Ever since the revelation on June 11, 2015 that Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane NAACP, is a white woman who has been masquerading as black, I have been voraciously devouring articles about her. I am appalled at what she has perpetrated, and even more dismayed at the ways she has tried to justify her deception. She uses the language of the academy to bob and weave around the straight answers to questions about her race. I understand that language much better than the average person, and I see how damaging it is to use the important theoretical and real-world advancements we have made in understanding race (as well as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.) to justify what Dolezal has done.
One of the more damaging comparisons that is being consistently drawn is between Dolezal’s racial appropriation and the transition of Caitlyn Jenner. I knew instantly and viscerally that this is a false equivalence (and it is explained beautifully in this article by Meredith Talusan). But another important issue is what is actually meant by the term “transracial.” Today’s Daily Read by Syreeta McFadden (writing in Alternet by way of The Guardian) is one of the better articles I’ve read on why Dolezal cannot be considered transracial. That is a very specific term that applies to very specific circumstances, and it does not apply to Dolezal. McFadden does not specifically address the difference between being transracial and transgender, but she does explain very well why what Dolezal has done is abetted by the white privilege into which she was born.