CNN Guest: Dolezal Represents ‘White Privilege At a Spectacular Level’

Reacting to Rachel Dolezal’s interview with MSNBC during which the former Spokane NAACP president claimed to identify as black, CNN's Legal View brought on Charles Blow of the New York Times and cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis to discuss the situation. They both dismissed the idea that Dolezal could identify as black, saying it represents white privilege.

Davis asserted that Dolezal’s choice to identify as black has no scientific basis, unlike transgenderism, which apparently is reliable when it comes to biological science. She explained:

[W]e're actually entertaining transracial[ism] outside of the adoptive space, you know, where it's used as a thing. No case study, no science, nothing to support it. There's not decades of research like with transgender people, particularly transgender black women. This, this, you know, as I said earlier, this is white privilege at a spectacular level. This could not happen the other way around.

Blow argued that “a person like Rachel has the privilege to present and perform blackness because we are conditioned in America to accept those presentations.” He contrasted this with efforts by black people to do the reverse. He made the case that black people can never successfully appear white: 

[N]o matter how much lightening cream I might use, no matter if I grew this hair out and straightened it, if I did what Sammy Sosa has done, Sammy Sosa will still never be able to fully present as a white person. And because it doesn't flow both ways, there is a privilege in the ability to even perform blackness in this way. 

Earlier in the segment, host Ashleigh Banfield suggested that Dolezal should be able to identify as a black woman: “But I saw a woman who is very uncomfortable with who she was and needed something else to fulfill her life. Granted, she took it and she lied about it, but ultimately I did feel for her as someone who just identifies and is more comfortable as a black woman.”

In many respects, the segment was a microcosm of how liberals have viewed this controversy. On the one hand are people who dismiss the transgender-transracial comparisons outright by arguing that white people can’t know what it’s like to be black, while on the other hand there are people who accept the obvious similarities between the two issues.

The relevant transcript is below. 

CNN
Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield
June 16, 2015
12:25 p.m. Eastern

BANFIELD: We had an opposite reaction. And I don't think it's because you're black and I'm white, I think it's because we see things different ways, perhaps. But I saw a woman who is very uncomfortable with who she was and needed something else to fulfill her life. Granted, she took it and she lied about it, but ultimately I did feel for her as someone who just identifies and is more comfortable as a black woman.  

BLOW: And that may be true. She may, in fact, identify and feel more comfortable in the kind of cultural construct of blackness, right? But where you – the sympathy falls short is that it still an exercise in privilege. 

DAVIS: Absolutely. 

BLOW: Because in America we have traditionally and historically defined whiteness incredibly narrow in order to protect it from dilution. Like we didn't want to dilute it. And so, therefore the black experience in America is that we have been the kind of collecting pool for everybody who was not 100% white. If your lineage had any blackness in it whatsoever –  

BANFIELD: Any drop. Any drop rule. One drop rule. 

BLOW: Then you were considered black. And that was not just kind of a cultural construct, that was enforced by laws, that was enforced by the police, that was enforced by courts, including the Supreme Court. And therefore, a person like Rachel has the privilege to present and perform blackness because we are conditioned in America to accept those presentations. However, a person who looks like me, no matter how much lightening cream I might use, no matter if I grew this hair out and straightened it, if I did what Sammy Sosa has done, Sammy Sosa will still never be able to fully present as a white person. And because it doesn't flow both ways, there is a privilege in the ability to even perform blackness in this way. 

BANFIELD: Can I ask you this? Is the outrage – because there is so much outrage. I mean, every op-ed is filled with this topic of one woman's story. Is the outrage commensurate with the crime? 

DAVIS: Well, that one woman's story is part of the outrage. That one delusional woman has gotten this much attention, has caused this – we're actually entertaining transracial outside of the adoptive space, you know, where it's used as a thing. No case study, no science, nothing to support it. There's not decades of research like with transgender people, particularly transgender black women. This, this, you know, as I said earlier, this is white privilege at a spectacular level. This could not happen the other way around. And that she would shape shift, she was white at Howard, she was white in that picture, she was black at five, she's black now. Only she could get away with that. You know, that wouldn't happen in reverse. Our history matters. 

BLOW: And the only people who can do it is people who have kind of -- passing, what used to be common in the black community and those people who have a kind of legitimate claim to it because they had one white parent, one black parent. But even in those cases, you know, the president has one black parent and one white parent but he chose to identify as black. If he had said I identify as white person, who would believe that, right? So the idea that – it just doesn't work both ways.

Race Issues CNN Charles Blow Rachel Dolezal