Just when some people claimed the ability to “transcend” their biology, many of those same people have apparently decided that biology is still important, sometimes, depending. Well, it’s complicated.
We are told that it is now possible to choose one’s preferred gender, where the term gender is interchangeable with biological sex. For some reason, however, many will simultaneously condemn any attempt to choose one’s race. How can both concepts coexist when they are both based upon biological reality? I’ve often felt I identify more as a Vulcan than as a human. If they weren’t just a fictional species, I’d probably consider pursuing a trans-species lifestyle. Remember when people used to teach themselves to speak Klingon? Unfortunately, trans-anything now seems like it might be problematic.
In April of 2017, Rebecca Tuvel, a tenure-track assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, published the article, “In Defense of Transracialism” in the peer-reviewed feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. The article compared the situation of Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman, to that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identifies as black. She argued that “[s]ince we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races.” What soon followed was outrage and shaming on social media, an apology on behalf of “a majority” of the journal’s associate editors, a critical open letter with 830 signatories, and the resignation of Editor in Chief Sally Scholz and eight of the ten associate editors.
The philosopher Kelly Oliver, who chaired Tuvel’s dissertation committee in 2014, defended Tuvel on Facebook by asking for arguments rather than insults, and suggested that Hypatia invite critical responses. She was told her comments were “unforgivable” and that her suggestions were “doing violence” and triggering PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Oliver writes: “Through every medium imaginable, senior feminist scholars were pressuring, even threatening, Tuvel that she wouldn’t get tenure and her career would be ruined if she didn’t retract her article.” Tuvel said that people were “absolutely vicious” toward her.
Apparently, there is no allowing for free speech or thought that encourages tolerance of that which must not be tolerated. And there will certainly be no forgiveness. Tuvel’s life was officially cancelled. The best she could hope for was to disappear. Gone but not forgotten. Forever cursed, unless she of course were willing to confess her sins. Yet even after sinners confess, they carry their scarlet letter until death. How is this not transphobia?
Do people who claim a transracial identity genuinely feel they identify with another race? Do they feel they have been racially mis-identified based only on their biology at birth? There have been several recent cases of white women revealing that they took on the identity of a black woman. But most of them subsequently apologized for their actions and blamed themselves.
Rachel Dolezal, who was head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP and claimed to be black, was exposed after her parents revealed that she was not. She was fired from her job at the NCAAP and from her job teaching African studies at Eastern Washington University. She has been unable to find steady work since most local colleges, nonprofits, grocery stores, and even government agencies have refused to hire her. Dolezal, however, does not apologize. Race, she believes, is a “social construct” used to pigeonhole people. “I unapologetically stand on the black side,” she said. “Blackness better defines who I am philosophically and socially than whiteness does.”
On the other hand, professor of African history Jessica Krug resigned from George Washington University after admitting in a blog post that she pretended to be black, which was a “violent anti-black lie.” She called it “a Blackness that I had no right to claim…. I have not only claimed these identities as my own when I had absolutely no right to do so — when doing so is the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation….my continued appropriation of a Black Caribbean identity is not only, in the starkest terms, wrong — unethical, immoral, anti-Black, colonial…. “
What should her punishment be? In her words, “I believe in cancel culture as a necessary and righteous tool for those with less structural power to wield against those with more power. I should absolutely be cancelled…. You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.” It is curious that she feels she should still be punished even though she intended no harm. In her words, “Intention never matters more than impact.” and “Mental health issues likely explain why I assumed a false identity….”
Is it true that “intention never matters more than impact?” Someone recently re-surfaced a decades-old skit from Saturday Night Live where Jimmy Fallon wore blackface to imitate comedian Chris Rock. But did Fallon’s intention, to make people laugh–and not in a mean-spirited way–not matter?
When asked for his reaction, Chris Rock replied, “Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything. A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.” When asked if people were taking the blackface controversy too far, Rock demonstrated clear knowledge of the consequences for giving the wrong answer, “If I say they are, then I’m the worst guy in the world. There’s literally one answer that ends my whole career.” Liberal, tolerant, nice guy, funnyman Jimmy Fallon, and his friend Chris Rock, just had a near-cancellation experience. As Agent 86 would say, “missed it by that much!”
What ever happened to “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery?” Is parody as an art form no longer acceptable if the actor attempts to mimic the physical appearance of the subject? Can a male comedian in a skit no longer wear long hair and makeup to appear to be a woman, or is that assumption also now offensive? Can one even wear blackface when assuming the persona of a Klingon? In case you hadn’t noticed, Klingons have dark skin and bushy hair, and they are aggressive bad guys. Are the Klingons just a racist construct of a white writer? Please tell me I haven’t inspired someone to cancel all the Klingon episodes of Star Trek! That would be a tragedy, considering the real intention of writer/producer Gene Roddenberry. The first inter-racial kiss on TV happened on Star Trek and crew diversity clearly showed his intention to “boldly go where no man had gone before.”
Satchuel Cole, an activist working with Black Lives Matter for racial equality and also for LGBTQ rights in Indianapolis, admitted to lying about being black. On a Facebook page, she posted the following: “Friends, I need to take accountability for my actions and the harm that I have done. My deception and lies have hurt those I care most about. I have taken up space as a Black person while knowing I am white. I have used Blackness when it was not mine to use. I have asked for support and energy as a Black person. I have caused harm to the city, friends and the work that I held so dear.” Dina Okamoto, director of the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society at Indiana University, outlined Cole’s crimes. “The negative consequences and harm to the community are tremendous — a racial justice advocate who has portrayed herself as Black has taken up space, opportunity, voice, and attention from Black advocates and activists…. Her fraudulent racial identity was used to build her career in activism for the Black community.”
Virtually all religions allow, and usually seek, converts. Christians and Muslims even have a history of forcible conversion, while the Jews merely tolerate voluntary conversions. There is an inside joke among Jews that the converts are always the most eager to show how Jewish they are by being the most zealous in enforcing the rules. Although the Jewish people have long suffered from persecution, nobody seems to mind the over-eager converts. So, why the anti-racial vitreol against transracial “converts” who truly identify with and want to be a part of the black community?
What exactly does “taken up space” mean? Is there literally no space in the black community for people who are not black? Or are the key words “opportunity, voice, and attention” for a “career in activism?” Is it really about competition between people who merely want attention? Is the message less important than the messenger? Is it all about who gets to be heard and bask in the spotlight of black activism? In her paper, Rebecca Tuvel addressed the arguments that have been used to oppose transracial identity while simultaneously supporting transgender identity. Yet she could not find any reason why one community would react so differently from the other. Could the real answer be as simple as ego? Look at me! Hear me! Respect me! Love me! Are we witnessing spasms of jealousy from the “me” generation?
Is biology still important? Was Jessica Krug right when she said that mental health issues wrongly caused her to assume a false identity, or was her mental state perfectly reasonable and worthy of social acceptance? It is scientific fact that our sex at birth has a huge impact on who we are socially and emotionally and what we are capable of physically. Our race or ethnicity has far less impact, aside from the historical social constructs that are taught, but not a physical part of us.
When people say they feel like a soul trapped in the wrong kind of body, it makes sense. Perception can be reality. Besides, we cannot scientifically disprove the possible existence of a soul that transcends the body. But when they say that biology is not real and must be denied, it flies in the face of scientific fact. If it were possible to transcend one of these physical barriers, one would think that race would be easy and sex would be difficult if not impossible. I guess it’s just the Vulcan logic in me.
Live long and prosper.