Can we choose our Race?
The automatic response to that question is a resounding NO. We ought to be proud of the society we are born into – the community that your family are a part of. It would be silly to recommend otherwise. But is that really that simple? What if your parents are from two different Races? Must you choose one or the other? How can you be both?
Rachel Dolezal is back in the public eye and is as bold as before. This is the woman who lied about being Mixed Race. She benefitted from scholarships meant for those who are marginalised because of the colour of their skin. She is seemingly unrepentant.
As a Mixed-Race woman, I was infuriated when this news first broke back in 2015. I spent a few days learning all that I can about her story and as more was revealed, I slowly began to understand. I suspected that my reaction informed me more of my own issues as opposed to the idea that the concept of ‘Transrace’ is unthinkable.
My initial frustration was aimed at the fact that being Mixed Race has always been a source of confusion for me. This was before I received my diagnosis for Autism and I had not yet made the social connection. I questioned how a White woman, who is a ‘whole’ race, could possibly understand what it is like having one foot either side of a roaring river? How can she identify as the same Race as me when she has not lived an experience like mine?
As I learnt more about Autism, the more I understood intersectionality and the fluidity of identity. How is Rachel’s story any different from a person being born a man and growing up knowing that inside, they are a woman? Does a woman who was born a man lie about her gender? I would argue that who we truly are as an individual is only partly reflected by our exteriors. It was never a choice – we are born the way we are. We become more ourselves through lived experience.
The issue with Dolezal’s story is that she lied. But it is tragic that she felt like she had to lie in the first place. The comments on social media seem to focus on what Race everyone thinks she should be based on simply looking at her. Gender should not be considered this way so why should Race? She did grow up around Black culture. Who are we to judge who this woman is on the inside without getting to know her?
I have known many White people who have grown up around Black culture who feel closer to this community. These are the people who create people like me. In America, Mixed Race people like me are considered Black. Here in the UK we make the distinction clear – I would not be called Black by any of my peers. Regardless, the community I have spent my life with are Asian, Black, Mixed and White; with every variance in-between. We are human and we are from Wolves. We are in this city together.
We all have similar experiences – every race has lower classes that must fight for survival. To say that someone cannot know what it is like to be marginalised because they are White and/or male is foolish. Men have suffered from the patriarchy too – they have been told that they do not have emotions thus showing anything other than composure is a sign of weakness. Wealth does not always equal happiness either. Abuse can come from all sides of the social divide.
It is about time that we starting considering the larger picture instead of picking and choosing what to moan about without doing anything about it. Dolezal had to lie because no one had the conversation she is starting now. Can you imagine how it would feel as a little girl, knowing that you are different but not knowing how to express that difference? Many LGBTQ children feel this way when they are children. As a society, we are starting to bring the conversation into mainstream thought so that children who feel different are given a voice. More work clearly needs to be done.
When people from cultures outside the US and UK move to these shores, we expect them to assimilate; to take on Western culture. This is an attempt to erase a part of their identity because one type of society is perceived as being better. This dominant type of society is the same society that perpetuated the ideal human existence as being male, light-skinned, wealthy, monogamous, and straight.
This stems from the idea that the only culture that should exist in these lands is one where the White man is at the top because they were here first. They argue that they are the ones who made humanity advance, without acknowledging the older cultures they stole ideas from then decimated. It also ignores that both the UK and US are the result of conquest and migration. Can all the White people in the UK truly trace their genetics back further than the Romans and the Saxons?
If the argument is that the Race who had lived on the land the longest is applied to the US then Native Americans ought to be filling Congress. Again, the idea of who-did-what is raised in relation to this line of thought. I saw one comment on social media that said that people should give back their phones and computers if they are ‘anti-white’ because White people invented them. If we were to get nit-picky at things like this, we will be back in the stone ages.
Saying that you identify as male does not imply that there is something wrong with being a woman. Likewise, having romantic feelings for a woman as a woman does not imply that it is wrong to love a man. It is not gender guilt or sexual guilt that is the reason behind LGBTQ existence. Why must it be anti-white feelings or White guilt that is behind Transrace existence? If I do not feel a connection to the community I was born, then I ought to be able to find another to find my place in – this is not a choice but a necessity. Academia is traditionally White – does that mean I do not belong?
We cannot split progress down racial lines because it has been a cumulative effort since the dawn of humanity. Knowledge progresses precisely because it is shared with others. It was Babylonians and Mayans who first recorded the stars. Chinese scholars have been keeping records of Sunspot activity for almost 10,000 years. Western society built upon this knowledge by building telescopes. One day maybe a future society will finally leave this planet entirely and build a new nation in a new solar system. Who should be credited with this achievement? Humanity.
Intersectionality has been mocked as a flippant choice. One that is made up. Identity politics suffer the same ridicule. My response is that our own standpoints are often illuminated through the reactions we have to stories like Rachel Dolezal. These issues are highlighted by holding a mirror to our deepest prejudices and confusions.
Identity is important because it celebrates the diversity of humanity. We would never have progressed this far without different people having different ideas. The issue with Race is more than the colour of our skin; it is an issue of power and dominance. Until we accept that different is not wrong, we will still have arguments over who-did-what-when, and our society will always be in pain.
Fear of the unknown has always been our greatest weakness. Yet, the brightest minds that humanity has provided turned that fear into curiosity.
Just imagine what we could achieve by working together without fear.