Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On Self-Identification

The story of Rachel Dolezal has gotten many in an uproar in recent days. She is the Spokane, Washington, woman who has been president of her local NAACP chapter, but now it comes out that her parents say she is white, not black. She says she has self-identified as black since she was five years old. She was forced to resign her NAACP post in the wake of this revelation.

I am perplexed by the hysterical reaction of the media to this development. In almost every other case I can think of, it seems the media bends over backwards to honor the self-identification that public figures give themselves. I first became aware of this phenomenon when Bill Clinton took office in January of 1993. All of a sudden, his wife was no longer "Hillary Clinton", as she had been all during the campaign, but now his wife magically became "Hillary Rodham Clinton". Obviously the Clinton camp asked the media to make this change, and the media, like the sycophantic lemmings they are, readily obliged. Interesting that when Hillary decided to run for president in 2007, she did an about-face, and decided that she was now, again, "Hillary Clinton". The media followed along with this change with absolutely no comment.

We have the example today of Bruce Jenner, who has decided he will become a woman and be henceforth known as Caitlyn. The media follows along without questioning the change.

For some reason the media is obsessed with race. Poor Rachel gets pilloried, when every other public figure is given the courtesy of self-identification.

Here in Oregon we have the recent example of the former governor, John Kitzhaber, whose girlfriend insisted on being called "the first lady", and who gained the title of "fiancee" to bolster her claim to first lady status. There is no evidence that either one of these people has any intention of getting married, yet the media obligingly goes along with identifying Cylvia Hayes as Kitzhaber's "fiancee", despite no evidence that there is any legitimacy to the term. If they really want to get married, why don't they go ahead and do it? Investigations have uncovered much evidence of Ms. Hayes' nefarious past, and it is obvious that she is nothing but a no-good gold digger. This is backed up by emails that the media has obtained documenting her gold-digging goals. Yet, to this day you will not find her referred to as Kitahaber's "girlfriend", even though this would be the most accurate term. No, she is still his "fiancee". For non-Oregonians, it should be pointed out that Kitzhaber has resigned his position as governor, due to the gold-digging actions of his girlfriend.

Now, we have a new governor, Kate Brown, who is called "the first openly bisexual governor in US history". And how do we know she is bisexual? The answer is we don't, all we have is her statement to that effect. She is married to a man, and presumably happily so. So, why are supposed we to see her as "bisexual"?

The only example I can find in which the media makes reference to the self-identification issue is in referring to the Islamic State. The media always says "self-styled Islamic State". With terrorism, the normal rules are obviously out the window. But in every other case, the media does not say "self-styled", or "self-identified", but simply goes sycophantically along with the dictates of the subject involved.

The importance of this issue is magnified by the trend towards misrepresenting one's background. It has become commonplace to lie on one's resume; for example it is said that most resumes these days contain at least one lie. Lying about one's military service, or lack thereof, became so commonplace that in 2005 Congress enacted the "Stolen Valor Act", making it a crime to lie about military honors received. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in 2012 on free speech grounds. The majority opinion made the cogent point that it would be an easy matter to put a list of medal recipients on a website, so that claims could be checked quite easily and, if unfounded, refuted. This in fact is what the federal government did following the decision. The point for our present purposes is that it still presupposes a media that is ambitious enough to actually do this checking, which we do not currently have.


Paul Neufeld Weaver said...

I am a little perplexed also by the uproar.

Marsha Weaver said...

Jerry, have you watched the discussion on the Wednesday Democracy Now show? You can get to it at I dozed through it, but Lyle says it was good. One of the people in the discussion made a documentary called "Little White Lie" which Lyle and I both found very interesting and well done.

Paul Neufeld Weaver said...

Here is an interesting column.