In an op-ed published yesterday by the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Diversity Focus’ Gabe Erickson asks, “Why is Rachel Dolezal held to a different principle than Bruce Jenner?” The article continues: “No one said Bruce is falsely portraying himself as a woman or called him a fraud.”
(That, in fact, is not true.)
Erickson’s op-ed begins like so: “I feel like a black man…therefore I am black.” That’s quickly revealed to be a specious claim, but I’m not sure how he, the Director of Communications and Media Affairs for Diversity Focus, managed to convince himself of its harmlessness. It is, at the very least, dubious rhetoric — pathos dressed up as a cool, ironic appeal to reason. At worst, it is triggering, insensitive and troubling.
Mr. Erickson: Much like the time you, a white man, decided that prejudice was a-ok — nothing about your opinion on the experience of women, black or white, cis or trans, is relevant. That said, a lot of thoughtful folks have written some stellar blog posts and essays answering the questions you raise. So here’s a reading list, delivered with love, to help you work through all the reasons why Rachel Dolezal’s decades-long stint in blackface is neither acceptable nor comparable to Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition.
Think of this as a mixtape for your heart and mind:
1. Here’s Ryan Cooper over at The Week: “Gender and race are social constructs to a great degree, but not equally so. In particular, gender is more deeply rooted in one’s own mind, while race is more forcibly imposed by the surrounding society…it’s fair to say there is a difference in weighting.”
2. Here’s a great interview with Robin DiAngleo (a white woman who gets it) on white fragility: “I do atypical work for a white person, which is that I lead primarily white audiences in discussions on race every day, in workshops all over the country. That has allowed me to observe very predictable patterns. And one of those patterns is this inability to tolerate any kind of challenge to our racial reality. We shut down or lash out or in whatever way possible block any reflection from taking place.”
3. And here’s the article in which Ms. DiAngelo coined the term.
4. Here’s a super smart tumblr!
5. Here’s Will Wilkinson writing for The Economist: “The gap between the lived experience of black and white Americans remains so wide, and so unjust, that the attempt of whites to cross the racial divide, and to live as blacks do, seems impossible. It is offensive for a white American to represent herself as black, for now, because it diminishes the enormity of that gap by implying that it has, in fact, been crossed.“
6. Here’s a very important Facebook post: “[This] is triggering for many, especially black women, and it’s ok for us to rightfully respond to seeing ourselves dissected and worn by someone who is then PRAISED for wearing black women, all while being a black woman is shit upon.”
7. And here’s an article with a similar focus: “We as Black people don’t even have choice in which race we can identify as—that’s something only White people can do. As Black people, we’re automatically branded by society based on our phenotypical features, our class, life experiences, etc. That’s the whole damn reason why White people created the concept of race and its resultant oppression on marginalized people of color in the first damn place. I guess Ms. Dolezal never learned that in all her years at Howard?”
8. Here’s a wonderful essay about what transcracialism actually means — you know, as in transracial adoption: “The conversations around and flippant use of “transracial” to describe Ms. Dolezal’s deception (and lets be clear she has lied, profited from that lie, garnered a privileged position and has no plans to stop calling herself Black.) have been particularly triggering for me. I am a woman who through taking courses in and teaching Black Feminist Theory found solace, healing, inspiration in those sacred spaces. I am a Black woman who found my way back to the community I was taken from. The community that was the first to tell me I was beautiful when all I experienced was rejection and shame about my skin color and hair texture. As a Black woman who discovered that Black diaspora celebrated and embraced my very particular transracial adopted hybridity — I’m angry at the dismissal of my identity and at the very real glorification of Ms. Dolezal’s.”
9. And another, explaining why Dolezal’s appropriation of the term is hella problematic: “Dolezal and others have perpetuated the false notion that a person can simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity. As extensive evidence-based research and first-person narratives have shown, we do not live in a so-called “post-racial society.” Damaging forces like racism make it virtually impossible for those with black or brown bodies to simply “put on” or “take off” race in the same or similar manner that Dolezal has employed. For transracial adoptees, navigating and negotiating the racism in our families, schools, and communities is a regular and compulsory part of our lives.”
10. Here’s an article about some trauma recently faced by black women in America: “Six black women were shot to death during a community prayer service by a young white man who allegedly declared: ‘You rape our women.’”
And finally, here’s a link to the Amazon page for Bliss Broyard’s book One Drop, about her father Anatole Broyard’s racial “passing” and the devastating effect it had on their family. In the interest of supporting local businesses, though, I took the liberty of calling Prairie Lights to see if they had a copy in stock. They didn’t, so I ordered one for you. You can pick it up next Thursday.
Oh, and by the way, Gabe, Ms. Jenner’s name is not “Bruce.” Her name is Caitlyn. Here’s a pronunciation guide: