Why So Angry At Trans-Racial Folk?

Orange is the new Black?

Orange is the new Black?

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

  1. gender is grounded in biology but race isn’t
  2. race is grounded in biology but gender isn’t

Then there’s this:

Will “transracial” create limiting boxes?

To move out of one box and into another, you must have boxes, right?

But only if you think they are grounded in fundamental difference, whether between black and white or female and male.

Lucky, the differences are not fundamental.

As I’ve discussed before, race is a social construction.

And so is gender — by definition, in fact.

Sure, sex is biological, but you cannot predict whether a brain is female or male using brain scans. And there is almost nothing you can predict about a person just by knowing gender. In fact, there’s huge overlap. (About the only thing you can predict by sex is who is muscularly stronger.)

Transracial reflects white privilege

Being transracial reflects white privilege because it’s harder for other races to pass.

So the solution is to put everyone back in their boxes? Instead of allowing everyone to move out of them?

Our racial ideas are so limiting. How we perceive people, how people perceive themselves.

Some internalize society’s view that they aren’t so intelligent because of their race (or gender). Their confidence drops, and so does their performance.

A black woman trapped in a white body

A black woman trapped in a white body

Others overcome the view yet face discriminatory beliefs in the outside world.

If we really got that race and gender are both social constructs, it would be easier for everyone to escape limiting stereotypes.

If we really got it, we’d realize that it’s not about coloring, but culture.

Right-wingers pushing us inside boxes

Some ire was raised when right-wingers used the transgender/transracial comparison to delegitimize both.

But instead of opening fire on transracial people, take aim at those who want to push everyone back into their boxes.

Transgender people aren’t deceiving anyone. But transracial people are?

I don’t see transgender or transracial people as deceitful.

“Daphne” was born female and friends and family saw her as “she.” But Daphne had — and still has — masculine facial features, so strangers usually thought she was a he.

Today “Dylan” doesn’t feel either gender, but says it’s easier to pass as a man. Adding,

The men’s restroom would be dangerous if the wrong person learned my secret.

Is Dylan deceiving the guys in the men’s restroom? And everyone else he meets if he hasn’t explained his entire history?

Or, was Brandon Teena (Boys Don’t Cry) deceitful?

Caitlyn Jenner said she was living a lie as Bruce.

Many transgender people live, and have lived, in the closet.

I don’t think they’re lying and deceiving. I think they’re doing the best they can under the circumstances.

Same with transracial folk.

Appropriating another culture is wrong

Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal

When members of privileged groups exploit the culture of less privileged groups, without understanding their experience, history and traditions, that’s cultural appropriation.

But if you are a part of a community and authentically expressing yourself, is that appropriation? Who is qualified to judge the heart of Dr. Dolezal?

She’s faking being black

“She’s faking being black and she’s only transracial when she wants to be!” say some.

Dr. Dolezal has been consistently black over many years. It’s not a mask she pulls on and off as convenient. Do you know better than she who she “really is”?

She’s benefited by being transracial

She’d benefit a lot more by being white.

Are new ideas just scary?

I wonder if new ideas are just scary. Fear is sometimes expressed as anger.

But why must we stay stuffed inside ill-fitting boxes? Which are only real to the extent that we believe they are?

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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 24, 2015, in feminism, gender, LGBT+, psychology, race/ethnicity, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. This reminds me of a article i read about a girl who self identified as a native american tho she doesnt have any in her inheritage, she is both shamed on internet and hated everywhere, and i do not understand why. Sure she wasnt born into a culture but is she self identify as one why would anyone want to stop her? Same with this person who is identifying as black, no one gets hurt by her identifying as black and why should it matter to anyone else then herself and maybe her partner to what she identifies as.

    • Yeah, I don’t know anything about that case. But where someone sincerely identifies with a cultural group that they are not biologically a part of, I just don’t get the hate.

  2. why man is attracted towards woman physically as well as mentally ? Is that all related to biology ? OR our mind controls our all feelings? Is that because he observers that system from his birth ? OR is that because he is not so familiar with womans physical structure ?..these may be some weird questions but those are my questions 😉
    I am confuse & doing research about whether it is only the biological reason to be attracted towards opposite gender OR it is more than that OR it is has nothing with biology & its all about our mindset ! hope you can help me ! 🙂

    • Our sexuality is a mix of biology, culture and learning. I’ll send some links later. Gotta run now. But it’s a topic that I am covering, and still have a lot to cover. If you go to “categories” on the far right side of the blog you can look under “sex and sexuality.”

  3. If we didn’t have the boxes, there wouldn’t be trans-anything. Until that day, we wade through all the issues.

    • I’m fine with people being trans, so long as they don’t put everyone else in boxes to do it. So you may be a biological male who experiences herself as female and takes on a female identity. That makes perfect sense given how we understand sex and gender. But don’t tell me that I’m fundamentally different from men as your reason for doing that. I’m really sick of people trying to stuff me into a box.

  4. I found this really thought provoking. Race is more of a touchy subject in society and i think that this has to do with that men can be discriminated against by race. Gender inequality affects both men and women, but women are the one’s who are affected on a larger scale. I do agree that race is a social construction but i think people are less accepting of someone who is transracial because society is more sensitive about this issue than gender equality.

  5. I understand the charge Dolezal’s choice to pass as Black brings- but what if she really does feel attuned to that culture on the inside? Maybe if the world were more open about such things she wouldn’t have had to cover up her own genetic history. Simultaneously, is there more than transraciallism going on here? No idea. What I do find even more interesting, that I haven’t seen a lot written on his how her parents are the ones who outed her. That seems to me to speak of other dynamics beyond just wanting to set the record straight. A complex and interesting matter indeed!

  6. I feel like no a day’s people just like to judge everyone no matter what races or gender they are. So this lady wants to be African American I don’t understand why people are making such a big deal about it. I have personally been watching this story unfold through the internet and the news. The one thing about this whole situation that kind of makes me mad is that she lost her job because she wasn’t truly black. I feel like she was doing a great job with the work she was doing why are you going to lay her off just because she wasn’t the race she said. These days people are more worried about what race or gender you are then actually getting to know someone for who they actually are.

  7. Wow, I think there is a huge ethical issue happening here. To really understand why she did this we would have to know what her initial intentions were. If she was doing this to provide opportunities that minorities have fought so hard to have then I think what she is doing is so wrong. I don’t think she would tell the world the truth if climbing the ladder was easier as a black women. It sounds silly when you say that out loud because so many black women struggle to advance due to socio economic set backs. Say this women took a job opportunity from a black women who really needed that job as a single struggling black women. This reminds me of when people who are not handy capped park in the handy capped parking spot just because it’s closer to the door. If you asked them why they did that…would it be ethical for them to say…”well…I had a leg cramp and I feel like what a crippled person must feel like so I think I should be able to park here.” It’s sounds silly.

    From a different perspective, I get that she feels beautiful looking the way she does. Many people these days go to great lengths to change the way they look. I ,for instance, got colored contacts to enhance my look for the summer. However, you won’t find me telling people that I am Irish though! Where do you draw the ethical lines here?

    On the other hand, we are living in America. We see people of all different backgrounds. So many of us are mixed. It’s hard to identify with just one culture sometimes. I get that. I hear stories like that all the time. We should go from boxes to a scale system where you can answer on a scale of 1 to 10 how you feel. We created the box system, we can certainly change it or update the way we collect data. Maybe the questions should change?

    • “If she was doing this to provide opportunities that minorities have fought so hard to have then I think what she is doing is so wrong.”

      Is this what you really meant to say? Because I don’t get it.

      Otherwise, I’m amazed at how many people think that black women are more privileged than white women. White women face far less discrimination than black women. White women are far more privileged.

  8. I totally agree, in general, about the trans-racial thing. I don’t know Rachel and I don’t know her motivations, so I can’t say what inspired her to act and identify in this manner. But I do believe that it’s possible for people to feel things inside that don’t appear on the outside, and it’s really cool to be open and to talk about all of these possibilities, even if we can’t understand them yet.

  9. I agree that those who are transracial endure pretty much the most misunderstood and judgmental views/comments that can be said about gender or race- even without meaning to! I think people should treat lightly and be conscientious about their comments to people, specifically Rachel. All I know about her is what I’ve heard from other people I know or on the internet (i.e. Tumblr). People are pretty upset and say that she really is appropriating black culture because of people that have grown up with her supposedly rising up to discredit her thinking/nationality. One other person along with this post has given me a lot more to think about with this subject. I may not entirely understand it, but maybe even though she associates with African culture, she cannot necessarily call her own self as biologically black (im not sure if she’s necessarily said that or not though)? I agree that she can support and associate herself culturally yet, to a certain extent because it is probably not that far off to think that she hasn’t been subjected to racism, prejudice and abuse like people of color are…yet at the same time that’s all it takes! One person to look at you and pin you and profile you. So, did it take her to explain that she’s black to get this hate? Does that mean she deserves it? I, myself, don’t think she deserves the hate but I can’t decide whether she is entirely appropriating or not. This post is great food for thought! No judgment here just trying to think this out but…maybe there is no black/white answer as to what she has done wrong. I think people should definitely have an open mind to difference even if their first thought is something negative- that can be subject to change when you learn more.

  10. The anger to trans-racial individuals is because of bandwagon effect. I think human are born with communal and social instincts. Therefore, people form community long ago. As time passed by, human are shaped by environmental factors and local custom. Thus, distinctive differences grows clearly among different racial. Then if someone tempts to cross the racial boundaries, the individual would be easily spotted on constantly questioned by the original racial and upcoming one. In Rachel’s case, there is a tension between black and white folks, so people are likely to put her under a magnify glass and question every single move that she has made. But I honest don’t think others have the right to judge, that is solely based her own will.

    • I suspect there is an additional bandwagon effect: so much of the early commentary was negative that people wanted to join the conversation but were afraid not to get on the bandwagon.

  11. I find this article very interesting. I’ll do the same if I could. But in my case it wouldn’t be changing my race but my nationality forever because the country where I come from there is a lot of corruption and no development. I sometimes feel like denying I come from there.
    Anyway people should be free to do whatever makes them happy. At the end of the day they are the one whom it’s going to affect.

  12. Personally, I dont think transracial can put society in any more of a box then race itself. Since race is a social construction created to do just that, compartmentalize individuals of society into categories, you can’t really give all the credit to transracial. I agree that we should not take aim at transracial people but I also agree that transracial is a form a white privilege. If every was able to pass as another race then it would be fair game, but since it is more conducive for a white person to emulate a black person and very rarely can that be go vice versa, it just solidifies the case of white people having access and privelege to whatever they want. They are white so they gotta be right. They already dominate everything else in the world, why not add in the privilege of experiencing life through the eyes a a black person? But then again, that the problem…it’s an experience and not exactly genetics.

    • I’m not giving all of the credit to being transracial. I’m just saying that in order to have transracial people we have to become more aware of the fact that race is not biological. It’s just about melanin. I have more melanin than a blond blue-eyed person. Does that make me a different race? Does that mean that I differ from them in some fundamental way?

      People aren’t born naturally fitting the stereotypes we put them in. And if people want to move out of their boxes, a transracial concept could be helpful. I definitely don’t think that whites are the only ones who should be able to choose to be transracial.

      And I still don’t understand why the solution two white privilege wouldn’t be to expand the privilege out to everyone instead of keeping everyone in their boxes.

      I’m wondering if being transracial would help people to better appreciate cultures outside the one they were involuntarily born into.

      But don’t you think that if whites experienced life through the eyes of a black person, they would have much greater empathy for the black experience? If whites experience life through the eyes of blacks, don’t you think they would feel more strongly that black lives matter?

  13. The amount of attention and news coverage this story got was just ridiculous. It was a “lol wtf” story for sure but I don’t get why it was covered for more than one news cycle. Also I think a lot of people who want to support transgender don’t quite understand it themselves but are very sensitive to the discussion.
    From what I have learned by reading medical, science and history articles on the subject
    1. Transgender includes a lot of different things, including transexual. Due to having a small community and negative association with the term transexual we now call it transgender, which includes transexual and people with other gender identities.

    2. Transgender (like Caitlyn Jenner) is a person who’s brain is designed for a female body but that person develops a male body, or a person who’s brain is designed for a male body body but the person develops a female body. Our body sex organs are determined by the X/Y chromosomes. So when in vitro if a XY fetus gets exposed to the wrong hormones that don’t match it’s chromosomes the fetus can end up developing a brain that is meant to function for sex different from what the body presents. It has no impact on one’s gender though but in a gender binary world that relates gender to sex, it’s no wonder gender becomes a big part of it.

    3. It’s not something that someone decides on a whim or because the person is confused. Nor is it something that has to do with your gender. Transwoman isn’t about wanting to wear dresses and makeup or a feminine name. How could it be when femaleness and femininity is only linked to makeup and dresses due to culture. Same goes with names(In pakistan Ali and heather are considered male names). It’s about the person’s brain forming to a different sex body. Caitlyn Jenner is an obvious example, considering Bruce was known as the epitome of what we consider masculine, even though we now know that she was born with a brain that resembles female brain more than male brain.

    • A Trans person’s brain tells them that’s not their body so a trans person essentially feel like they’re in the wrong body. Now as humans, we are who we are because of our brain. That is what separates us most from other beings and it is what differentiates us as an individual from other humans. We can get new organs(heart/kidney/eyes), body parts(fingers) or even a new body(a russian man will be getting the first head transplant in 2017) and that doesn’t change who we are, it’s our brain that makes us who we are. So if your brain tells you, you belong in a different sex body then that is who you are. Also if someone identifies with one culture more than any other then that is what that person is. I was born in Pakistan but raised in the US since I was 9. Eastern culture is not one that I relate to, nor do I feel any kind of connection or loyalty to Pakistan. So I consider myself American, this is the country I feel a sense of pride, adoration and connection with. I recently met a woman who was born here but relates to Pakistani culture more and wants to move there. Neither of us are trying to be something we are not, we are simply being who we are. (I don’t mean that this is in anyway the same as struggle of being in the wrong body, just that putting people into boxes does everyone a disservice)

      • The way you experience yourself makes perfect sense to me. I just don’t understand why it’s so important to so many trans people that this all be grounded in biology — Male versus female brains. What difference does it make?

        By the way, this transwoman insists that it’s more legit to be transgender than transracial BECAUSE gender is a social construction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZEsCWWskbY

        (I, on the other hand, think people should feel free to express themselves authentically, whoever they are. And I think that the mind is more important than the brain on this issue.)

        Finally, I always love your thoughts, Hina, thanks so much. 🙂

    • Some prefer the term transsexual and others prefer transgender. Interestingly, every transwoman I have personally asked prefers the term transsexual.

      You can’t tell the sex of a person by looking at a brain scan.

      I’ll be’s discussing issues you bring up in a series on gender creation and trans issues. And I will be including AIS males and CAH females in the discussion.

      With regards to the effects of androgen, for now I will say that AIS males and CAH females have bodies that look different from typical male and female bodies. This affects how people treat them and seems to affect how they see themselves. Sociologist ask, For instance: do CAH girls select toys because of the quality of the toy — or do they select the toy because it’s a toy that is associated with masculinity in our culture. Turns out the social construction of gender is more important than the quality of the toy.

      Biologist don’t ask these sorts of questions.

      Re: “It’s not something that someone decides on a whim or because the person is confused.” I agree.

      Finally, if you believe that Women have different brains than men, how does that express itself? Who’s better at math, Science, language arts, Art… Who wants a pet cat, to write poetry, or any other gendered quality you can think of.

      How would I be different if I had a male brain?

      Because research shows that there is huge overlap between males and females. You cannot predict anything about what gender/sex someone is based on either brain scans or their personality traits and abilities.

  14. I certainly agree that being transracial reflects white privilege. Although “transrace” seems to be a new word, transracial behavior has always been carried out by people. Often time, people don’t necessarily identify what they’ve been doing as “transracial” (because somehow it can be seen shameful), they have probably behaved, dressed or carried themselves in a whiter/lighter skin-toned way. For example, there are Asian, latino, or African Americans recognized as being white by other people for their “white” lifestyle or language use. And the reason behind that is white privilege people receive when they act “white”.

    I think one of the reasons why people are more against transrace than transgender is that people feel more betrayed or disrespected when someone changes race rather than when someone switches gender. Because people generally identify themselves more with their racial cultures than gender cultures. Knowing someone from his own racial group switching to another one, people from the racial group might think the transracial person is betraying or denying the culture of this racial group, as well the people in the racial group. And racial groups are smaller comparing to gender groups, people from the same racial group possibly stick together more and have a closer relation or identification with the group. Therefore people from a racial group are likely to have stronger reactions to transracial issues.

    • I’m wondering if people were allowed to be more cross-racial if white privilege/racism would diminish? Because the blurring lines would more accurately reflect the fact that race isn’t real. We tend to look at someone and judge them by their race, when the race doesn’t really mean anything about who they are biologically. Only culturally. And if a person feels more culturally aligned with a group of people other than the group they were born into, wouldn’t they be more authentic to move into that culture?

      And do people actually identify more with a racial culture then a gender culture? They may be more aware of doing so, But gender culture is deeply ingrained. And I don’t see that that’s any reason to preference one over the other.

  15. I think that someone identifying as “trans-racial” is a product of white privilege. Race could be a social construct but when a white person benefiting from white privilege decides that they are mentally a different race, all they are doing is appropriating another culture. These people are trying to become a different race that is constantly being oppressed by white people. They don’t understand how disrespectful that is, how they are trying to become a different race simply based on the aesthetic of the race, and not pay attention to the struggles these races face every day under white oppression. Honestly I don’t understand why transgender people are being dragged into this mess, their experience is completely different and race and gender are two different things. Honestly, white people should not be in this discussion at all, they are constantly benefiting from being white and do not have the right to say whether or not a white person claiming to be trans-racial is valid or not.

    • How does someone who lives outside another person’s mentality know that it is appropriation of a culture and not something that is authentic to them? That the person feels more authentically themselves?

  16. Jonathan frierson

    Maybe if there was a surgery of some sort or kind, do I ever believe trans-racial will ever become a real thing. Because what Rachel dolezal did is called lying. She is a white woman only for a couple of years after dating a black man did she start identifying as a black woman. She posed her adopted black young brother as her son to further her lies. The real word we should use to describe this woman should be “BLACK-FACED”. She sprayed spray tan to become brown, and added weave hair(which doesn’t make sense when she doesn’t have real black hair under) and sometime corn rolls.

    This woman identified as white in college, in fact she sued the black university she attended. She stated it was because of her whiteness she was not further at the university. The woman lied to a community and held a president position for the northwest chapter of the NAACP. America when will we stop trying to dignose everything and make-up a new word, and start to just hold people responsible for there actions and lies.

    Because in many communities like the black,Latino, Asian there is internal racesim. And that’s all this woman took advantage of in this community. That lighter skinned is prettier, smarter and advance more. Hence you see lighter skinned for these communities not to be white. That I believe is the bigger topic that should of started from this.

    • What she did is very different from blackface because that is meant to as an insult where as this woman was expressing herself in the way that felt most authentic to her. And I don’t see how she is helped by being black in a racist society?

      Race really doesn’t mean anything real — other than what culture decides it does (in other words, we act as though it is real, Whether or not it is). Same thing with gender. And moving in and out of race — or gender — helps reveal the social construction. Some biological males and females do not feel like they fit well with what are society says male or female means. We are becoming increasingly comfortable with them expressing themselves as authentically as possible. Why should they be the only ones?

  17. I get where the haters are coming from. It’s like why are you trying to be a different race when you aren’t?, but then if you think that, then why is it okay to be a different gender? I think it’s the same thing. Before I read this I was against transracial. But many people don’t feel like they belong in a certain culture. It’s the same idea how girls feel like they don’t belong in a girls body. I see transracial a lot in minorities. Minorities are proud to be different, despite that we struggle more in life. But we take pride. So when a minority is trying to be “white”, you are basically saying you don’t like to be different or you don’t take pride of who you are.

    But then people who have their hair dyed, colored contacts, tanning shouldn’t be talking. You are taking pride of your own culture as well. For an example, many minorities dye their hair blonde because we don’t like the natural color. White people are blonde so aren’t you then trying to be white?
    The color of your hair comes from the traits of your culture.Many change the way they look not even realizing that they are taking away their own culture.

    It’s a thought.

    • I suspect that if people could be transracial — because they authentically feel more like the other race — that we would have less racism and more esteem and understanding for one another.

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