As my black and brown friends on Facebook express grief and horror at the recorded murders of #AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile, the majority of my Asian/Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) friends’ statuses are about the latest Pokemon Go release and basketball players. Don’t get me wrong — not posting about #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean you are somehow anti-black or racist. The opposite is also not true; a #BlackLivesMatter status does not give you a badge of progressive honor indicating you are not anti-black. Everyone has a right to post whatever they want and how often they want on Facebook. But we must recognize that the ability to post about Pokemon Go or basketball players in the wake of assaults on black lives is a luxury and privilege AAPIs have because of our (social and phenotypical) proximity to whiteness. The luxury to think about anything else at this time but the murders of black lives, fear for your own mortality, and systemic racism is a privilege.
Rachel Dolezal, Vijay Chokalingam (Mindy Kaling’s brother, who became known after pretending to be black on medical school applications), and now Michael Hudson.
Running through these racial disguises is a common, disturbing thread: the notion that racial identity — composed of all the nuanced struggles and complex interactions that come with navigating America as a racialized person — consists of nothing more than a name or skin tone change.
Like, I’m sure, many others, I’ve been trying to articulate why precisely white woman Rachel Dolezal’s claim to black identity is so problematic, particularly in the context of many people’s ignorant comparison of the Rachel Dolezal story to that of Caitlyn Jenner’s. I’ve read many thought pieces and seen videos, and though each have enlightening points, none have really summed up succinctly for me why “trans-racial” (as it has been used in the Dolezal story) should not be a thing.
Many have correctly claimed that race and gender are both social constructs. If gender can be fluid, why can’t race? they ask. But while race and gender are both social constructs, they operate in very different ways.