When the story about the bizarre racial identity of Rachel Dolezal, president of Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) broke, it seemed that we had entered the silly season. It is summer, temperatures are rising, we all need a little light relief from all the hard heavy news, war in Syria, Greek Euro crisis, the Conservative win in the UK, protests and police brutality on American streets.
Rachel Dolezal appeared to have been born a white woman, at least that is according to her parents and some of her childhood photos unearthed by the press. And for the past decade or more, Ms Dolezal reportedly identified herself as mixed race. Unfortunately, her birth parents are both white. When she appeared on American television recently to confront her critics, Ms Dolezal was unrepentant, she insisted that she identifies as black. It is difficult to know what that means, since in 2002, she had identified as white and had lodged a complaint against her university that she had been the victim of racial discrimination because she was at the time a white person. Besides the lies and deception, a very interesting conversation ensued from Ms Dolezal’s claim that she identifies as black. And it is this conversation that marked the beginning of the silly season, but for a tragic event that came fast on the heels of this.
The vanguards of race and sexual identity declared that society’s understanding of membership of a racial group is now under review and that the question of race, as in the question of sex, is now up to the individual. We are, they say entering into the trans-racial age, just as we were in the transsexual age. They argue that the process of racial identity was a matter for the individual and society has to respect that choice.
It was therefore not surprising that Donald Trump was swept up in the whirlwind, and on 16 June, a billionaire reality show star (The Apprentice USA) looked in his bathroom mirror(s) and identified himself as the next president of the USA, and declared his bid for the presidency to the world at large. Let the fun begin.
It would all be fun, one could kick back and look forward to a whole summer of identities and laugh to wile away the heat. But try as they could the Greek people could not identify as anything else, but Greek and so they must face the tune and hash out some agreement with their creditors who have had them in a headlock for the past five years.
Then on 18 June, a rude awakening, disaster struck – a 21 year old, white supremacist (who obviously does not buy the whole trans-racial age thing), sat for one hour in the aisles of the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, in USA at the dawn of transracial identity and gunned down 9 black people for no other reason but because to him they were black. And he is not alone, the American justice system that incarcerates 113 per 100,000 of black women (a figure higher than France or Germany), and hands out longer jail time to African- American men has not yet entered that age. And this reminds us, that race is firmly in the eye of the beholder and the time of transracial identity is far, far away. The heat of the summer is upon us and there is not going to be any respite in the news.
This commentary was first published in The European Financial Review on 1 June 2015.