Last week, the news broke that Rachel Dolezal, the (now-former) president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington and adjunct professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington State University who has self-identified as Black, is actually white, according to her parents, who came forward with the information after learning that she had filed a report of racial discrimination.
The NAACP issued a statement surrounding the matter immediately, stating, “One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record.”
The revelation that Dolezal is white has sparked tremendous debate, out of which has emerged a dangerous false equivalency between gender identities and racial identities. While Caitlyn Jenner’s story of transition is still fresh in the minds of Americans, many began to ask, “If a woman/man can identify as a man/woman, then why can’t a white person identify as black? If one can be transgender, then why can’t another be ‘transracial’?”
This question reflects a profound misunderstanding of the transgender experience and of the centuries-old sociopolitical structure of racism built by European colonialism and American Manifest Destiny; it also erases the true meaning of the word ‘transracial,’ which describes people who are adopted and/or raised by families of races different than their own.
The following essays are the best we’ve read thus far on the question of transracial vs. transgender; they explore and explain, from different perspectives, why Dolezal’s passing is not at all similar to existing in a particular gender identity — and affirm the identity and experiences of transracial adoptees.
“Don’t Go There with Dolezal, Transphobes!”
by Monica Roberts, TransGriot
“There Is No Comparison Between Transgender People and Rachel Dolezal”
by Meredith Talusan, The Guardian
“Transracial Lives Matter: Rachel Dolezal and the Privilege of Racial Manipulation”
by Lisa Marie Rollins, Lost Daughters
“‘Race and gender are not the same!’ is Not a Good Response to the ‘Transracial’ / Transgender Question OR We Can and Must Do Better”
by Kai M. Green, The Feminist Wire
“Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner Comparison Rejected By Transgender Women Of Color, LGBT Activists”
by Aaran Morrison, International Business Times
“It Isn’t Crazy to Compare Rachel Dolezal With Caitlyn Jenner”
by Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart, Slate: Outward
“Trolls were just waiting for Rachel Dolezal: Her fraudulent life story sets everyone back”
by Arthur Chu, Salon
“An Open Letter: Why Co-opting “Transracial” in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic”
by Kimberly McKee et al., Medium
“Transgender vs. Transracial: Caitlyn Jenner & Rachel Dolezal”
by Rafi D’Angelo, SoLetsTalkAbout.com
“I Am Black. Rachel Dolezal is Not.”
by Rebecca Carroll, Dame Magazine
“I Became A Black Woman in Spokane. But, Rachel Donezal, I Was A Black Girl First”
by Alicia Walters, The Guardian
For the most concise version, we refer you to the brilliant Janet Mock, who tweeted the following comments yesterday:
The Offing will be publishing two Insight pieces on these issues on Friday, June 19.
In the meantime, if you know of a published essay that should be included in this roundup, please email us at [email protected].