The matter of Rachel Dolezal, the apparently Caucasian woman who has made claims to be at least partially African American and has built something of a career on that basis, has gone viral in the last twenty four hours. The BBC notes that some commentators have drawn a comparison with Bruce Jenner while others have denied that there is any analogy at all.
On the contrary, the point of comparison is rather obvious: If identity is a matter of psychological conviction and can override and even directly contradict biology, then we have no basis to privilege the soft biology of race over the much more significant biology of sex. Nor can the possession of a history of oppression lead to such privileging. Talk to any feminist. They can tell you something about oppression.
Now, some cynical types may speculate that Dolezal does not really think that she is African American and has merely identified as such in order to advance her career. But then fairness requires that we apply the same standard to Jenner. Maybe he identified as a woman merely to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair. Who knows? Who are we to judge? If we are going to make judgments about motivation and integrity on the basis of consequent career advancement, I am guessing Jenner is making far more money out of his media profile than Dolezal has made as an adjunct professor and NAACP official.
So why the big difference between women who are trapped in men’s bodies and African Americans who are trapped in Caucasian bodies? To quote Camille Paglia (reflecting in her typically incendiary way on why liberal Christians accept practicing gays but not foot fetishists): “No lobbyists, I guess!”
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. His previous posts can be found here.