|People of Different Races|
The recent news items on Rachel Dolezal and those on cultural appropriation have sparked many conversations among myself and friends. In those conversations people have asked,"what is the difference between race & ethnicity" and "can people be trans-racial or trans-ethnic?" My answer is, that while one cannot be trans-racial, one can be trans-ethnic.
Race, is the identification of a group of people based on biological characteristics: physical characteristics that are transmitted from one generation to the next through DNA. One cannot change racial markers as identified by geneticists (DNA indicators).
Ethnicity, on the other hand, is created by the characteristics taught by a people and transmitted from generation to generation through learning. That would include worldview, language, traditions, dress, music, hairstyles, communication styles, attitudinal systems, etc. Ethnicity can be learned by anyone. In fact EVERY group that immigrated to the US has become "American" by the third generation because they have adopted American English as first language, assimilated in looks, dress, attitudes, and even media use to mainstream Americans. They become American. Immigrants become trans-ethnic or fail to become upwardly mobile. Everyday groups of people adopt new ethnicities. They can change their worldview, change the way they talk, they walk, they think, and even exist.
A friend asked me, "what is wrong with Rachel Dolezal saying she is Black?" Well, there is nothing wrong with saying she identifies with Black people. But, pretending to be Black is like someone pretending to have a Ph.D. when they don't have one. I am offended by that because I worked hard to earn a doctorate and the respect that comes with it. So I am offended when people start calling themselves Dr. when they have not completed a degree program and had a degree conferred upon them by a legitimate institution (one established by the state legislature and validated by the appropriate accreditation bodies). I don't even want to hear them say, "I identify as a Ph.D."
Racial and ethnic identification lend certain credibility to experiences, narratives, behaviors, attitudes, and values.
When I talk about the trepidation of living in an area where the Confederate flag was flown, my narrative will carry more weight than that of a white person who lived under that same flag. When I talk about being followed in a store, my outrage is more understandable than that of a white person being followed for reasons other than his/her race. When I tell a student of colour that their work is not up to par, they don't wonder if I am saying that because they are not white. I have certain street "creds".
A White person claiming to be Black has the advantage of being able to walk out of the oppression whenever they want to.
I had a friend many years ago who was white and the pastor of a church in a Black denomination. He had been embedded in the Black community for decades and had mixed children. Most people thought he was Black because he looked like many very fair Black people and families from the south. The thing was that no matter how embedded he was in the community, how active he was for the cause, what his worldview was or any of that, when we walked into a restaurant where they were slow to serve Black people he could just get up and move to a table by himself and be served. He could apply for a job, not list himself as White and never wonder if his race would keep him from getting the job. He had choices that I did not.
Here is a set of twins, two girls born at the same time and of the same parents. One is black and one is white. Despite their shared genes and same parents they will be treated differently.
|Twins Maria and Lucy Aylme of the UK|
Rachel Dolezal can say that she identifies closely with Black people. That seems to be true. She adopted Black ethnic characteristics. But, she can never be racially Black, no matter who she tells herself and the world that she is.
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|Dr. Marquita Byrd|