Just Who Do You Think You Are?

part 1 / part 2

“Hey, you know something people? I'm not black, But there's a whole lots a times I wish I could say I'm not white.”

-- Frank Zappa Trouble Every Day

The Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal cases offer some interesting insights.

We’ll start with this: Jenner has always acknowledged she was born male and is now presenting as female; Dolezal apparently hid her true biological parents from public knowledge.

These are not minor points.  Presuming one has the right to be identified as they present themselves, Jenner did not seek to capitalize off her change in gender by hiding her origin.  In a very real sense it’s nobody’s business but Jenner’s, her immediate family, and the medical professionals assisting her transition.

Dolezal, however, is doing a very off form of “passing”.

Passing involves denying one’s origins, typically because they would be detrimental to one’s livelihood, relationships, health, and even life.

Historically the less privileged passes for the more privileged.  Thus we have Rock Hudson, who pretended to be a straight male he-man; Billy Tipton, who presented as a male jazz musician while still biologically female; and Korla Pandit, who realized as a poor black boy he could never pass for white but with a turban and a smooth line of patter he could pass himself off as an exotic Hindu.

More rarely we have had people from privileged backgrounds pretending to be female or ethnic minority because there’s a buck to be made in it.[1]

One such example who didn’t hide behind dust jacket petticoats was Iron Eyes Cody, the famous “crying Indian” who was really an Italian-American from Louisiana who became so enamored of Native American culture that he bought into 1001%.

While Cody certainly gained fame and fortune[2] due to his portrayal, he also used his public recognition to do a lot of good for Native Americans.

Native Americans, conversely, were never taken in by his routine, but they realized his heart was sincere and he wanted to do good for the people he so closely identified with, so they unofficially adopted him as one of their own.

This is a kneeslapper, because while we can admire the Italian-American who was so determined to be a Native American, we can also smile at the irony of Italian-Americans who, by virtue of a single Native American great-great-great grandparent, are now co-owners of a casino.

So we come back to Dolezal and ask:

Is she nuts or is she just faking it?

Dolezal 8

part 4 / part 5 / part 6 / part 7 / part 8 / part 9

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[3/1]  Lord knows how many male romance novelists hid behind a female penname, or adopted specific ethnic pseudonyms in order to appear more "authentic".

[3/2]  Well, as much fortune as a supporting actor can make in Hollywood.

 

A Question Of Black Or White

Just An All American Family