I wrote a post on Jenner recently (below the post on the Polish Women Shamans and Witches) before the drama with Rachel Dolezal broke. But I had been thinking exactly along these lines and wondering what the implications of the arguments supporting Jenner would be if they were applied to a white person identifying as a black person.
Imagine my surprise when it happened in real life! Wow. Now the conversation is really interesting. You have some on the left who came out supporting Jenner absolutely who were horrified at Dolezal and her apparent appropriation of African-American identity. You have some on the right who understandably laughed at the philosophical and moral conundrum that has left the left with some ‘splaining to do when the comparison of Dolezal to Jenner is made.
Here’s my take.
First, let me get these necessary considerations out of the way:
Clearly, the Jenner/Dolezal debate has absurdly brought to light the nature of the often partisan, imbecilic, uninformed, and unproductive conversations of race and gender issues occurring now in this country.
Clearly, race and gender are terms that encompass legitimate historical, economic, and political categories which operate within cultural power dynamics. They are necessary terms that allow people not invited to the dominant race/gender party to identify and speak for themselves; to demand that history includes them and their ancestor’s voices; to insist upon social inclusion into areas of exclusion such as access to power, to resources, and to avenues of democracy — in other words these categories are necessary when fighting discrimination for those getting the short end of the power play.
Taking into account the legitimacy of the categories I just described above, I am going to say unequivocally that there is a difference between race and gender.
Gender has a biological, genetic, hormonal, and neurological component as a category that race does not. Since we are all one species originating out of Africa, the category of race does not exist outside of the human ways of naming tribal and historical affiliations as they manifest through diverse physical and societal attributes. Yet if you are born with female genitalia you have also been subject to particular societal biases and accesses to power, based not only on the other stuff I just mentioned, but precisely because you have female biology as well.
So there is another element to the gender question that is not applicable to the category of race. The physicality of race is that we are all the same except for the color of our coats, but the physicality of gender includes real differences in our biological make-up. Both need to be negotiated socially. However, the notion of transraciality really is more fluid than the notion of transgender precisely due to the this fact. So why the vehement view on the left, including some feminists, (of which I am a proud member) to the opposite?
This guy said it better than me
So now I am gonna ask these Thought Questions: I have only a few now but I am going to ponder this more and perhaps add.
-What if Dolezal had surgery to darken her skin to look like an African? Would she be accepted like Jenner who had surgery to make him physically resemble a female? If not why?
-What about Michael Jackson who surgically and through treatments went through the transition to appear Caucasian? Can he be accused of appropriating “whiteness.” And if not why?
more to come.