I have learned three things this week: there are a lot of clinical psychologists on socialmedia, biological determinism has made a comeback, and people are really scared of a queer planet.
On the morning of Friday June 12th I logged onto Facebook and my news
feed was filled with stories about Rachel Dolezal, the black Spokane NAACP leader who had been “outed” as white (by her own parents). In the days that followed, I read everything I could about the case, and the more that I read the more frustrated I became. I understood the negative reactions; I too, was put off by the idea that she allegedly concocted stories about discrimination and even faked her own death threats, that she disowned her parents for their whiteness, made offensive comments about her fictitious Native American background, and so on. However, something is still missing from the accounts I have read; all of the moralizing about Dolezal’s story has obfuscated our ability to read and see the potential for queer futurity in this case. Her life seems like testimony to the potentiality of queer world making—that is—that people can and do craft subjectivities that bring them joy, and that disrupt hegemonic discourses in the process. I began wondering if there was another way to read this case. What if Dolezal was assigned white at birth but has become a black woman?
Much of what has been written about Rachel Dolezal has focused on speculation about her motivations for “passing” as a black woman. I will not make any comments about Rachel Dolezal’s mental health, because unlike the thousands of people on social media who have rushed to diagnose her with a range of mental disorders, I do not have a degree in clinical psychology, and have not had an opportunity to meet her. Moreover, given the long well documented history of medicalizing and pathologizing non-normative behavior, I see this particular discussion as particularly worrisome and unfruitful.
To my mind, her identification with blackness is not some type of white liberal savior politics gone overboard. I don’t read her behavior as some farce or scam so that she can sit with the cool black kids in the lunch room. I also don’t see this as the appropriation of black culture as usual. Dolezal is not Madonna appropriating Vogue from queer men of color. Dolezal is not celebrity X [fill in the blank] who on Halloween thinks it is hysterical to put on blackface. To be clear, I find the examples above incredibly offensive. However, I think reducing Dolezal’s identity to blackface is a mistake, and indicates a clear misreading of the history of minstrelsy and blackface in the US. Instead, what if Dolezal is claiming blackness not as a ruse to capitalize on “black culture”(whatever that is), but as her “truth?” By making a queer intervention into the current debate, I hope to open up a dialogue about how Dolezal’s queering of race demonstrates potentiality for queer futurity.
Queer Theory 101
Disclaimer: I cannot discuss queer theory in any meaningful way in a short paragraph, but here is my best effort to summarize its main contributions, and how those ideas will be used here. Queer theory has emphasized that categorical thinking—specifically, the binary construction of sex, gender, and sexuality are limited and not useful for understanding human beings because these systems ignore sexual variation (e.g. intersexuality), and the fluidity of gender identity and sexual desire (e.g. queer identified people). Moreover, the creation and use of such systems only erases, marginalizes, stigmatizes, and punishes those who do not neatly fit into those boxes. Genealogies of gender and sexuality conducted by social historians have shown us the ways in which these categories have been discursively produced and once institutionalized coercively regulate behavior and bodies. These poststructuralist genealogies of knowledge production have been important because they assist in the denaturalization of behavior. Finally, queer theory has challenged essentialism—that is—there is no biological, authentic, right, inherent, and/or normal way to be anything. All our ideas about appropriate behavior are socially constructed and are constantly in flux, and vary across time, culture, and space.
A queer analysis reveals that people’s reactions to the Dolezal case have been problematic in three main ways. First, the dominant response has reified and essentialized racial categories. In most news and social media accounts, people have said Dolezal is “pretending” to be black. This very notion essentializes blackness, and implies that there is an authentic way to be black, and that because she is white (an immutable fact) that she cannot be black. According to this popular response, Dolezal is merely a white woman in blackface with a bad perm and weaves. However, this response only reifies inaccurate biologically deterministic ideas about race. Crucially, this dominant reaction to Dolezal is actually antithetical to the goals of the black liberation movement. You cannot simultaneously challenge institutional racism, while reifying notions of racial purity.
Second, in addition to essentializing race, the dominant responses to Dolezal have also reductively essentialized ideas about privilege. People have asserted that because she was born white and middle class in Montana that Dolezal’s previous white middle class privilege thwarts her ability to “really” understand black experience. This logic assumes that whiteness=privilege and blackness=underprivileged. Privilege does not work like this; it is contextual, situational, and multifaceted. For example, I am middle class, black, polyqueer, aggressive femme, and Jewish. No doubt—my life has consisted of complex and multifaceted experiences of privilege and discrimination. People have both advantages and disadvantages due to their positions in multiple systems. Our intersectional identities are complex and tricky; an individual could receive privilege from their position in one system (e.g. race), but be disadvantaged because of their position in another overlapping system (e.g. gender). Then to muddy the water further, there are status systems and social hierarchies within each of these systems (e.g. colorism). Thus, in these mainstream stories about Dolezal, race and privilege are discussed in narrow, reductive, and essentializing ways.
Finally, the dominant reaction to Dolezal has also made assumptions about her motivations for passing. Some folks seem to have a problem with Dolezal because she has “co-opted” blackness, and has attempted to pass as black in order to gain access to political power in the black public sphere. Ostensibly, her deception has allowed her to illegitimately acquire a scholarship to Howard University, gain access to a position of leadership in the NAACP, and become an educator of Africana Studies. These awards and positions should have gone to “real” black people. However, this reading of Dolezal’s passing suggests her motivations were nefarious. Given her privileged background, her passing was not grounded in economic, political, and/or social necessity (as it was historically for black folk who engaged in passing). So, in this dominant reading Dolezal’s passing was calculated and used only to acquire institutional rewards and privileges that she did not deserve nor had any right to.
Passing has generally been treated as a survival tacit that is deployed by marginalized people to gain access to resources they need to survive, and to protect themselves from violence. Instead, I’d like to theorize around passing as a mechanism through which people realize self-actualization. Again, what if she is not pretending? She is not co-opting black culture, and black institutions, if she see hers self as a part of these institutions, and sees herself as black. To flippantly reduce her identification as black to mere delusion is a mistake. What if she is trying to find a subjectivity that is real to her? For her, maybe the only livable life is a black one.
Transracial, Transgender: A Note about Terminology
In the past week, the word transracial has been thrown around in news articles and hashtags. Its current use marks an important shift in the terms’ etymology. Previously this term has been used to refer to interracial families; specifically it has been used to describe transracial adoption. For example, Dolezal comes from a transracial family. Her adopted siblings are black, and her parents are white. Dolezal has two black sons. Interestingly, we have seen a shift in the way in which the word transracial is being used; so in addition to the terms use to describe interracial families, it is now also being defined as an umbrella term that encompasses many identities in which a persons’ assigned race at birth does not match their racial identity.
Second, in the past week we have also seen people conflating transgender and transracial identities. So, to be clear, I am not positing that transracial and transgender experiences are the same. To reductively conflate the terms transgender and transracial is both transphobic and racist. Yes, on some broad level people can share common experiences of oppression: exploitation, powerlessness, marginalization, cultural imperialism, and violence. And in the interest of praxis and political mobilization, we often form alliances, despite the complex differences we experience within these systems of oppression. However, gendered oppression and racial oppression are often manifested in very different ways, and experienced by people in very different ways. So, no, Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal are not the same; folks, they are not even distant cousins, but the language and frameworks that we use to understand gender can be useful to analyze this high profile case of an individual who has become or now enacts a racial identity different from the one assigned to them at birth.
While transgender and transracial experiences are incredibly different, the logic that is being offered up to explain why transracial identities are not possible or are wrong, is the very same hateful language and logic used by some feminists to talk about transwomen. Janice Raymond wrote,
…the transesexually constructed lesbian-feminist is a man, and not a woman encumbered by the scars of patriarchy that are unique to a woman’s personal and social history that he can play our parts so convincingly and apparently better than we can play ourselves. However, in the final analysis, he can only play the part, although the part may at times seem as, or more, plausible than the real woman.
So, in the Dolezal case, unfortunately Raymond’s arguments have resurfaced. Dolezal cannot be a real black woman because she was born white. She can only pretend or play the part of a black woman. And because she was once a white privileged woman, she cannot transition into the racial identity that she may feel aligns with her soul. Isn’t it oppressive to deny people the right to become who they feel themselves to be?
Raymond famously and offensively compared transwomen to rapists,
…rape, of course, is a masculinist violation of bodily integrity. All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves. However, the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist violates women’s sexuality and spirit, as well. Rape, although it is usually done by force, can also be accomplished by deception. It is significant that in the case of the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist, often he is able to gain entrance and a dominant position in women’s spaces because the women involved do not know he is transsexual and he just does not happen too mention it…Because transsexuals have lost their physical “members” does not mean that they have lost their ability to penetrate women—women’s minds, women’s space, women’s sexuality.
Alas, is this not the same logic we see cropping up in the Dolezal case? Dolezal is not a real black woman. She previously lived a life a racial and class privilege; she did not grow up living an “authentic” black life. According to this logic, Dolezal is deceptively passing as black to rape the black community.
The current policing of Dolezal’s body bears a striking resemblance to how some feminists policed transwomen’s bodies. So similarly, Dolezal is not a real black woman and should be shunned from black political circles; but why, for living stealth? If Dolezal finds hurt and pain in her white past, why is she morally obligated to discuss that past? News accounts suggest that her past may have been one of trauma and abuse inflicted by her white conservative parents. Why is it a surprise that she would not want to discuss such a past or even lie about it? If she understands herself to be a black woman, why would she discuss her assigned race? If she identifies as black because it fills her soul with joy, and helps her achieve self-actualization, and has also used her position as a black political figure to fight racial injustice, why the backlash? The backlash is because people are afraid of a queer planet. Subjectivities are ours to craft, and while it is arduous to escape the hegemonic discursive power regimes that imprison our bodies, it is an exercise of agency, empowerment, and queerness to challenge such discursive power regimes. Her choice to fulfill her own racial destiny is her choice, not ours.
Bringing in the Body
In my gender theory course, my students and I always discuss Transmorgfication (a la Nikki Sullivan and Victoria Pitts-Taylor among others). One of things I love most about these discussions is how my students are quick to debate the socially constructed systems we craft to evaluate the ways in which people craft subjectivities using transmorgfication. Nikki Sullivan defines transmogrification as,
strange or grotesque transformation: transformation that is characterized by distortion, exaggeration, extravagance, and as the Short Oxford English Dictionary puts it, ‘unnatural combinations.’…I will raise the question of what such bodies do, how they function, what effects they produce, what connections they make with other bodies and with particular bodies of knowledge, why, and to what ends.
It is this line of queer reasoning that I would like to explore as well. Dolezal’s aesthetic choices are part of an individualized attempt to transmogrify her body into one that will allow her to be recognized and read as black. Now, instead of seeing this as a nefarious plot to co-opt black politics and black culture, what if her transmorgofication is performed as part of a highly complex ongoing process of self-actualization?
People’s reactions to Dolezals’ body are buttressed by what Victoria Pitts-Taylor has called mutilation discourse. Dolezal has mutilated her body and defied the natural creation of her body. Dolezal’s case is certainly not the only example of people trying to alter their race and being met with scathing critique for mutilating their natural skin. There is a small yet amazing body of literature on skin lightening in Jamaica. For example, Christopher Charles and Donna Hope have both written that while many people are quick to argue that skin lightening is a reflection of self-hate, and internalized white supremacy—this culturally specific form of transmorgfication is not this simple. Moreover, it is imperative to acknowledge that experimentation with transracial transmorgifcation is not one-sided. While Dolezal has worked to accomplish blackness, there is also a historical record of black people working toward achieving whiteness. However, because people hold biological notions of race, most people will react to tampering with phenotype, particularly skin tone as grotesque pathological behavior.
Dolezal has created a body that people find grotesque, not so much because of her body’s aesthetic value, but because her body disrupts the perceived biological certainty of race. Her body is transgressive, because she has disrupted biologically essentialist ideas about race, and thrown into chaos people’s ideas of racial authenticity.
Rachel Dolezal’s body is queer. Her identity shows us quite clearly that race is complex and much like gender and sexuality—it is messy, and it is fluid. Instead of running from that reality, I hope to see more dialogue about how her life and her choices queer our understating of race.
The Queer Potentiality of Transracial Identities
This article was not meant as a defense of Rachel Dolezal, and was not meant to weigh in on her personal choices—we have enough moralistic diatribes about this. Instead I see this high profile case an opportunity to open up a dialogue about queering race, much in the same way we have about gender. I think a queer reading of this case and not an evaluation of Dolezal herself is the way we must move forward.
In trying to queer the Dolezal debate, I’d like to pose the following questions, and hope that these questions can help shape the debates currently unfolding:
1) Is it possible that Dolezal was assigned white at birth, and has over the past decade become a black woman?
2) Can a person transition to another race?
3) If a person transitions their race, should their decision to remain stealth be evaluated and rendered deceptive?
4) What are transracial identities, and in what ways do transracial identities contribute to queer politics and queer futurity?
If we relinquish our fetters to biological determinism, the answers to these questions are no longer so simple, but are certainly worthy of discussion, particularly for those of us fatiguing from the liberal mainstream response to Dolezal.
It also seems to me that the Rachel Dolezal case has made visible hypocrisy in liberal progressive politics. Many people celebrate gender and sexual subversion, but try to apply a queer logic to race, and people freak out. These poststructural cherry pickers tell us that essentializing socially constructed categories such as gender and sexuality are problematic, but when applied to race, it is somehow different—but why? I have yet to hear one logical response to this question.
Finally, people have said that Dolezal has been a distraction from the black liberation
movement, specifically from blacklivesmatter, but queering race works toward destabilizing the very discourses that maintain white supremacy. With this said, I will always personally remain committed to various forms of political action and grass roots activism, but I also see the potential for queer futurity in the Dolezal case. In the past week the Dolezal scandal has pushed discourse; we have seen an explosion of writing that has aimed to bring the idea or possibility of transracial identities to the mainstream, and if discursively pushed far enough, has the potential to legitimate such an identity. And I see this as an exercise in what José Esteban Muñoz called queer world making and signals the potentiality of queer futurity. All of the discourse that has emerged presents a unique opportunity for those invested in queer politics. We must queerly push this conversation—that is—in ways that interrogate and challenge socially constructed ideas about what it means to be real, normal, and natural. To do so, to queer our ideas about race, may just show us what could be waiting on the horizon.
As I was finishing edits on this piece, Dolezal made a public declaration saying that she did identify as black, and that her performances were certainly not blackface. And so I will end with her words, “the discussion is really about what it is to be human…and I hope that that really can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self-determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment.” Me too, Rachel, me too!
Angela Jones is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Farmingdale State College, State University of New York. Jones obtained her PhD from the New School for Social Research. Her research interests include: African American history, gender, sexuality, and social movements. Jones is the author of three books African American Civil Rights: Early Activism and the Niagara Movement (Praeger, 2011), The Modern African American Political Thought Reader: From David Walker to Barack Obama(Routledge, 2012), and A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias (Palgrave, 2013). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From diagnosis, to analysis, to next steps, this is a truly sensational piece. Thank you so much for writing it. One small request for more information: twice you use the category “soul.” Were I to wish to think the term in the sense that you mean it, where would you point me? What I mean, I guess, is: what is the ontology of the queer soul?
Thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately, I think my answer might disappoint. I did not use the term “soul” in any intentional way–meaning its use was not grounded in some particular body of literature. Now, your post has made me think a lot about my use of the word. I guess my use of the word draws from its use in most religions–as some part distinct part of us that is separate from our physical bodies; it is our core “self.” What some might call our essence; we might just say our hearts. May ask what you had in mind when you asked about this? What do you mean by the queer soul?
Interesting analysis, fairly close to some thoughts I’ve had on the subject, with one exception:
“Many people celebrate gender and sexual subversion, but try to apply a queer logic to race, and people freak out. These poststructural cherry pickers tell us that essentializing socially constructed categories such as gender and sexuality are problematic, but when applied to race, it is somehow different—but why? I have yet to hear one logical response to this question.”
Especially in the US context, Race operates differently than Gender, that is especially clear when comparing “trans” experiences between the two. The ability to be transgender cuts across race, but the ability to live as trans-racial does not. The nature of racial privilege does not make it possible in this moment (and that is the really important point, in this moment) for people who have darker skin and other phenotypical characteristics associated with non-whites to claim whiteness. The ability to “pass” is bounded by white privilege, both in terms of non-whites being able to pass as white, because of how they do not match what we expect POC’s to look like and for whites to pass as non-white, because of the legacy of the “one-drop rule” and the fact that non-whites have long accepted members in their group that are clearly mixed, but identify solely as non-white.
So, the black/white paradigm does not work in the same manner as the man/woman binary. While both are socially constructed and socially mediated, one boundary is not as easily traversed by both sides as the other. Until that field is truly level, that logic won’t hold on a experiential level, even though the argument works on a theoretical level.
To some extent it may be a matter of class. K. Appiah wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books some time ago exploring the way he chose to live in upper middle class culture rather than what goes by the name of Black culture. He had far more in common, it seems, with upper middle-class whites than than with lower middle- and working-class blacks. Of course, in the eyes of your enemy class differences might mean little; the back of the bus awaited all blacks who ascended the bus. What it means to be ‘black’ (or ‘gay’ or ‘a woman’) has at least something to do with whether and how much you have absorbed a certain cultural legacy or have had certain types of experience, and whether the guardians of the cultural identity consider that you have absorbed enough of the key parts of the culture. Can you call yourself a Jew if you have never participated in the study of the Talmud, for example? Well yes, of course, but are you in danger of being called out for not being a truly authentic Jew, in that case?
Thanks Michael. I think your argument is a good one! This is something I have been thinking a lot about this week. I have had a number of conversations this week with people who have made similar arguments to yours. Some have said the problem with the idea of transracial identities is that the potential to adopt this identity only exists for white folk transitioning to black. However, while I couldn’t explore this is in the blog post (it was too long as is), I added a bit about skin lightening in Jamaica because I think this example helps debunk the argument so many are making. And what about black folks passing in the US during slavery, throughout Jim Crow (see Hobbs)? We have a historical record of black folk adopting whiteness. Now, I think the problem is actually this: too much of this debate/argument is predicated on the idea that successful transmogrification hinges upon recognition. Put another way, transracial identity may not hinge on passing. While Dolezal’s goal was clearly to be read as black, why are we assuming that all transracial people would need to replicate the black/white binary via passing? If we go back to skin lightening in Jamaica, these could be read queerly as transracial identities, in which their goal is not to achieve whiteness per say, but to queer race–to give race the big fat fuck you! And with their bodies they are able to flirt with whiteness in a way that brings them joy, and self-actualization. They’d still be transracial, yes??? Transracial does just have to reduced to attempts to replicate the binary but to play in grey area. What do you think?
Does this make any sense?
The FTM and MTF transitions are far from identical and do not enjoy the same level of sophistication. In this case the ability to pass is bounded by male privilege. SRS MTF’s is light years ahead of SRS for FTM’s. So a differential in the difficulties involved in traversing does not seem to challenge any of Angela Jones’ exquisite critique.
Though transgender goes both ways (i.e. one can be a trans man or trans woman), I wonder whether transracial also goes both/many ways. That is, can someone who is white become trans black (e.g. Rachel Dolezal) AND can someone who is black become trans white? I’m hesitant to say that the latter is a realistic option for blacks in our society…
^^^^^ Does my response above answer your thoughtful question as well? Thoughts??
Great piece! But isn’t there a one-directionality to transracial that doesn’t exist for transgender? That is, in our society would it be possible for there to be both trans black (e.g. Rachel Dolezal) and trans white people? I feel as though the latter may have much more trouble than the former, especially given the historical precedence of policing the boundaries of whiteness (e.g. “one drop rule”)…
Oh yes my friend we agree. There is clearly privilege at work here for white trans folks. BUT, yet as I said above I think if we depart from the emphasis on passing, black folks can certainly play with whiteness in queer ways. Does that make sense?
Thank you Angela, this piece helped me to work through a few of the points that were tickling my brain. I suppose I had never thought about applying a queer – or any, for that matter – theoretical framework…or perhaps I was simply searching for the right framework. I still struggle with the macro issue of how gender and race operate at the larger social level.
I’m grounding this question on the premise that self presentation is a social act. If every individual is the master of their own sui generis, then presentation of all kinds, including transmorgification, is the social and communicative expression not only of expression, but the expectation of how the individual desires to be socially framed. This is inherently political. In cases where folks transition towards identities associated with power (e.g.: female to male, black to white), it is publicly accepted as politically logical. In cases where folks transition away from identities associated with power (e.g.: male to female, white to black), it is politically upending – because, according to Fig on OTNB (SPOILER!) “Why would any man want to be a woman? It’s like winning the genetic lottery and giving it back.” Transmorgification, then, is really only problemetized by folks when it makes political sense to them. So then, I am still asking, how does this work for the overlap of race in gender, as you laid it out here? The processes of racial inequality and the processes of gender/sexuality inequalities are operating with a contradictory ontology of power and legitimacy. I realize this messiness may only leave us to wonder, or may cause us to call for action that generates change. Questions are good in that way.
While I believe your essay is both insightful and thought-provoking, I think certain aspects of your argument, particularly your application of Nikki Sullivan’s concept of transmogrification, warrant higher level of scrutiny. My major flaw with the case you make for Rachel Dolezal’s self-identification as Black is that in fleeing from the racial essentialism you argue her detractors promote, you embrace another form of racial essentialism, specifically the form being promoted by Dolezal herself. Despite the prominence of scientific racism in the 18th, 19th and 20th century, we know currently (with all certainty) that there is no biological basis for race, and yet, Dolezal makes the claim that she has always identified with the black experience, more perniciously she states (in the same interview I believe you to have cited), “I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom.” The difficulty with anyone’s self-identification with a race is that first and foremost it necessitates the constant reification of a lie we tell to ourselves (I find Jelani Cobb’s article in the New Yorker particularly insightful on this point: http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/rachel-dolezal-black-like-her). This lie is affirmed by us and correspondingly negated or reaffirmed by whatever society we have come to inhabit. For anyone, Dolezal herself included, it is not so much that one is black but rather that one has come to be Black. Whereas forms of self-identification such as ethnicity represent a categorical imperative, “I was born to parents of African origin therefore I am African,” categories such as race are the product of historical and social pressures that are within and beyond our control. If there are any bodies that exemplify a queering of race those bodies are perhaps people of mixed race. Given the history of anti-miscegenation laws, particularly in the context of the United States, certainly such bodies represent “strange or grotesque transformation: transformation that is characterized by distortion, exaggeration, extravagance […] unnatural combinations.” To be mixed race is inherently to embody some form or racial fluidity, ostensibly a queer futurity in and of itself in that people of mixed race represent almagation schemes which are unique to the euromodern world, and in their presentation undermine the very concept of race itself. And yet, one cannot discuss race with invoking racism. And Blackness stands as the most glaring signifier of racial antagonism given that the formation of race was constructed along the binary opposition between Blackness and whiteness. Intrinsically there is a difficulty that comes merely with the decision to be black, to affirm Blackness in the context wherein one is ontologically Black (believes themselves to be Black by virtue of the conditions of birth). I think the difficulty of deciding to be Black of understanding oneself as Black and loving and inhabiting that Blackness is what has bred the hostility against Dolezal, particularly among members of the Black community, who I would argue are as transracial as Dolezal is, especially in light of how you yourself describe her queering of race. Whereas you make the claim that practices such as skin lightening represent transgressive acts such as those being practiced by Dolezal, however transgressive, what they also demonstrate is an unwillingness to be Black; in so far as can construe being Black as work. And I’m attempting here to do my best not to fall into the logical quandary of conflating identity with active self constructing: certainly a transphobic feminist might argue that being a women is work. But given the fact that Black people’s actively construct and reaffirm their own Blackness, it’s difficult to interpret Dolezal’s actions as anything but ‘doing’ blackness with none of the difficult work of being; of even doing the difficult work of being actively queer as demonstrated by people the self-identification of mixed race people. I’m sorry if my arguments are a bit tangental at this point (I wouldn’t deny for even a second that they require a bit more development), but this is a very involved subject and its difficult to condense my thoughts cohesively for this medium.
This is an interesting intervention. I’d like to push you on a particular point if I can? As you acknowledge, your description of queer theory is partial, but one of the aspects I think is especially relevant to the argument you’ve constructed here is the challenge to the primacy of a self-defining subjectivity, and to the ‘inner truth’ narrative that is understood to justify all kinds of identification. Yet this is key to what you’re outlining here (and may go to the earlier question about the use of the word ‘soul’). I’m not denying identification, and I think your thought experiment of believing Dolezal is useful for unpicking how these cultural dynamics work.
But: are we downplaying the social construction of categories such as race by appealing to an ‘inner truth’ that is thereby given primacy? What does this consolidate about individualism and entrepreneurial subjectivities? And how does it obscure the ways that these inner truths are themselves socially constructed, often in ways that limit our interrogation of them, and make social structures innocent of oppression (this is Foucault on the construction of sexualities, of course).