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From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much


From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much

Adolph Reed Jr.

By far the most intellectually and politically interesting thing about the recent "exposé" of Spokane, WA, NAACP activist Rachel Dolezal’s racial status is the conundrum it has posed for racial identitarians who are also committed to defense of transgender identity.


Could anyone make any sense of this neologism (“idenentarianism”) filled babble? And his use of the word neoliberalism (an economic term with a specific meaning) really confused me.

Let me simplify this whole issue considerably for Mr. Reed. When all is said and done, at the point where the rubber meets the road, one’s “race” (when in a racist society) is simply the race that someone else - specifically a potential employer, landlord, policeman, bank loan officer, RE agent, store-keeper, or gated community resident assigns to that person for the purpose of discrimination!

So by this criteria, Ms. Dolezal almost certainly was “white”. Although with some additional skin-darkening and nose-surgery, she could become black - and she would know when that happens because of noticeably different, poorer treatment by white people (and some black people - those formerly called “oreos”) from various service-providers, employers, and the police.

There as a an actual experiment done along these lines (Similar to Ehrenreich’s "Nickled and Dimed with regard to class) in the 1960’s where a white writer had is skin medically darkened and then we went out to experience life as black person in the USA - I forget the name of his book.

And yes, to all the racism-deniers out there (including Reed? - he never mentions the real issue of racism in this article), there is overwhelming consensus in the science of sociology that racism, as evidenced by discrimination studies, still exists. And it is not just class discrimination; it is well established that a more poorly qualified white person of lower economic class will be disproportionately selected and given preferential job, housing, loan, and police treatment compared to a better qualified black person even of apparent higher economic class, dress and grooming.


There are no neologisms, it’s just written for very literate and educated people - it’s really more academic-level writing than for the mainstream public. I understood everything he said - and he’s very, very good.


Thank you for this, Professor Reed. You have stated so eloquently and clearly the very things I’ve been ranting to myself and afraid to say to anybody. It was wonderful to read such a rational and sympathetic piece, when all of the popular commentary is soaked with knee-jerk rage. And full of misuses of the term “appropriation.”


Try comparing her action to the situation of those over the years who “passed” as white. If you think it’s different, what does it say about the notion of race in the US?


I don’t know what I think about this, not exactly.

I like the idea of choice in these matters, but historically the nature of race especially has taken choice out of the equation for people who have for eons and generations been made into little more than pack animals and scapegoats and machine parts due to their skin color… and women born women have been made into much the same over most of the globe in an unrelenting and horrific fashion. How is it that people not “assigned” dark skin or female genitalia are able to choose these identifiers without those deeply common and identifying experiences?

Relating to how a group has been downtrodden enslaved and dehumanized for the privilege and profit of the dominating group is not the same as experiencing that cruelty. It is no wonder and completely understandable to me when members of a downtrodden race or gender are disdainful of those from the dominating gender/race when they believe they are wrongly placed and can choose such a change. That in itself, to me, seems the product of a dominating culture’s privilege.

Should we be looking elsewhere when we try to determine what is wrong with how we define race and gender rather than in the individual and superficial representations and attributes and body parts?

Black people with light skin… or at least those who would be determined to be Black by the bizarre and surreal laws of such things in the States especially… have often chosen to be “white” and for good reasons… it has been rather thoroughly proven that almost half of Thomas Jefferson’s children/grandchildren by his black slave Sally Hemings, left the plantation after he died and they disappeared into white society.

The anthropological study of gender expression in almost every developing culture and indigenous society includes places for non-conforming gender expression… much more fluidly than our current rigid definitions. What has happened to that? These were not surgical procedures, although I cannot really object to those either… even though it seems to me that a better society, a more open one, would allow for one to express self without major surgical alterations for the express purpose of mere comfort in one’s skin. Perhaps that is just because I cannot imagine hating parts of my body so much I felt a compelling need to rid myself of it.

Perhaps it is how we define and approve or disapprove of the demonstrations and practices of these things that is the problem. Maybe that is what should be made less rigid.

As you can see, my thinking about this is still developing.


OK then his writing has a lor pf post-modernisms about it.

And he used the word “neoliberal” entirely incorrectly. What does this odd Spokane/NAACP Tempest-in-a-tepot have to do with the modern movement of capitalist global expansion and privatization of the public sphere - which is what “neoliberalism” is.

But I was really hoping to get some kind of comment on the substance of my comment.


But you do understand that racial discrimination is still pretty rampant, right?

And when a certain class of poeple are the designated down-trodden, it is natural that they develop a distinctive culture, right?


Reed writes eloquently. What I especially appreciated about his piece is that he made me think about this whole issue from a different perspective–I was stuck in feeling something was wrong but not sure what. Uncomfortable. So, thanks Dr Reed for that. Rachel comes across as a confusing individual–dedicating years to important work, but feeling the need to lie and manipulate to position herself to do that work. I cannot reach a conclusion on this just yet–she certainly has given me food for thought.


Wow, what a challenging essay!

Aside from the political slash against “identitarian” politics… and the clash between legitimized and delegitimized claims and counter-claims of gendered and racialized identities… Reed is operating at such a highly educated intellectual level, it’s hard to hold on to the roller coaster ride while he flings references that affect the course of his essay.

Like, i had to look up “TFA pimps” to grok that he’s referring to Teach For America. But then if you are not familiar with the programmatic paradigm of TFA, and the ways in which it dovetails with the “poverty pimps” paradigm of the 1960s, his swift reference might leave you stuck on a sandbar. And if you don’t know who Charles Murray is, and the book he wrote, and the ideology he promotes, then you won’t follow that twist in the essay.

i caught most of the snap references that Reed makes to outline his stance, but still, i’m going to have to digest this for a while. Wow!


On one hand: Think about the multiple uses of the term liberalism, which is the ideology of capital. There is NOT just “one” clean definition for the term neoliberalism.

On the other hand: Reread the three sentences in Reed’s essay that include the word neoliberalism. How is he referring to neoliberalism incorrectly? How (in Reed’s representation) does “identity politics” conform to neoliberal ideology?


It is my understanding that DNA studies show that we all come from out of Africa. So, we probably are all black. Therefore, I suggest that people allow people to identify as they please as long as it is not hurting others.


I see what Reed is getting at, but I can’t quite agree with it. And the reason is simple. Transgender people feel genuine pain – pain that the rest of us will never feel – at being born with what they feel is the wrong set of chromosomes, with the wrong physical attributes, with the wrong hormones in their bodies.

Regardless of whatever good Dolezal has done in the past or will do in the future, she was born of white parents, and I can’t imagine that she ever felt pain for being white. Maybe she took on a black identity because she thought it was the only way she could be taken seriously. I don’t know. But she shouldn’t have done it.

About Jenner specifically I have nothing to say. But the transgender experience is a real thing. The transracial experience? I can’t imagine it actually existing.


The book was Black Like Me.


you correctly recognize identity as a capitalist mechanism, but confuse suffering from, cognizing and antagonizing the effects of identity with endorsing them.

there’s also some plain ridiculous get-off-my-lawning: “I doubt that Nikki Lynette was at Greensboro on February 1, 1960, Ft. Wagner on July 18, 1863, Little Rock in September, 1957, Colfax, Louisiana on April 13, 1873, the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, either of the Amenia conferences, or Minton’s Playhouse any time in the 1940s.” are these the updated qualifications for contending that you face challenges in life because of your race?

“identitarians,” as you call us, do not focus on identity, privilege, critiques of whiteness, etc as a mechanism to rearrange the capitalist hierarchy, but to identify how it really works.

a desire to dismantle race hierarchy doesn’t, as you assert, necessitate a lack of desire to dismantle class hierarchy. there really is a lot of racial essentialism floating around, but you can be (passionately) anti-racist and believe that race is constructed, and many of the people you’re antagonizing are and do.

to quote Andre 3000’s t-shirt, “across cultures, darker people suffer the most,” both because of neoliberalism and because they are darker. don’t confuse people trying to navigate a world defined & hierarchized by ascriptive identity with people trying to use it for gain.

we learned from the last century, as you point out, that we can’t solve the race crisis by ignoring the class crisis. stop making the opposite mistake.


““identitarians,” as you call us, do not focus on identity, privilege, critiques of whiteness, etc as a mechanism to rearrange the capitalist hierarchy, but to identify how it really works.”

Others may disagree with such an analysis of “how it really works”, and also question how such analysis contributes to the dismantling of hierarchies in any material way whatsoever. Which I think, is the point of this essay.


others certainly do disagree, and their disagreement comes as no surprise. meanwhile, studies continue.

i think you’re asking me how understanding hierarchy contributes to dismantling it, and i don’t think i’m the best person to explain that to you.


Always useful to pause a bit as a story unfolds. In the end, just another scam by a privileged white poser looking to score. See the latest development: “Rachel Dolezal Sued Howard University for Racial Discrimination in 2002” - Gawker.


Modern Self-Identifier’s Song

I am the very model of all modern-day identity
I look like this but I am a completely different entity.
The more our social norms allow each person to self-classify
The less we each will feel we must self-censor or self-pacify.
It’s all the same the color of your skin’s not diabolical
And no one ought to care if you’ve a straight or curly follicle.
A switch-o-change-o with the disadvantaged is exceptional
And everyone who does it must be earnest or ineptional.

Boutique Chorus:
A switch-o-change-o with the disadvantaged is exceptional
And everyone who does it must be earnest or ineptional.

If JFK’s a doughnut which it turns out is not true at all
Then I can be a Fugate though my skin may not be blue at all.
I don’t predict a lot of rich white males will be a ma’am a lot,
Though Jenner seems to think she’s found her veritable Camelot.

Boutique Chorus:
I don’t predict a lot of rich white males will be a ma’am a lot,
Though Jenner seems to think she’s found her veritable Camelot.

Although to Christianity it sounds like an insanity
I boldly claim each aspect of our mutual humanity.
The blackness of our whiteness or our whiteitude of blackitude
Will easily determine our amount of social flackitude.
Though doing it for money is what social networks smearify,
You must respect their courage when they blackify or queerify;
And it is only sensible for girls to switch and gentify
They’ll get enormous raises if they’ll only male-identify.

Boutique Chorus:
And it is only sensible for girls to switch and gentify
They’ll get enormous raises if they’ll only male-identify.

In short, it doesn’t matter what’s the Jeckyl or the Hyde of you,
Or whether you’re astride or if your partner is astride of you.
As for the epicanthic fold your eye may have no hint of it
Yet you may claim you’re asian even though you never squint a bit.
The only thing that counts is how your feelings feel inside of you –
It ought to be your choice what you declare’s the bona fide of you.
Although you may not want to try to seem a Blue-and-Maizean
If you were born Ohioan, and raised a Woody Hayesian!

Boutique Chorus:
Although you may not want to try to seem a Blue-and-Maizean
If you were born Ohioan, and raised a Woody Hayesian!

When I declare that I have found the person that I’m gonna be
Then when I live that life, that’s who I am, and not a wanna be.
I am the very model of all modern-day identity;
I look like this but I am a completely different entity.

Boutique Chorus:
We are the very models of all modern-day identities;
We look like this but we are each completely different entities!


Almost provocative piece once you wade through the name calling and denigrating sarcasm. Most striking is the supposed “smack down” effect of ascribing the problem of this racial boundary discussion as “essentializing”. Why is that epithet assigned only to race and gender? Why not also to Identitarian? To Left Liberal? Neo Liberalism? Bourgeois What are the boundaries of those concepts and who decides? If we’re going to explode categories, why stop at race and gender? And once we’re done, how do we discuss, give meaning to or understand anything? We’re going to go after those shards of tarnished concepts scattered on the ground and reassemble them. Rather than dismiss the critique of Dolezal as self serving bourgeois, ask a non-bourgeois black person, a relative (I have more than a few), or perhaps the woman picking up your trash in your office what she thinks about the whole affair and then come up with a response to that.

Also, the Bruce Jenner lying example would have been more apt if Bruce had somehow been successfully posing as a woman for all these years. He hid his feelings and posed as what he appeared to be:a man.

But otherwise, your essential point that these categories make no sense when you peer closely at them, which Dolezals hoax has highlighted, was iwell-taken. The ambiguity however is only at the boundaries-the solid mass in the middle are not wondering about the indeterminacy of their blackness.