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Question: Can someone "identify" as another ethnicity or race?

Karen OKeefe May 09, 2019

A bunch of co-workers and I had a conversation today about Rachel Dolezal, the former Washington State chairman of the NAACP. She was born white, but took on an African-American sounding name, permed her hair, and darkened her skin so she would appear black.  In her many speeches, lectures, and writing, she related stories about being discriminated against for being black. Her reasoning when she was outed as a pale blonde by her parents was that she "identified as black."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Dolezal

Is that a thing?

4 comments

Kat Warner May 09, 2019 • edited

This is an interesting topic where I find myself mentally torn.

'Racefluid' and 'trans-race' are words some people identify with, so in that respect it is a thing. Whether 'mainstream' attitudes will change over time is yet to be seen. Some of these people have very little exposure the the culture/race they are identifying with.

Image result for race fluid

Somehow this does not feel similar to when a university tutor I had described herself as a 'potato' - she looked brown (Pasifika) on the outside but she felt white (New Zealand European) on the inside as she only spoke English and had be raised in New Zealand with Western ways of life.

I also struggle with the concept of race. When I was at school or university it was largely talked about as an out-dated concept form Victorian times. You might like to check out Stephen Fry's take on race, ancestry, and the invention of chess.

 

This article covers some of the ground I mentioned above. I have just saved this article to read this weekend.

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Andy Barker - TWNKLS AR Community Leader May 10, 2019

To be really blunt and get straight to the point: why not!?
All part and parcel of being part of this extremely diverse race we call "HUMAN" :oD

 

I can't remember which Sci-Fi novel it is... but there is one particular chapter where they have to fight the aliens and there's two officers fighting side by side... they win the battle and during victory find out they are from opposing nations (I think it was Israel and Egypt but could be wrong...) 
When they find this out they swear at each other and go off in different directions. A bit humorous but ultimate a dark theme for how ignorant this species can be!

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Kat Warner May 10, 2019

We are biased to see similarities between "us" and differences from "them". That is why the Aussie and Kiwi accent (ditto some North American accents) can be mistaken for the other by people outside of those areas but seem very different to people from those areas. 

There is often more variety within a group than between different groups. That can be the cause of some cultural tensions 1) because it is hard to define what it is to be part of or identify with a culture, and 2) there is very little that is exclusive to a single culture i.e. modified language when talking to elders when compared to peers and rules about sitting on eating surfaces.

The way people think fascinates me. I am less interested in what people think than how they came to their position and its implications in their lives. The internet is great for this type of 'people watching'.

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Karen OKeefe May 10, 2019

@Andy Barker - TWNKLS AR   Your sci-fi scenario reminds me of an uber religious acquaintance who needed help with her business computer system (in Ohio). I recommended my friend John, who did exactly the kind of work Debbie needed help with. At her request, I gave John her number and he spent quite a bit of time at her business doing various computer things. John is smart, funny, tall, attractive, and about my son's age...and gay.

One night Debbie called me and asked if John was seeing anyone. I said no. She said she was going to fix him up with her niece, Erin. I said that wasn't going to work. In answer to her question why, I said Erin was not John's type. She then defended her niece (who I really liked). It just isn't my place to out anyone, so I wasn't comfortable saying anything else.

I told John about the situation and he said I should go ahead and tell her, which I did.

Her response was "but he's so nice." And I said "Yes, he's nice and gay." I thought that would help cure some of Debbie's mistaken ideas about gay people. Instead, she paid him what she owed and never called him again. She later chastised me for "letting a pervert into her life."

John is the sweetest, kindest, most loving person I know...and I would be proud of him if he were my son.  Debbie was an acquaintance, not a friend (her bigoted ideas had prevented that), but she had friends in my social circle. I quit having anything to do with her after that. 

Your story of the two people working together reminded me of that incident. I have had gay friends since junior high school--and I am turning 60 next month. It never occurred to me that gay people are any more or less normal than the rest of us--and I don't need people in my life who use religion to hate other people.

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Andy Barker - TWNKLS AR Community Leader May 10, 2019

Hmmm.... that is some serious reading and I will need some proper time with it away from the mayhem of our current Game Jam! Read in piece on the weekend.

This bit in particular has made me more questionable all of a sudden:
"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"

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@Ghiona Tamir Thank you ever so much for your response. Unfortunately, when black women respond to such tomfoolery we are considered angry. Remember the whole bakery owner refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple and later on gender transition? 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-rules-in-favor-of-baker-who-would-not-make-wedding-cake-for-gay-couple/2018/06/04/50c68cf8-6802-11e8-bea7-c8eb28bc52b1_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dee6d587b047

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-colorado-baker-gender-transition-cake-20180815-story.html

I worked with a man who, while listening to my take on it (I agreed with the Supreme Court decision), didn't understand my stance since we (gays and blacks) basically are "in the same struggle". I was like are you kidding me right now? He said no, "they discriminate against them just as much if not more than you". I really thought I had about heard it all. I didn't have the energy to debate so I left him with this:

When I wake up every day, people see a black person. If I were gay, they would still see a black person. You cannot visualize gay (ignoring the flamboyant overtures).

Again, thank you!

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Karen OKeefe May 10, 2019

@Ghiona Tamir Thank you for posting these links. I read the first (NPR) article--and will save the others to read over the weekend. These lines at the end struck me as powerful:

"Blackness is all up in the bones — in the sinew.

And it is the ultimate in white privilege, really, for a white woman to see that diamond, all shiny and hard and unbreakable, and pluck it for her own, like it's a gift from Tiffany's, with seemingly zero regard for the pressure, the heat, the pain it went through — that we went through — to earn that shine."

I knew Rachel Dolezal was a fraud (and she lives in Washngton, just north of me), but I didn't fully appreciate how much until I read that article. I'm betting your other article references will deepen my understanding. 

It's not easy having to defend your race all the time--and to have it "stolen" by some white chick who claims to understand your heritage, your journey and your pain, has got to be tough. She seems like a disturbed human.

Karen OKeefe May 10, 2019

@Ghiona Tamir This conversation reminds me of a situation when I was in high school.

I was raised by a nanny from Mexico City (Andrea), Andrea spoke with us in Spanish at home and taught us Mexican songs. We even celebrated Mexican traditions in our home (though my parents are European). 

We had a ranch, where I hung out with all the ranch hands (because they were taking care of the horses and cattle). My fluency in Spanish made me fit right in. In high school, my drama teacher was looking for someone to play the part of a Mexican woman in a play--and I tried out for the part. My audition went wonderfully--and he commented on my perfect accent. And yet, he gave the part to a Mexican girl, who was more Southern Californian than I was--and her accent was terrible (apparently her parents forbade speaking Spanish at home because they wanted her to "fit in"). I was super angry she got the part. It makes more sense now. I was acting Mexican. She was being Mexican in her own Southern California way,

I've always had Mexican friends, including a priest (Father Ernesto from Mexico City). When my Italian friend threw parties, all the priests would show up and get drunk on good wine--and Father Ernesto would get out his guitar and sing old Mexican love songs. I sang right along with him. My friends always wondered how I knew all the words. Andrea sang them to me as a kid.

And yet, I'm still not Mexican!

Ghiona Tamir May 10, 2019

@Andy Barker - TWNKLS AR they're definitely worth the read if you have some time! She has a pretty messed up backstory.

@Darlene Ashleigh Jeter I definitely remember that story. Also, it's unbelievable what some people can say to you! I'm sorry that you have to go through that - and yes it's such a struggle to stand up for yourself as a black woman because you are always afraid of being painted as 'aggressive' or 'angry'.

@Karen OKeefe agreed - those were some powerful lines. My blackness is my struggle and also my greatest joy. It hurts to see people like Dolezal co-opt it like it's a costume.

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Ghiona Tamir May 10, 2019

@Karen OKeefe indeed it's a fine line between cultural appropriation vs. appreciation! It's totally okay to partake in other's cultures and enjoy them, especially when they share it with you. I'd encourage it even, because I think learning about other cultures just makes you a better person as a whole - more curious, more open-minded.

It's also important to leave the space certain spaces and things to people who are from those cultures - because sometimes they have such a deep connection and bond to it that no one from outside of that culture could ever understand - and I suppose that's what you learnt from the girl in the play!

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Karen OKeefe May 10, 2019

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful posts on this subject. I learned a lot! And you gave me a lot to think about.

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