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Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences

The Dolezal affair: race, gender, and the micropolitics of identity

By Rogers Brubaker, 2015

This article treats the pairing of “transgender” and “transracial” in the intertwined discussion of Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal as an intellectual opportunity rather than a political provocation. I situate the Dolezal affair in the context of the massive destabilization of long taken-for-granted categorical frameworks, which has significantly enlarged the scope for choice and self-fashioning in the domains of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and sexuality. Anxieties about opportunistic, exploitative, or fraudulent identity claims have generated efforts to “police” unorthodox claims – as well as efforts to defend such claims against policing – in the name of authentic, objective, and unchosen identities. Instead of a shift from given to chosen identities, as posited by theories of reflexive modernity, we see a sharpened tension between idioms of choice, autonomy, subjectivity, and self-fashioning on the one hand and idioms of givenness, essence, objectivity, and nature on the other. KEYWORDS: Race, gender, transracial, transgender, identity, categories

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