Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP leader who lived as a black woman was unveiled by her own parents to be white. This revelation quickly led to the media labelling Dolezal as a “transracial” black woman.
Social media, including ‘Black Twitter’ responded negatively to Dolezal falsely claiming to be a black woman due to not only deceiving the Black community, but also her black colleagues. As the leader of an organisation fighting for black civil rights, Black people felt deceived, especially due to recent events involving police officers and African-Americans in the US.
According to Dolezal’s parents, Rachel has always identified with Black culture, history and art. Dolezal also has Black adopted siblings and married a Black man whom she later divorced and in 2010, with the consent of her parents, she obtained legal guardianship of her adoptive African American brother Izaiah Dolezal, who was then 16 years old.
After her divorce, Dolezal adopted an African-American image and began to present herself as a mixed-race woman, falsely claiming a Black man as her father. However Dolezal’s true identity was revealed when both of her parents are White Americans, gave an interview with an American news station regarding their daughters racial identity.
The revelation of Dolezal’s white ancestry caused a range of reactions, especially on the social networking websites like Twitter. Many Black users expressed outrage towards Dolezal’s false claims which led to the spread of numerous memes mocking Rachel and her racial identity. Some users went as far to compare Dolezal to Bruce Jenner, who recently revealed his new identity on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine as Caitlyn Jenner.
The relatively sudden popularization and frequent use of the term “transracial” also led to criticism from the transgendered community who refuted claims of both situations being similar although, there may be an unnoticed link between both cases.
There were no major repercussions for users mocking Dolezal wheras questioning Caitlyn Jenner lead to harsh scrutiny and criticism. Celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Timbaland were criticized by the media for mocking Jenner.
There are many explanations which may explain why Dolezal adopted an African-American identity. Dolezal may simply be another attention seeker in a world where the more wacky and eccentric you are, the more attention you are likely to receive on social media and in wider society.
On the other hand, “transracial” may actually be a tangible state of racial identification. There may be thousands of people around the world who feel as though they have been born to the wrong race. These “transracial” individuals identify with an alternate race in a similar fashion to transgendered individuals.
While social attitudes towards transgendered individuals become more positive with figures including Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) and previously mentioned Caitlyn Jenner, the topic of transracial identity is still a relatively new subject which has not been discussed in mainstream media until recently. Increased social understanding of possible transracial individuals may also lead to more individuals to ‘come out’ and reveal their desire to be part of an alternate race.
But does a transracial person truly understand the struggles of their desired racial identity? In the case of Rachel Dolezal, she may never understand the struggles actual African-American women have to face, such as triple oppression. Dolezal can simply remove her bronze make up and curly wig and reap the benefits of being a white woman whenever she pleases – a black woman is born black and must suffer society’s consequences without escape.