On Rachel Dolezal and The Transgender Community

Last Thursday, North Carolina lawmakers repealed part of House Bill 2, also known as the “bathroom bill.” The repeal includes removing the requirement that transgender people must use the public restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. Roughly 2,500 miles away, a conversation has re-emerged surrounding a woman named Rachel Dolezal. Dolezal is a former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, Washington. She gained national media attention in 2015 when her white parents revealed that she was born white and is now passing as black. In a recent interview with NBCBLK, Dolezal defined herself as “trans-black.”

Now, despite what people may think about either situation, it is hard to ignore that they share a common theme. That is, both situations involve people whose sense of personal identity conflicts with the one they had at birth. Interestingly, The Associated Press described Dolezal’s life as a black person as a “ruse” in a recent report. The story went on to quote James Wilburn, a black community leader and former head of the NAACP in Spokane. Wilburn stated that Dolezal’s portrayal of herself as black was “troubling,” and she should “tell the truth” about her identity.

Dolezal’s announcement may present a challenge for some. Those that support transgender issues, for instance, might discover that it is hard to be critical of Dolezal. After all, what would their basis be for rejecting someone’s jurisdiction over their racial identity? Similarly, those that believe that Ms. Dolezal is misguided, confused, or worse, delusional might discover that it is difficult to spare the transgender community from the same judgment.

In addition to sharing a common theme, both of these situations raise the same fundamental questions. Namely, is it appropriate for a person’s internal sense to determine their identity? If so, are there any limits to that? Should people’s sense of personal identity be acknowledged, accepted, and accommodated without any judgment by others? The members and supporters of the transgender community often raise concerns about tolerance and inclusiveness. It will be interesting to see how far their sense of tolerance and inclusiveness actually reaches.