Understanding that people experience life in different ways will save a lot of energy and stress of assumptions and judgement. We humans possess biases , many of which are unconscious. It is those biases that cloud our mind very quickly and leads us to have expectations of people, such as how someone should act or react. Intersectionality is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage” according to the Oxford dictionary. There are different connotations attached to groups across all of those lines, therefore layers of discrimination can exist.Former NAACP president of the Spokane Washington chapter, Rachel Dolezal identifies as a black woman despite her white parents stating otherwise but of course that information didn’t come without the opinions of the public. Identity can be chosen, but society will have something to say about what constitutes as acceptable or not, and all of this confusion has much to do with our history about race.
Race is just a basis for putting people into categories. This idea dates back to the very beginning to Dr. Samuel Morton in the first half of the 19th century. He collected skulls and Morton believed that people could be divided into five races and that these represented separate acts of creation. The races had distinct characters, which corresponded to their place in a determined hierarchy (Kolbert, 2018). Morton’s discovery led many to adopt his theory, especially people in the south. After his death, in 1851, the Charleston Medical Journal in South Carolina praised him for “giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race” (Kolbert, 2018). His discovery was used by defenders of slavery and lasted a long time, and effects are still felt. Its interesting because slavery predates race (California Newsreel, 2003). Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, debt, not because of physical characteristics or natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, the USA was the first slave system where all the slaves shared similar physicalphysicalitiesty’s ; the most unique and most powerful system we created.
Although people then classified each other by skin color, evidence from Freedman and colleagues suggested that race categories are also shaped by nonphysical characteristics (Freedman, Penner, Sapertstein, Scheutz, & Ambady, 2011). In other words, race includes how people perceive one another as well as those they do not know. Be it negatively or positively, people assign meaning to races through stereotypes and prejudicial views. Freeman et al., put it beautifully by saying that the research supports the “longstanding claim in the social sciences that race is socially constructed and imbued meaning, in part, by social factors”. And Dolezal’s experience supports that claim.
Dolezal was raised by white parents in a household with adopted black siblings. She identifies as black because of the disconnect she got from her parents. Melissa Harris-Perry said she understood “how one could be raised in a family with black siblings, and have two white parents, and yet not experience your witness in the way that you believe that other people are experiencing whiteness” (Cohen, 2015).Harris-Perry even goes to say her own sister experienced a “different kind of whiteness”. When one speaks of intersectionality, they speak of lived complex experiences and discriminations. Dolezal believes her experiences coincide with being a black woman. The criticisms towards her expressed the lack connectedness she has with the black community because of her biologically white background. Research that was race and gender based was conducted on white women and then black men. So there as no way possible rot understand a black woman’s experience (McCall, 2005). Black women could never accept her identity when she was not born as a black woman.The news anchor during Dolezal’s interview proposed her actions being a result of trauma. Because society is bases on the socially constructed ideal that race is based on the color of your skin and that experiences determine it, everyone contracts their own definition. It’s confusing to everyone involved because it in fact has no logical explanation. The effects of race are real, the very idea of it adds to the complex intersections of a world of inequalities and inequities.
California Newsreel. (2003). RACE – The Power of an Illusion: Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-01-x.htm
Cohen, I. (2015, June 18). Watch Rachel Dolezal’s Long, Unbelievably Incoherent Interview with Melissa Harris-Perry. Retrieved from https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/06/dolezal-interview-isaac-cohen/
Freeman, J. B., Penner, A. M., Saperstein, A., Scheutz, M., & Ambady, N. (2011). Looking the Part: Social Status Cues Shape Race Perception. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0025107
Kolbert, E. (2018, March 12). There’s No Scientific Basis for Race-It’s a Made-Up Label. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/race-genetics-science-africa/?beta=true
McCall, L. (2005). The Complexity of Intersectionality. Signs,30(3), 1771-1800. doi:10.1086/426800