The Rachel Dolezal story has put the Left in an awkward spot. An obviously white woman who has long presented herself to the world as black, Dolezal is testing the Left’s commitment to its own radical subjectivism.
Frustrated by comparisons of Dolezal to the transgenderism they embrace, many liberals have declared the two cases completely different. But they have failed to show one, at least not a substantial philosophical difference. In both cases, a human being seeks to erase an immutable trait in order to assert a “self-definition” that exists in the mind, not the body.
If humans have a right to define the “authentic self” without regard to their given human nature, why should that right be restricted to one fixed trait but not all of them? The Left has no answer to this question. All it can do is flail and argue that being transgender is somehow morally better than being transracial because the former is more trendy and societally approved.
It is odd to hear the same people who a few weeks ago were arguing that the right to self-definition trumps all considerations now laying down conditions for it. Apparently Dolezal can’t claim “transracial” status because not enough people have “experienced” the condition and not enough doctors have recognized it as real. Dolezal could point out that these were some of the same objections raised at the beginning of the transgender movement.
The Left is caught in its own web of nonjudgmentalism and bad logic. How can it denounce Dolezal as “inauthentic” when it is has already established that the individual alone determines the “authentic self”? How can it call her “deceptive” when it has already extolled people for presenting themselves to others in any way that they wish? If nothing is real, if every human trait is just artifice, then how is it even possible to identify a deception?
In the culture of radical relativism and subjectivism that the Left has created, Dolezal had every right to expect that people treat her delusion as fact. It is a little late for the Left, as it polices pronoun use for the transgendered and the like, to take the position that demanding that others accept one’s lie or failing to alert others to one’s “natural” identity are morally wrong.
Of course, not everyone on the Left has denounced Dolezal. Some liberals are resolving the tension between this case and their ideology by temporizing on the impropriety of her actions. At MSNBC, host Melissa Harris-Perry asked, “Is it possible that she might actually be black?” Her guest responded, “Why not? One thing that she said that I found so fascinating was she said her identity is multilayered, and that her identity is very complicated.”
In a culture where people are trained to defer to the self-delusions of others out of respect for their “feelings,” such befuddled discussions are bound to multiply. On ABC’s “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg didn’t even bother to question the Dolezal story. She flatly endorsed Dolezal’s delusion: “If she wants to be black, she can be black. Look, just like people say, ‘I feel like a man, I feel like a woman, I feel like this.’ She wants to be a black woman, fine. Everything that comes with that she is prepared for. Okay.”
Dolezal has the patter of subjectivism down well, so she may end up a hero to liberals who now view her skeptically. She told NBC’s Matt Lauer, who treated her somewhat gingerly, certainly with a lot less outrage than he would show toward a Republican caught out in an act of fraud, that she felt black from an early age: “I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon.” She cast her brazen deceptions as a noble “journey” of self-definition: “The discussion is really about what it is to be human. I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment.”
Dolezal knows that liberal culture is powerless before such mumbo-jumbo and will no doubt parlay her fraud into a plum position at a post-modern college or think tank. At the moment, the Left is hesitating before the category of “transracial.” But in the smorgasbord of subjectivism it calls culture, it will eventually accept it as one more option of self-definition, at least for those whom it views as political allies.