Trans-racial is Trans-tastic, Rachel Dolezal!

Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal

By Karl Muonio

We’ve become more accepting of transgender people. But why aren’t transracial people okay?

The media has been storming over Rachel Dolezal of late because she was born in a white body but she feels black.

In fact, she has adopted black children, she is a professor of African-American Studies, and until recently she was a branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Apparently, a black woman who feels trapped in a white body is a major problem that all of society must obsess over and condemn.

But I don’t see who is hurt by this.

In fact, her story could help relieve racial prejudice.

I mean, what’s not to love about her love of all things Black?

Miami Herald columnist, Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Miami Herald columnist, Leonard Pitts, Jr.

And, the real problem isn’t her delusions so much as ours, says syndicated columnist, Leonard Pitts, Jr.:

Meaning America’s founding myth, the one that tells us race is a fixed and objective fact.

In 2000, after mapping the genetic codes of five people — African-American, Caucasian, Asian and Hispanic — researchers announced they could find no difference among them. “The concept of race,” one of them said, “has no scientific basis.”

Allyson Hobbs, a Stanford history professor, tells New York Times readers that attempts to determine race can be messy. She points to an 1889 essay by Charles W. Chesnutt which,

poked fun at the laws that allowed a person to change his or her racial designation by walking across a state line.

If people understood that race isn’t what we think it is, could we prevent tragedies like the recent racially motivated massacre in Charleston, South Carolina?

Allyson Hobbs, Stanford History Professor

Allyson Hobbs, Stanford History Professor

Dr. Hobbs wonders:

One can only imagine the impact (if) a significant number of white Americans chose to identify themselves as kindred of Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Freddie Gray, Kayla Moore, Oscar Grant, Shelly Frey and Michael Brown.

Race isn’t what we think it is. But it is very real in terms of how we are perceived and treated — because of what we think it is. Mr. Pitts continues,

What we call race is actually a set of cultural likenesses, shared experiences and implicit assumptions, i.e., that white men can’t jump and black ones can’t conjugate…

Rachel Dolezal, professor and activist

Rachel Dolezal, professor and activist

Race isn’t real. But it holds a multitude of notions as to what it means to be white, black, Asian, Latino.

The media surge is absurd, and not a news story. If Dr. Dolezal is in the news it should be for her accomplishments as a professor and an activist.

Ethnicity involves a feeling of belonging to a social group with a common cultural tradition.

Dr. Dolezal clearly feels most comfortable within African American culture, so she is ethnically black.

Transracial people do not deserve to be punished for being who they are.

This was written by one of my students who gave permission to post it.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 19, 2015, in feminism, psychology, race/ethnicity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. That is a very interesting article about a controversial issue. According to the article, race is only a cultural likeness, it has almost no scientific basis. Gender is the same thing as it should be fluid. In that case, shouldn’t race be just as intersectional? If a person who was born a girl but identify as a boy then why is it such a big deal if a white woman identifies as a black woman? Personally, I think people should not be outraged about these things anymore. We live in a very fluid and flexible society both in regards to gender and race. Why are some of us scrutinizing trans-racial people the way people criticized the gay community in the 1960’s? It’s hypocritical of us to be open about one thing and then deny another similar thing. People are very careful and sensitive when it comes to race because that is one of the most important topic of our society nowadays. The sensitivity, however, is what is preventing this nation to have a fair and honest discussion about racism and everything around it.

  2. I believe she has had a very successful life but I do not understand why not just embrace who she was before identifying herself more with the black community. She is a woman of naturally pale skin that loves and identifies more with the “Black” culture and that is perfectly fine. To her curly hair or dreadlocks and darker skin is much more beautiful than the way her body naturally is and if she wants to look that way than that is fine it is no one’s business but hers. She’s contributed greatly to the NAACP and her hard work should be acknowledged wether she’s black or not. BUT she could’ve created bridges and made a difference with being a proud “white” woman that wants to make a difference in the “black” community. By embracing her race she would’ve shown people that it is okay to teach African studies and not actually be African or be an activist for the black community and not actually be black.

    My point in the end is if she feels she identifies more with the Black community so be it but also embrace how she naturally is because it can open more doors for people of all cultures to be accepted in becoming activists for cultures they identify with. She shouldn’t have to change her hair,skin tone, or parents to be able to identify herself as black.

    The only reason why I would say she was deceitful is because she claimed a black man was her father and told her biological parents to never speak to her again. Other than that she is a woman that has molded herself into who she is comfortable being.

  3. Pineet Grewal

    If race is a fragment of a person’s imagination and has no scientific basis, why did Rachel Dolezal feel like she had to claim to be African American in order to participate in the culture? It should not matter what race she is because if she is interested in African American culture she should be able to study it, run for NAACP President, and be an activist without having to impersonate the people of that culture. The problem here is that she pretended to be African American just so she could continue her endeavors in that culture.
    In the article it states that race is cultural likenesses such as similar backgrounds and shared experiences. Although I can understand how Rachel Dolezal might have felt for African Americans and their struggles through the reality they live in today, I do not understand how she can simply wear her hair in a certain way or claim to be African American and be apart of black culture. In fact, I find it a bit disrespectful that she would feel she could “act” black and be considered African American.
    I could want to listen to music consisting of black artists or support the movement of black lives matter but that interest should not be translated to automatic acceptance into a culture that I don’t share similar upbringings to or similar societal expectations. As Americans, I feel we should all be able to participate into each other’s cultures whether that culture originate from Vietnam or right here in America. But I do not agree with the idea of it being ok that Ms Dolezal can claim to be black just because she feels black. And to be honest, I really don’t even know what it means when the author says she “feels black”.
    If a male can be accepted in taking part in the feminist movement without having to proclaim himself as a woman then why does Rachel Dolezal have to declare herself as African American in order for her to take part in African American culture? Why can’t Ms Dolezal be a Caucasian woman AND be the president of NAACP. I think people should be able to identify with and be interested in whatever demographic they feel comfortable with without claiming to be born a part of that specific culture. There is a difference between appreciating and being interested in that culture versus declaring oneself as a part of a group of people you don’t share similar backgrounds to.
    Although I agree with the author when it comes to breaking down those racial barriers and not feeling constrained to a specific demographic, I believe that Rachel Dolezal was wrong for claiming to be African American just so she could be respected in black culture.

    • It’s not a figment of the imagination. It’s the social construction of reality.

      Once we socially construct a reality it has big effects, it becomes powerful.

      At the same time, it is a social construction. Which means that it’s not biologically-based. So a person could be culturally African American.

      I don’t see how it is disrespectful to act black if that is how she sees herself.

      She grew up with Black siblings and that may have affected her identity. Similarly, I know someone who grew up with Black siblings and she actually doesn’t see herself as being a white American. She identifies more with poor countries.

      But I don’t see how she benefits from being a black woman other than that she is expressing her authentic sense of self, Given our racist culture. She would benefit a lot more by being a white woman. I don’t see why we should be a better judge of how authentic she’s being.

      A male can be accepted taking part in the feminist movement without becoming a woman. I also know of a white, blue-eyed blonde woman who is on the African American studies faculty at the University of Tennessee. So I don’t think that’s quite the right comparison. You don’t have to be black to be a professor an African American studies, for sure.

      But some biological men feel like they are women. And who am I to judge? I want them to express themselves authentically. Are you sure that you know her motives better than she does?

      Did you see this post? Why So Angry At Trans-Racial Folk?

  4. Vanessa Solorzano

    I totally agree when it is pointed out that both race and gender are social constructions. A person should be able to identify themselves with whatever race they want to be identified with and not getting any negative feedback. But just like transgenders, the transracial community are going to be getting judge, which is silly because they are just trying to be comfortable in their own skin. Who are we to judge and at the same time tell them who or what they are. It doesn’t make sense to me to sit here and tell a person that they are white when they are identifying themselves with the black community. America is very prideful when it comes to being diverse, how can those same people who love the fact that we are so diverse turn around and tell people that they can’t identify with a certain race. It takes way more than just skin color for someone to define their race.

  5. It is almost disrespectful for a person to think they can become a person of color. You miss out on the discrimination people of color are faced with from as young as they are able to understand that there is a difference in how they are being treated. I’m confused and all I can think to do is ask a series of questions, starting with: how can you really relate to or identify with the struggle of being the minority? Even in certain stores and of all the people who enter the establishment, you are the one being followed. Can you really feel and understand the underlying tension of that situation? Saying that you can embrace the beauty of a race sounds good but the reality is that you will never really be able to embrace it to the full extent because their are certain aspects of childhood experiences that make us into the people we become as adults. Yes we are all human, but there are some distinct differences and distinct disadvantages that differentiate a person of color from white people. There’s the question of whether a person is acting out a stereotype of what they think it means to be a person of color or do they identify with the culture as a whole? In Rachel Dolezal’s case, how do you identify with the black race? What does it actually mean to you to be black in America? Does it seem fun to you? Have you always wanted to walk in the shoes and embody all aspects of being black? What does it mean to be black to you to make you want to choose it over being the white woman you were born to be? I sure a lot of trans-gender people a asked a lot of the same questions but the difference is that trans-gender is not a one-way street.

    • Rachel did grow up with siblings who were black and that may be partly why she feels black. I personally know someone who grew up the same way and she doesn’t feel like a white American. Maybe these two had a lot of empathy for the struggles that their siblings endured.

      By your line of reasoning I should find it disrespectful that someone would want to be transgender (a transwoman) because they have not undergone all of the experiences of sexism that I have. But I don’t feel that way at all. I appreciate that they don’t feel “right” in a male body and I feel like I have no right to tell them what their “real” identity should be.

  6. This article was sparked so many different thoughts in my head as I was reading! It made me think about how I take pride in my biological culture! My mother is full Greek and my father is full French Moroccan and each side of my family is super into their culture and that is the way I grew up. I really appreciate and and am proud to have the background and culture I do. On the other hand, I have learned to love and appreciate other cultures too! I believe that people are more accepting of transgender rather than trans-racial simply from the fact that trans-racial is less common and less heard of in society. People become accepting of transgender because it is happening more and people are talking about it more!! Trans racial people probably go through the same insecure feelings of not being themselves just like everyone else! I think it is great that people can feel like another race, because like in the post, race is a culture that we adapt to, that we feel most connected with, and that we feel like is who we are, not necessarily what we were born into!

  7. I do not know too much about trans-racial before, but this article provides me a perspective to think of it. I agree that the race is one of the consequences of culture during human being’s civilization. And I think it’s the biggest different from gender because gender is a symbol of biology mostly. What the race and gender carry is different. Gender carries some biological features somehow; while race bears more about the culture of a nation. And the culture of a nation is crucial element for the reason that it’s a nation’s pride. The trans-racial might refuse the own cultures. So recently, I think it’s why people might accept the transgender easier than the trans-racial. However, People could not be able to decide who they born but they could choose who they want to be, which explains why people choose to be transgender or trans-racial, in my opinion. But we have to admit that our society is cruel for these people. In my mind, I believe it’s because our judgment is also be a part of our culture as human being.

    • You probably haven’t heard about transracial before because people didn’t talk about it much until last week. (Other than adoptions, which people don’t talk about much.)

      As I wrote recently:

      I’m puzzled by the reasons people give for their anger over Rachel Dolezal’s transracial turn.

      Like arguments that contradict each other:

      It’s okay to be transgender but not transracial because

      gender is grounded in biology but race isn’t
      race is grounded in biology but gender isn’t

      And FYI: the definition of gender is cultural: what society makes a biological difference.

      See this:

      People are probably more accepting of transgender just because it’s an older concept that they’ve gotten used to.

  8. I found this really interesting, because until now i didn’t think of race as a social construction. I think this is also so controversial because people are more sensitive to racial discrimination than gender discriminiation. I do think it is being blown out of proportion.

  9. Seems that everything that is race related the media is always there to make it into an issue. If Rachel Dolezal identifies herself as a black woman then I believe that we should let her be as to what she chooses. This nation was build for its citizens to be able to express themselves freely. Other developed countries are more advanced in liberties similar to this. One day I hope that the United States matures enough to be like one of these countries. We are still a young nation compare to them but I know we can overcome this because we have the power to do so. Not so long ago blacks and women couldn’t vote, people couldn’t marry outside their race and gay marriages were seen as wrong. It will take some time but I am sure we will get this through.

  10. Before reading this piece, I’d already watched this video in which a Black, transgender woman describes why she believes that transgender and transracial are not the same.

    In my opinion, her most important point is that being “transracial” is only available to certain people. These people of course being white. Her point makes sense to me because there’s no way that I, for example, could wake up one day and decide that I want to be white. Would those who discriminate against Hispanic people accept me as white? Would I be granted with white privilege, just because I wanted to be white all of a sudden? I just don’t see how any of this would work with anyone that isn’t white. Like Kat Blaque, the woman in the video linked, explains, being “transracial” is something that’s only available to the most privileged. Additionally, Blaque suggests that those who draw a parallel between being transgender and “transracial” believe that transgender people are being deceptive.

    Anyway, I’d recommend everyone to watch this video because it provides views from an actual Black woman standpoint.

  11. I have a transgender child, born male, identifies as non-male. Perhaps her case is different to others because it is the adult male body she does not identify with. She does not really feel a need for a female body and would rather have a body that was neither male nor female. But when having to choose something, it is the female body she goes with.

    My confirmation bias kicks in and I really want to take out of the discussion the points that support an underlying conviction that there “is” a difference between this and being “transcolor”. It is incredibly difficult to look past that urge but I am trying.

    • The transgender community is not a one mind on these issues.

      Someone wrote in to say that trans gender is different from trans racial because among transgender people the feeling of being the opposite sex start so soon. But clearly that’s not always the case. Not the case with your daughter. And not the case with a trans man I met last week, Who was perfectly comfortable in the female body until puberty. I also know someone who wrote a book, “the last time I wore a dress” who had a masculine look, so much so that people always thought she was a boy. But she was a girl, biologically, and people who knew her well thought of her as a girl. She ended up with a mixed identity. Neither more male nor more female. But since it’s easier for her to get along in the world as a guy she has taken on a male identity.

      Also, some in the trans community are comfortable with the idea that gender is a social construction and others aren’t. Some think that it’s necessary that there be some real difference between men and women for “transgender” to make sense. Others don’t. I’m a supporter of the transgender community. And see no need to base being trans on the notion that there is a fundamental difference between men and women in order for becoming trans to be a legitimate choice. Because that is what most authentically expresses who you are.

      And I feel that everyone, whether they are transgender or transracial, should be free to be who they are. What right does anyone else have telling them who they authentically are?

  12. Interesting points and thoughtful post! I do think there is our genetic ethnicity- but also how we identify and are viewed in the culture we are in can play a part. It is much more complex than our skin color that we are born with for sure!

  13. I always knew that there’s no scientific base of the concept of race since I’ve learned that human has only one specific name regardless of race when I was a middle school student. People living in different countries and cultures might have different customs and personalities, but we should never apply this concept on the difference of skin color. I dare not say that I’m not internalized with any concept of racism, but I subjectively think that we should treat people fairly regardless of skin color. There are always some nice people and some bastards in every kind of skin color, so skin color shouldn’t mean anything and racism makes no sense.

  14. What I find makes this different from gender, is the main fact that “gender” still has a basis in biology. Gender may be a construct, but at the end of the day, it is still based on what it means to be a “man” or a “woman”, and it has some kind of basis in physicality (such as being a female or male.) For example, it doesn’t matter if gender is a social construct, a transsexual woman has transitioned from male to female because she feels like she is a female, and is overall much more comfortable with female hormones running through her veins than male ones. It doesn’t matter what the role of a woman may be, because at the end of the day, she still desires to be a real one. This is proven-all over the word, no matter the society, transgender people still exist, and they still desire to be their desired gender, no matter the society and the roles involved for men and women.

    While race is purely a social construct, and has no basis in anything else other than the appearance of a person, and in this society, where they stand. While I do think that it’s honorable that she worked for the NAACP, and I do not think that she should have been outed in such a manner by her parents, at the same time, calling herself black when she was not seems deceiving.

    In order to be trans-anything, there has to be a boundary, a line to be crossed. You can be transgender, since a male and female are inherently different, even if in some small, minor ways. But what is the inherent difference between an African-American/black and a Caucasian person, if there is no such thing as “race” to begin with? Sure, she could be tearing racial boundaries down…but she could also be putting them back up, by claiming to be transracial, and claiming that there is something to transcend in the first place.

    I’m not that angry at her (I’m not even angry), or invested in her to say “NO DON’T DO THAT EVER” (it’s her life, she can live it as she pleases) but at the same time, I feel like it was a bit deceptive for her to do that, and just try to replace her family with African-American people, and I’m shaky on her claims that she’s felt African-American ever since she was little (about five if I’m right on the age), because being African-American is more than just a “race”. It’s a series of ever changing cultural expressions and traditions, and I doubt anyone instinctively or intrinsically feels cultural expressions and traditions when they are little.

    • First, race and gender are both based in biology in that women have a womb and Black people have dark skin. But neither of those differences mean much. You can predict next to nothing about a person by knowing their gender or their race. Women can give birth. But not all women can give birth. No females of certain ages can give birth. Men are on average taller, but plenty of women are taller than plenty of men. One of the few things you can usually predict is who has more muscular strength. But that doesn’t mean much. You can’t predict anything about personality.

      In your example about transwomen I don’t see how that is any different from Dr. Dolezal. Let me reword it for you:

      “A transracial person has transitioned from white to black because she feels like she is a black, and is overall much more comfortable with a deep tan than her normal skin color. It doesn’t matter what the role of a black person may be, because at the end of the day, she still desires to be a real black person. No matter the society and the roles involved for blacks and whites.

      “While gender is purely a social construct, and has no basis in anything else other than the appearance of a person, and in this society, where they stand…

      “‘gender’ is a series of ever changing cultural expressions and traditions,* and I doubt anyone instinctively or intrinsically feels cultural expressions and traditions when they are little.”

      * for more on that see this, for just a taste:
      Cultures vary greatly and how you “Do gender.” For more on that see this too:

      How is she deceiving anyone if that’s how she experiences herself? In the past women who felt like men — and passed as men — and vice versa were seeing as deceiving others.

      The boundary that is crossed whether you are black, white, male or female is always there. But in either case it is a social construct. It’s flimsy either way. There is so little difference between males and females that there really is no boundary to be crossed, anymore than there is some boundary to be crossed racially.

      If I transition to male how would I be different? I would have more testosterone and less estrogen. As opposed to more melanin. But when women hit menopause and their estrogen plummets — at that point they have less estrogen on average than men — they don’t feel much different other than maybe getting hot flashes (my mom never got hot flashes, varies from woman to woman). They don’t feel any less female. And don’t transwomen feel female even before they take estrogen or make any bodily changes?

      But if your argument is that gender differences are more real than racial differences then it makes even more sense to accept transracial people than transgender people — since race is such a flimsy thing to begin with.

      We make way too much out of both gender and race. Both put us in boxes and say “If you’re female you have to fit into this box” And “if you are black you have to fit in this box”

      I’m sick of these limiting boxes.

      That said, our cultures have certain notions of what it means to be both female and black. And if someone who is born male feels more like “herself” living with in the cultural notions of females that’s fine with me. It’s no big deal. The only problem would be that a lot of people take this in a way that reifies — makes more real than it is — certain notions that women are fundamentally different from men. So if you don’t reify a difference that doesn’t exist, I don’t care. But you do seem to be pretty intent on making “real” gender differences that are fictional social constructions. And I do see that as a problem because then men start telling women that they can’t be particular ways because, they’re fundamentally women after all. I don’t buy it. I don’t experience it. But since you insist that as a female I am a particular way that a man can’t be, Please let me know what that is.

  15. Ahh but what makes a white woman pretending to be black a better person to defend and support black people? Absolutely nothing but narcissism. People of color can bring changes without the help of white folks. People of color should run the show on people of color. I think appropriation is bad all around, no matter who’s doing it.

    • Well there are some African-Americans who appreciate what she’s doing. As one of them said, if more whites took on black identity there would be a lot less racism.

      I don’t see how it is insulting. Or even problematic. How would it be problematic, do you think? Have you heard any people of color say why they might find it problematic? I’ve never heard anything on this.

      And I don’t think that women should tell trans-women that they aren’t women — that they are appropriating our identity.

      I don’t see why everyone shouldn’t be able to be who they authentically are.

      The other thing that annoys me is that she has worked so many years for racial justice and now she gets bashed because she has become what she loves.

      And mostly, as Karl says, this just isn’t a news story. Other than to open a conversation about how we reify race (Make it more real than it is) — and the only place I’ve seen that conversation is from the two people quoted in this article.

  16. Oh, this is a loaded question. We see it in the accusation that Obama isn’t “black enough,” that, having been raised with middle-class assumptions and outside of the “American Black” experience, he doesn’t have the street red needed for true African -American status. The same accusation is made against hip hop artists whose skin color qualifies them, but whose middle class backgrounds taint their acceptance as “the real thing.”
    How does this relate to movie roles given to whites in make-up, when the character played is Native American, Asian or Hispanic. Are we depriving “true minorities” of opportunities?
    Me, I choose to wear blinders. Let me measure someone by the efficacy of their work, by the depth of their motivation and their impact on others.

    • I think we should completely stop judging whether people are black enough or white enough, or whatever. We make race a bigger reality than it is. And it just causes problems.

      I think that we deprive minorities of opportunities because whites are the most commonly hired actors (and otherwise — other jobs) for everything. We shouldn’t have that bias.

      The things that bother me the most about this particular story are: 1) making race more than it is 2) hating on a woman who who has worked so hard for racially equality 3) it’s not a news story — it’s just not that big a deal, as Karl says.

  17. I have spoken on the subject before, more specifically about transgender issues, and I think some of my concerns extend into the idea of trans-racial identity. First, a ton of disclaimers to at least reduce the size of the rocks thrown at me…

    I *do not* have a dog in this fight. I don’t care if Bruce Jenner now wants to be called male, female, playdoh, Caitlyn, Cthulhu, or any combination thereof. If she now prefers the feminine pronouns, that’s just dandy by me. I don’t understand it, but I’m all for folks having a unique sense of self-identity and asking the world to respect their preferences; I may find it a bit weird if Bruce suddenly announces that she’s a toaster and expects people to call her by her new legal name, “Slightly Burnt Rye”… but regardless of how weird I might find it personally, I’ll go along with it.

    My concern about all things trans* is that they tend to emphasize, rather than eliminate, cultural stereotypes. Ms. Dolezal has a deep love and shared identity with all things Black… good for her! But it’s a jump to go from there to “Therefore, deep inside (despite the chromosomes that link me to certain physical characteristics generally identified as northern European) I must *be* Black.” The underlying subtext is, that black people and only black people have these ideas, interests, preferences, etc. and white people do not.

    In the same way, I have seen so many folks teetering on the border of “should I snip or shouldn’t I?” who explain that because they have this bundle of characteristics — smaller body frame, emotionally sensitive, nurturing, afraid of confrontation, and so on — they must really be female on the inside. In other words, it’s just wrong for a man to have those characteristics, so anyone who does have those characteristics must be a woman. Listening to the reasons for gender change is like listening to a 1950s documentary about men’s and women’s roles in society.

    I say, a pox on all these binary labels. If you’re a dude and you dig watching “Beaches” over and over again and always crying at the end, you can still be a dude and it’s OK to do those things. If you’re white and the most important mission in your life is to support the goals of NAACP, great — white folks can do that too. There’s no reason to deny the reality of the hardware that you were given at birth, any more than there is to let that hardware dictate what kind of person you are.

    • Well maybe the point wasn’t clear enough in the post. Did you read the whole post? Because your points are made in the post. Plus, did you see my responses to Frank (the first commentor)?

      Karl is one of my students and we have been talking in class about how gender is a social construct, not based in biology. And so is race. So he isn’t saying that this is based in biology, at all, or that there is anything “Real” about race. Except in how the society understands race, which makes certain things real: people are killed because they are the “wrong” race. That’s real.

      So I basically agree with you.

      Here are my thoughts:

      . We develop mental constructs about what gender and race means
      . We develop mental constructs about who we are
      . Some of us can only authentically be who we are by being trans
      . Among people who are trans, it’s important to many of them to change their bodies to fit the mental constructs (I don’t personally think it’s important but if it is to them, I don’t really care.)

      Some of my transgender students agree with this. Some don’t at first, but do later — after more discussion. And some don’t agree with even after we’ve discussed it a bit. I plan to write a series of posts on the social construction of gender and how transgender fits into this, and I will make some reference to this post while I’m at it.

  18. I have no quarrel with transgender or transracial self-determination. The only thing that troubles me about Rachel Dolezal is that she appears to have been less than forthright – some might say dishonest – in how she has handled the journey (for want of a better word). I appreciate that when you’re young and society as a whole won’t accept you for who or what you want to be, you often do what you have to do to get there….but she’s adult/mature enough now to realize and own that, for her own sake and the sake of her relationship with her parents (which I admit is none of my business – but just sayin’).

  19. In this whole debate, there has been no mention of Pres. Obama. One of his parents was white and the other was black which means he is mixed race or Creole. Yet he chooses to identify as black and no one questions it. He’s called the first ‘black’ President, not the first ‘mixed race’ president…

  20. I really don’t understand why people are so ignorant and nasty. I don’t know whether it’s true but didn’t we all originate from Adam & Eve or Ethiopia ? If we did then we are all family.

  21. I don’t actually disagree with you about the social construction of gender. My point is more that 99.9% of people will disagree with that. For the overwhelming majority of people, gender is a binary where woman have babies and men don’t.

    The whole tribal thing is silly – perhaps. It’s a survival mechanism. It’s about creating and embracing a microcosm of shared attitudes in which you can feel safe. Unfortunately, they also lead to inflexibility and a violent distrust of anything that challenges the shared beliefs.

    Are people more accepting now of transgender identities? I don’t know. I think as population size grows and as the internet allows greater connectivity and visibility of minorities, it has enabled supportive communities to emerge and also opportunities to educate the wider populace.

    As for transracial identities… I never heard about that until today.

    • The evidence that we are more accepting of transgender now than even a few months ago is Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn. People have been much more accepting than expected, and her transition is opening minds.

      And I’d never heard of the word “transracial” until my student, Karl, used it. Perhaps he coined it. But I think it is a most excellent word. And concept.

      Yes, 99.9% of people will disagree that gender isn’t binary. Which is exactly why we need this conversation.

      Also, sex is different from gender. Sex is biological. Gender is what society makes out of the biological difference.

      Of course women have babies and men don’t. But it makes very little difference. Cultures exaggerate sex differences in ways that limit people and put them in boxes. Turns out, there’s actually very little difference between women and men besides the fact that women give birth.

      By the way, thanks for your comment. I was actually hoping someone would bring it up so I could discuss it and comment. In fact, I think I will create a whole new blog post based on our discussion.

      • And regarding this:

        “The whole tribal thing is silly – perhaps. It’s a survival mechanism. It’s about creating and embracing a microcosm of shared attitudes in which you can feel safe. Unfortunately, they also lead to inflexibility and a violent distrust of anything that challenges the shared beliefs.”

        There are two schools of thought on the subject. The one you mentioned and another one. The more people cooperate with each other, cross-tribally, the better off they tend to be. The reason civilization arose around the Mediterranean is because people of different tribes cooperated with each other, traded with each other, and learned from each other.

  22. I think there is an important difference between gender and race, in that the border between male and female is fairly sharp – undeniably a little fuzzy, more so than we generally acknowledge, but by and large it’s a simple binary and one that defines us on a much more fundamental level than race.

    Race is far more about tribal identity than genetics, although the latter gets used as a justification. Tribal identity is a social construct that must be policed. To leave one’s tribe is a betrayal. To join another tribe is… difficult. And joining one tribe generally means leaving another, so troubled waters fore and aft.

    • Gender isn’t binary at all.

      So that’s where you (and probably a lot of other people) and I disagree.

      Race is a social construction.

      So is gender.

      I will be writing a series on the social construction of gender, and then talk about transgender issues at the end of it. A few points for now:

      . You can’t tell whether a brain is male or female just by looking at brain imagery
      . A study was done to see which attributes predicted whether a person was male or female. No psychological trait could predict whether something was male or female.
      . When you look at gender differences, There are average differences, But mostly there is overlap
      . See this: “Men, Women not from Mars, Venus”
      . Given the amount of time and effort spent socializing males and females differently, The amount of overlap is remarkable
      . Gender is done very differently in different cultures. See this:

      That said, being transgender is the only thing that makes sense for a lot of people and I fully support them in it. Just as I fully support Prof. Dolezal.

      The whole tribal thing is silly. It pits one group against another. There’s no reason for that.

      The troubled waters only come when you make them come. We had huge troubled waters in the US in the middle of the last century. People railing against interracial marriage and desegregated the schools. I went to school with a lot of black kids and it was fine. Members of my family have married people of other races and adopted children of other races. It’s fine. The fact that a white woman sees herself as a black woman is fine. No reason to get upset. And if more people did that it would probably be much less traveled race relations. As both of the people quoted pointed out — who are both black, by the way.

    • Talk about ‘tribal’ identity, and moving between tribes… In some ways I guess I would be an example of that. My wife is Hispanic, and I grew up in a very disfunctional white Southern family. Now that my parents are dead, I identify with my wife’s family and they very much accept me as part of the family. I’ve even been thinking of taking my wife’s last name (Hispanic) and dropping my last name (Scotch – Irish). My kids are mixed race, and they identify with both Hispanic culture and Anglo culture. However, joining the ‘Latin’ tribe hasn’t necessarily meant dropping attributes of the Gringo tribe…

      • My wife is Serbian and I’m English, mostly, so I understand. I suppose ‘marriage’ provides a mechanism for being adopted by another tribe. One issue here, though, is that it is possible to learn the language and culture, and these are the main obstacles, but does acceptance within the family extend to wider circles of acqaintance?

      • All my wife’s friends and extended family accept me too, although I do have a problem with the language…

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