Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why Rachel Dolezal Can Never Be Black . . . Or Male

There is an odd piece published by Denene Miller of NPR openly critical of Rachel Dolezal now Nkechi Diallo), who claimed to be transracial American serving as at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, WA in 2014 and 2015 even though she was biologically Caucasian. Both of her parents are white. She herself is, naturally, white. Diallo was a proven fraud and the cultural outrage was immediate.

Diallo never apologized for her deception but continues to defend her "lifestyle choice." She is now publishing a book promoting her transracial identity. In the article, entitled "Why Rachel Dolezal Can Never Be Black" Diallo's defense is given as follows:
"I feel that I was born with the essential essence of who I am, whether it matches my anatomy and complexion or not," Dolezal told The Guardian earlier this week. "I've never questioned being a girl or woman, for example, but whiteness has always felt foreign to me, for as long as I can remember. I didn't choose to feel this way or be this way, I just am. What other choice is there than to be exactly who we are?"
Being transracial, as Diallo understands it, means to identify "mentally, emotionally, physically and culturally as" a different race as one's genetic code and she hopes to be the face of this new dysphoria.

But NPR is having none of it. They begin:
Here's the thing, though: The woman formerly known as Dolezal is still a white lady with fussy hair and a bad tan, trying to make fetch happen. Snatching two words from two separate African languages and claiming them as a reflection of her connection with blackness cannot — and will not ever — earn her the soul of black folk.
In other words, "blackness" is not about feelings or tanned skin but something much deeper. Only someone biologically African-American can understand that.

Nevertheless, the article notes, Diallo may not be the sort of person the transracial community (is it a community yet?) want to represent them. Her biography is packed with lies and deceptions (as if identifying as an African-American wasn't the first clue).
For years, she denied her own family, heritage and skin color, claiming she was a mixed-race daughter of an African-American man who had fled the South after assaulting a racist police officer. So tremendous were her lies that she actually managed to talk herself into the president's chair in the NAACP-Spokane, Wash., chapter, onto the board of a police oversight committee and into a teaching gig in the African-American studies department at Eastern Washington University, where she taught classes on subjects like black and African art, African-American culture and "the black woman's struggle." It was her parents, from whom she is estranged, who exposed Dolezal's true identity, launching her into a national scandal and making her the bull's-eye for heated conversations targeting race, identity, blackness, cultural politics and whether one has the right and power to choose.
Thus the name change. "In taking an African name, Dolezal looks to change her destiny — to revise history. To claim what is not hers to claim."

One has to ask, since when was Denene Miller and NPR the lord over personal feelings? I thought postmodernity crucified such audacious and ostracizing bigotry. Feelings determine destiny, not anatomy and genetics. Who I am is a matter of opinion, not science. Did they not get the memo?

Regardless, blackness is not subject to feelings.
Blackness is a bright and shiny diamond, and here in America, everyone wants to wear it like a Rockafella chain around their neck. The attitude, the language, the humor, the music, the style, all of it is covetable, and everyone from the Kardashians (with their signature curvy bodies and thick, puffy lips) to cereal companies (with their hip-hop commercial jingles) to a white second-grade neighbor (twirling around in the yard singing BeyoncĂ©'s latest hit) get high — and rich — off it.

But, like diamonds, blackness is created under extreme pressure and high temperature, deep down in the recesses of one's core. It is sitting between your mama's knees on a Saturday night, hunched over as she runs a hot comb through your kitchen. It is showing up to the family reunion and running board on Uncle Ned, the foul-mouthed Spades champion who remembers every ... single ... shady ... thing you did as a baby — and repeats it to anyone within earshot. It is dealing with the tambourine on the twos and the fours on early Sunday morning as you march in the choir processional to that down-home gospel song that leaves the entire congregation shoutin' and praisin'.

Blackness is black-eyed peas and collard greens with neckbones and chitlins on New Year's Day — not just for the eating but for very specific wishing. It is being followed in the store and told what you can and can't afford by a salesperson whose weekly salary is what you just spent on a casual lunch; it is sitting on the curb outside your apartment building with your hands behind your head, waiting for the police officer to decide if he's going to let you go or put you in the back of his squad car.
Blackness is all up in the bones — in the sinew.
In other words, one's racial identity is a matter of biology, not personal feelings. To identify as African-American while being the daughter of two white parents is nothing short of "the ultimate in white privilege." Diallo can never be Africa-American because she is not Africa-American.

This article is odd because Diallo's defense mirrors the transgender community's who argue, like Diallo, that anatomy no longer determinative, feelings are. To disagree with one's identity is bigotry and transphobia. Boys can be girls. Girls can be Boys. A boy and a girl can be boy or neither or unsure. Bu rest assure, a white woman can never be anything but a white woman.

The irony here is rich. An article like this targeting a so-called transracial American would never be written about a transgendered person even though the arguments are synonymous. Diallo's defense quoted above is precisely and purposefully the same as the transgendered communities. We can go even farther. The culture views transgender persons as victims of a bigoted society, but view Diallo's quest for recognizing transracial identity as a real condition borderline racism. For a white woman to impersonate an African-American is racist regardless of how they may feel, but for a male to impersonate a female should be normative because feelings trump reality.

Throughout the above article it is odd that Diallo's legal name is a source of criticism instead of information. Her official name is, after all, Nkechi Diallo, regardless of one's personal feelings on the subject. I am a Cincinnati Bengals fan and did not enjoy saying Chad Ochocinco, but that was his legal name. Nevertheless, NPR's policy refers to men who identify as women as "her/she" and vise versa so long as the person they are writing about demands it regardless of biology. The hypocrisy ought to be obvious.

What is strange about the Diallo episode is how obvious this clear contradiction is and how hard our postmodern society works to deny it. Somehow gender (determined at birth) is fluid but race (determined by genetics) is not. The language directed at Diallo mirrors the sort of "hate" defendants of the transgender community receive from so-called bigots who do not want to change tradition bathroom policies.

From the Christian perspective, this quest for identity reveals the depth of our fallenness. Searching for meaning in the universe is nothing new, but the means by which we are going about it today is unique. The, however, gospel draws us to find our identity in Christ - the author and finisher of our faith. In him (the language of identity) we have meaning and purpose. We do not need to shed biology (for we are made in the image of God), but sin. In him, we will not need to live in contradiction or define ourselves by communities of gender, race, or politics, but by the Kingdom of God which transcends all categories. As CS Lewis reminds us, the Son of God became man to enable men to become sons of God. Let that quest define you, not redefining gravity.
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