When I first saw the articles about Rachel Dolezal, I experienced that rare moment in the life of someone who wants to be known for writing jokes, in that I had nothing. Zilch. The news was so patently absurd on so many levels that to write a joke about it would cheapen it. I initially decided to step back and let the masses have their fun. Then I started reading some of the comments on all those articles. Of course we all know that reading comments can be a painful act, but hey, I’m a masochist and that’s one of my kinks.
Of course there were the comments about appropriation, about lying, about manipulation. All those were dead-on in my opinion. This was a textbook case of a white person wanting to let black people out from the back of the bus, but still wouldn’t let them drive it. There were the comments about how if she was helping with racial issues, then let her do her thing, especially since a lot of black people weren’t. I avoided an opinion on this like avoiding spending time with your bigoted relatives, since I’m white and that’s something that my opinion comes second on. But then there came the comments of, “If Caitlyn Jenner can choose be transgender, then why can’t Dolezal choose to be transracial?”
Okay, now I had an opinion. Let me sum that opinion up as simply as possible: these people are idiots. Seriously, that opinion is so backwards, ignorant, and clueless, it serves as a shining example of why we don’t have moon bases and fully functional sexbots yet.
These people's statements are asinine because being trans is not a choice any more than being gay or black is. You are or you aren’t. Why would anyone choose to be the target of such vitriolic hatred, the poster child of all that is wrong in the world for Fundamentalist and racist nutjobs, and to be the victim of systemic violence? This sadly is what LGBT and black people have to face.
People keep using that word, “transracial.” I do not think it means what they think it means. According to Merriam-Webster, transracial is defined as “involving, encompassing, or extending across two or more races” It’s basically a synonym for interracial; like interracial adoption, interracial marriage, interracial relations. The last example is terribly ironic because this whole event probably did some damage to interracial relations. What transracial means to me is that suffering from institutional and systemic discrimination for your gender or sexuality is something whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians all can experience. Transracial is understanding what it’s like to have your identity taken away and appropriated by people as a source of humor and mockery. Transracial is seeing people trivialize your suffering for their own gain; in this woman’s particular case, a chance to feel holier than thou for being extra enlightened.
This whole transracial row is trying to defend one level of ignorance with another. If you don’t understand how being LGBT works, you probably shouldn’t use it as an example of how race dynamics work. I do understand how LGBT works, and I’m still loathe to use it as a comparison to how black people live their lives because it’s like the words your and you’re. They sound the same, they even look similar, but they mean completely different things.
And clearly, just like those words, way too many people on the internet don’t know how to use these ideas properly. If Caitlyn Jenner has anything to do with the idea of transracial, it's that trans people like her have had their identities co-opted by others for personal gain, just as black people have; be it for profit, entertainment, or malicious fun. One example for trans people has been cisgendered (non-trans) actors playing trans people in roles that mock the lives of the gender non-conforming experience. Black people have endured whites taking on all the worst stereotypes for costumes, characters, and scoring political points. Up until today, white people painting themselves brown was the domain of turn-of-the-century minstrel shows, and, more recently, racist fratboys and clueless celebrities. Now it’s so that some white woman can appropriate black people’s suffering to score karma points. Does that mean that someday we’ll see a cisgender person pretending to be trans to lecture the world about transphobia? That would be a very strange sign of progress.
AMANDA KERRI is an Oklahoma City-based comedian and a board member of OKC Pride. Follow her at Twitter.com/EternalKerri.