Can we talk about this lady who claims black identity, but has previously been white?


#1

Because she’s kind of crazy. Even Dave Chappelle won’t make jokes about her (YET!), this is so crazy.

http://www.theroot.com/blogs/the_grapevine/2015/06/dave_chappelle_on_rachel_dolezal_and_racial_draft_we_would_take_her_all.html

Isn’t this the ultimate in a white ally making it all about them? Because that’s what it feels like.

[ETA] I changed the title of the topic because several folks have mentioned that calling her crazy might be insensitive, and they are indeed correct. So I changed it to better fit the topic itself.


#2

You want to talk about trans-ethnicity?


#3

Does such a thing exist?


#4

Is it not everyone else that’s making it all about her? I mean, I can see why some people are upset and hurt about it, but I dunno - my brother is of mixed Caribbean and Arabic descent, but his passport says ‘White British’ which just says it all as far as I’m concerned.


#5

Can’t see how.

https://twitter.com/MiaFarrow/status/609400375599329280

She just sounds like someone with a troubled life who latched onto something. I did read that she went to a historically black college on a full scholarship though, so that might be something that’s going to be looked into.

Weird that this is all around the Coeur D’Alene area, what with the Aryan Nation history there - or maybe that’s why the press looked into this.


#6

But she’s basically said she’s black, that she’s a black woman. Not that she’s in service to the cause, or that she cares about the black community, but that she herself is black, and that the black struggle is actually her struggle, but she has had a lifetime of white privilege before she started to identify as a black woman. I think plenty of white people identify with black culture and marry into black families, work for causes that support the black community, but this seems like something different to me.

As for your brother - that’s someone else doing the labeling, right? How does he feel about his status?


#7

She sued Howard University for discrimination because she was white (over a job after he MFA there).

[ETA] It’s funny how only white people seem to be making the connection with transgender issues? I think that tells you something right there… I don’t think we can conflate how race and gender work in our culture. I think it’s different.

[ETA- yes, again] That area of the west coast is pretty white, actually. No surprise it has a history of white supremacy activities.


#8

She’s already previously sued Howard University (a historically black college) for “Racial discrimination” against her based on the fact she’s white, before she apparently decided a tan and dreadlocks made her count as a black woman.


#9
See Steve Klimczak

#10

I’m not saying it’s not weird. I just don’t think it’s her drawing the attention to it; it’s other people who are trying to police her race.

My brother presumably ticked that box in the passport application. It’s not like South Africa here - there are no tests. I doubt very much that he has always been treated as white by other (particularly, racist) people, but I don’t see why he should care what they think when he fills out forms.


#11

She sure seems to be doubling down. She didn’t draw attention to it for 10 years, because it gave her a veneer of authenticity from which to act as an authority of certain things, and she really didn’t have to. She understands black women’s hair, she didn’t need to pretend to be black to do that. She was sympathetic to the cause, well, she didn’t need to be black to do that.

But maybe there is a bigger issue to address here? I can’t really figure out what it is, other than how she is benefiting from white privilege as she is pretending to be black…


#12

@drew_G

The link you provided cites several ground, race amongst them. The article doesn’t provide the particulars - is it possible that she was protesting being categorised as white and denied support that she felt as a black woman, she was due?

I dunno, the whole thing seems bizarre but to my mind reflects the absurdity of racial categories in the first place - easy for me to say a s a white dude, of course.

The funny thing is though that gender differences are intrinsically more biologically distinct than racial differences, and yet somehow are less policed these days. I mean, some feminists ragged on transexuals in the 90s, including Germoline Greer, but it t didn’t get taken seriously. I’m cautious about the broad appeal this case seems to be attracting, since I suspect that regardless of who is getting angry, privileged white types win.


#13

So, she was using her whiteness to defend her supposed blackness? So she can gain some benefit that has previously been for black people who have lived in a country that has actively denied them basic human dignity for much of its history?

I think that’s an important point about the constructedness of race. The problem to my mind is that we’re still sorting through the mess that was created so that rich white people could benefit from the forced labor of people they deemed lesser than themselves. So, while race is a construct and we could work to deconstruct it, by tearing down the facade of blackness first, we would do the black community a deep disservice. As you say:

I think I can sort of understand where she is coming from. Being associated with the notion of whiteness puts you in the service of all sorts of nasty things that none of us should like and that we should actively rebel against, because it creates categories of people who are actively dehumanized. But I don’t think appropriating an experience that isn’t your own (as she has done) helps. Amplifying the voices of those who have had that experience helps… hence, why I think she’s making this about her, not about the black community and their struggles…


Bugs with the new BBS system
#14

Yeah, there’s a not so fine line that’s being walked here. Supporting a cause and putting the kind of energy and passion into it that you imagine people put into it who are directly affected, and thus feeling that you’ve “taken on” a cause is one thing, and a problematic thing in and of itself. Believing that by taking on a cause you somehow share in the affliction of an affected population is another thing entirely, and even more explicitly problematic.


#15

damnit, i have gone around and around with my academic friends, and i may have slightly estranged some because i am not part of their echo chamber. but here it goes, let’s see how many more people i can estrange!

flame suit prepped

the thing she did wrong was act unethically and lie in a position that requires spotless ethics. full stop, that is what she did wrong. fire her, don’t give her references, and move on.

the shitstorm about culture and ethnicity is what riles me up though. the concepts of transracial progress and positionality are great… when dealing with monolithic groups that act, think, and feel the same while being bound by common history.

but upon inspection they break down so fast. going through the original 1964 dissertation on positionality it becomes obvious to the reader that it is a zero sum game. an outsider cannot know the experiences of a culture. a culture can’t know the experiences of a subculture. a subculture can’t know the experiences of an individual. and the logical conclusion is an individual can’t know the experiences of themselves except in that slice of time. in fact, i guarantee you will see that play out in this case.

so while at a macro level it is a useful tool to use as a bulwark against appropriation, it has a limited lifespan. perhaps a few hundred more years, but at some point it will be irrelevant, as race relations will have got to the point that Irish/Italian/Polish have.

Two other points:

First, yes, you can culturally assimilate from a ‘more powerful’ group to a ‘more oppressed’ group, regardless of what your prof said. Whether it is bad is based on the positionality (tee-hee:D) of the individuals on both sides.

Second, positionality as a concept would be an excellent way to reinforce the Caste system! Since you are born in a caste, that is your culture and heritage, then of course you can’t move in between them! Why would a Brahmin ever want to be a Vaisya? He doesn’t have the same identity, heritage, or history. (this always pisses people off, since even sociology majors tend to forget that gasp India is also not a monolithic country with a monolithic culture).

She’s now fired and resigned, and it’s time to move on.


#16

I think my biggest objection here is that you’re assuming some sort of parity in cultural positions, when no such thing exists in American culture. Instead there is a long history of white people appropriating black culture in ways that benefits them. That’s the problem here. She can certainly intellectually understand the struggles of the black community, historically, etc, and offer to help where she can. But she did not experience these particular struggles, as much as she might sympathize and care. If she was presenting herself as being white allied with the black community, that’s one thing. She’s not doing that. She has sought to insert herself into a set of experiences that she doesn’t have.


#17

i am not assuming partiy. not a little. none. not a single iota. there is a huuuge power imbalance, that was only legally codified in the 60’s. that’s only 50 years, which isn’t enough time. so please understand i am not ignoring power imbalances because i don’t believe they exist, i am purposely not talking about them because that is a different problem.

appropriate, assimilation, transracial, and positionality all can have power imbalance components, or not. and that is why i think this is going to be an incident talked about for a long, long time. it is also why i think the almost dogmatic approach to positionality in race relations is troubling–it is a useful tool for the time we live in now, but is it axiomatic (like many in acadamia cling to)? No. Way. It is not a natural law.

Anyhoo, ever get that martini?


#18

I think this situation directly highlights power imbalances, that black culture/experiences can be directly appropriated in problematic ways.

No, sadly…


#19

As many, many have pointed out, in race relations especially in the US language matters. So excuse my pedantry…

This was appropriation. It was (attempted) assimilation. Generally assimilation is either done by force (direct or indirect), or invitation. This was done by deceit, which is why it was unethical.


#20

My sense of it is that there is probably an underlying mental health issue. I don’t think she was consciously pulling one over on everyone…I believe she could have easily passed a lie detector test, because she truly thinks of herself as black. She’s wrong, obviously, but I’m not convinced it’s malicious. I think she needs professional help to understand and appreciate her true identity.