Tuesday 16 June 2015

Information and identity - the Rachel Dolezal story

The basic story:
Civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal misrepresented herself as black, claim parents

The biological parents of a prominent civil rights activist in Washington state have claimed that she has been misrepresenting herself as a black woman when her heritage is white.

Rachel Dolezal is an academic, chair of the office of the police ombudsman commission in the city of Spokane and president of its chapter of the African American civil rights organisation NAACP.

Dolezal, a professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, where she specialises in black studies and African American culture, has spoken out regularly on local media about racial justice.

This week, however, in an interview with the local Spokane news channel KREM 2 News, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal said their daughter’s biological heritage was not African American but German and Czech, with traces of Native American ancestry.

Gary Younge comments:
It is a cardinal rule of social identity that people have the right to call themselves whatever they want. [...] But with this right comes at least one responsibility: what you call yourself must be comprehensible to others.

“A tree, whatever the circumstances, does not become a legume, a vine, or a cow,” explains Kwame Anthony Appiah in the Ethics of Identity. “The reasonable middle view is that constructing an identity is a good thing ... but that the identity must make some kind of sense.”

The problem for Dolezal is that her “black” identity does not make sense.

All grist to my mill about information and identity, and the provisionality of information.

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