Search icon


18th Jun 2015

OPINION: We Can’t Embrace Caitlyn Jenner AND Shame Rachel Dolezal  

It is alleged that Dolezal lied about her ethnicity


I’ve never been a stickler for labels or definitions. I believe, perhaps naively, in identity spectrums and gender fluidity.

I believe we are complex creatures made great by difference and that above all we should be afforded the freedom to define our own identities. But, in all honesty, I’m having a bit of trouble with this Rachel Dolezal one.


Dolezal, the former president of the Spokane chapter of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), set the Internet abuzz this week when it was alleged that she had lied about her ethnicity.

It has been argued by commentators that Dolezal was motivated by the desire to deceive and advance her own career. It is reported that she poses with an unrelated man as her father and that she passes her adopted brother as her own son.


It’s a complicated web of white lies and omissions that have left hoards of readers feeling bemused. But, as confused as I am by the whole affair, I now, by default, must believe in racial pliancy.

Hear me out.

I, like the majority of the world, embraced Caitlyn Jenner’s recent transition. I admired her courage to pursue her authentic self. When Caitlyn spoke to Vanity Fair and declared that she finally felt free, I, like the rest of the world applauded her.

Caitlyn video

The wrong-body narrative is one we’ve come to accept. Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono have positioned the transgender story in the media agenda. And despite continued struggles for gender recognition, we have largely celebrated equality and tolerance in Ireland. With this tolerance comes the acceptance that everyone has the right to choose his or her own identity.

Rachel Dolezal has answered the medias scrutiny with four small words; “I identify as black”. When Caitlyn Jenner exclaimed she identified as a woman we celebrated, Diane Swayer interviewed her and Vanity Fair had a new cover model. When Rachel Dolezal asserted her identity we scrutinized.


And while there are elements of the Dolezal story that are alarming and seem deceitful what’s more jarring for me is the public scrutiny of a person who is obviously in need of support.

There is no comparison between the transgender journey and the transracial one. The common thread is the feeling of captivity in one’s own body. When we embraced Caitlyn Jenner, it wasn’t because we we’re embracing another woman born into the world, it was because we celebrated choice and freedom and expression.


I don’t know enough about Rachel Dolezal as a person to determine whether she lived in deceit. What is evident however is that she has had through periods of her life in discomfort.

When we voted for equality recently we did so because we wanted a more equal society in which everyone could live freely. We fought for that because we believed nobody should live feeling uncomfortable.

So yes, I believe in racial pliancy by default. Because, above all I believe in everyone’s right to determine their own identity and live the life they choose.


In the midsts of all this debate I think it is Dolezal’s son (or brother or whatever he wants to be known as) who has made the most sense when he said;

“Mom, culturally you’re black. Racially you’re human”.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?