Since the racial controversy issue regarding the former NAACP president, Rachel Dolezal, broke out, I have followed the news with rapt attention as I watch in disbelief at how Americans treat the issue of identity in general. And as I pondered about the happenings surrounding Dolezal’s identity issue, I realized I couldn’t help but question why the former head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP was being criticized for choosing to identify with a particular race, while another man, Bruce Jenner now Caityln Jenner who also lived his life in complete deception and finally came out to identify as a different gender was being celebrated by Americans even grabbing a Vanity Fair cover for his gender identity change announcement!
In my opinion, I think Americans are not being true to themselves. It is absolutely ironic that Americans claim to be more tolerant and understanding of the issue of identity, especially when it comes to gender-related identity, but are condescending when it comes to a racial identity scenario.
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender woman who had a gender identity challenge and finally underwent surgery to change her facial features was accepted by most Americans, but why can’t they also accept the idea that just like Bruce Jenner couldn’t identify with the gender God created him as, someone else may also not be able to identify with the race she was born with and therefore, they may choose to socially identity or get transformed to another race that makes them feel much comfortable and one that’s closer to their heart.
For me, except someone else can help explain the difference, I find it hard to differentiate between why someone can claim a different gender but cannot claim a different race. Why is it that we celebrate Bruce Jenner’s gender change and we scorn at Rachel Dolezal’s racial change? It doesn’t make any sense to me!
The only issue that flags out when we compare the Dolezal and Jenner’s choices is deception. Dolezal was involuntary outed as black by her angry parents who felt abandoned after she left them behind to be regarded as a black person, while Jenner on the other hand came out to reveal his/her true identity as a woman after years of deception as well. So, in both cases, deception was involved, but one was involuntarity outed out, while the other made the disclosure personally. But, who knows if Dolezal would have made the same type of disclosure too eventually or sometimes in the future if time permits!.
No matter how much critics try to label Dolezal’s behavior as a fraudulent one, sociologists and psychologists know that decisions about racial and ethnic identity are driven by social conditions.
Dolezal chose to adopt black kids and live around blacks which helped her to appreciate the reality of racial discrimination. She let go of assumed privileges associated with the whiter skin color, which helped her in her career to be more socially conscious about these issues affecting the black race, and because of all these, I think she deserves to be praised to an extent!
On whether she chose to identify as black in order to attain a leadership role in the NAACP, I still believe even as a white woman she could have attained such heights, as people would have seen her as an ally but then, there’s no way to confirm that.
Another question that comes to my mind is this – what if Dolezal can identify one ‘biologically’black ancestor, does this change her claim to identifying as black valid?
In life, we can always hate the sin but love the sinner and that is the position I take with Dolezal. Being black, I respect that she chose to live her life as a black person. Advocating for efforts against racism is ethical and a noble cause and even though several may criticize her, especially for being ‘dishonest’ I consider her decision to claim blackness as one that should be evaluated with a more caring and tolerant attitude!
by Tandra A., a Golden Icons Contributor.