Dolezal was pretty pale, until she got dark, and, as Stewart points out, “Got a weave.” So now she has adopted the physical trappings of being a black woman without being a black woman.
Seeing this, Andrea Tantaros of Fox News, of course obsessing over Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner, asked, “If I self-identify as a cat, a feline, do I have to pay income taxes? I mean, I’m just wondering.”
No, you can’t. You’re Greek, not a cat.
And Jenner isn’t trying to get out of paying taxes any more than transgenders are trying to make like Huckabee and shower with the teenage girls.
Leave it to a Republican to find the lowest common denominator and turn an opportunity for serious discussion about race and gender issues into adolescent locker room jokes.
As Media Matters put it, this is a Fox host comparing being transgender with identifying as “a cat.” Why not? They put women in agriculture bills.
Presumably, Tantaros knows she isn’t a cat. I mean, people aren’t cats. It’s a species thing. Of course, we would have every reason to suspect Rachel Dolezal knows she’s not black, but at least – Fox News to the contrary, blacks are people too.
“This opens the door,” Tantaros insisted. “Animals don’t pay taxes. I just think we’re opening the door to a very crazy, crazy debate where people who might not be mentally stable, some who may be, are going to come out and say, ‘I self-identify as a’ insert animal, insert race, insert a spaceship.”
Seriously, we are already there. There are enough people in this country pretending to be something they’re not, like the Religious Right pretending to be a bunch of Christians, or in some cases, Jews, or post-racist, or lovers of the gays they want to persecute.
We have Tantaros herself pretending to be a journalist and Fox News, her employer, pretending to be fair and balanced.
You might say Republicans taken as a whole are pretending to be people, and not doing a very convincing job of it.
If we step over to CNN, we see them not faring much better than Fox News with the “racial” thing. CNN decided it would be a good idea to have a white woman talk about this, so Human Behavior Analyst Dr. Wendy Walsh got in front of the camera and suggested that because she has multiracial children, she understands the “black experience.”
But can you understand the black experience if you’re not black yourself?
One black female commented on Twitter that the whole, “I have multiracial family” routine “is the equivalent of saying, ‘I’m not racist I have black friends.”
I am familiar with transgender issues, having been introduced to them in college. Perhaps I have led a cloistered life, but I had not before been introduced to the concept of “transracial,” which is how Dolezal describes herself.
It is true that a white person is going to lack the context of a black life, and context is everything. This gulf exists between us and the past as well. Just as we must not just understand Homer’s Iliad, we must understand it as the ancient Greeks understood it, and this we cannot do, because we lack the context of their lives, of their world.
Context gives resonance to what are otherwise empty words.
What is truly bizarre, is that even though you can look at old photos of Dolezal which show a Heidi-like face, she is so determined to be black that she is doubting her paternity:
“I haven’t had a DNA test. There’s been no biological proof that Larry and Ruthanne are my biological parents.”
Would she deny that German face is her face?
When NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie pointed out that “There’s a birth certificate that has your name and their names on it,” Dolezal responded,
“I’m not necessarily saying that I can prove they’re not. But I don’t know that I can actually prove they are. I mean, the birth certificate is issued a month and a half after I’m born. And certainly there were no medical witnesses to my birth.”
At this point, you begin to wonder if Tantaros is as far out there as first thought. Dolezal is obviously not black, however she does her hair, however she darkens her skin.
Jenner says he is now a she. Does Dolezal have a right to insist she is black? Could Jenner go one further, and insist he is now a black woman?
We laughed when Steve Martin insisted he was “born a poor black child,” but that was a Hollywood film, not real life.
Two little boys came to my door the other day looking for work. Contrary to all Fox News expectations, they were a pair of industrious little black kids, probably about eight or nine years old.
Did Dolezal just disrespect these young gentlemen?
Camille Gear Rich writes in an op-ed at CNN that Dolezal has a right to be black, and because she is herself black, we should consider her opinion. I’m a white guy after all. I’m not a woman. I am not black.
Like Tantaros she compares Dolezal’s case to Jenner’s, writing, “The outing of Dolezal seems ironic given the recent public embrace of Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner.”
But are they the same thing? Rich asks, “Why is it that we celebrate Bruce Jenner’s gender change and frown upon Rachel Dolezal’s racial change?”
All I can think to say is that Jenner isn’t pretending to be a woman. He came out an announced to the world that he is a woman. Dolezal pretended to be black. She did not announce that she is Czech and Swedish and German.
Rich admits this, but says she “admire[s] the way she chose to live her life as a black person,” and argues that, “Advocating for anti-racism efforts is ethical and admirable if she wanted to claim blackness as a social identity.”
Not all black women agree on this, neither the Twitter commenter nor Alicia Walters, the founder of Echoing Ida, who argued on CNN that being black is “not a hair style; it’s not an affinity for music or a history. It’s a lived experience.”
I get that. Whether we admire Dolezal or condemn her, our reactions are going to come from our experiences, our context, and our lived experiences. I can no more understand where Dolezal is coming from (I am not a woman) than I can where a genuine black woman is coming from (I am neither woman nor black).
All I can do is try to understand, and really, that is all any of us can do who exist outside the context.
So criticize CNN when they deserve it (and they often do), but at least they talked about the issues involved, and didn’t settle for flippant jokes about avoiding taxes by insisting you’re a cat, or like Huckabee, fantasizing about pretending to be transgender so he can shower with the teenage girls.
Look, reality matters. It matters a lot. I can identify as anything I want, but I can do that without pretending to be something I’m not.
Rachel Dolezal is white. I’m white. The fact that I support equal rights for gays and lesbians and transgenders does not mean I have to be gay or change my gender any more than supporting equal rights for blacks means I have to be black.
In fact, my support is more meaningful if I do it as the person I am. A white male – an increasingly old white male – stands up against other old white males and tells them they and their patriarchy are full of sh*t.
I can do that, honestly, because I have all the qualifications to be part of that patriarchy and probably am, whether I like it or not. And that makes my opposition to it all the more critical.
I’m a white guy, so maybe I can’t speak to Dolezal, but neither can Fox News, until they decide to grow up and take a mature approach to things they clearly don’t – and aren’t prepared – to understand.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.