So a lot of comments and questions about whether RD’s actions really hurt anyone. To answer that question honestly, one has to look at the history of black-white relations in this country and I daresay the world. The fact that for the most part, black personhood and reality has been sacrificed, erased, silenced for white comfort. One must consider the deep and justified mistrust that still exists between the two groups, and the fact that we are in what could be considered a second wave civil rights movement.
So the first people she has harmed with her deception and startling display of insensibility, given how much she’s supposed to know about the struggle?
White people who have pinned their flags to the cause of racial social justice, and sometimes do so at great personal cost and discomfort. They are willing to be the ones who stick their necks out to call out the massive monster that is white supremacy. The work of racial social justice cannot be done if white people are not present in the equation as white people who are aware and sensitive to the nuances in the conversation and willing to let black people speak for themselves and carve out their own destiny while navigating the resentments that still exist…because contrary to popular expectation, black people have a right to be wary and be human and not be the all forgiving, benevolent wise mammies and sages. By her deception, she has opened a very old wound which desperately needs to heal for us to move forward.
The Black Community
Appreciation =/= Appropriation. What she did is appropriation on steroids and a deep betrayal of trust. We all know the white people who have adopted black/African culture. They speak local languages, bear titles even, eat the food, know the music, support the communities, they are members of that community in pretty much every sense of the word and they manage to do that while still being white. They could talk about the experiences of the people but they would still be talking as a white person who knows the community, not as authentic members of the community. These people still defer to the community on matters that pertain to them. Imagine if a white man who has done work for say the Nso people in Cameroon and was given an honorary Shey title and sat on some committee of Nso leadership darkened his skin, claimed some random Pa and Mama as his parents, started talking about his days growing up as a young boy in Shisong or Kikaikilaiki and started acting as arbiter of what was and wasn’t Nso culture, when we know he is blonde haired blue eyed Peter who grew up in Iowa. Who would take him seriously? Defend his right to be “transracial”? RD basically spoke and acted like she was born and raised black, with all the associated pressures. But we’ve seen her teenage pictures. She would have been one of the teens in McKinney,TX that the police bypassed, to brutalize black kids. She doesn’t get to speak as though she authentically knows anything about that. Just as Caitlyn Jenner and Janet Mock and Laverne Cox do not get to speak about being teenage girls struggling with new boobs and having menses for the first time because that was not their experience. Speaking of transgender people, they are the third group she is inadvertently hurting.
For the umpteenth time, gender dysphoria, is a well documented state with biological, genetic and a host of other precedents. It has a management plan which seeks to give the people affected the best quality of life they choose and that ranges from therapy, medication all through to sexual reassignment surgery. This is not some game these people are playing to try to fit in. Could RD suffer from racial dysphoria of some sort? Who knows? Her own family is saying she is black only when it suits her and it has suited her very well professionally to be black, so you have to wonder. That being said, even if she did identify as black she would not be the first white person to “go native” so why the lies? The multitude of lies? And now you have people trying to equate the two and talking about we have to let her be her true authentic self and live it openly. But if that true self is based on a series of not so carefully crafted lies, then what is true about that? Transgender people come out so they can stop living a lie. This one lays out lie after unnecessary lie to live her truth. I’m very confused.
The ones to whom the term actually applies. Children of one race (usually non white) adopted into (usually white) families who have to navigate life being treated as black (and we know exactly what that is) but with no frame of reference for why and how to navigate that, because their parents and close associates are white or other race. These people face challenges that we don’t and coined that term to describe their struggle. A term and struggle which RD has now trivialized.
Because I believe she maybe had good intentions but impact always has been and always will be greater than intention and all the good work she has done will now be mired in this mess. She has herself to blame for that.
We all want and need desperately to move past race being this thing that polarizes us. But this is not how we get there. Just as being “colorblind” is not how we get there. I don’t have a road map for exactly how we get there. I doubt anyone does. One thing I do know is that we all have to speak, deal and live truly with each other for us to even have a remote chance to get there.