Rachel Dolezal’s pick-your-race policy works brilliantly – as long as you’re white | Claire Hynes | Opinion | The Guardian – Dolezal is correct to argue that race is largely a social construct rather than a science. And her transracial claims flag up the difficulties around defining who we are. Many official documents ask us to classify our racialised selves using a convoluted system, as Arwa Madhawi wrote last week. The most recent census in the UK, in 2011, split our ethnic identity choices into a staggering 17 sub-groups. I’ve fluctuated across various categories over the years including “Afro-Caribbean”, “African-Caribbean”, “Black British” and “Mixed (White and Black Caribbean)”. Bizarrely, I was recently asked to describe my ethnic origin over the counter, as I applied to renew my parking permit. I replied that I couldn’t answer unless I knew the options on offer. So it’s true, as Dolezal says, that there is no fixed definition of “black” or “white” people: our monitoring system is evidence of a non-binary principle at work.
But when Dolezal was asked in a US TV interview which ethnic box she ticked, she revealed that she chose mixed black and white, “because we all have origins in the continent of Africa”. Based on this thinking, the entire world could describe itself as black. Perhaps everyone could opt, too, for the mixed category? The current craze for DNA ancestry tests reveals the diverse racial heritage typical of every white, brown and black British person. All of us could in effect classify ourselves as transracial – although the point of ethnic monitoring, surely, is not to check who feels like channelling their inner African at any given moment.