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Thursday, 18 June 2015

More on Defining Identity and Rachel Dolezal

My latest article on Everyjoe has proven to be a big source of attention; according to the Invincible Overlord, it's one of my most-read articles in my history of writing there. It also generated tons of comments not only on the site but all over G+ where it was posted.

Naturally the core of the debate has been about the question of what gets to determine identity?  Some have insisted it should be on the basis of biology; even some of the people that admit that genetics has very little relationship to what we (in our culture) actually define as "race" (or "gender", or "sexual orientation") still feel that this is somehow the only 'logical' determinant.
Others feel that in the case of race, it should be skin colour that determines identity.
Still others try to argue that it should be culture.
But there are some very good reasons why none of these actually make the best determinant, and what we're left with is individual self-determination.

Let's use race as our case study, because that's at the heart of the Dolezal story:

There have been cases of fraternal twins of biracial couples (or just plain siblings) where one comes out looking every bit as blonde as Rachel Dolezal used to, and the other black-skinned.
If you judge by skin colour then only one of those two would be black.
If you judge by genetics, then they're both black but an adopted sibling that didn't have black parents wouldn't be.
If you judge by upbringing then the black child raised from infancy by a Dutch couple would not be black.

If a white kid was adopted by black parents as a baby, raised by them, and felt he identified as black, would he not be black?
And, conversely:  let's say a child was BORN of black parents, but with skin so white as to 'pass' as completely caucasian.  He identifies as black.

If the first kid is "not black", wouldn't the second also be "not black"?

As to what any of this might have to do with me: I'm half-latino, but you'd never know it to look at me. I have blue eyes and my skin is whiter than some vampires.  Does that make me "not latino"?

If I am latino anyways in spite of the colour of my skin, is it just by virtue of my birth?  Or is it because I was raised by a latino mother with hispanic cultural elements, language, and values?

If the former, does that mean that someone who was adopted right after birth, is latino but doesn't 'look it', and was raised by white German-descended Americans who raised him to 'hate mexicans' would also still be latino? Even if he in no way identified with the culture, didn't know the language, doesn't have the slightest clue of his real ancestry, and despised the people?

Or, if some other pale-skinned boy with no latino history lived in a latino neighbourhood, spoke fluent Spanish with the particular dialect of the people around him, knew all the customs, and spent 15 years of his adult life working for social causes on their behalf, would that make him Still Not A Latino, even though he's culturally WAY more latino than Minuteman-Border-Patrol Lad and probably "more latino" than I am in spite of my genetics and the fact I live in a South American country?

The problem with all this reasoning is that by any standard other than self-defining identity, you're going to end up saying to some people that they're Not This Race who would be absolutely indistinguishable in every other respect from people you arbitrarily decide do count.

Self-identification is the only way that makes sense here. And the fear that this will lead to a bunch of 'fakers' that will be just 'pretending' to be a race they aren't for some sort of nefarious purpose seems to me about as unfounded and hateful as the 'fears' some fundamentalists expressed about how transgender rights would lead to "perverts cross-dressing to get to go into women's changing rooms".

The real reason a lot of the identity-politics Left and the religious Right are so determined to find some criteria other than self-determination is because they are Collectivists. They want to get to control Identity as a way to control people: to say "you don't belong to this group" or "you get to be a special protected group" (which they must then prevent the 'wrong' people from 'appropriating') or "this group gets to be X while the other gets to be Y" as a measure of social control.  It's the same from left OR right; whether it's about controlling gender to control sex in order to control people, or whether its about keeping women 'in their place' or whether it's about having a 'narrative' that attacks certain collective-defined groups by painting other collective-defined groups as Perpetual Victims.  In ALL cases, letting people get to define their own identity fucks up the agenda

Which is, of course, pretty much the best argument for why we should do exactly that. 


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + Gawith's Navy Flake


  1. Having time to sit around thinking "what is my IDENTITY?" means one doesn't have enough to do.

    1. Or that he/she/it is simply very good at multitasking.

  2. Stick it to the man I say!

    By now I would say you are more of the RPGPundit than a latino :) I guess you are anything else more that a latino :), which goes for me too ;)

  3. Just because it's early in the morning, and that's when I get the shitiest ideas:

    How about an infant that was raised by wolves or apes, you know Mogli/Tarzan style?

    1. What about them? There have been 'feral children' cases in history, and mostly these have demonstrated severe levels of social retardation after being found/rescued and a total inability to develop some of the higher concepts we take for granted as human beings.
      So probably, if a feral child "identifies" as anything at all, it is as an animal.

    2. Thank you as always, and this is why I should avoid the morning for ideas and keep creativity to the can or the shower.

  4. I have thought this through and as an anti-racist I have to be anti-race. There is no such thing.

  5. Regarding the fraternal twin example:

    The twins would actually have slight genetic differences. An argument from genetics could be based on those differences. If one wanted to avoid the genetic argument just being about skin color, they could look at other genetic differences between blacks and whites — such as SCA, muscle enzymes, "age" of the Y-chromosome, etc. — to build racial prototypes and profiles

    1. All of which still lead to the uncomfortable possibility of a child born of a black mother, raised in a black culture, and identifying as black, being told that he/she is not black because x.

    2. He is black, but he ain't black black :P

  6. I was going along in complete agreement with you till that last paragraph. I'm not precisely clear on how you define 'collectivist' but I'm guessing I'd be one... lefty tree-hugger communist sympathizer that I am. But I still think that self-defining identity is the only way that seems to have any sensible consistency.
    Some of my friends have been railing against Dolezal, not because she 'claims to identify as black' but because she apparently sought grants that were meant for African-Americans. I asked them how that works in other situations... such as another friend of ours... non-Jewish at birth but adopted by a Jewish family... who has benefited from scholarships from the Jewish community. Was he a fraud as well?
    They seem to agree that regardless of how a person identifies it would be dishonest to accept help meant for a specific group without the associated genetics. They included transgender women in opinion.
    To be clear they're not implying a 'scheme' to claim the identity just to access the benefits... just that even with the identity those funds are reserved somehow and it would be up to the folks providing the scholarship/grant/award to decide the criteria.
    I'm still not sure where I stand on that angle of it.

  7. Let's see if the afternoon creativity goes better :)

    How about we stop segregating, start treating everyone equally and there would be none of these issue, no special grants, no quotas, no compensations for any group, only requirement, have the skills and put in the effort to achieve things.

    1. Well yes! Obviously, there's room for measures that ensure the equality of opportunities, but a big part of the problem in terms of why any of this would matter at all is found in collectivist notions of special grants/subsidies/whatever, which shouldn't exist in the first place.

  8. Post-modernism (including identity politics) is our generation's wolf-in-sheep's-clothing: an ideology masquerading as "radical left" to promote far-right ideas (racial segregation, sexism, transphobia all in name of the twin evils "identity politics" and "gender politics") and to attack science, civilization and progress for ultra-reactionary reasons under a "revolutionary" guise. The Left (and the modern Right as well!) used to dream of a better future of science, progress and freedom. Now this was "deconstructed" by the post-modernist clique and its lackeys in the rotten academic system (i.e. the degree mill industry) who claim to be "radical" but in fact by deconstructing everything and anything - deny the possibility of a better world (be that a socialist or a capitalist world) and who attack science and promote pseudo-science (e.g. "alternative medicine" quackery).

    Post-modernism must be publicly denounced and the post-modernists exposed for what they are: neo-feudal medieval reactionaries - enemies of science and progress.