Syretta McFadden in the Guardian is not impressed:
After days of speculation, Rachel Dolezal appeared on the Today show and declared herself transracial – and blamed other people’s misunderstanding of the term on why she came to be identified as black. “I was actually identified when I was doing human rights work in north Idaho as first transracial”, she said – in a construction that conveniently negated her agency in that decision – and explained that she never corrected subsequent media reports that she was biracial or black.
“I identify as black”, she said during the interview, though she admits to having identified as white at other points – including when she sued Howard University for racial discrimination because she was white. (She lost.)
But transracial does not mean what some white Americans like Dolezal apparently wish it to mean. The term originates from adoptive and academic circles to describe the very lived experience of children raised in homes that are phenotypically and culturally different from their birth – people like my colleague Rebecca Carroll, who is black. She was raised in a white household and her white birth mother attempted to define her as “culturally white, and cosmetically black”.
The fact Dolezal once sued Harvard for discriminating against her as a white woman, speaks volumes about how genuine she is.
Dolezal’s messy theft and fiction of a black American identity uses the currency of a subculture of privilege that is rooted in white supremacy too. If anything, to believe that one can transfer one’s identity in this way is a privilege – maybe even the highest manifestation of white privilege. The ability to accept marginalization, to take on the identity of blackness without living the burdens of it and always knowing you could, on a whim, escape it, is not a transition to blackness; to use it to further your career or social aspirations is not to become black.
It is interesting to think about what it would mean if people could legally change their race, just as they can legally change their gender (which I support). Could you join an Iwi? Could you enrol on the Maori roll? Could you use a preferential entry scheme for university? Dolezal may set off a revolution!