Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The race you are or want to be

A local president of the NAACP has resigned because, it turns out, she isn't African-American. Not that being African-American is a requirement for the office, but it just came across as unseemly that someone would fake their own race, perhaps to gain the office she held.

For decades, a few Americans with African-descended ancestors, were able to "pass" into white society because of their fair skins and other European features. This feat repudiated the legal claim in some Southern states that any African ancestry made a person "colored" and excluded them from white society with its privileges and opportunities.

Rachel Dolezal went the other way and gained status as a leader of the NAACP. She has resigned her position but has not explained or apologized for her misleading racial switch. A news network commentator referred to her feat as "transracial," a play on the popular "transgender" moniker for people who claim to have been assigned the "wrong" gender at birth. Some researchers have supported this type of claim, insisting that gender should not be based on genitalia but on self-identity and feelings.

If Bruce Jenner, a former male Olympic champion, can become a woman, why can't Dolezal, a former blond and fair-skinned woman, become African-American, based on her self-determined racial identity? And if racial identity is transient, what's the point of asking race questions on census forms and having race-based scholarships and electoral redistricting?

The NAACP, to its credit, proclaims that there is no racial qualification for leadership in the NAACP, and throughout its history the NAACP has had leaders who were Caucasians. The uproar over Dolezal's faking her blackness, however, shows that Americans are still sensitive about race.

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