A few years ago I started to do work on the absurdities of racial classification. That’s why the case of Rachel Dolezal, and how some of my friends, commentators around the world and others in South Africa have responded to it, intrigues me so much.
Actually, this aspect of my work began in the late 1990s with what I referred to as the sexualisation of apartheid. Later on, I turned my attention to question of whiteness, being particularly fascinated by a concept one finds in several stories of growing up with light/white skin in South Africa: “living as a white person” or “living a white life”. You can find one of the papers here.
The case indeed has it all – race as biological, subjective, social, historical. And it has more – issues of transracial identity, what might be called cisraciality, and the possibility of refusing to be white, which is different, and politically and psychologically more interesting, from refusing racial categorisation.
I feel the case can use more discussion in relation to the history and contemporary contests of race in South Africa. What I find interesting is not whether Dolezal lied about her race or if she is really white, as if her parentage and skin colour is the end of the story. What intrigues is her apparent refusal to be white? How many people do you know in today’s South Africa who apparently refuse whiteness? Alongside that question is how many people of different colours try for, to borrow that phrase, who desire the “white life”?
I am urged to write this post because of these discussions by philosophers brought together on Daily Nous. Read on.