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Author Topic: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy  (Read 8592 times)

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Offline consortium11Topic starter

The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« on: June 12, 2015, 10:45:42 AM »
Rachel Dolezal, the president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane and who makes occasional appearances in the media, has presented herself as being African-American and of African-American heritage.

The issue is it appears she may well actually be Caucasian...

I've seen the concept of "trans black" people before (i.e. people who aren't black but feel like they are inside and so classify themselves as black) before... although generally on tumblr and thus somewhat difficult to take too seriously (even if it's not a troll to begin with) but I think this could be one of the first cases I'm aware of in "real life" (for lack of a better term).

It strikes me that there are some interesting aspects to this:

1) We've had a discussion about headmates and to an extent otherkin on here not so long ago. Now, I don't have any headmates and honestly struggle to get my mind around the concept too much but if you have a headmate that is/identifies as black and/or African American does that mean one is black/African American when that headmate is in control?

2) The obvious counter to someone who appears white saying that they feel as if they're black is that regardless of how they feel their appearance means they are not subjected to the same prejudices as a "real" (and I dislike using that term) black person. In this case however Rachel Dolezal has seemingly been abused because of her supposed race (the genesis of this story was a previous one about her being racially abused and threatened). So if one presents themselves as black, is subjected to the same prejudices as someone who is "genuinely" (again, dislike the term but can't think of a better way to phrase it) black and considers themselves black when do we say they are or aren't black?

3) Some of the commentary on this references Caitlyn Jenner and the fact she has/is (I can't say I've followed the story at all) transitioning to being female, comparing the two. Is that fair? If someone can transition their sex and/or gender can people also transition their race? What makes sex/gender and race the same or different? If Rachel Dolezal feels as if she is black then is it fair for her to "transition" to becoming it?

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #1 on: June 12, 2015, 11:02:47 AM »
I ran across that story last night - and it seems as though the 'harassment' that she claims is suspect.  One of the recent 'harassing letters' arrived without a cancelled stamp (possibly without any stamp - I'm not looking at the article), which could only happen if it didn't come through the mail.  In other words, the person who put it into the PO Box had to have the key.  Whether or not she 'legitimately believes herself to be African-American', this particular aspect strikes me as someone with a persecution complex at a bare minimum.  I remember reading about a similar case without any of the racial aspects where a teacher (JoAnne Chambers) was claiming that she was being stalked by a co-worker (Paula Nawrocki) until they actually determined that JoAnne was planting the 'evidence of stalking'.

Forensics File episode here

EDIT:  Found an article that mentioned the PO Box thing.

Relevant bit of article
[/quote]Also this week, Spokane police files on Dolezal’s report that she received a hate mail package and other mailing in late February and March were released. Police records say the initial package Dolezal reported receiving did not bear a date stamp or bar code, which Dolezal herself told police when she reported it. Investigators interviewed postal workers, who said it was either very unlikely or impossible that the package could have been processed through the post office, and that the only other alternative was that it had been put there by someone with a key.

However, several other pieces of mail sent in the same handwriting and style, and with the writer identifying himself in the same way as “War Pig (Ret.),” have been received by Dolezal, the Spokane Valley Police Department and The Spokesman-Review. Those other letters were date-stamped and postmarked from Oakland, California.

It was not clear from the reports, released through a public records request Wednesday, if the police investigation into the letter has concluded or was ongoing. Dolezal said Wednesday she believes it has reached an end, at least for the time being.

“They’re not going any further. … I didn’t hear the word closed, but I did hear there’s nothing more they can do at this time,” she said.

Dolezal said she received a key to the post office box when she became president of the NAACP earlier this year. Asked about the possibility that she had put the package there herself, she said, “That’s such bullshit. What mother would terrorize her own children?”

She said she was not questioned about that possibility by police, and was bothered by initial media reports about the package. “Nobody’s ever come out and said (they suspect me) directly, but I am bothered by the subtle implication,” she said.

Neumaier said he was suspicious of several incidents Dolezal reported in Coeur d’Alene, including her discovery of a swastika on the door of the Human Rights Education Institute when the organization’s security camera was “mysteriously turned off.”

“None of them passed the smell test,” he said.[/quote]
« Last Edit: June 12, 2015, 12:01:12 PM by Oniya »

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2015, 06:27:59 PM »
 I saw that story yesterday in the Guardian, and Ms Dolezal does come across as mildly delusional. The idea of "I wanna be black" is not unfamiliar -.people have staked the wish to belong and mix with black American popular culture - soul, r'n'b, tough guys and danger - ever since Lou Reed (or Bowie's Young Americans album), it's become a familiar thing with some white-skinned hiphop and soul fans, but very few of those folks have actually tried to "transition to black" irl, even short term. It wouldn't really be accepted these days.

And I think there's a definite difference between saying "I am female in my mind and in my self, even if my body (currently) has some male outward characters, therefore I want to be spoken to as a woman, identify as a woman, behave and be treated as a woman, for better and for worse - and I want to share with women's conversation about their lives and conditions" and saying on the other hand "I want to belong with the black race, define myself as one of them and share in their lives, even though I haven't lived as a black, have not been subjected to the kind of prejudice, sneer and "all-in-one viewing" that blacks sometimes (often) have to take for granted, and I want to take a front seat in speaking for my black brothers and sisters". "Being a woman on the inside" translates into many different things one can actually feel, act, do and experience spontaneously no matter what is between one's thighs, while "being really black on the inside" doesn't have much meaning IMO if that person hasn't been raised and lived as ethnically/genetically black, hasn't been subjected to some typically "black" life pressures and images but has been shielded from them, hasn't faced those social conditions or seen them nearby ("it could have been you and your kin") and then had it connected to their own dark skin colour.

Unless you'd suppose that "there is a special black mind", specially inborn black ways of thinking and feeling (or sexual behaviour?) that are essential parts of being black, and that those habits, feelings and thoughts define you as black irrespective of where and how you are living, and whether you actually are a dark-skinned person. Now that idea would border on racism, or at least some serious race/mind essentialism, wouldn't it? And if a black mental make-up, "black ideas" was something you could only have through your blood, then how could it be accessible to any non-black at all by defining themselves as black?
« Last Edit: June 12, 2015, 06:43:24 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline consortium11Topic starter

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2015, 09:52:14 PM »
I ran across that story last night - and it seems as though the 'harassment' that she claims is suspect.

Oh, I'm not going to claim that every single claim of harassment she's made it completely true; if there's anyone in PROC who tends to question such claims it's likely me (sometimes to a fault). I'm well aware of cases where people fake harassment and abuse; this example springs to mind for how ridiculous it is but this (part 2 here) is one of the most chilling. But I don't think it's too big a stretch or going out on a limb too much to say that a NAACP chapter president who's appeared in the media previously and presents herself as black has received at least some racial harassment.

And I think there's a definite difference between saying "I am female in my mind and in my self, even if my body (currently) has some male outward characters, therefore I want to be spoken to as a woman, identify as a woman, behave and be treated as a woman, for better and for worse - and I want to share with women's conversation about their lives and conditions" and saying on the other hand "I want to belong with the black race, define myself as one of them and share in their lives, even though I haven't lived as a black, have not been subjected to the kind of prejudice, sneer and "all-in-one viewing" that blacks sometimes (often) have to take for granted, and I want to take a front seat in speaking for my black brothers and sisters".

I don't think this part of the argument really holds up for me.

Isn't what Rachel Dolezal is saying basically "I am black in my mind and in my self, even if my body doesn't necessarily have a black skin tone/body composition/*insert whatever racially identifying feature someone may use*, therefore I want to be spoken to as if I was black, identify as black, behave and be treated as someone who is black, for better or worse? And before starting to transition sex/gender hasn't someone not lived as the other sex/gender and not been subjected to sort of prejudice, sneer and "all-in-one viewing" that the other sex/gender sometimes (often) have to take for granted? Likewise if Ms. Dolezal is telling at least some of the truth about the harassment she's suffered... and if she isn't then we could use a hypothetical case where someone is... then since starting to present herself as black hasn't she suffered all those things?

Which leaves us with the speaking/listening point you mention... sharing a conversation rather than taking the front seat. But, and perhaps this is the limits of my knowledge showing, can't someone "fully" (for lack of a better term) transition their sex/gender at which point they become the other sex/gender? I appreciate that labeling is pretty much always an imprecise art but can a man become a woman/male become female (or vice versa)? Or are they always going to a trans-(wo)man? If they can then at that point aren't they in a position where they could take a front seat and discuss their experiences as a man/woman since they "fully" transitioned?

I've seen the "#### is a social construct" point brought up with regards to this comparison, contrasting gender and race as the reason why one can be transitioned and the other can't. This strikes me as being somewhat of a red herring though. First, aren't people still debating whether gender and race are social constructs or not? I know for example that not that long ago Anita Sarkeesian described gender (as opposed to gender roles) as a social construct while I know others (including many trans-folk) vehemently disagree. Likewise I know some view race as being a social construct while others completely disagree. Secondly, I'm also not sure it helps anything. If race is a social construct then surely one can transition? If it isn't and there is some biological or "natural" (for lack of a better term) aspect to it then what is that aspect and how far back to do we look for it? As I understand it there's at least circumstantial evidence to point to a huge number of people alive today having a genetic connection (that may be a poor use of words on my part) to a relatively small number of figures, most infamously Genghis Khan. Is that enough?

Perhaps what this question really cuts down to is what it means to be of a certain race and beyond that what do we even mean by race? This is especially apparent in a case like Ms. Dolezal's as going by her recent comments she doesn't identify as African American but as black. Is there a black race in general and does it extend to more than skin tone (and even setting aside awkward questions of what skin tone constitutes being black, where does that leave albinos and the like?)? Is there a white race? Or any other of the big stereotypical "race blocks" (again for lack of a better term) such as an Indian sub-continent race, an East Asian race etc etc? Are races more specific and focused then that... so a Japanese race and a Chinese race, an African-American race and an Ethiopian race? If there are then how specific and focused do we get? Is someone who is white and Irish a member of the white race, the Irish race or both?

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2015, 02:10:45 AM »
Well (quick reply here, I'm in a hurry), Ms Dolezal had been making a career in the Washington state NAACP and evidently had put in some work to steadily present herself as a person born and raised black. I don't think the NAACP buys into any idea that "race only exists as a language and social construct" in the sense of a game of opposites, words and signs that could essentially have been played out even if there were no differences in skin colouring at all, no personal ancestry and no wider history to add to the matter. To them race is something that anchors firmly both into outward history, past and present legal and political obstacles, family ancestry and genetic/blood and social heritage. Also to them, black mostly means African-American black as far as their own work, and life and politics in the US, is concerned, not just dark-skinned of any kind; they likely would not have chosen a first or second generation immigrant from Congo or Somalia as a high-level state spokesperson.

That's part of what makes this case rather problematic. Also I admit I don't really see what "being a black on the inside" would mean if it had no links at all to living under "black conditions" steadily, having to live in black skin or being spoken to as black irl from day to day, year to year. In everyday life, race background, skin colour and what it brings into your life isn't something one can jump to-and-fro with from white to black and back again in a jiffy, it's just like your age - difficult or impossible to add or subtract a lot to in a matter of a few hours or days. "Being black on the inside" as a statement to other people can't just mean: I like gutsy and funky music, I identify with strong black men and women and fantasize about myself as one of them. Any person could feel that way and have those attitudes irrespective of race, but it doesn't make you "black" to the outside world in any real way.

Gendered experience on the other hand exists on a few more levels than that, and sometimes in a more fluid way.
« Last Edit: June 13, 2015, 03:33:36 AM by gaggedLouise »

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2015, 01:22:22 PM »
I found this to be an interesting article on the topic:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/12/rachel-dolezal-caitlyn-jenner_n_7569160.html

As the article points out, Rachel Dolezal could, at any minute, reassert her privilege.  This isn't even comparable to John Howard Griffin's foray into experiencing the realities of what African-Americans go through, as Griffin (under a doctor's supervision) took doses of an anti-vitiligo medication, and 'abided by the rule that he would not change his name or alter his identity; if asked who he was or what he was doing, he would tell the truth.'

Rachel Dolezal has not.  When she was accepted into Howard University, she received a full scholarship - as a black woman.  She has identified a man to whom she has no relation (either blood or adoptive) as her biological father.  Two of her adopted brothers have spoken about this, and how they were told not to mention her actual biological parents when they visited her.  (There is a picture in this article that is alleged to be of her wedding.  Her adopted siblings are in the foreground.)

Offline LisztesFerenc

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2015, 01:47:33 PM »
I found this to be an interesting article on the topic:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/12/rachel-dolezal-caitlyn-jenner_n_7569160.html

As the article points out, Rachel Dolezal could, at any minute, reassert her privilege.  This isn't even comparable to John Howard Griffin's foray into experiencing the realities of what African-Americans go through, as Griffin (under a doctor's supervision) took doses of an anti-vitiligo medication, and 'abided by the rule that he would not change his name or alter his identity; if asked who he was or what he was doing, he would tell the truth.'

Rachel Dolezal has not.  When she was accepted into Howard University, she received a full scholarship - as a black woman.  She has identified a man to whom she has no relation (either blood or adoptive) as her biological father.  Two of her adopted brothers have spoken about this, and how they were told not to mention her actual biological parents when they visited her.  (There is a picture in this article that is alleged to be of her wedding.  Her adopted siblings are in the foreground.)

  This whole article just makes me uncomfortable, because despite what it claims, I cannot help but swap Rachel Dolezal for any trangendered individual and hear a transphobic bigot.

  "In attempting to pass as black, Dolezal falsely represented her identity. Trans people don't lie about their gender identities — they express their gender according to categories that reflect who they are."

  Isn't that saying that a transgender individual is being dishonest if they do not admit their born gender they are falsely representing their identity? After all, the operation does not change the biological gender on a genetic level, but we (I wish I could add all) allow such people to identify based on their chosen gender identity, regardless of whether or not they have an active Y chromosome. Isn't that the same as Dolezal? She may be biologically white, but if she identifies as black, why are we automatically letting genetics end the debate here?

  It is possibly she deceived people at least partly for gain, which is bad. But ultimately what I keep thinking is, "What if the world was only just finding out transgendered people existed. How would we, in the 21st century, react to first hearing there was a semi-prolific male celebrity who had biologically been a women since birth"? And that makes me hesistant to pass any judgement.
« Last Edit: June 13, 2015, 01:48:50 PM by LisztesFerenc »

Offline Caehlim

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2015, 09:35:28 AM »
Rachel Dolezal has not.  When she was accepted into Howard University, she received a full scholarship - as a black woman.  She has identified a man to whom she has no relation (either blood or adoptive) as her biological father.  Two of her adopted brothers have spoken about this, and how they were told not to mention her actual biological parents when they visited her.  (There is a picture in this article that is alleged to be of her wedding.  Her adopted siblings are in the foreground.)

According to the article linked, all these statements about what she has done are at present allegations made by people she may have accused of child abuse. Questions like 'why are these people suddenly making these allegations directly to press outlets' don't seem to be answered or even asked anywhere. She's a woman in her late thirties, who has supposedly claimed to be black in a fairly high profile manner since her college admission. Why now? What is the motivation of these people to make these allegations?

"The Dolezals, it should be noted, are a family divided. Parents Lawrence and Ruthanne and brothers Ezra and Zach do not speak with their sister because, they say, she alleged abuse in the family and obtained custody of her 21-year-old brother Izaiah."

Her situation is evidently extraordinarily complicated and I am concerned by the speed at which a particular narrative regarding the events has been accepted as unquestionably true. I think that people's attitudes (in society, not on E) to both trans and racial issues has affected the way in which this situation has been discussed by the general public.

Offline Cassandra LeMay

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2015, 10:27:12 AM »
According to the article linked, all these statements about what she has done are at present allegations made by people she may have accused of child abuse. Questions like 'why are these people suddenly making these allegations directly to press outlets' don't seem to be answered or even asked anywhere. She's a woman in her late thirties, who has supposedly claimed to be black in a fairly high profile manner since her college admission. Why now? What is the motivation of these people to make these allegations?
I haven't seen the very first interview with her parents or read any details about it, but I think the timeline of events may answer part of the question:

Spokane police released a report on their investigation into threatening letters sent to the local NAACP on June 10. The interview with the Dolezals where they shared childhood pictures (and which set events really in motion) took place June 11, i.e. one day after the police report was released.

Strikes me as just some reporter gathering background material for a story surrounding a local personality from her parents.

Offline Caehlim

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2015, 09:19:32 PM »
Spokane police released a report on their investigation into threatening letters sent to the local NAACP on June 10. The interview with the Dolezals where they shared childhood pictures (and which set events really in motion) took place June 11, i.e. one day after the police report was released.

Strikes me as just some reporter gathering background material for a story surrounding a local personality from her parents.

This would certainly make a lot of sense.

Offline la dame en noir

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2015, 09:42:13 PM »
How people actually comparing Rachel with trans-people? I don't even want to get into why this makes me angry as a black woman. This is sickening.

Offline IntensePlayer

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2015, 10:21:37 PM »
I'm not at doing the quoting things so I'll just say that I agreed with most of what LisztesFerenc had to say.

I think comparing the Dolezal with Jenner is very much related.  Bruce Jenner has been a man pretty much his whole life.  He might have said that he has always felt he was a woman but up until a few years ago he was living AS a man.  Everyone seems to be very accepting when it comes to Jenner.  I personally don't care, it doesn't bother me in the least that Bruce Jenner now identifies as a woman, I don't care that he lived most of his life as a man.  If he identified as a horse next week it wouldn't bother me either.. He is an adult, his actions really aren't affecting me, or hurting anyone else.. So.. He should have the right to identify as whatever.

The same standard should be applied to Rachel Dolezal.  Her actions aren't really hurting anyone.  She isn't a racist.  She identifies as a black person, and has actually tried to help black people.  Is there now some kind of rule that you can't speak for black people unless you're born black?  Personally I don't think its important for her to have experienced the life of a black person to identify with a black person. 

There seems to be some kind of weird double standard where people accept one kind of transition and not the other.  I also don't understand what it is she has done wrong.  As people I think we hide a lot of things about ourselves for various reasons.  Some things we want to hide because we're ashamed of them, or its just a personal preference..   I also don't understand what she is supposed to do.  "Oh I know I now look black, though I identify as a black person, you should know that my parents are actually white"  It isn't exactly the kind of declaration we ask of anyone else.

Offline la dame en noir

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2015, 11:12:10 PM »
Running around in blackface and lying about your life and things that have happened does not make you a good person. She's on my shit list. She went through life trying to act like she experienced the amount of racism and discrimination that melaninated people experience. She will never know what it means to be black, it doesn't matter what she's trying to do or learn. She's fake, she's a liar, and I do not care for her.

Offline IntensePlayer

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #13 on: June 14, 2015, 11:20:20 PM »
la dame en noir, I understand your point of view, but you could use that EXACT same argument for Bruce Jenner, and just substitute black for female. 

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #14 on: June 14, 2015, 11:26:47 PM »
No I can't, because I do not believe thats a choice. You can't feel black. Black is an experience. I don't know how else to explain to people who aren't black.

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #15 on: June 14, 2015, 11:29:40 PM »
Caitlyn Jenner can't suddenly decide 'Whoops, I don't want to be female any more' and then go back to the way it was.  In fact, Caitlyn Jenner probably went through a great deal of psychological counseling before the topic of transition was even broached.  Rachel Donezal can stop using the tanner, comb her hair straight, and be back to being a white female over the course of two weeks tops.  I can guarantee that she did not go through any kind of psychological counseling before setting on this course of action.

Offline IntensePlayer

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #16 on: June 14, 2015, 11:32:45 PM »
la dame en noir, again... That is no different than a woman saying "Because I do not believe thats a choice.  You can't feel like a woman.  Being a woman is an experience.  I don't know how else to explain it to those who aren't women" while referring to Bruce Jenner.

Oniya, So by that logic, A man who identifies as a woman, but hasn't gone through the  operations and surgery to make him a woman, isn't a woman.  Thus has no right to pretend to be a woman, and because at any point he can just decide to just dress/act like a man again, he doesn't have a right to feel the way he feels?

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #17 on: June 14, 2015, 11:34:26 PM »
Officially done. lol

Transracial is a thing. Blackface is now back in style.

Offline Cycle

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #18 on: June 14, 2015, 11:37:55 PM »
Question:  when did Dolezal first describe herself as African-American? 

Related question:  and why did she do that?


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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #19 on: June 14, 2015, 11:41:50 PM »
Apparently she's been doing it for 37 years. She was raised by her white parents, but they adopted a few black boys and I don't know what during that time when she decided that wasn't white, but black. I feel bad for her parents for her to just ignore her lineage and family. I don't know why she did it...

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #20 on: June 14, 2015, 11:51:11 PM »
She was accepted into Howard University on a full-ride scholarship as a black woman, so at least that far back.

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Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #21 on: June 14, 2015, 11:51:48 PM »
la dame en noir, again... That is no different than a woman saying "Because I do not believe thats a choice.  You can't feel like a woman.  Being a woman is an experience.  I don't know how else to explain it to those who aren't women" while referring to Bruce Jenner.

Oniya, So by that logic, A man who identifies as a woman, but hasn't gone through the  operations and surgery to make him a woman, isn't a woman.  Thus has no right to pretend to be a woman, and because at any point he can just decide to just dress/act like a man again, he doesn't have a right to feel the way he feels?

You missed the bit about the psychological counseling, didn't you.

Offline IntensePlayer

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #22 on: June 14, 2015, 11:55:15 PM »
People do a lot of things that they don't HAVE to do and we don't nit pick those things.  I believe Jim Morrison referred to his parents as being dead even though they were alive and well, so people distancing themselves from their parents and even their heritage isn't a new thing, so I still don't see why Dolezal needs to be singled out.

Offline IntensePlayer

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #23 on: June 15, 2015, 12:02:38 AM »
Oniya, I came in on the tail end of the conversation and I might have missed the psychological counseling thing.  I still think that a person has a right to identify as whatever they want, be it race, or sex.

Offline Cycle

Re: The Rachel Dolezal Controversy
« Reply #24 on: June 15, 2015, 12:05:01 AM »
* casts summon cooldown *