Why Dolezal is Black

Rachel Dolezal has been in the news lately because of her high profile position in the NAACP and as a professor while apparently lying about her race. This is Rachel:

She claims to be black. Her parents claim she is white. There’s already plenty of analysis out there on the situation, so I won’t dive any further into exposition. Instead I want to look at some details I found interesting.

Primarily that

1. Her siblings are black

2. Her childhood self portraits are black

So this is a long-game thing. People who say she’s trying to use a fake race to get ahead would appear to be discredited at this point. But my question after thinking about this for awhile is

1. She clearly thinks of herself as black (see link)

2. Other people think of her as black (otherwise this wouldn’t even be a thing)

3. Ergo by all perception she is black (from 1 and 2; her and everyone else comprise everyone)

4. Race is a social construct so only perception matters here (definition of race)

5. Ergo she is black (from 3 and 4)

I can’t think of a meaningful way she’s white. (Point 2 is a bit fucked up now since her parents decided to throw her into the middle of public controversy; out of this whole ordeal I think the clearest thing is that her parents are scumbags, but I digress).

Some people like to argue that she can change her appearance to look white, ergo taking advantage of white privilege, but plenty of people look white enough to do so despite not falling into the white box (even if primarily for failing point 1 on the very pale end.). Furthermore, anyone with significant enough wealth has access to plenty of resources to change their appearance however the hell they want. If they want to say Dolezal’s white because of potential whiteness, then so is any very rich black person.

Some people will say she didn’t have a black childhood and missed out on those formative experiences. Which experiences are those, though? Being a racial minority? Hardly a black experience in Africa. Much of the American cultural artifacts are contingent on poverty; a black child in a poor family in a poor neighborhood will have a very different childhood from one who grew up very wealthy.

The final issue is point 4. Some people want to say race is biological. The issue then is drawing lines as well as practicality. There are certainly genes that affect things like skin tone and facial structure. There’s many of them, so we’d end up with a large (though discrete) spectrum, and a more continuous spectrum of gene expression (which is the only thing that matters outside of medicine). The lines would be entirely arbitrary and pointless in actual usage. When I see a white person or black person I see that based on, generally, how they look. So does pretty much everyone else. Nobody is doing a gene test on everyone they label with a race, and the genetic argument against point 4 is clearly grasping for straws.

Thus, I have no real way to say Dolezal is white, even if at first my reaction was such. If you have a compelling argument, please feel free to comment.

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The Fight We Have Left

On the /r/TumblrInAction subreddit, in a comment, /u/Be3Al2Si6O18 said

> The problem now is that we have a generation with very little to fight for

I disagree, which I think makes the problem you outline worse. Has the battle been won for a lot of groups’ legal rights and at least popular opinion? For the most part. In the Western world, anyhow. Being black or gay won’t get you in legal trouble. Being LGBT or irreligious might get you kicked out of the house if you’re a kid with your parents. Homicide rates are still pretty disproportionate (and while you can handwave racial disparities with wealth disparities, gay people and transsexuals come from all wealth classes pretty randomly).

Which really gets to the yet bigger issue of labour and wealth disparity. Somehow the left in moving to identity politics has neglected to fight for labour and in that time wealth disparities have soared in quite a few countries. Hell, race in America was invented as a concept to make the lower class fight amongst themselves before they’d realize they’d be better off overthrowing the guy cracking the whip. In the richest country in the world people are dying because they don’t have enough money and we’ve somehow become afraid to demand a distribute of wealth that works better for all of society rather than the short term interests of a select few.

There’s a shitload of fighting left to do.

Of course, part of the issue of bad focus comes from who’s doing the shifting. The big civil rights movements generally came from a more desperate point. But the people moving the focus to shit like otherkin generally have a good amount of comfort otherwise. Hell, they spend half the day on tumblr. That’s not encouraging to go out and fight. But it’s sure as hell a more comfortable target for the media to look at than bigger issues with either a smaller affected group (transsexuals being killed) or that might hurt those with extant power (wealth disparity).