Wednesday, June 17, 2015

focus less on the hon.sis.rachel and more on what her example illuminates


dailynous |  Rebecca Kukla: First off, I am befuddled by how many people are interested in describing what was in Rachel Dolezal’s head and are willing to offer armchair diagnoses of her purported mental illness or condemnations of her motives. Not only do I not know what was in her head, but in fact, the more the conversation focuses on this particular person’s inner life, the less interesting I find the whole issue. The interesting question, I take it, is how to think and talk in general about people who identify and present as belonging to a race other than that assigned at birth, whatever their reasons and causes. I will focus on some meta-concerns about how we are talking about that question.

I am disappointed in how quickly almost everyone, including friends of mine who are strong anti-racist and trans allies, have been willing to engage in (1) ridicule and body-shaming – unabashedly mocking her hair and skin tone for instance; (2) confident descriptions of her as a liar who is choosing to pretend to be something she is not; and (3) fast and confident claims that she can’t claim black identity because she is appropriating a culture, hasn’t grown up with the black experience, can opt out at any time, etc. My main reaction to all this is that it’s surprisingly historically short-sighted and lacking in epistemic humility. So many times, ‘we’ (those of us with a recognizable and reasonably well-established embodied, socially positioned identity) have encountered a new way of being, and have responded with ridicule, shaming, and charges of lying. So often we think that forms of identity that have no clear social place are hilarious and clearly a pretense and that their bearers are fair game for humiliation. Honestly, I don’t know if Dolezal experienced herself as lying, or as making a voluntary choice to deceive, and more generally I don’t know whether or how there might be a legitimate place for transracial identities, as opposed to, in effect, race ‘drag,’ which is what almost everyone seems to assume is going on in Dolezal’s case. But I have learned from experience that body shaming and ridicule are always unhelpful and problematic, and that what we shame and dismiss one year we often come to understand and defend ten years later. I also know that people are driven to lie and deceive in seemingly incomprehensible ways when they find themselves without any socially recognizable way of being. As for the confident claims that Dolezal, or people like her, have no right to black identities because they didn’t have a lifetime of black experience, or because they are being appropriative of the experience and identity markers of an oppressed group, or because they want access to a community that their bodies preclude them from properly joining, or that their presence in black spaces threatens the integrity of those spaces for ‘real’ black people: well, I feel the pull of those arguments for sure, and I don’t want to dismiss them. But boy do they sound exactly analogous to ‘feminist’ arguments that were used to vilify and undercut the entire reality of trans women back in the not-too-long-ago day. I just don’t have the confidence that would allow me to proclaim immediately that this time the critique fits, that there is no real phenomenon here, no human need or way of being that requires understanding and a reconfiguration of my settled concepts. Can’t we learn from the past and proceed a little more slowly?

One final point: I’ve seen several philosophers online say that before we can settle what to think about the possibility of transracial identity, we need to know more about the metaphysics of race. I think this is exactly wrong. The question is not what race ‘really’ is, because whatever the difficult answer to that, we are all walking around with a phenomenological sense of self that does not hinge on or even include this answer, and race has a powerful social life independent of its proper metaphysics. Whether transracial identity is possible and should be given social uptake strikes me as a thoroughly political question about how various ways of claiming and recognizing identity do and don’t do harm to individuals and to communities. I can’t imagine how this hinges on metaphysics. Even if there was some real thingamajig in people that constituted their race, such that if they claimed to have a different one then they were saying something false (and does anyone think that, seriously?), I can’t see how that would settle any of the interesting questions about how people experience themselves and what sorts of identity-building we should acknowledge, support, or challenge.

11 comments:

BigDonOne said...

rotflmWao..."people in positions of power are floating the idea of paying blacks in 65% black Baltimore NOT to kill one another"
http://baltimore.suntimes.com/bal-news/7/101/133150/baltimore-pay-people-kill
...sez it all.

CNu said...

Not interested in your antics today BD. Run along now and focus on something more closely attuned to your nature http://srmo.sagepub.com/view/methods-case-studies-2015/n43.xml

woodensplinter said...

TRIGGER!!!!

MICROAGRESSION!

Schuyler's lampblacked anglo-saxon comment is racist!

Denying the significance of negro feelings of "fundamental, eternal, and unfathomable differences.

ken said...

Focus less on hon.sis.rachel and more on what her example illuminates....

I suspect she has just registered herself to a little higher protected status.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3128102/Rachel-Dolezal-weeps-says-Caitlyn-Jenner-s-story-cry-resonated-her.html

Haven't seen much talk about this facet of her identity.

"The divorced civil rights activist, who was outed as white by her parents last week, also revealed that she was bisexual in a new interview that aired on NBC News'TODAY show on Wednesday."

CNu said...

lol, evangelical fundies can't help obsessing over other peoples undies...,

Vic78 said...

It looked like MHP was trying to be balanced about the whole thing. Why cop an attitude with someone trying to reach out when the normal attitude toward trans types is disgust? And advice for allies? Rachel was fighting dirty against bigots while at NAACP. Why go after someone that gets her hands dirty fighting the good fight? People just want to whine in a perpetual circle jerk. Straight up sissy shit.

Howard alums should be proud.

BigDonOne said...

Hey...!! --- BigDoN-1 is always ahead of the cuttiN-1g edge http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/17/americans-confidence-religion-poll/28872253/

DD said...

Applause. Perhaps I'm just stupiderer than all the pundits, but this post is my favorite analysis of the issue yet. Whatever it is about this particular case, the cartoon, media version of this lady is just a big ass stick- everybody either wants to beat others over the head with it, or they seem scared shitless its going to give them a whooping.

What's the big rush to solve this essentially zero-impact riddle? Everyone with any kind of agenda at all is absolutely TERRIFIED to just let this be. I'm rather enjoying it.

CNu said...

lol, had to make up for my rush to judgement on the outlaws. What's the big rush to solve this essentially zero-impact riddle?Yeah, whole lot of mythological oxen getting gored by this one. I didn't think things had gotten so bad that the man would send somebody to go shoot up Denmark Vesey's church though, just to change the collective subject.

DD said...

Church and school shooters; for them, I cosign to your state-sponsored elimination program.


DV went to that church? I'll keep him and his in my prayers.

CNu said...

nah.., the historical (not imaginary) rebel Denmark Vesey was one of the founders of that church.