Tag Archives: black

Is There Such A Thing As Trans-Racial: The Rachel Dolezal Saga

In the last four days, the story of the American woman Rachel Dolezal has been discussed extensively in the media internationally. Rachel was until yesterday the President of the Spokane chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). She is also a Professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University. In addition, she was the chair of the office of the police ombudsman commission in Spokane, a position which she no longer holds as the Police department has issued a statement suspending all cases being reviewed under her committee. Slowly her life has literally fallen apart and all these positions have gone.

Rachel Dolezal. Source:www.breitbart.com
Rachel Dolezal. Source:www.breitbart.com

Rachel Dolezal, who was previously married to a black man with whom she had a son, was born to white parents and is biologically white. However, she has claimed to be black for at least 10 years, claiming a mixed race heritage through an African American father. Rachel is a very well educated woman who attended Howard University; a historically black college, on scholarship. Her parents leaked the story of her faked identity. They tell of a submitted portraiture as part of the application to Howard University. The submission mirrored an African American identity and earned her a full scholarship.

Rachel-Dolezal-2

Her parents are as concerned and baffled as the rest of the world as to why Rachel chose to denounce her heritage and con her friends and community into believing she was a black woman. She changed her appearance with tan and braids and kinky curls, in order to look mixed race. There has been a cry of outrage from African American women in the United States accusing Rachel of white privilege. She sued Howard for discrimination, saying she was deprived of certain opportunities there because she was a white woman in a historically black University. In the same vein, she reported several racial threats to the police in Spokane, alleging abuse because she was a black woman. The discourse points to a deceptive platform being used to achieve all she has. Her ‘blackness’ seems like a cloak which she puts on and takes off as she wishes.

She is also being accused of stealing opportunities which she did not deserve from the minority on false pretences. Rachel Dolezal is a very accomplished woman and her biography is impressive, even for a white woman in middle class America. It is even more so impressive for a black woman at her age. The furore surrounding the ‘outing’ of Rachel is one which revolves around integrity and identity. There is an overwhelming acknowledgement that she could not have achieved what she did, had she not claimed to be a black woman.

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The question of identity crises is one which is all too familiar to mixed race children and adults. But even more so to women of black heritage in a country such as the United States of America where they constitute a minority. Black women in the US have come through a difficult history of prejudice, deprivation and a struggle for acceptance in a society with stereotypes such as the angry black woman, and mockery or unpopularity of the black woman’s features of thick curly hair, large hips and full lips. These features have only recently become popular. Thus, black women are outraged that this woman has masqueraded as a black woman, yet has not lived the agony, the rejection and the discrimination faced by black women in America, even at the hands of the men within the African American community.

Kylie Jenner who got lip enhancement
Kylie Jenner who got lip enhancement

However, others have suggested that perhaps this is a conversation which the world needs to begin to have. This could be a discovery of an identity crises stemming from what could be a new state of being “trans-racial”. Some members of the transgender community have been outraged by the comparison that somehow being transgender a la the Caitylin Jenner experience, is in some ways one and the same as the having a transracial experience; if indeed there is any such thing. The argument is that gender and race are different, that being a transgender has to do with gender dysphoria, which is an actual condition, whereas there is no such thing as racial dysphoria.

Caitylin Jenner
Caitylin Jenner

One could argue that this is the first emergence of any such public occurrence of one declaring to be the opposite of their phenotypes, and believing very strongly in it. There are already outcries of mental health problems. We do not know this, and this brings to mind the arrest and incarceration in an insane asylum of American Joseph Lobdell (born Lucy Ann Lobdell) who was born a woman in the early 19th century, but believed himself to be a man and lived as such. Perhaps there is such a thing as identity confusion and a certain strong affinity to a particular group of people. If a man can declare “I am a woman” and vice versa, and have the support of the world, why can’t a white woman declare “I am black” and vice versa?

Michael Jackson before and after the change. Source:www.genius.com
Michael Jackson before and after the change. Source:www.genius.com

In any case, Rachel’s lies have ruined the more constructive and enriching discussion which may have come out of this saga. Her parents believe her struggles with identity emanate from their adoption of four black children when she was a teenager. Both of them, whom she cut off from her life and the life of their grandson, for fear of her cover being blown in her community, have said honesty and therapy are the best way forward for Rachel. She may not need therapy, she may just be light years ahead of the world. The debates around identity do not end at gender, they also include psyche, heritage and culture. .

There are people who have come from one culture, but feel a certain affinity or are deeply interested in the cultures of other social groups. This may be considered significantly different from some black women’s love of long luxurious hair extensions which have the same texture as the hair of white, Asian or hispanic people. It may also be different from the butt implants and enhanced pouts preferred by some white women. How then does this compare to Caitylin Jenner’s honest declarations on Diane Sawyer’s show, and Michael Jackson’s bizarre transformation? It may have been easier to expand on the discussion and make the linkages even in the acknowledgement of the differences, had Dolezal presented herself without the associated deception.

Hair extensions. Source:www.puiur.net
Hair extensions. Source:www.puiur.net

Dolezal’s misrepresentation of herself has now put her preference to be called black on the back burner. It has also belittled what seems to be her otherwise significant contributions in the civil rights movement. She has worked in social justice and advocacy for at least 10 years and the NAACP lauded her consistent commitment to the advancement of coloured people in America.

Ke$ha and her cornrows. Source:www.dailymail.co.uk
Ke$ha and her cornrows. Source:www.dailymail.co.uk

There is no question about the serious personal identity issues which she has and it will be interesting to see her and the experts make some sense of this when the furore dies down. The world is a big place and a shrinking community all at once. Self expression in the free world is absolutely important. One can be whomever or whatever they wish to be, with honesty. In reading the summations in the media and speaking to people, one can infer that Rachel Dolzal would have been welcome to be true to an identity she felt comfortable with. If Dolezal had been honest, perhaps she would have been embraced, as long as she was honest, and the transition was done with an acknowledgement that someone who was indeed the opposite of what their visible social construct  was, in that situation cannot necessarily understand the experience of people who have lived it all their lives.

Visiting Istanbul Turkey: Sights and Sounds

Nothing prepared my sister and I for the absolute delight that was Istanbul. Granted, we were not too happy at the airport, having flown in at 12 noon local time, and tossed up and down a very lengthy airport because nobody seemed to know where we could pay for and get visas stamped on our passport. We were grumpy, hungry and tired, having been up from 2am to pack and prepare for the drive to London Heathrow airport to catch an early flight. Eventually, we joined a very long line of Iraqis and got our visas in all of one hour. I suppose this does not apply to all countries of the world, there appeared to be a fast-track line for certain countries with certain types of agreements with Turkey; the United States of America and some European countries come to mind.

The Blue Mosque

We knew it would be an interesting trip when four immigration police officers left their desks and came to chat with my sister and I as we sat waiting for the visas to be processed (the second round of waiting after the standing in the queues). I did not see this sort of desertion of duty post in the UK or anywhere else to be honest, and there we were, being told all the lovely places to visit, and how lovely we were, by these really good looking men in police uniform with guns and handcuffs hanging low on their hips. We perked up considerably. You see, in Istanbul, it is quite a novelty to be black as the city is not diverse in that sense. The men were incredibly charming; we were greeted and welcomed everywhere, our bags were carried for us, doors were opened, meals paid for, it was quite flattering, for the first two days. Then it became irritating.

The Blue Skies by Hagia Sofia
The Blue Skies by Hagia Sofia

“Hi Chocolate girls, where are you from?” My sister and I were shocked. Never in our lives had we been addressed in that way. But you move on, because it is such a stunning city, and you are on holiday. Nothing else mattered. Plus to be honest, I don’t think it came from a place where it was intended to make us uncomfortable. So if you are a “chocolate girl” travelling to Istanbul soon, be prepared!

If you plan to go to Istanbul anytime soon, here’s what a great time you could have. We loved it.

1. We got a confidence boost from all the smiles and attention we were getting from all the men. Be careful though, don’t get sucked in, this is just a novelty, keep your wits about you.

2. Stay in Sultanahmet, it is the old city and most of the historical sites are around it, you can walk everywhere. The streets are quite charming, narrow cobbled streets with houses in rows, and balconies. The driving can be crazy though so be careful.

3. Stay in Basileus, a love bed and breakfast place, http://www.basileushotel.com, what a lovely place. The breakfast was amazing and the staff were really friendly and happy to help. There’s turkish coffee and apple tea in the evenings downstairs, the cookies and cakes were amazing. Our room had a balcony and view looking out at an old building from the 15th centrury. They also offer a complementary airport pick-up.

4. Try the fish sandwich in Eminonu, just by the water. Remember to ask for extra spicy if you like it hot. You sit there and eat looking out to the water, with the cool breeze of the evening settling on your skin.

5. Take the ferry to Khadikoy and visit the Bazaar there; everything is death cheap and what a colourful market.

6. Visit the Grand Bazaar and try the dried fruits, turkish delight (traditional sweets), and other keepsakes from Turkey. The storekeepers are fantastic and are very quick to offer you apple tea or turkish coffee. What a huge market. Remember to haggle, or you may end up buying things inflated by 200%.

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7. Visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. These sites are so old, that they reminded me of my humanity and the miracle that is our existence. That all these wars were fought, and empires fell, and these monuments remained made me feel so small, but in a very heartwarming way. They are all so beautiful, but remember to wear a flowing dress or trousers and take a scarf to cover your head and shoulders respectfully before you go in. Otherwise, the mosque staff will provide you with a blue shawl which a billion people have used.There is also an Archeological museum and Topkapi palace not far from Hagia Sofia. You will need a pass to go into the last three. Only the mosques are free to view, and there are quite a number of them.

8. Take the bosphorous dinner cruise. It costs about 35 Euros I think. When you are travelling on the water at night, the views of the city are amazing, the palaces (and there are several in Istanbul) are all lit up, there is a stunning bridge which I saw over sunset. You also get to enjoy the henna ceremony. It’s all very romantic as well, something to enjoy with that special someone I think.

9. Listen to the 4am call to prayer. I know. My sister thought I was crazy, but the call to prayer in Istanbul is quite different from the calls that I have heard before. The call which I heard from my hotel room was quite moving, the intoner sang from his heart, he had a lilt to his baritone, and I just sat up and listened. My sister did not have the same experience, but I was moved by his singing. I know what the words mean, although they are always sang in Arabic, and I really have no connection since I am not muslim. But a heartfelt chant is a heartfelt chant. Anywhere.

10. Watch the whirling dervishes, at Hodjapasha Cultural Center. The centre itself is full of history, a 550 year old turkish bath place converted into a cultural centre. At 70 turkish lira per person, the show was expensive but worth it. Very colourful and the acoustics was wonderful. I learnt that a Dervish is a Muslim religious man who is undergoing an apprenticeship of learning the profession that will bestow him with eternal livelihood. So the whirling is one method, which is used by the Sufis to get closer to Allah.

11. Visit Taksim. I was worried about the protesting which I thought was ongoing but by the time we ventured into Taksim, the square was full of tourists and people just having a good time. I have never seen skies more blue! The sun was out, people were having drinks, the food was amazing, lots of flat bread and wraps. We went to lovely club where we danced to loads of Turkish and American music, had a few drinks. It was a blast.

12. Istanbul has dozens of restaurants. Too many. It’s always nice and warm, and in the evening, the breeze comes in from the shores, so dress up and find a lovely place to eat. Remember to do the dinner cruise.

13. Finally, do not leave Istanbul without getting a traditional ottoman Hamam. The one next to Hagia Sofia is very good, the package is lovely and the soaps and creams used felt quite luxurious. It costs about 90 Euros. Take all the time you need after the hamam and the massage and just chill. Lie back, and read, or just doze lightly. It feels great. I got it on the day I left Istanbul and I thought it was an excellent parting gift to myself.

One week isn’t enough though, there is so much to be seen. You can pay for most things in dollars, euros or turkish lira. There’s a ferry, a tram system, a metro, and taxis. If you stay in Sultanahmet, you will most likely not need any of these (ok, maybe the ferry for the experience and the taxi for airport). Oh, and my map reading skills are much improved now 🙂

All photos are mine.