You Can Choose Your Gender, But Not Your Race

I confess this does not make sense to me, perhaps just showing how out of touch I am with twenty-first-century social norms. Here’s a story about Raquel Evita Saraswati, who identified as a Muslim “woman of color” claiming Arab, Latina, and South Asian ancestry. Saraswati had a 20-year history of supporting Muslim women and girls, and was named Philadelphia NOW’s woman of the year in 2019. Now she’s been outed. It turns out that her birth name was Rachel Seidel and that, whatever her current religious beliefs, she’s actually white—“as white as the driven snow,” according to her mother who says her daughter’s ancestry is British, German, and Italian. Saraswati was living a lie, and was accused of cultural vulturism.

This has happened before. You may recall the well-publicized case of Rachel Dolezal, former head of the Spokane, Washington NAACP. Dolezal identified as black but, like Saraswati, was outed as white and vilified for misrepresenting her race. Apparently, you can’t choose your race, even though people have a variety of races in their ancestry, and scientists claim that race is a social construct.

Meanwhile, if you don’t like your birth gender, you’re free to change it and identify as whatever gender you choose. You are surely aware of the well-publicized case of Lia Thomas, born male, who now identifies as female and competes against female athletes. Trans-gender people are increasingly being recognized as a protected category, to try to minimize discrimination against them. Trans-racial people? Not so much.

If racial minorities are really disadvantaged because of their race, should we vilify people for giving up their white privilege? One explanation I’ve heard is that there are programs and policies designed to help disadvantaged groups catch up, and that trans-racial people are taking unfair advantage of those policies. But if that reasoning is valid, then it should apply to women too, if women are disadvantaged compared to men.

From what I can tell, Raquel and Rachel weren’t hurting anyone. Raquel seemed to be helping Muslims, and Rachel seemed to be helping blacks. The same appears mostly true regarding transgender people, except in sports, where female athletes claim that it is unfair for them to have to compete against athletes who were formerly male.

I don’t claim to have figured all this out. I’m just asking what seem to me to be some obvious questions.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
Beacon Posts by Randall G. Holcombe | Full Biography and Publications
  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless