The 21st century has made for significant strides in civil rights, and the ever-expanding communications technologies force us to relate to more people and institutions than ever before, challenging the way we view ourselves and our relationships. More now than ever are members of the LGBTQ community accepted by the whole, which has opened doors for many closeted homosexuals and transsexuals, allowing them to be themselves without fear. Since this era of acceptance has begun, a flurry of new terms to describe personal identity have become a part of our vocabulary, with previously obscure terms such as ‘pansexual’ and ‘genderfluid’ becoming more common. However, not all groups that have surfaced recently have been widely accepted: with many undergoing heavy criticism due to what some may consider to be outlandish behavior.
One group of people currently under-fire are those who consider themselves to be “trans-ethnic,” or “trans-racial,” individuals that identify with a race that differs from their physical body or genetic make-up. Basically, if a white person believes that deep down they are black, they tend to feel entitled to the same history, traditions, and other cultural aspects that belong to the black community. However, many argue that such actions are racist, while supporters describe it simply an admiration for another culture.
Because the term has surfaced in recent years, no long-term studies have been conducted on the legitimacy of trans-ethnicity, and many questions its existence at all. The phrase is commonly seen on the popular social media website Tumblr.com, which is notoriously full of teenagers looking for attention rather than a source for useful, researched information. However, it’s not only teenagers who claim to be trans-ethnic, as evidenced by now-famous Rachel Dolezal.
Dolezal is well known for her drastic attempts to look like a black woman, and have even gone so far as to deceitfully claim that her father was black. She styles her hair in popular African-American hairstyles, and even tans weekly to the point that her skin has reached a nearly naturally appearing brown color. In addition, she is the president of the Spokane NAACP chapter, and even claimed to be victimized by racially-driven hate crimes.
Stories such as Dolezal’s is why the legitimacy of trans-ethnicity has been questioned, and why many consider it to be racially offensive. Some have argued that measures taken by trans-ethnics to appear more like those of another race are nothing, but cultural appropriation. To take an important part of a different culture’s history and attempt to make it your own, often shows immense disrespect for the other culture in the process.
I’ve witnessed many “trans-ethnic” individuals claim that their “soul belongs to” another race, however, I’m just not buying into it. It is impossible for one to truly know the struggles of another culture if they were not raised in it. Pretending to relate on a cultural level to those of another race is ultimately racist, as it diminishes or marginalizes the genuineness of the struggles and way of life for the appropriated society. The lessons learned from struggles, codes, and mannerisms or behaviors from history are passed throughout generations and typically redefined by modern society. Those who were not raised to appreciate the value of the struggles and their outcomes, as well as didn’t directly play a role in shaping contemporary societal norms for the appropriated culture, have no right to claim that they too are a part of that ethnic group.
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