You all know that I’m fascinated by the case of Rachel Dolezal, a woman claiming to be “trans race” in the sense of born the wrong race and not in the sense of having adoptive parents of a different race. She claims that she was born white when she should have been born Black. And she went to lengths to present herself as Black. Of course believing in reincarnation, as I do, it’s possible that Rachel Dolezal was Black in a recent past life. I have come to believe that about myself, that I was recently an Indian Hindu in a previous life (I would never say, however, that that has given me any insight or right to speak on behalf of Indians). But I don’t know for Rachel Dolezal. It sounds like she had a lot of experiences in her life that led her to relate more strongly to the Black community.
The reason this fascinates me so much is that I have felt a strong temptation at times to attempt to pass for Indian. I get exhausted sometimes of standing out in my Hindu community. I don’t want to be remarkable. There are times that I’ve fantasized about what it would be like to not stick out everywhere I go. (Okay, not everywhere, just everywhere within a religious context, which is a big portion of my life). But then I remember that minorities don’t get to choose to fit in. And that is the crux of the issue, but I will get back to that.
Now my motivation is clearly not the same as Rachel Dolezal or a trans person of any kind. I don’t feel that I was born in the wrong body, I don’t feel like I should be Indian. I just sometimes wonder why I’m not and fantasize about how life would be easier if I were!
See Also: Hoping To Be Born Brown and The Disadvantage Of Being Born Hindu
With this situation, the question that comes up is what is the difference between this and being transgender. If people are “allowed” to change their gender or present a gender that they feel is more in line with who they are, why can’t people do that in other aspects as well?
I’ve been surprised to see my friends who are passionate about transgender rights be disgusted by Rachel Dolezal.
They say she is sick, needs help, should get therapy. Things they would never ever ever say about a transgender person.
My Black friends are disgusted by her. Angry and hurt. She did take opportunities away from actual Black women and spoke as though she had the experience of growing up Black when she did not. So that was definitely inappropriate.
On the other hand, she did put herself in the position to have the disadvantages of a less privileged position in society. In other words, people sometimes say that white people who admire Black culture (or any other culture they admire but are not part of) can never understand because they still have the advantage of their white skin. And Rachel Dolezal certainly tried to get rid of that advantage.
So I’ll admit that, though I’m a liberal, I end up wondering the same thing that you usually hear from conservatives:
If it’s okay to be transgender, why is not okay to be transrace?
Kat Blaque, whom I admire very much, did a video to address this question, claiming to state the difference between Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner. I’ve watched that video a few times and I just don’t buy her argument. Basically she says that the difference is that a transgender person is expressing their authentic self. They are changing their appearance to line up with the person they actually are.But the thing is, she doesn’t know Rachel Dolezal’s heart. Why wouldn’t she be expressing her real and authentic inner self? Rachel Dolezal herself certainly believes that is what she is doing. I don’t think we can measure the appropriateness of this behavior based on what someone’s true self (lower case self) is because we can’t know someone else’s heart.
I finally figured out what I think makes this different.
It is entirely about privilege. It’s about being able to go one direction but not the other. When it comes to transgender, sometimes someone born with male body parts feels that they are actually female and sometimes someone born with female body parts feels that they are actually male. It goes both directions.
In Rachel Dolezal we have an example of a white woman who feels they are actually a Black woman. But imagine if a Black woman were to say that she believes she is actually a white woman born in the wrong body and we all need to treat her as though she were a white woman. Could that happen? I don’t think so.
I think that is the crux of what is wrong with what Rachel Dolezal is doing. The way society is set up at, at least here in America, makes it relatively easy for us white people to immerse ourselves in other cultures and live as whoever we want. It does not give that same privilege to people who are not white.
I still struggle to judge Rachel Dolezal, since I do not know what’s happening in her heart. But I recognize that it would be absurd for a Black woman to say that she was born in the wrong body and is actually a white woman. I think we cannot accept the concept of being “trans race” until it is possible for it to go both ways (or multiple ways). It cannot be that only people in a position of privilege can express their true self.
However, I do not think that the entire concept is impossible.
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