Sociology provides critical thinking about society. So where is analysis in this hateful book promo? Contexts: Understanding People in Their Social Worlds has published a racist, transphobic interview with Rachel Dolezal, a White American woman who deceptively lived as a Black woman until her parents exposed her. She has a new book out and, sadly, Contexts chose to sell out to racism by printing Dolezal’s racist fantasies without any analysis.
This article is dangerous. Not only does it give uncritical media attention to a problematic person; it’s a distortion of social theory.
Social construction of race (and gender) doesn’t mean “whatever White people want to believe.” Social constructionism is a critical theory connecting personal biography to history, culture and place. This is Sociology 101, which we would expect to see explored thoughtfully in a sociological publication, especially one that is available to lay audiences. No such luck.
The social construction of race means that ideas about race categories (genetic features) vary in their social definition, depending on cultural and historical context. Nevertheless, racial relations are real in their consequences.
The groups that get to define racial categories depends on history and power relations. Colonialism structures these dynamics. Groups in power also enforce race. Whiteness is within the control of elite groups; oppressed groups don’t define Whiteness.
The social construction of race is how Australia imposed a racial classification system to justify genocide and how it legalised this racial system to dispossess Indigenous people (“quarter caste,” “half caste” and so on).
The social construction of race is why Australia named its immigration policy the “White Australia Policy” and kept it for around 70 years. It’s why Southern Europeans in Australia were defined as “not White” fro 1901 to the 1970s, until new groups of migrants arrived in larger numbers.
The social construction of race is not about individual choices, but how society maintains a racial hierarchy to reinforce inequality.
The article then reproduces transphobia, by likening Dolezal’s “minstrel” to transgender experience. This is not sociology.
The comparison suggests that transgender people are engaged in deception, as is the case with Dolezal, a position that has been heavily critiqued by transgender scholars and activists. It creates undue risks for transgender people on many levels.
So as one sociologist to another, Contexts: does the safety of Black and transgender people not matter? Where’s the critical thinking?
Here’s where I remind you: our retention of people of colour in sociology careers is abysmal.
Decolonise sociology, now.
Photo: WOCinTech Chat, CC 2.0 Adapted by The Other Sociologist.
[Image: five women of colour sit behind a table talking, with quote “The social construction of race means…in their consequences.]