Black victimhood: The club no one can join

In 2015, a woman was fired from several positions because of her race.  Liberals, whom you'd normally expect to be up in arms over this sort of injustice, were silent.  The media gave the story wide coverage and, as is their habit in cases of racial discrimination, voiced a uniform opinion.  Their opinion in this case was unusual: the woman deserved to be fired because she was the wrong race.

That woman was Rachel Dolezal, who lost her presidency of the Spokane branch of the NAACP, her chairpersonship of Spokane's Police Ombudsman Commission, her teaching position at Eastern Washington University (she taught in the Africana Education program), and her freelance status as a contributor to Spokane's The Inlander, when it was discovered that she is white.  (She'd been outed by her white parents, from whom she was estranged.)

It is not clear that Dolezal ever actually lied about her race.  She didn't have to, apparently.  She styled her hair and dressed like a black woman, she wrote and spoke like a black woman, and she voiced the concerns of black women.  She even claimed to have suffered the uglier indignities of black women.  She reported being victimized in several incidents of discrimination and hate crimes, including once finding a noose hanging on her back porch.

Rachel Dolezal was, by all accounts, an authentic black activist – in her values, in her writings, in her actions, authentic in everything except blood.  She remains a black woman despite her blood, she insists, because she self-identifies as one.

We've heard this before.

We've heard that if a woman believes herself to be a man, we should accept and accommodate that version of herself.  But if we honor gender self-identification, shouldn't we also honor racial self-identification?  In fact, doesn't race make the more credible case?  Unlike gender, race really is only skin deep, and therefore it is an imprecise identity.  Most of us, this writer included, have a varied heritage.  We have traces of many tribes in our veins, and increasingly, we view race as an irrelevant shorthand for something complex.

Sex, on the other hand, is binary.  With very few exceptions, a person has one sort of reproductive organs or the other.  If, as we are told, a person's psyche can transcend so obvious a distinction as sex, then why does Ms. Dolezal's claim that her psyche transcends race incite such outrage?

As with most social issues, the answer comes down to politics.  Black identity, defined by blood, opens the door to "victimhood status" and a racial spoils system that confers rights and privileges throughout society.  (We are reminded of a similar rationale before the Civil War when that same blood, quantified by such terms as "quadroon" or an "octoroon," meant real victimhood.)

Rachel Dolezal was guilty of victimhood appropriation.  She had attempted to join the club of black privilege, but – like the low-born upstart who tried to gain membership into the English gentlemen's club of old – she failed because she lacked the proper breeding.  Recent reports describe her as unemployed, living on food stamps, and nearly homeless.  As an English baron might have remarked, "serves her right for putting on airs."

In 2015, a woman was fired from several positions because of her race.  Liberals, whom you'd normally expect to be up in arms over this sort of injustice, were silent.  The media gave the story wide coverage and, as is their habit in cases of racial discrimination, voiced a uniform opinion.  Their opinion in this case was unusual: the woman deserved to be fired because she was the wrong race.

That woman was Rachel Dolezal, who lost her presidency of the Spokane branch of the NAACP, her chairpersonship of Spokane's Police Ombudsman Commission, her teaching position at Eastern Washington University (she taught in the Africana Education program), and her freelance status as a contributor to Spokane's The Inlander, when it was discovered that she is white.  (She'd been outed by her white parents, from whom she was estranged.)

It is not clear that Dolezal ever actually lied about her race.  She didn't have to, apparently.  She styled her hair and dressed like a black woman, she wrote and spoke like a black woman, and she voiced the concerns of black women.  She even claimed to have suffered the uglier indignities of black women.  She reported being victimized in several incidents of discrimination and hate crimes, including once finding a noose hanging on her back porch.

Rachel Dolezal was, by all accounts, an authentic black activist – in her values, in her writings, in her actions, authentic in everything except blood.  She remains a black woman despite her blood, she insists, because she self-identifies as one.

We've heard this before.

We've heard that if a woman believes herself to be a man, we should accept and accommodate that version of herself.  But if we honor gender self-identification, shouldn't we also honor racial self-identification?  In fact, doesn't race make the more credible case?  Unlike gender, race really is only skin deep, and therefore it is an imprecise identity.  Most of us, this writer included, have a varied heritage.  We have traces of many tribes in our veins, and increasingly, we view race as an irrelevant shorthand for something complex.

Sex, on the other hand, is binary.  With very few exceptions, a person has one sort of reproductive organs or the other.  If, as we are told, a person's psyche can transcend so obvious a distinction as sex, then why does Ms. Dolezal's claim that her psyche transcends race incite such outrage?

As with most social issues, the answer comes down to politics.  Black identity, defined by blood, opens the door to "victimhood status" and a racial spoils system that confers rights and privileges throughout society.  (We are reminded of a similar rationale before the Civil War when that same blood, quantified by such terms as "quadroon" or an "octoroon," meant real victimhood.)

Rachel Dolezal was guilty of victimhood appropriation.  She had attempted to join the club of black privilege, but – like the low-born upstart who tried to gain membership into the English gentlemen's club of old – she failed because she lacked the proper breeding.  Recent reports describe her as unemployed, living on food stamps, and nearly homeless.  As an English baron might have remarked, "serves her right for putting on airs."

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