Janelle Monáe, the Grammy-nominated singer and actress, recently disclosed that she identifies as “non-binary” on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk web series. This announcement comes four years after Monáe claimed to be “pansexual,” meaning she is attracted to both sexes and the ever-growing list of gender identities.
We live in a country where a person can claim to be neither a man nor a woman and still expect to be taken seriously by every social, cultural, and political institution in the nation. That is a sign of civilizational decline, not social progress. It is also a reminder of how poorly we treated the woman who tried to pull America back from the brink of narcissistic identity destruction.
America owes Rachel Dolezal an apology.
Dolezal, also known as Nkechi Amare Diallo, is the white woman who pretended to be black as she obtained a degree from Howard University, taught Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, and led a local chapter of a venerated civil rights organization. She unknowingly tried to strike a crippling blow against racism, but her efforts were rejected.
In times past, a black person with light enough skin might have chosen to pass for white because they realized that racism put constraints on where black people could work, eat, and live. In America today, white women like Dolezal and Jessica Krug, a former professor at George Washington University, attempt to pass for black because doing so gives them access to social status and cultural capital they deeply desire. The reality that no white woman would have attempted to pass for black in 1815 or 1922 is a sign of how far the country has come on race.
Rachel Dolezal became the butt of jokes and was roundly mocked in the broader culture after she was exposed for lying about her ethnic heritage. The controversy prompted her to step down as president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP on June 15, 2015. Exactly one month later, ESPN awarded Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS. Jenner’s award came after he was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair with the headline “Call me Caitlyn” in June and did an interview with Diane Sawyer in April in which he announced “I’m a woman.”
In the span of one month, we decided the thoughts of slave owners about race were more important than what Genesis and genetics say about the reality of biological sex.
That is the ultimate form of white supremacy.
The year 2015 was the point in American history when Rachel Dolezal should have sparked needed conversations about whether we should cling to arbitrary racial categories that were used to enforce a color caste system. Her claims of blackness should still have been rejected, but at least her presence could have prompted questions such as, “What did Toni Morrison mean when she called Bill Clinton the 'first black president'?"
We could have also asked why Kamala Harris gets to identify as Indian when it suits her, yet we’d laugh at Barack Obama if he claimed to be white and ridicule Sage Steele when she – accurately – calls herself bi-racial.
Those are exactly the types of issues that needed to be raised, especially since Caitlyn Jenner’s new identity was being hailed as a sign of progress by the ruling class. Public intellectuals, social commentators, and comedians should have asked why people sneer when they hear the term “transracial” but nod in affirmation when they hear “transgender.”
Melissa Harris Perry, a professor and former MSNBC host who interviewed Dolezal, should have asked why many of the people who claim blackness is not a feeling or a costume also affirm any man who claims he “feels” like a woman and demands to be treated like one after he changes his appearance.
Instead, Dolezal was mocked for challenging our allegiance to arbitrary racial categories and Jenner was celebrated for rejecting his biological sex.
Both the left and right are fond of saying that “race is a social construct,” but attempts to change how we see it are met with the type of fierce opposition one would expect when challenging a biological reality.
At various points in history, Americans with discernable African ancestry have been called negro, black, colored, creole, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, high yellow, bi-racial, and mixed. Such a variety of terms suggests a category that is not “fixed” in any scientific sense, but certain people are only “race-fluid” when it suits them. This is why Joe Biden could declare that anyone who didn’t vote for him over Donald Trump in 2020 “ain’t black.”
It is also why both Nikole Hannah-Jones and Jemele Hill defended his thinking. They treat blackness like a cultural border wall, keeping race-fakers like Dolezal from coming in and pushing people like Justice Clarence Thomas out for the crime of political nonconformity.
We would be a very different nation if we practiced equity in our application of ridicule toward a white woman pretending to be black and a man pretending to be a woman. Putting someone like Rachel Dolezal under the microscope should have prompted us to look in the mirror and reconsider the long-term impact of making Caitlyn Jenner a civil rights icon.
Instead, we dismissed the woman confused about race and celebrated the man confused about gender. Now the culture applauds when people like Janelle Monáe claim to reject the entire concept of gender altogether. We should have cast off slavish adherence to plantation race logic and held firm to the truth of sex differences between men and women.
Submitting the eternal truth of God’s word regarding His creation to the temporal opinions of created beings also captures the nature of America’s spiritual decline. We are stuck in a pit of deception and sinking deeper every day. Our only hope is a spiritual revival characterized by humility, repentance, prayer, and understanding that the God who designed the world gets to define the world.
It’s too late for Dolezal to help us now. Her box braids and bronze skin can’t save us. That doesn’t mean we can’t tell her we’re sorry.