After days of public speculation, former NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal broke her silence this morning during an interview on the “Today“ show to say, “I identify as black.”
Dolezal’s story had not only led to international headlines but generated a stream of social media comments about so-called “transracialism,” comparing Dolezal’s case to that of a transgender person.
But some experts say such an analogy makes no sense. Anita Thomas, associate professor of counseling psychology at Loyola University Chicago, said there are genetic differences between genders that don’t exist for races.
“Biological sex has biological physical components and we know race does not” in the same way, Thomas said.
“Transgender” is also cited in medical literature and the diagnosis is identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a condition that can be treated through therapy, surgery or hormonal changes so a person can present as the gender they identify with.
Thomas points out there are often hormonal or physiological components that could lead to a person’s identifying with the opposite gender in a way that does not exist for anyone conflicted about his or her race.
Rachel Dolezal Case,
Thomas instead suggests looking at why Dolezal, 37, might have wanted to present as a different race. She said it’s possible Dolezal became more comfortable in the black community through her relationships and work experiences and eventually decided to appear black as a way to improve “self-esteem.”
“For Rachel, she did great work with the NAACP, really felt a lot of affirmation and powerful reinforcement,” said Thomas, who has not worked with Dolezal. “It makes sense in terms of [her thinking,] ‘How do I get to a place where people like me, and how I feel comfortable about myself?’
“For Rachel this is probably much more inward-driven.”
Dolezal might think, “I feel better … people are responding positively” to her as a black woman, Thomas added.
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