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The Tangibility of Racial Transgression

The unstable world urges society to impeach the various sets of beliefs cultivated by centuries of historical continuity; one such concept subjected to revision is race. Although attempts to deny the significance of racial identification and ensuing issues are made constantly, they produce little result. As Mills writes in “But What Are We Really?”, “that race should be irrelevant is certainly an attractive idea, but when it has not been irrelevant, it is absurd to proceed as if it had been” (41). Regardless of the multiple attempts and sincere wish of certain individuals to change their identification, switching a race classification seems improbable due to concepts involved in its definition.

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First of all, race classification has its constituents based on reasonably distinct morphological and more transitive, unquantifiable traits linked to social life. These characteristics include genotype and phenotype as well as “ancestry,” “self-awareness of ancestry,” “public awareness of ancestry,” “culture,” “experience,” and “subjective identification” (Mills). Indeed, various peoples differ in their understanding of these, yet living in the society infers understanding its conventions about the issue and living accordingly. Therefore, surrounding people shape the racial identification of an individual, making the race a construction that does exist in subjective reality and influences it severally.

Granted this definition, race could be viewed as a concept that obtains its similarities with sex and gender. Specifically, sex is connected to certain biological information about a person, such as a karyotype and specific appearance features. While one can change his or her secondary sex characteristics with the help of modern knowledge about hormones and capacities of surgeons, the sex chromosomes stay intact. That said, switching sex appears to be unlikely, even impossible; the same could be suggested about the changes to genetic ancestry of a race representative. As for gender, it is considered a purely social and cultural phenomenon that includes differences between psychological behaviors of various genders. Being a subjective aspect of one’s personality, gender is open to transformations. Although race contains analogous qualities based on sociological factors rather than morphology, they could not be changed rapidly. People are condemned for attributing the history of others while not being a part of it, for example. Thus, race transition is comparable to gender and controversial sex switching but is not identical to them.

Furthermore, an example of a person allegedly transracial may be discussed in the light of mentioned points. Specifically, Rachel Dolezal has claimed to be a black woman. The public has met her announcement admittedly trenchantly as she had no characteristics needed for being accepted as a person of the race, except for self-identification. Moreover, the woman tried to change her name lately as no one would consider her a suitable employee (Oluo). Importantly, this attempt made some black people recognize that the used name is a part of their culture. This event is a significant illustration of the looping effect. One person counts a Nigerian in origin name as a feature of her chosen race. Next, race participants start to acknowledge names as such traits representative of their culture. Now, a generation of black people might name their children in favor of their culture intensively, making the names genuinely distinctive for the race. In brief, the scandalous occurrence with Rachel Dolezal shows that more traits than perceiving oneself as a race member are needed for complete switching.

To conclude, the transformation of the abstract system such as race classification is not just complex but impossible. Race is a complicated phenomenon different in treatment from this of sex and gender. Multiple attempts to bring changes induce new stereotypes or anchor the existing ones even more vital. Cultural beliefs are too deep in the minds of every individual to allow rapid mutations; the example of Rachel Dolezal is evidence of such a case. However, it still impacts the beliefs about race as a result of the looping effect.


Mills, Charles W. “‘But What Are You Really?’” Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race, 2018, pp. 41–66. Web.

Oluo, I. “The Heart of Whiteness: Ijeoma Oluo Interviews Rachel Dolezal, the White Woman Who Identifies as Black.” The Stranger, 2017. Web.

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