Tag Archives: Gender

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.

ABC_rachel_dolezal_parents_jt_150613_16x9_992

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.

How To Find A Husband

Have you noticed how people equate the success of the female to being married?It does not end at being married; you also have to have children otherwise you are not woman enough. Apparently, the first question people ask my colleagues when they meet me at work or ask my relatives when they meet me back home at holidays when I go to be with my family is:

“Is she married?”

Since the answer is no, they then make sympathetic sounds and tag me.

So, no matter how hard I work, no matter how kind I try to be, to them, am really nothing and cannot be fully happy until I am Mrs. Somebody. Mind you, I have received this feedback only from people who have been “honest” enough to provide it.

Photo source: www.clipartof.com
Photo source: http://www.clipartof.com

“Everything good will come.”

That’s how my mum ends her conversations these days. Roughly translated, a good man will come. Don’t get me wrong, I want a good man to come. Indeed am a sucker for love; if it is not mad, passionate, selfless love, am usually not interested as I really suck at playing games and conforming to society’s dictation of how these things should work along gender lines. I believe it’s alright to stay open and keep searching for it. Sometimes, you may think that you have found it and it blows apart in your face, but we keep searching and trying. I have heard some amazing love stories. Who thrives on mediocrity?

However, I have also seen the other side. I have seen it many times, I have almost fallen victim to it; you decide that you are tired of being alone or hearing about it, you develop a checklist, find someone who checks some of the boxes, and then take the plunge. Disaster for the most part; hence the prayers which my mum insists my sister and I say every night.

Am still not sure who nominated my aunt to call, but here are a few tips she shared. I have never been one to hoard useful information, so see if you will find it useful. Since she thought to share it, I thought I would share it in turn.

1. Do not go out at night, a decent girl stays home.

2. Do not be too strong and independent, men like to be needed.

3. You must not have an opinion about politics and the economy. Be submissive.

4. Always wear long wavy weaves. Men do not like natural hair; dreadlocks are particularly detested.

5. Learn to cook very well. Men want a good homemaker.

Dreadlocks
Photo source: http://www.suburbanscooters.com

I asked her if rolling my dreadlocks and putting them down counted as long wavy hair? Then I asked her if making noodles was considered good homemaking ability.

She told me off and hung up.

How VSO and Volunteering Changed my Life

In the early years of my career as a young graduate, I honestly was not sure where to begin. I knew that I wanted to work in International Development, I read about the various agencies and NGOs, I picked up some french, but that was all I had. Until I heard about Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). VSO is an international development charity whose volunteers work with local organisations that serve poor people. VSO also works with young people on different programmes to expand their horizon and encourage them to become active citizens in their communities.

I got involved with VSO primarily because I wanted to do something different. I had spent a very fulfilling year teaching English as a Second Language (ESP) at a Secondary School for most of 2005 as part of the National Youth Service Corps.

However, I felt that I could have spent more time volunteering in a hands-on manner within a host community.

I applied to be part of the Global Xchange; a 6 month long opportunity to volunteer in a different culture and live in cross-cultural pairs, within host communities, was the start really to what I do today.

During the first 3 months of the exchange in Calabar Nigeria, I was placed in a Faith Based Organisation called Justice Development and Peace Commission JDPC. This placement gave me the opportunity to witness community development first hand. I acquired varied skills from community mapping to baseline survey of small communities that needed portable drinking water, access roads and schools for children. The experience has helped me tremendously as I have gone on to work on various community based programs including the United Nations Development Program’s Local Development Project dedicated to alleviating poverty and providing basic infrastructure in the once troubled Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

In the last 3 months of the exchange in Edinburgh Scotland, I volunteered at a wonderful organisation called Shakti Women’s Aid. Shakti offers information & support to black minority ethnic women, children & young people facing domestic abuse, forced marriage & other gender-based abuse.

My First Taste of Haggis tattis
My First Taste of Haggis Tattis
The briefings I received and the insight I got into the management of social and or violent domestic situations have been very useful. I have worked on donor funded Projects which provide palliative care, psychosocial support/counselling to People Living with HIV/AIDS and Income Generating Activities to the affected families.

As an individual, I learnt to work with my initiative and also as part of large and diverse teams, understanding and even appreciating the various cultures and perspectives of the other volunteers and the host communities. During those six months, I learnt so much more than I would have if I had spent that time in a formal classroom. I understood and used my skills while celebrating those of others. On GX, the various activities exposed me to global issues and offered me a platform for positive learning and change, challenging my attitudes and assumptions.

This experience has made me even more appreciative of the foundation and cultural richness of our world and inspired me to celebrate us. But it has also made me aware of the failings and weaknesses of who we are. This is why I would like to be a part of creating that needed change.

I was Fr. Christmas
Yours truly as Fr Christmas at Shakti. Children poked my belly and asked “Did you have a bad year?”
GX inspired me to do a little one day at a time, bit by bit using the network, skills, learning and experiences I acquired on the exchange to create positive change in my immediate community and beyond.

When I was selected to be a part of the global xchange, I didn’t quite know what to expect. The narratives of some returned volunteers and the introductory training courses gave me an idea that it would be demanding yet fun; but it didn’t quite prepare me for the life changing experience that GX was.

During those six months, no day was exactly the same.

There was always something different to see, to explore, to share and to learn. If I had to change my life, GX would remain exactly where and when it happened.

Thanks to it, today I have worked on the Programme and Operations Management of several projects from infrastructure development, capacity building and institutional strengthening, to care and support for children orphaned by AIDS. Today I work on a 5 year malaria prevention and control Project. Malaria prevention through the distribution of long lasting insecticidal nets and intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy, Malaria control through appropriate diagnosis and case management using ACTs.

It certainly expanded my horizon and gave me the itch to achieve greater things. Amongst other things, it has made a global citizen of me.

To challenge yourself, make a difference in our world, and/or break into International Development, learn more about the amazing work VSO does and make a decision today to be a young active citizen and volunteer for 6 months, or volunteer abroad for more than one year using your skills to make the much needed difference.