Recently, two people have been publicly outed amidst much criticism as ‘ethnic frauds’ – Rachel_Dolezal was outed as ‘not black’ in June, and more recently Andrea Smith was outed as ‘not Cherokee’. I have no intention of adding my own criticism or defence to these two specific situations, which are no doubt fantastically complicated. However, I can’t help but consider the analogy with another more recent and high profile case – that of Caitlyn Jenner.
Caitlyn-formerly-known-as-Bruce, who was already pretty famous, became slightly more famous after outing herself as a trans-woman.
Most reasonable people were supportive of Caitlyn’s decision to become a woman, and the plight of trans-people gained some much needed airtime. There was no shortage of asshat opinions, either, but I rarely listen to spiteful ramblings. Disagree, or fail to understand, by all means, but do so with decency. Personally, I was sceptical, given Caitlyn’s reality-TV background, but I suppose that TV Personalities can have real problems too and so I will cede the benefit of the doubt.
But if men can like men and women can be born in men’s bodies, then perhaps white people can be born in black bodies, and black women can be born in Cherokee bodies and like men. The semantics becomes confusing, but then we don’t even know how sexuality works and why some girls like girls, so why doesn’t the principle hold for race as it does for sex?
I anticipate the argument that representing yourself as something you are not is fraud, and bad. Getting a job with a fake degree? Uncool. Ticking “black” on the race box to get a BEE job? Uncool. Except – why does Caitlyn get to tick “female” on the gender box? I realise it isn’t quite the same. There’s a difference between claiming to be something you are not in order to get something you aren’t entitled to, and being genuinely confused about what you are.
But if you are confused about what you are – as a race or as a gender – it’s somewhat understandable if you make the wrong call sometimes. Even if Rachel and Andrea aren’t the poster children of the trans-racial identity, can we be so quick to write them off purely as frauds?
Stereotypes are hard, man!