When an NAACP leader named Rachel Dolezal was accused in 2015 of being a white woman who had lied about her race, she was widely condemned within the black community she called home.
Dolezal had hijacked a racial identity, some said. “I see blackface,” a law professor wrote in The Washington Post — rejecting Dolezal’s insistence that she was in fact “transracial.”
Now Dolezal is giving interviews to promote her new book, insisting she is a transracial woman in a white body, and stirring new kinds of outrage in the transgender community.
In an interview with Salon last week, Dolezal compared herself to Caitlyn Jenner — an Olympic athlete turned transgender icon.
“There was a time when we did call transgender, or even gay and bisexual, people crazy,” she said.
“That still perpetuates, to a degree, but there’s more acceptance for gender fluidity than there is race fluidity right now.”
Everyone would agree with this statement, Dolezal said. Everyone did not.
“To a degree?” transgender writer Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski said on Facebook. “Yes, to a degree that it enrages me that you attempt to minimize the currently very active violence against the trans community as a way to elevate yourself.”
“Never mind the fact that gay conversion therapy camps still exist and transgender people are abused and murdered for existing,” the Daily Dot observed. “According to Dolezal, that ship in history has sailed.”
And her comparison sailed across the Internet.
Last month, several members of Congress called for a federal hate crime investigation of a string of transgender killings. Advocates have long complained of routine violence and bigotry against the community.
While anger among black people dominated early coverage of Dolezal’s scandal in 2015, some were disturbed even then by her idea of racial fluidity.
‘Most people who are transgender, as early as 4 or 5, believe already that at some level that they are a child born with the wrong anatomy,’” psychologist Derald Wing Sue told People in 2015, in the wake of the scandal.
In a BBC Newsnight interview last week, Dolezal acknowledged she was raised as a white girl by white parents. But she echoed a theme in the childhoods of many transgender people:
“I had to constantly mask and subordinate and repress part of myself to kind of, survive, socially,” she said. “If somebody saw me as black or mixed or light skinned, it was more comfortable because it was a box I could be put in.”
It wasn’t clear in the interview if Dolezal still called herself black, exactly.
“The idea of race is a lie,” she said at one point. She called it a “social construction in America” elsewhere.
“I stand on the black side” of that social construct, she said.
But later: “We don’t have a choice in how we are born and who we are … and this is truly who I am.”
Whoever she is, Dolezal told the BBC she is “extremely stigmatized and ostracized.”
Even more than transgender people, she said in the subsequent Salon interview, in which she also acknowledged that her ideas are not widely accepted.
“Maybe we will evolve and grow and racial fluidity will become a thing in 20 years?” she said. “I don’t know.”