What is the difference between a woman who is genetically white and feels culturally black versus another who is genetically male but feels biologically female?
Monday morning, I drank coffee with a friend and we got to talking about Rachel Dolezal, the former Washington state NAACP leader who was born Caucasian- to two white parents- but now identifies as black. The media has called her “trans-racial.” While my friend argued that race is simply a social construct, I explained to her that I, as a person of color, could never be considered “trans-racial” myself.
Growing up, I wanted to be white. I wanted to have “white” hair. I was envious of girls with smooth, silky hair that never kinked up when it got wet. I wanted to fit in better amount my white friends at school- I still remember the day this guy in my ninth grade biology class said I “talked white.” (I never had many black friends in school for I was teased a lot.) Through out college, I thought that my life would be in less danger if I were white (no one would pull up aside me and call me a “nigger” as I biked to class)…
I understand that ethnic experience is different for everyone and yes, I agree that race is a social construct rather than a biological one (unlike gender). When talking about Ms. Dolezal compared to Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) who was featured on the July cover of “Vanity Fair,” I’ve explained to people I didn’t come out of the womb wanting to be white (unlike like the transgender people in my life who knew since birth that they were born the wrong gender). As I grew up and observed the world around me, I noted that being white would be easier and, in a sense, better.
Blogger Rafi D’Angelo writes:
One last strike against anyone claiming to be transracial: It only works one way. Only white people can claim to be another race on the inside and then “perform” that race because race operates with white as the default. Racial classifications are based on deviations FROM whiteness.
The thing that bothers me about Ms. Dolezal is that I could never pull off what she did- neither most black people I know. Even though my hair is dyed blonde and straight due to a Brazilian blowout, it will always be kinky when wet. I would have to go to extremes with bleaching my skin and getting plastic surgery to shrink my wide nose in order to look the part. Plus, there will be always that one drop rule. I know that changing my wardrobe and my hair doesn’t make me white. Being black isn’t about the color of your skin or the style of your hair. It’s has historical, social and political attachments that come with the identification.
Above all else, we need to stop comparing Ms. Dolezal to Ms. Jenner. Dolezal was born a white woman. She will always be a white woman, and therefore, she will never live the experience of a black one. Jenner, on the other hand, has always been a woman- she was just born in the wrong body (gender isn’t about the type of genitals you possess but about chemicals in the brain that align in a particular sequence that affects how one identifies oneself.). It’s the difference between living a lie and living your truth.