Not long ago I pondered the question of whether someone could be “transracial”, saying that they feel like (and assuming the accoutrements of) a member of a race that was not their natal race. After all, if you can be transgender, why not transracial? Rachel Dolezal, a white woman from Spokane who passed for black, is the paradigmatic case of transracialism. But her attempt to be identified as black was rejected by everyone, and she was fired as head of the local NAACP.
Despite that, philosopher Rebecca Tuvel analyzed the transracial question thoroughly, and concluded that “similar arguments that support transgenderism support transracialism.” (For that Tuvel was also demonized, with calls for her paper on the topic to be withdrawn.)
As I reported above, most of the people who want to transition races are trying to adopt an East Asian identity instead of a white one. But as Jesse Singal (below) and I noted, the NBC article by Emi Tuyetnhi Tran about this phenomenon was not in favor of it, copiously quoting critics of transracialism but not a single supporter.
Click to read Singal’s piece on his Substack site:
Singal quotes some of the critics of transracialism, whose arguments don’t make sense to either him or me. Below are quotes from the NBC article:
Experts agree race is not genetic. But they contend that even though race is a cultural construct, it is impossible to change your race because of the systemic inequalities inherent to being born into a certain race.
David Freund, a historian of race and politics and an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, corroborates the idea that a “biological race” does not exist. What we know today as “race” is a combination of inherited characteristics and cultural traditions passed down through generations, he said.
In addition, Freund said, the modern concept of race is inseparable from the systemic racial hierarchy hundreds of years in the making. Simply put, changing races is not possible, because “biological races” themselves are not real.
Just to point out one bit of mishigass: if you can change gender from male to female, aren’t there “systemic equalities to being born into that gender”? And of course being female is inherited but also comes with a “culture” (societal expectations).
At any rate, Singal is puzzled why transgenderism is not only accepted but applauded, while transracialism is throughly damned:
Maybe I’m an ignoramus on this subject, but it certainly seems like race can be “changed” in a sense in certain outlying instances, at least. A Sephardic Jew who traces his recent lineage to Iraq might “look” “blacker” than a light-skinned African American whose grandparents are all from Nigeria, by the standards of the made-up racial category of American blackness. The Sephardic Jew could perhaps “change his race” by simply starting to claim to people he’s just met that he’s black (when the subject comes up), and the African American could pass as white by doing something similar. In this situation, haven’t they effectively “changed their races,” regardless of the particular “systematic inequalities” they face?
I don’t see why “outlying instances,” where you have some phenotypic traits of the race you want to assume, are the only defensible ones. After all, there are plenty of transgender women who look not like women but men, with beards penises, and so on. Singal continues:
That being said, I can’t even tell whether my example applies, because the article doesn’t really define what is meant by “changing race” in the first place. If race is just a social construct — supposedly the progressive orthodox understanding — why couldn’t you change it? If, on the other hand, all Tran is saying is that the “listen to this subliminal audio to change your DNA” part of this online trend is nonsense, then sure, of course that’s true, but wait, I thought race isn’t genetic anyway, so of course that can’t be what’s meant by “changing race,” except race is somewhat genetic (“inherited characteristics”), and. . . well, I’m kind of lost. It’s hard even to hold this all in your head at the same time.
But despite all this confusion, the article is very clear that whatever race is, and whatever changing your race is, you can’t do it — it’s impossible. That very term is used twice. It’s very important that people recognize that while race is (mostly) a fiction (except when it isn’t, because it has a partial genetic footprint), you just can’t change yours.
Why? I’ve never quite understood that. The article contains a lot of somewhat perfunctory-seeming moralizing about how some people are offended by the idea of someone changing race, the overarching theory, I think, being that you can’t “identify into” an oppressed group, but “this thing offends people” is obviously not the same as “this thing is impossible to do.”
In the end, there is no rational argument against transracialism that I can see that isn’t also opposition to transgenderism. And since I have no beef with transgenderism, neither do I with transracialism, so long as it’s honest. And I think Rachel Dolezal was honest.
The real reason that people oppose changing races, and oppose it no matter what kind of change you’re making, is that for some reason transracialism offends people, as if race is a proprietary characteristic, somehow coded in your being, rather than, as transracial opponents contend, a social construct. And even if race is biologically real—and Luana Maroja and I contend it is to some extent, so is sex. If you argue that a biological man can be considered a real woman, or be accepted as one, why can’t a white person be accepted as black?
Singal argues—and he may be right—that race has become such an important part of people’s identities that it simply cannot be changed, though that doesn’t seem like a good reason to me. After all, gender is also an important part of people’s identities. And so Singal argues that people should take transracialism seriously, and, if they oppose it, give us serious arguments why. He ends with a jeremiad against the ubiquity of race as the essential characteristic of people:
It seems pretty obvious to me that the only way out of racism, in the long run, is for people to recognize that race is mostly made up. Even if it’s not a complete fiction (see haplogroups), of course it’s bad to see people as “black” or “Asian” or “Latino” rather than, first and foremost, individual human beings. These categories are much too broad and they’ve done far more harm than good.
But this view feels moribund in progressive spaces. Instead, it’s important to talk about race all the time. Someone with dark skin is capital-b Black, and this is a very important part of their identity, because race is an essential component of each individual’s identity. Race is so important that we don’t dare violate its sanctity by crossing boundaries that are best left alone.
Doesn’t it seem obvious that this obsession — that’s what it is, at this point — is going to have downsides, in the long run? Shouldn’t mainstream journalism outlets demonstrate some appetite to actually investigate this worldview? Or is the point of mainstream journalism to simply remind everyone, over and over and over, what good progressives are supposed to believe?