If It’s OK To Object To Rachel Dolezal Identifying As Black, Then It’s OK To Object To Men Identifying As Women

On Newsnight this week, presenter Emily Maitlis interviewed Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identifies as black or “trans-racial.” Introducing the segment, Maitlis describes Dolezal as, “a white woman, born to white parents” and asks whether we should consider Dolezal, “A confused woman? A product of a terrible infancy, perhaps?”

In the interview, Maitlis puts it to Dolezal, that, “you were trying to culturally appropriate a black experience that you couldn’t have had because you never lived through it.” Maitlis emphasises her point by adding, “I couldn’t self-define as Chinese, just because I had a passion for Chinese culture.” Maitlis then goes on to ask Dolezal if she thinks she’ll always be viewed as, “the white woman who wanted to be black?”

The video of the interview ends, and Newsnight cuts back to the studio, where Maitlis is now sitting with Guilaine Kinouani, a black woman who Maitlis introduces as an equality consultant. Maitlis asks Kinouani what she made of the interview, and Kinouani says, “it’s the first time that I’ve seen this interview so lots of emotions, feelings, questions in my mind.” As Kinouani says this, Maitlis makes sympathetic noises off-camera, as if to suggest that it’s only natural Kinouani would be stunned.

Gathering her thoughts, Kinouani points out Dolezal’s, “inability to recognise and acknowledge her privilege, as a white woman, being able to occupy or inhabit the lived experience of black women.” She goes on to point out that, “for the overwhelming majority of black people, we cannot occupy the lived experience of white people.”

Kinouani reminds us that in terms of racism and white supremacy, we need to look at what has been done over centuries, and Dolezal is, “a white woman who seems to be quite oblivious to the fact that black women’s experience and bodies and creation have been appropriated.” Allowing Dolezal to claim blackness would give her, “the power of defining what blackness is.”

I agree with both Kinouani and Maitlis in their criticism of Dolezal, and I support Maitlis’s insistence on referring to Dolezal as white — because why should Maitlis (or anyone else) collude in her delusion? However, I am baffled by what seems like a general consensus to critique the concept of trans-racialism with the scepticism it deserves, while applying none of this logic to the concept of being transgender.

Women have been oppressed for centuries by virtue of their reproductive systems and they still are. Women face prison in Northern Ireland for attempting to obtain abortions, and the Oklahoma abortion bill in the US means that women could be forced to carry foetuses and give birth against their will, unless they receive written permission for an abortion from the “father” of the foetus.

In less “progressive” parts of the world, girls face genital mutilation, and six year olds with learning difficulties are married off to old men. Women are forced to marry their rapists, and banished to mud huts when they’re menstruating (“I was told it was a sin to touch books during menstruation… During your period, people don’t hand you food, they fling it at you.”)

And yet, there’s backlash against any criticism of men identifying as women, despite the fact that men will never face any of the prejudice, or experience any of the issues associated with women’s reproductive systems.

And just as black people cannot occupy the lived experience of white people, women cannot occupy the lived experience of men. As much as a woman may want to identify as a man, the biological facts remain — she may still be at risk of pregnancy, she may still need an abortion, and she may still experience sexual assault from men who couldn’t give a toss about gender identity.

The courtesy afforded to Kinouani in allowing her to voice her concerns about a white person claiming to black, is exactly the same courtesy that should be afforded to women when they voice their concerns about men claiming to be female. Just as Kinouani’s opinion was listened to, and her bewilderment empathised with on the subject of trans-racialism, women too should be listened to with empathy on the subject of transgenderism. Instead, women who query men’s identification as women are deemed to be bigoted and transphobic. This suggests a double standard. If objections to a white person identifying as black are treated as valid, then objections to men identifying as women should be treated as valid too.