If you haven’t heard of Rachel Dolezal, then you are one lucky duck. Dolezal made international headlines last week when it was revealed that she, a White woman, had spent the better part of a decade masquerading as a Black person and was even the chapter president of the Spokane, Washington branch of the NAACP. What really captured people’s attention, though, was her rationalization of why she did what she did and the fact that she claimed to “identify as Black.” Since Dolezal’s story came out soon soon after Caitlyn Jenner revealed her true self on the cover of Vanity Fair, many people were quick to conflate the two topics – if people can be born male but identify as female, why can’t people born White identify as Black? I’m not Black and I’m not trans, so I don’t think I am the best person to explain the differences between transgendered people and what Dolezal was claiming to do, but there are many wonderful articles out there written by Black women, transgendered women, and Black transgendered women who have done an excellent job explaining this issue.
However, there is one aspect of the Dolezal controversy that I can talk about – the question of whether White people can raise children of color.
In her interview with Matt Lauer, Dolezal said that after she adopted her son (who was previously her adopted brother) who is Black,
He [her adopted Black son Izaiah] said, ‘You’re my real mom.’ And he’s in high school, and for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom.
The idea that she couldn’t be her son’s “real mom” and be of a different race is an appalling stance to take since she is basically saying that every White parent who has adopted a child of another race is not a “real parent.” This hurts me deeply since, as anyone who has read this blog knows, adopting a child here in China has been my goal in life for as long as I can remember. I also have a god-daughter whom I love very much who calls me “Mom” and my husband “Dad.” I have always believed that family is not based on blood but on love. I know I will love my children just as much as if they had come from my own body and no one will ever love them more. Of course, they will also have a birth mother and birth father out there somewhere who will never forget them, but I will be my children’s mother, their real mother.
However, I don’t deny that raising children of a different race is a challenge, for both the parents and the children. The issue of balancing race and culture in a multi-ethnic household is one that is constantly under discussion in adoption communities. I think Adoptive Families magazine (an excellent resource for adoptive families) has multiple articles in each issue about parenting children of another race and their website has hundreds of articles about it.
What is also disturbing, though, about Dolezal’s claims to Blackness is not only how she has appropriated Black culture to be something she isn’t but adoption culture as well. She claims that she once identified as “transracial.” Transracial is already a known term, but it in no way applies to what Dolezal has done. Transracial is an adoption term that refers to adoptees of one race who are adopted and raised by a parent (or parents) of another race and the spectrum of the relationship they have with both races. Not all adoptees consider themselves transracial, and the amount of difficulty or ease the adoptees and their families experience while navigating both cultures varies greatly. Dolezal’s claim of being transracial is extremely harmful to those who are actually transracial. As someone with wide media attention and a shocking story, Dolezal’s use of transracial is the first time many people have heard the term and are, thus, learning about it incorrectly, which could cause problems for transracial adoptees in the future.
Dolezal’s belief that she can’t be a Black ally while White or a mother to a Black son while White shows a pathological need to be something she isn’t that is harmful to everyone.
What do you think about this topic? Do you consider yourself transracial or are you part of a multi-ethnic family by adoption or by birth? Share your experiences or thoughts in the comments!