Doubling Down

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38 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Why do people think going on the media is going to help their case?

    Because people have sympathy for trainwrecks in progress?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Dude, I think this thing is a bigger trainwreck than it even first appeared. Dolezal’s whole family situation and history may be pretty messed up, if some reports I saw today of Duggar-like elements are true. It’s getting less funny, and sadder and sadder.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Glyph says:

        Yeah this seems like the first act of the play that is going to get messier and nastier.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Glyph says:


        I don’t disagree with this. She is probably in stage one of something deeply psychological.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          True. But playing it out on the Today show is not a winning move. It’s more like carrying a torch while searching for your lost bucket of gas in cellar.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to greginak says:

            This. Going to the media is a sympathy play in the hopes that people will see how messed up it all is (the trainwreck in progress). People who build for themselves completely new identities like this, when they are not hiding from authorities or dangerous people, are trying to fill a need for something (attention, validation, etc.). There is no question there is a much deeper, more disturbing pathology at work here.

            The smart move is to go see a professional for some help. The Today show is not the smart move.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    Whoopi Goldberg seemed on board with the whole concept of transethnicism.Report

  3. Avatar Chris says:

    I will say this: she seems remarkably confident and composed in both of her interviews today. Even if she has been able to largely ignore what has been said about her on the internet, I assume that she has heard a great deal from people she knows personally, to whom she has been lying for years (even if she “identifies as black,” she’s lied about a great deal of her life), so I would have assumed she’d look a little worse for wear.Report

  4. As to the Rachel Dolezal situation specifically, I think Jamelle should be required reading:

    As to Dolezal, he says that the problem with what she did isn’t that she claimed to be black, it’s that she told a whole ton of lies in the process and it’s unclear whether she accepted both the costs and benefits of being black.

    Jamelle’s piece also leads me to my bigger point – I don’t see why “transethnicism” is inherently a problem, much less dangerous.

    Race and ethnicity are complicated matters, but at root they’re primarily social constructs, of which skin tone and other genetic traits at least should be the least significant elements. To be sure, they’re the easiest identifiers because they’re visible, but what makes a person truly part of an ethnicity is – or at least should be – a common cultural heritage, shared trials and tribulations, shared language, and shared interests.

    What’s more is that historically the concept of race and ethnicity have been very fluid, and in most cases it really has been the cultural identifiers that are the most important markers.

    For instance, despite my last name, I am primarily of Polish descent. I have plenty of Slavic features. I like kielbasa and pierogies and various other Polish things. But if I were to change my name tomorrow to my mother’s maiden name and move to Poland, I’d be viewed as no more Polish or even Slavic than LeBron James or Mitt Romney. I’d be viewed as an American – and rightly so. On the other hand, if we kept our last name and we raised a child from birth in Poland, then wouldn’t it be fair to say that the child was Polish, last name and lack of Slavic features aside? To push it a bit further, what if I moved to Poland, kept my last name, but learned to speak fluent Polish, was heavily active in my local community, raised a child as a Pole, paid Polish taxes, and did everything I could to become fully Polish, including renouncing many of the benefits of my American citizenship – at some point, it seems at least possible that my neighbors might come to see me as damn near fully Polish.

    Similarly, is Paul Pogba, with his gloriously French hairdo, any less French because his parents were from Guinea and he has dark skin?

    What makes the Dolezal situation unique (besides the lies involved) is that it’s someone who has the genetic markers to be a member of a locally advantaged group identifying as a member of a locally disadvantaged group.

    But is that necessarily dangerous – assuming for the moment that the person’s self-identification is complete and that she did not shirk that identification in situations where it was advantageous to do so?

    Such a person would need to live in a black community or travel primarily in black social circles. In other words, they would need to be largely accepted as a member of the community. So what would be the harm of them identifying as a member of that community or becoming a leader of that community, particularly if that community has chosen her as a leader?

    Indeed, wouldn’t the effect of this being done on a certain scale be to demonstrate the arbitrariness of skin tone as a marker for race or ethnicity?

    But again – the key here is that the individual’s self-identification would need to be complete rather than self-serving, which will be exceedingly rare. Nonetheless, I fail to see how it would be in any manner dangerous.

    It seems to me that at some point, in fact, the effect of transracialism/transethnicism would be to seriously undermine the ability of racial prejudice to function, as immediately visible features became a less reliable way of determining race or ethnicity.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      The lie is the the thing. It really depends on how much of her narrative is constructed out of the ether, or self-fabricated (such as the last incident, the package “mailed” to the office, that had no cancellation marks.

      If she is part of the community because she was being inwardly honest, even if she altered her outward appearance, then that is one thing. If she gained acceptance to the community in large part because of lies designed to evoke sympathy and a sense of shared experience/struggle, that’s something else.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      France is something of a special case because the French government insisted it is a civic term rather than a blood term from the French Tevolution. They haven’t always lived up to this belief but they maintained it consistently.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I could find similar examples from almost any country, though. Off the top of my head, Alberto Fujimori was twice elected President of Peru. This seems to have been without much regard for his Japanese heritage, the second time with two-thirds of the vote, and neither election was viewed as being rigged (his third election was a different story, obviously). This suggests that a substantial percentage of Peruvians accepted him as being Peruvian. His subsequent problems can’t be overlooked, but it’s fair to say that those problems were mostly of his own making, not because Peruvians suddenly realized he looked Japanese and had a Japanese last name.

        I lightheartedly chose Pogba because I think his hairdo is about the most gloriously French thing I’ve ever seen, the epitome of elan.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Mark Thompson says:


      I’ve read the Thompson piece. The transethnic thing matters because it strikes many of us as being deeply psychological and also a lot of woo. There are a lot of people of color who are angry at Dolezal and I am likely to weigh their anger with merit. There are also people who are being compassionate to her like Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Dave Chapelle.

      The original transethnic internet moment seems to have come in March 2014 with a woman self-named yuki-no-monogatari. She wrote this:

      “It’s not just because I love anime and am a fujoshi fangirl-it’s not just because I love everything that’s kawaii-it’s not just because Pocky and ramen are my favorite foods-it’s everything about Japan that defines me and explains who I am as a person.

      I’m a typical Japanese girl who loves Japanese pop culture and society and the ancient traditions still manifest in Kyoto. Of course Americans can love Japan, but there’s a difference between being an American otaku and someone whose true satisfaction comes from their Japanese identity.”

      The issue here is that she is really just an American Otaku. There is an element of exoticism in transethnicism that is deeply offensive to people who grew up in whatever ethnicity is being placed on a pedestal. There is something close to just not getting it while also trying too hard. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being interested in cultures that are not your own but you don’t get to be Jewish or Japanese or Slavic or English just by saying so. Watching Woody Allen movies and like Pastrami does not make someone Jewish. There is an element of stereotyping in the transethnic movement and I did see some writers criticize Dolezal for her all, trying too hard stuff with all her facebook and music likes. It is sort of like she thought “What would a black-woman my age like and then went all in?” Likewise, yuki took a small sliver of Japanese popular culture and conflated it with all Japanese women and declared herself Japanese because she liked the same stuff. This seems psychologically odd to me.Report

      • I think this ignores the point, though, which is that race and ethnicity are primarily social constructs, a fact over which there is presumably little dispute these days outside of the Steve Sailers of the world.

        I’m not saying that you get to become, much less be viewed as, a different ethnicity just by saying you are. I’m saying that ethnicity and race are things that are earned or developed over the course of a lifetime in a way that doesn’t show up on a census form. It’s not something you can develop just by reading some books or educating yourself or obsessing over culture – it’s something that must be developed through shared experiences.

        In your example – yes, this “yuki-no-monogatari” seems absurd. But what makes her absurd isn’t her skin tone. What makes her absurd is her apparent belief that the only thing that prevents her from being Japanese is her skin tone – she doesn’t seem to have ever lived in Japan or surrounded herself with Japanese friends or done much of anything that would give her the experience of actually being Japanese. But what if she was born in Japan to American parents, grew up in Japan, spoke Japanese as her first language, married a Japanese man, and then emigrated to, say, the UK. Would we really say that it would be wrong of her to identify primarily as Japanese rather than as American? Should we?

        It gets a bit trickier when you’re talking about primarily racial (as opposed to primarily national or ethnic) identities because substantial portions of those identities arise indirectly from visual appearances – prejudices faced can and do form a big part of a racial community identity. But even then, as Jamelle hints at, there are at least some situations where someone who ordinarily appears racially white can experience some of the same prejudices by fully identifying as racially black.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          America skews a lot of things. How do you become an American?

          Show up. Maybe buy a burger. Maybe watch a football (not soccer) game. Yell about the local/national politicians. Oooh and aaah at the 4th of July fireworks. Complain about something related to pop culture.

          Congrats. You’re one of us. You’ll fit right in.

          If that’s your paradigm, why shouldn’t you assume that doing similar for Japan wouldn’t make you Japanese?Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

            Because you, like me, know people like our Japanese commenter here (nob). It doesn’t work that way in Japan, because of racism and xenophobia.

            Hell, if you’re “half” there, it doesn’t matter who you are… it’s going to suck.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kim says:

              That wasn’t Jaybird’s point Kim. Jaybird pointed out that these sorts of declarations are really easy for America to make because there is a relatively low bar to what counts as necessary for American identity. Some Americans have attempted to create a high bar to American identity, usually meaning you had to be an English speaking White Protestant who doesn’t drink and lives in a small town, but they always failed even at the height of their power.

              Japan and many other countries have high bars to claiming that identity for various reasons. Some of this is xenophobia but a lot of it is because their are many activities, beliefs, and behaviors considered necessary to be a member of that culture. Even if Japan was more open to immigration, immigrants would still have to deal with the problems of knowing how to use honorifics and other things Japanese consider necessary to social interaction.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I have to ask… why do we care about this woman?Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Kazzy says:

      +1 @kazzy

      She’s sort of pathetic, and not really emblematic of anything important other than that there are some seriously fffd up people out there and they sometimes find really strange ways to try and make peace with themselves.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:


      Though it’s probably worth noting that a lot of smart people who spend much of their time thinking and talking about race have been giving get story a lot of attention.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

      why do we care about this woman?

      That’s a different question than asking “why do we care about this incident?” For some folks this incident presents a chance to reconfirm their biases, which I’ve been led to believe can lead to inordinate amounts of pleasure. For others, it’s purely spectacle. I’m pretty sure that punition factors in as well.

      As far as I can tell, the majority of people don’t really care about the woman – the person – at all. She’s just a “type” to most folks. Most white folks anyway.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

      See my first comment.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

      My flippant answer is the Internet. Without the Internet, this would be a local interest story and nothing more. My more serious answer is that Dolezal’s masquerade involves a lot of issues that always bedeviled American society like the meaning and importance of race and white privilege.Report

  6. Avatar zic says:

    Here’s a reason to care about Dolezal: apparently, she was raised by fundamentalist; the To Train up a Child kind who begin with blanket training, or so Marcotte and Homeschoolers Anonymous

    From Homeschooler Anoynmous:

    The parents allegedly forced both Rachel and her older, biological brother Joshua to beat their younger, adopted siblings with plumbing supply line and two foot long glue sticks, a practice inspired by Michael and Debi Pearl’s book, To Train Up a Child. (Forced sibling-to-sibling corporal punishment is sadly not uncommon in some homeschooling circles.) Such a practice conjures up troubling images of Larry and Carri Williams, another homeschooling family that abused to death their adopted child, Hana. According to my sources, infant spanking (in public in their church parking lot, even) and blanket training were also common in the Dolezal family. Additionally, Rachel’s adopted brother Izaiah Dolezal has himself raised public allegations against his parents involving physical punishment, forced labor, and isolation in out-of-state group homes. With this background in mind, now comes the latest development in the Rachel Dolezal saga: Dolezal’s older brother Joshua is awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused a black child. Insinuations have been made that the parents spoke up now to retaliate against Rachel’s attempts to get her brother charged for abuse.

    Maybe there’s more to double-down upon than meets the eye here.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

      Yeah, girl got issues, it’s true.
      But, um, other than she probably should have mentioned “my adopted father” rather than “my black father”, how much bad has she actually done?

      I’m taking my cues from Field Negro and Whoopi Goldberg, folks that have a LOT more invested in whether this is just a “cracker in blackface” or someone who’s deserving of a bit of cred.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kim says:

        I am not excusing her, I’m simply trying to understand her.

        If I had to guess, I’d say that in some way, she cast the child abuse she experienced as white supremecy/slavery, and set out to save the world from it.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to zic says:

      As a journalist, are you not somewhat skeptical from a thinly sourced story on a website with an agenda that talks about crimes from completely unrelated people?

      I mean, switch ‘Christian fundamentalists’ with “Muslims’ and do you think the same people would relate whatever may have allegedly happened in Dolezal’s past with honor killings and female circumcision? (a completely different group of people would have made connections to an Islamic upbringing and Islam at large)Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Kolohe says:

        I think that there’s a segment of religous believers in the US who are applying abusive child-rearing practices, and there are a lot of victims of these practices coming of age and speaking out against them.

        We’re going to see more people like Dolezal, in various forms, as the cohort raised by Michael and Deb Pearl’s toxic parenting advice age into adult hood and deal with their problems.

        If you want to draw analogies to other groups; that’s for you to do. But this is a very specific set of abuses laid out in a book that’s sold at least a half-million copies to families with (often) many children and many adopted children, and there have been at least three deaths (all adopted children) documented — the kids were beaten to death.

        As a journalist, that’s an important story. You may abstract it up to refer to other groups, but each abusive cultural habit is abusive in it’s own way I’d say.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to zic says:

          I believe his point is that the information is unconfirmed in this case. There appears to be a great deal of accusation and recrimination in this family, with different members of the family telling very different stories. In this case, an anonymous source who “knew the family” (who did they know? all of them? the ones making some allegations or the ones making the other allegations? we don’t know) talking to a blogger is pretty thin, as evidence goes. We should probably hold off on blaming anything or anyone for Dolezal’s behavior, or for much of anything going on in a family we know little about.Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Chris says:

            You know, @chris I mostly agree; and I also have some faith that the folks at Homeschoolers Anonymous actually verified what they reported; they understand they have more to lose by misinformation than you might realize. So I am giving some faith to them.

            As I said to Kelohe, it’s nearly impossible to get a view into this culture since it chooses to turn away from the public eye.

            But the ongoing revelations of severe physical child abuse sort of push the need, too. Just because you think God tells you to beat your children into submission doesn’t mean its actually okay to beat them into submission.

            When all you’ve got is cracks into the culture from refugees of that culture; you have to talk to those refugees and listen to what they’re saying.

            Might be good for you to take a peek at that book, To Train Up a Child, or Greginak; someone with some prof. experience; because we’re going to be hearing more about it.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

          @kolohe I should also add that the source, someone who knew the family and talked to editors at the website Homeschoolers Anonymous, is, short of arrests and court cases, the only window here; this is family life, and one of the rules for this particular creed is to not talk to the outside, to turn away. That is the only way to report.

          I’ve been trying to reach people within this particular community; they don’t call back. They don’t want to talk to me.Report