Cultural Caviar

The Flight From White

June 17, 2015

Multiple Pages
The Flight From White

As you may have noticed, the more denunciations we hear of Cisgender Straight White Male Privilege, the more the evidence mounts that, all else being equal, the rewards in 2015 tend to lie on the other side.

If you want to know which side is more powerful at present, just observe who is wielding the rhetorical whip hand. It’s human nature to fear, respect, and even admire those with the power to harm you. Hence, it’s popular to side with the strong to denounce the weak. As Mencius Moldbug observed in 2013:

The logic of the witch hunter is simple…. The first requirement is to invert the reality of power…. In a country where anyone who speaks out against the witches is soon found dangling by his heels from an oak at midnight with his head shrunk to the size of a baseball, we won’t see a lot of witch-hunting and we know there’s a serious witch problem. In a country where witch-hunting is a stable and lucrative career, and also an amateur pastime enjoyed by millions of hobbyists on the weekend, we know there are no real witches worth a damn.

Of course, the more our society obsesses over the Looming Witch Menace, the more absurd becomes the daily news, and the harder it is to refrain from breaking out laughing. Perhaps June 2015 will go down in history as the month the reigning pieties jumped the shark.

For example, white male has-been Bruce Jenner is now superstarette Caitlyn Jenner, a Good Witch in the war upon male dignity, whose courage is lauded by both the president and millions of Kardashian fans.

And don’t you dare act as if Jenner having threatened to unman himself on the E! network might be a little funny. Clint Eastwood, for example, made the slightest verbal gesture that he found something amusing about it all (“Caitlyn somebody”) and had his heresy censored by the Spike network.

Shortly after Jenner’s transubstantiation, we learned that a social-justice warriorette named Rachel Dolezal had moved to the big city of Spokane, Wash., tanned her skin, permed her hair, and built herself a nice little career as a black activist witch-hunting white racists. And when there weren’t enough white witches to be found, she would (apparently) gin up a few of the usual Hate Crime Hoaxes. Life was good, until her mother and father pointed out to the press that they were white.

“Perhaps June 2015 will go down in history as the month the reigning pieties jumped the shark.”

Many media outlets were baffled that anybody in 21st-century America would find it advantageous to give up all that White Privilege to be perceived as black. After all, we know that vicious white racists lie in wait to victimize black bodies by murdering them, raping them, and not letting them use the swimming pool.

But that raised the uncomfortable (or amusing) question: Weren’t the liberals denouncing Dolezal being transphobic?

Among non-SJWs, Ms. Dolezal’s embarrassment proved a welcome relief to many who had been baffled by how sanctimoniously the dispensers of conventional wisdom had greeted Jenner’s transparent ploy to make millions off an upcoming reality TV show about whether or not in the season finale he’d finally have himself castrated.

Wits leaped all over the seemingly bizarre distinction in current discourse between the transgender (and thus angelic) Jenner and the transracial (and thus demonic) Dolezal. Several media outlets, such as the BBC and USA Today, fell for a meme tweeted by Godfrey Elfwick:

My name is Godfrey.
I am WrongSkin.
You may not have heard of that but means I was born to white parents and have white skin but I identify as being black.
It’s not a joke.
It’s not OK to mock us.
It’s not easy to live like this.

Our struggle is your struggle.
#WrongSkin

When challenged, Elfwick (who describes “xirself” as “Genderqueer Muslim atheist. Born white in the #WrongSkin. Itinerant jongleur. Xir, Xirs Xirself. Filters life through the lens of minority issues”) triumphantly retorted on Twitter:

Skin color has nothing to do with the color of a person’s skin.

Granted, it was embarrassing to USA Today when they had to append to their story “People respond to NAACP incident with #wrongskin” the following message:

Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated the intentions of a tweet by @GodfreyElfwick. He operates a parody account.

But in defense of USA Today and the BBC, how in tarnation is anybody supposed to know these days how to distinguish between the latest moral mania and satire? For example, the ongoing World War T was launched in May 2013 with a crusading New York Times article about how society is oppressing male-born mixed-martial-arts fighter Fallon Fox by not letting him her beat up women for money. How is anybody supposed to know that Godfrey Elfwick is parody and Fallon Fox isn’t?

Indeed, most of the best-known middle-aged male-to-female transgender celebrities are perpetrating, with enthusiastic media cooperation, a hoax on the public by claiming they always felt since early childhood like a little girl on the inside. Yet who hasn’t seen Larry Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix? Is there anything at all girl-like about that movie? A far more plausible hypothesis is put forward by Northwestern U professor of psychology J. Michael Bailey: A sizable proportion of the highly masculine men who decide they want everybody to act as if they are female are in the throes of a sexual fetish known as autogynephilia.

Of course, not knowing that transgenderism is to be celebrated as obvious and transracialism is to be scorned as something that can’t possibly even exist is no excuse. These days, you are just supposed to know, and if you get the latest orthodoxy wrong, well, too bad for you…

In truth, nobody can change either race or sex. In the ultimate Darwinian sense, transsexuals and transracials are as real as witches.

Please note that I’m defining both race and sex in terms of the most fundamental level of human reality: one’s biological family tree.

Philosophers, at least since Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” have tried to figure out how to ground their perceptions of the world in something assuredly factual. But here’s what we can say with some confidence about the human race: At this point in time, every mortal human has had one biological father and one biological mother; one biological paternal grandfather, one biological paternal grandmother, one biological maternal grandfather, and one biological maternal grandmother; and so forth. In the future, humans might be cloned and thus have only one biological parent, or might be genetically engineered to have three biological parents. Anything could happen. But so far it hasn’t.

The most rigorous definition of a racial group is a partly inbred extended family. Race is about who your ancestors are on your biological family tree. Nothing Rachel Dolezal can do can change her genetic lineage.

(By the way, the U.S. Census Bureau has typically drawn a distinction between race, which it describes as biological, and ethnicity, which it calls cultural. A useful way to think of ethnicity is as those traits such as language, religion, cuisine, names, customs, and so forth that are typically passed down within biological families, but don’t, technically, have to be.)

Moreover, we can rigorously define anyone who has fathered a child in anybody’s family tree as a man and anyone who has given birth to a child in anybody’s family tree as a woman. No ancestor anybody has had has done both. So far, the human species doesn’t actually work as assumed in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 sci-fi story “—All You Zombies—,” in which a sex-change operation and a time machine allow the narrator to be his/her own father/mother and son/daughter. Maybe someday Heinlein’s story will come true, but it hasn’t yet.

In other words, both transsexuals like Bruce Jenner and transracials like Rachel Dolezal are merely fooling around with cosmetics. In the central Darwinian sense of biologically propagating human offspring, nobody can change their ancestors or be both father and mother to their descendants.

So nobody is really transsexual or transracial in the crucial family-tree sense.

But it’s also not hard to think of transracial (or transethnic) celebrities in the cosmetic sense that leads other people to change their guesses about ancestry, just as Jenner is getting cosmetic surgery to look more feminine, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he shows up on each of his six children’s family trees as the father.

On a superficial level, however, transracialism is common in the Third World, where most people believe the whiter the better. For example, current superstar of Brazilian soccer Neymar used to look like an average black youth. But now that he’s rich, he’s contrived to look much whiter.

In contrast, in America with its “one drop” rule, passing from black to white has gotten even rarer over the generations due to shifting cost-benefit analyses.

One of the last well-known examples of black-to-white passing was the acerbic New York man of letters Anatole Broyard (1920–1990). A New Orleans Creole of color, an ethnic group influenced by the French and Spanish view that one drop of white blood makes you not black, Broyard served as an officer in the segregated ranks of World War II by identifying as white. After the war, he didn’t see much reason to shift back.

Broyard was generally recognized in Greenwich Village as being of mixed ancestry (novelist Philip Roth recalls being told the day he met him in 1958 that Broyard was an “octoroon”). But he didn’t talk about his ancestry one way or another. He likely would have made more money if he had been officially black, but he managed to make a decent living as a self-made literary critic without having to be a credit to his race.

But it was always hard in America to pass persuasively from black to white because that meant publicly cutting yourself off from your black relatives, as Roth made vivid in his novel The Human Stain. That’s why state-of-the-art DNA studies find that only about 0.05% of the ancestry of self-identified white (non-Hispanic) Americans is from sub-Saharan Africa, in contradiction of the myth of widespread passing from black to white.

An apparent early example of a white-to-black transracial individual was the con man who founded the Black Muslims in the early 1930s, Wallace Fard Muhammad, a.k.a. Wallace D. Fard. Even a Nation of Islam portrait depicts Fard as a fair-skinned man with straight hair.

Wallace D. Fard was likely the same person as the Wallie D. Ford who had earlier been arrested three times in Los Angeles, most strikingly for violation of the California Wolverine Possession Act. Wallie Ford identified himself on the 1920 Census as a white man from New Zealand, while another time he claimed his father was born in Spain. Another theory is that he was an Afghan, while J. Edgar Hoover contended he was a Turk. (By the way, Gore Vidal alleged that everybody who grew up in Washington knew that Hoover was from an old mulatto family that had passed.)

A common contributor to examples of transracialism is coming from a foreign culture with different racial standards. For example, one of my son’s college roommates remarked that in America everybody calls him black, while back home in Jamaica everybody calls him white.

A prominent recent example of refashioning one’s racial affect is New Yorker journalist Malcolm Gladwell, who was generally perceived as a white conservative when he arrived from Canada and began his career with The American Spectator. But after his 2000 best-seller, The Tipping Point, he grew a giant Sideshow Bob-like Afro. (Here are before-and-after pictures.)

Gladwell claims that the ’fro led to his being hassled by The Man, and that inspired his 2005 best-seller, Blink. But calling attention to the fact that his mother was from Jamaica’s mulatto middle class certainly hasn’t hurt his popularity as a sales-conference speaker.

The best-known celebrity to have transformed his ethnic (rather than racial) identity as an adult is the President of the United States. Of course, Barack Obama successfully retconned his identity to be African-American by moving to Chicago, joining Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s megachurch, and penning an autobiography entitled Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. But if you have to write 150,000 words about how you’re black, maybe you have some nagging reason for trying so hard?

The African-American identity that the Hawaiian cosmopolitan assumed at age 24 has of course proved a wildly successful career strategy. But the handful of African-Americans who knew Obama growing up seldom thought of him as one of their own. Washington Post reporter David Maraniss’s 2012 exhaustive semiauthorized biography Barack Obama: The Story makes clear how tendentious Dreams From My Father was in attempting to set Obama up for a political career on the heavily black South Side of Chicago.

Not surprisingly, when Obama ran against a genuine African-American, Bobby Rush, for the Democratic nomination for the House in 2000, he lost badly. This plunged him into depression, from which he revivified himself by giving up his bizarre dream of being elected mayor of Chicago (which is not a job for transplants from Hawaii) and finally admitting that he was the nice white person’s vision of a black politician.

Obama’s 2000 humiliation shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him because Maraniss tracks down repeated examples of authentic African-Americans finding him inauthentic. For example:

Adam Sherman…recalled that his two black roommates…viewed Obama’s racial history and experience as vastly different from theirs and did not think of him as black.

Among Obama’s friends from age 18 to 24—almost all of whom were either foreigners or the son of a Foreign Service Officer—most viewed him as “multicultural” or “international.”

And we may have two transethnic presidents in a row: Jeb Bush, who lives in a Spanish-speaking household, registered to vote in 2009 as a Hispanic.

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