“If Caitlyn Jenner Can Identify As Female And Be Cheered For it, Why Is White NAACP Leader Rachel Dolezal Wrong To Identify As Black?” And Other Ethics Musings On A Really Strange Story

NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, before she decided to be black.

NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, before she decided to be black.

Rachel Dolezal, a prominent civil rights activist, the leader of Spokane’s NAACP chapter, chairwoman of the city’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission and a professor in the African Studies Program at Eastern Washington University, has been falsely representing herself as black for years. When someone is asked if he or she is really black, and the answers he or she comes up with includes “That question is not as easy as it seems,” and “We’re all from the African continent,”  it’s fair to say the jig is up.

Or is it? Although Dolezal’s mother has spoken out about the 37 -year-old’s background, noting that there is no black ancestry that they know of in the family and that Rachel’s self-identification as black seems to arise out of the fact that she was raised with adopted African-American siblings—you know, like Steve Martin in “The Jerk”?—she may well sincerely believe she is black. Then what?

Dolezal’s actual race, if there is such a thing in her case since she sometimes identifies herself as “white, black, and American Indian,” has suddenly become an issue because she has reported alleged instances of harassment and hate crimes. An inquiry has also been opened at Spokane City Hall. “We are gathering facts to determine if any city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions have been violated,” Mayor David Condon, who appointed her to the city oversight board,  and Council President Ben Stuckart said in a joint statement. “That information will be reviewed by the City Council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions.”

Stuckart said the council will meet soon to discuss the developments and that he didn’t want to speak for the group until then. “But if this is true I’ll be very disappointed,” he said..

Is Dolezal credible? Is she courageous? Is she deluded? Is she nuts? Or is being black just, as Gore Vidal said about Truman Capote’s death, a good career move?

Some ethics musings:

1. If Dolezal honestly believes she is black based on her feelings, orientation and culture, why isn’t that acceptable?

2. Why isn’t she a credible Presidential candidate? Senator Elizabeth Warren’s self-identification as Native American got her the benefit of affirmative action programs, and it didn’t stop the citizens of Massachusetts from electing her U.S. Senator.

3. Caitlyn Jenner is being given awards for courage for self-identifying as a woman with no natural genetic or anatomical female characteristics, and getting money, magazine covers and a TV show as rewards. Dolezal’s self-identification as black is being employed as an entry to public service in the interest of human rights. Isn’t she more admirable than Jenner? If not, why not?

4. Can any white person do this, as long as they claim to believe they are black? Can they then be eligible to benefit, a la Warren, from affirmative action programs?

5. If Jenner can employ make-up, clothes, a new name and fake breasts—she is also being coached to speak in a more feminine fashion– to be seen as a courageous woman who will be defended against all scoffers, why wouldn’t it be fair and reasonable for Dolezal to use dark make-up, Southern black speech patterns—you know, like Obama does when he speaks to black audiences?–dress in traditional African garb, and change her name to Makayla Dolezal? Will that be enough to make her black, so  that anyone publicly doubting her—you know, like Mike Huckabee doubting Caitlyn—will be attacked by activists and the media?

6. Rachel already is sporting a hairstyle and using a make-up tone that seems designed to support her black “identity.”


Is this deception, or a legitimate personal choice?

7.  Isn’t Dolezal taking jobs and positions away from legitimately black individuals? How can that be right?

8. Affirmative action programs routinely give an edge to upper middle class and wealthy minority students and job applicants on the basis of race alone. Yet black advocacy organizations will give leadership positions to white women who are only black because they say so. How does that make sense?

9. Why is “feeling black” less respectable than feeling female? Gender is a lot less of an artificial construct than race.

10. We are often told that the problem of race is based in culture, not genetics. If that is literally true, then why is Dolezal’s claim of being black based on her black siblings not seen as completely consistent with this, and reasonable as well?

11. Is the whole ethical problem here transparency? If she was open about the fact that her being “black” was based not on ancestry and genetics but other factors, would that have made her credible and trustworthy? Or would it have disqualified her for every role and position she currently holds?

12. Would that be fair, or bigotry?

13. Is it time to conclude that “race” should be regarded as nothing more than color, and that racism is nothing more than mindless bigotry based on appearances alone?

14. Or is this just straight up fraud?

I can’t wait to find out who will have the courage to ask, or try to answer these and other questions raised by the fascinating masquerade—or courageous embrace of her true identity!— of  Rachel Dolezal.

Let’s ask Caitlyn Jenner about it!

 Update: Wow.

Correction: The initial photo I posted turned out to be the wrong Rachel Donezal, though I have not yet determined whether she identifies as this Rachel Donezal, making the error moot.

61 thoughts on ““If Caitlyn Jenner Can Identify As Female And Be Cheered For it, Why Is White NAACP Leader Rachel Dolezal Wrong To Identify As Black?” And Other Ethics Musings On A Really Strange Story

    • Who cares? If I accept my dog as a cat, that doesn’t make it a cat. And cats have accepted orphaned rabbits as kittens, but that doesn’t make them kittens.

      Since blacks thought she was black, and not a white girl posing as black, we will never know if she’s accepted as black. The best she can be accepted as is a white girl who wants to be black, which, is, I assume, flattering, just as I would be flattered by someone who wants to be Jack Marshall, but I’m sure as hell not going to accept him as Jack Marshall.

      • My point was – and I’m basing this on Australian Jurisprudence – someone adopted into an Aboriginal tribe is deemed Aboriginal because they’re accepted as Aboriginal.

        No need to measure shade of skin colour or DNA.

        There’s been too much genetic mixing for that to ever work, and there’s more than a faint whiff of Dritte Reich about it.

        The US is different there, I have to keep reminding myself that you have a history in this area, with peculiar institutions.

        You’re not alone of course. Some other places have equally silly ideas. When I went to Israel to do some sensitive work for the IDF, both I and my minders found it hilarious that because my mother’s mother’s mother was Sephardic, technically I’m regarded as a Red Sea Pedestrian too.

        • But that’s confounding ethnicity with race, correct? Several whites were raised by Native American Tribes, and would be regarded as members of those tribes. Regarding them as racially Native American, however—this is what John Wayne does regarding Natalie Wood in “The Searchers”—is just magical thinking.

          Are we now saying that Bill Clinton WAS our first Black President? I’m sure Hillary would love that.

          • Exactly, race is another social construct. If people think you’re white or black or asian then whatever you think of yourself doesn’t matter. Phenotype has a strong influence, if people bother to look past that, speech patterns will come in, then sterotypes with varying degrees of harmful. And different people will come to different conclusions like in that imfamous line from If You Were a Dinosaur My Love a wonderful beautiful story.


            They’d grasp each other for comfort instead of seizing the pool cues with which they beat you, calling you a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not

            It didn’t matter what was the truth, people perceive what they perceive. What’s in your head doesn’t matter to them. Nothing changes that, and if you don’t fit…..

            If you don’t fit then you need realistic exceptions. Lest you turn into a ragged ball of cry or an uncontrollable rage machine.

  1. “Trying to determine “race” based on softness or otherwise of earlobes makes exactly as much sense as trying to determine sex on the basis of chromosomes.”

    What the hell does that mean?

    • What it says.

      OK, in more detail – is Obama black or white?
      Is someone not 1/2 but 1/4 black?
      What about 1/128th?
      What about 127/128th but looks 100% caucasian?
      What about an adoptee?

      What defines race?

      Is someone from Korea Black or White? India? New Guinea? Japan? China?

      “Race”, something many Americans are hung up on as much as the late unlamented Racial Classification Board of Zuid Afrika is a social construct. It’s based on objective facts, but how those facts are interpreted changes from place to place and time to time.

      The RCB decided that if there were two people, identical in all other respects, where one had soft earlobes and the other did not, one was “colored”, the other black.

      Similarly, the State of California in the past decided that someone who was 1/256 black was white, so couldn’t marry a black, whereas in the Commonwealth of Virginia, they would be black (under the “one drop rule”) so could not marry a white.

      Is this or is this not (as we say in Australia) Bullshit?

      As regards sex in the USA….
      “Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Texas, is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Texas, and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

      Bullshit again. Especially since both Kansas and New Jersey reversed their positions after that case.

      As for Ms Dolezal – bottom line, she lied through her teeth, and the fact that “race” is a nebulous concept is immaterial to that.

      But Ms Jenner – different situation, there the nebulous nature of how sex is defined is the crux of the issue, not a distraction.

      And any comparison between the two fundamentally different situations shows either deep ignorance or just plain malice. Or both.

      • Do we know Jenners chromosomal makeup?
        I recognize chromosomal anomalies exist and they create gender identification issues. But, they can be known and quantified. The softness of an earlobe cannot. To me the difference is profound. Chromosomes are a fact earlobe pinching is as ridiculous as believing you are black when you are not or identifying female when you are not by any scientific measure female.

        • As far as I know, Ms Jenner has not had a karyotype.

          This lady, and her daughter, have:

          J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9
          A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.

          Chromosomes don’t define someone’s sex. 1 in 300 men don’t have 46,XY “male” chromosomes, for example.

    • I don’t know. I have to admit that my age, which is (as far as I know) chronologically correct, allows me to remember a time when basic biological facts accepted at face value. Now those same facts seem to be open to interpretation based of feelings, and I’m mostly confused. That being said, I do feel like I’m in my thirties. Think I should alter my date of birth?

      • “Basic biological facts” turn out to not necessarily be true after all.

        Take the “basic biological fact” that XY=male, XX=female. Turns out it’s merely a good approximation, not a Universal Truth.

        Three “basic biological facts”:

        One pair of chromosomes is known to determine an individual’s sex
        J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9
        — A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.

        DNA doesn’t change
        Counterexamples : Bone marrow-derived cells from male donors can compose endometrial glands in female transplant recipients by Ikoma et al in Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):608.e1-8 & Transplanted human bone marrow cells generate new brain cells by Crain BJ, Tran SD, Mezey E. in J Neurol Sci. 2005 Jun 15;233(1-2):121-3 :
        These show that a bone-marrow transplant recipient’s’ bodies gradually become genetically identical to that of the donors due to cell turnover. Even the brain. Even the reproductive glands.

        The biological sexual constitution of an individual cannot be changed by the natural development of organs of the opposite sex
        Counterexample : Imperato-McGinley J, Guerrero L, Gautier T, Peterson RE. Steroid 5alpha-reductase deficiency in man: an inherited form of male pseudohermaphroditism. Science 1974 Dec 27; 186 (4170): 1213-5
        — In an isolated village of the southwestern Dominican Republic, 2% of the live births were in the 1970’s, guevedoces (actually male pseudohermaphrodites). These children appeared to be girls at birth, but at puberty these ‘girls’ sprout muscles, testes, and a penis. For the rest of their lives they are men in nearly all respects. Their underlying pathology was found to be a deficiency of the enzyme, 5-alpha Reductase

        These “basic facts” aren’t, well, factual. Oh, they’re usual, exceptions are rare. Only 1 in 300 men don’t have 46,XY “male” chromosomes for example. But things are a bit more complex than you were taught.

        A century ago, Special and General Relativity caused equal problems. For most purposes,Newtonian physics works well, and the idea that faster things contract, that time itself slows down… that to me is even more counter-intuitive.

        • You love to pull that out and it’s meaningless Zoe. Hyper-rare cases, bone marrow. Distractions. Disingenuous. Minutia.

          None of that is cover for plain simple biological males or females who for whatever reason desire a change, hell even need a change. You’re clawing for justifications. To prove what?

          Look, I don’t know if people are born gay, they might be, there might be a social component there might be a little of both. Born this way make a good political slogan but politically speaking it doesn’t matter because there’s nothing wrong with being gay and if it actually were a choice there would still be nothing wrong with being gay.

          And if a male is dysphoric and can only function with having his bits rearranged, that’s fine. And if a male wants to wear makeup and dresses and keep the dangling parts, screw that oppressive system of gender. That’s all it takes.

          Do you remember that short X-men treatment I jokingly wrote a couple months back in the other place? Where peter Parker didn’t want to admit he was a mutant and made up the elaborate story about the spider to justify it to his aunt and uncle. Denials and rationalizations, not good.

          Now give the reply that you want to make. You have my consent to say it.

  2. It would be nyeh kulturny – plain bad manners, a violation of a guest’s obligation to be minimally polite, to say that our gracious host is being an equine posterior here.

    At Outside the Beltway, Doug Mataconis argues that when conservatives equate Dolezal and Jenner, they aren’t making “serious arguments, of course.” [It’s just] another attempt by social conservatives to demean transgender people, a phenomenon that has been quite prevalent on that side of the political spectrum over the past two weeks. Even taking the arguments at face value, though, they don’t add up….

    Rachel Dolezal didn’t “choose her race,” she committed fraud by lying about her background. She can choose to adopt whatever culture she wishes, but that’s not what happened here. She lied about her background, not just to the public but apparently also on job applications. That’s fraud. The people who are trying to use this case to draw analogies to, or mostly just to make stupid, snarly comments about, the issues raised last week by the Caitlyn Jenner story, are just being obnoxious jerks.

    I prefer to believe he merely dropped a clanger. For one thing – he’s not socially conservative.

    As for “obnoxious jerk”? Ridiculous. Self evidently so, and I’m not just saying that to be polite.

    But yes, on this one, not just a goof, a rather smelly one..

    Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dana-beyer/moving-on—-ftlog-caitly_b_7575558.html

    • Regarding goofs – something that Jack hasn’t admitted to… some few comments ago, I made a remark along the lines of “I can’t believe Jack didn’t mention The Mikado.

      Except he did. I just carelessly missed it. Oops, big time.
      Then he kindly, and without criticism, gently corrected me.

      I always meant to apologise, but somehow there seemed to be nowhere appropriate to do so – thereby compounding the initial offense.

      So if either of us is an equine posterior – it’s not him.

  3. tax·on·o·my
    1. the science or technique of classification.
    2. a classification into ordered categories: a proposed taxonomy of educational objectives.
    3. Biology the science dealing with the description, identification, naming, and classification of organisms.

    In naming an organism (humans are, like it or not, organisms), biological researchers use a multi-layered system that generally identifies several factors, such as behaviors, genetics, appearance and several others. This system starts with ‘Kingdom’ and runs through ‘species’. For some reason known only to taxonomists, everything but species is capitalized. Unfortunately, nowhere in that list does ‘race’ appear, thereby leading me to believe that there is only one ‘race’, the human race. Followed to it’s logical conclusion, then, the NAACP should be defined by it’s name. The ‘CP’ in that name (for those still chipping rocks) stands for ‘Colored People’, a moniker hung on it by it’s founders, when political correctness was not a defining part of our lives. Since, to continue, Rachel is not in any form ‘Colored’ (except artificially), then it stands to reason that she does NOT meet the physical requirements for membership, and, hence, is not eligible for a leadership position.

    • Being able to name things and classify them in groups was one of the great leaps toward being able to further scientific knowledge. It makes it possible to talk about things with clarity and understanding. Knowing the name and characteristics of things enables us to keep progressing within our knowledge and make new discoveries that we can again classify and know. This progressive push toward muddling what we know by making it impossible to make clear divisions and speak clearly about them without facing social, political and professional ruin is taking us backwards in significant ways. Who wins when nothing can be openly discussed? The people who declare themselves in charge of the discussion by redefining it.

  4. I don’t understand how there can be a controversy over wether or not someone is Indian or not. The federal government decides if you are “Native American” or not. This is not up to interpretation. Either you are on the rolls of a federally recognized tribe or you are not. If your tribe is derecognized by the government, you lose your status as a Native American. So, if you claim to be an Indian, just show your card. If you don’t have a card, you aren’t.

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