "genderedness" that doesn't match one's physical sex. I have no sense of a "racialness" that doesn't match one's physical heritage. Am I supposed to just blindly accept that black people are different and distinct from white people in a way that's not just skin deep?
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 10:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

yeah, that's the issue - and then were does that leave biracial kids? does one have to calibrate one's racialness by percentage of heritage?

because everywhere that line of thinking goes just seems to be wrong.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 10:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

of all the current event issues i coulda accidentally prophesized did it have to be this one?
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 10:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

yeah, it's all your fault, Samsally - you and your side-eyeing trans-Koreans. Razz
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 18, 2015 10:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

mouse wrote:
yeah, it's all your fault, Samsally - you and your side-eyeing trans-Koreans. Razz

That's a trans-racist stereotype!
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Rune



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PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2015 12:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

On the gender issue, while it is frightening to consider what those who are already misogynists would do with the argument that male and female brains are different, outside of that threat the possibility doesn't concern me as being all that negative. Having differences is not the problem. Having un-nuanced opinions on what those differences are and what they mean, and wielding those opinions as a weapon against other populations in order to justify and maintain their disadvantage within the social construct? That's a problem.

After all the shit that white men pulled out of their asses about women and different races during the enlightenment era in order to rationalize their own abusive and exploitative hands, being afraid of demonstrable difference is completely understandable. However, it also plays into the construct that places white men as superior, because it says, "No, really, we're just like you," in order to avoid their boogeyman. (And that's been a game that a lot of people have been forced into playing by a literal threat to their lives if they don't.) Unfortunately, it's also a fragile argument against those who are invested in their own superiority, because any tiny little statistically significant result sends them back to their stuffy personal study in a smoking jacket and monocle to stare smugly out at the world. Screw those guys. You lose something just by engaging them on their own terms. Their terms are shit. There should be no burden of proof on women and minority populations to prove themselves to be just like white men before those lofty gatekeepers will stand aside and let us in to the category of "human being." You get shit like genocide and eugenics when that's the standard.

We're still working on social morals that confirm the rights of those who didn't win the kyriarchy olympics to exist as themselves, and for their own sake, (rather than to serve some purpose or another for those on top,) as an assumed moral right, not to be infringed upon. We're still working on centering our social morals on that, rather than on the kyriarchial perspective, itself. (You'd think that Christians would be pretty good at this by now, considering they've been purportedly following Jesus' teachings to that end for 2000 years, but that's another rant for later.)

Ahem.

Anyway, fear of there being demonstrable differences? Not so helpful, though perfectly understandable considering the history. But we gotta get over that shit, or "they" still win. The fight has to be against the denigration, dehumanization, and disrespect towards the feminine, and towards other cultures and histories, not just their erasure into a hetero-cis-white-male standard as a matter of survival. And that's some messy shiz that carries some real fucking risks, so it's no wonder people avoid that conversation in favor of speciously simpler ones that make them feel safer. (And might actually make them individually safer, and the blame for that still lies at the feet of those who create those unsafe conditions. But throwing other even less privileged people under the bus, like that terrible and utterly transphobic "What Makes a Woman" article that's going around? Way not cool, not okay. Ugh, it's a mess.)

Back to the racial question, when we're still waking up to headlines of black church shootings that sound like they were ripped out of the 60's newspapers, we've clearly got some work to do on just letting other races and cultures exist. When black people's simple right to exist is still that threatened on that fundamental of a level, we've still got some serious work to do.
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 20, 2015 2:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fascinating stuff: most of not all of dolzeals pattern wrongs and critical dishonesty are usually excused in their analogue form for transsexuals. I have so many questions now. But first I have to try to make that make more sense.
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 20, 2015 2:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You really aren't helping.
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