There has been a lot of chatter the last few weeks about Rachel Dolezal, civil rights activist and the former head of the NAACP in Spokane, WA. Although she presented herself as African American–a bit of a prerequisite for heading up a chapter of the NAACP–it turns out that she is not black after all. Indeed she was a blonde, freckle-faced white girl born to two white parents. She has merely changed her outward appearance.
Of course, objective facts regarding biology, genetics, and ethnicity have not proven to be a deterrent to Dolezal’s insistence that she is black. “I identify as black,” she told Matt Lauer. In other words, I get to decide what is true. Reality is what I make it.
Many have pointed out the similarities between Dolezal’s case and that of Bruce Jenner and his declarations that he is now a woman. And the comparison has been (rightly) used to expose how intellectually vacuous the transgender cause really is. One cannot determine their own gender any more than a person can determine their own race. “Can the Ethiopan change his skin or a leopard his spots?” (Jer 13:23).
But, there is more going on here. And we have to be careful not to miss it. What is happening with Dolezal should not be viewed as just a rebuke of transgenderism (although it is). It is also a rebuke of the entire postmodern project of our Western culture over the last 50 years.
Dolezal is simply acting out the worldview she has learned from the Western culture within which she was raised.
No doubt she has heard, from her earliest days, that there is no objective truth. She has probably been told (repeatedly) that there are no absolute realities “out there” beyond ourselves. Over and over she has gotten the message that truth is simply a construct of the self.
And these messages probably didn’t come from her parents. They likely came from broader influences. TV shows have reminded her that her own feelings are what matters most. Pop culture has convinced her that she has to be “true to herself.” Musical lyrics have called her to a life of “authenticity”–which simply means live a life that makes you feel good and meets your personal needs.
In other words, the voices around her, for 37 years, have given her one clear message: you determine your own reality.
So, who can blame her for just living consistently with what she was taught?
Well, it turns out, just about everyone. The very culture that taught her that truth is relative has now turned on her. What it gave to her with one hand, it has taken away with the other.
And it is here that the Rachel Dolezal story exposes the silliness and the absurdity of postmodernity, and its accompanying commitment to relativism. It shows–perhaps more clearly than any other recent example–that postmodernity simply doesn’t work. It shows that we can’t create our own realities after all. We can’t make something true just because we want it to be. Any person with common sense simply knows that saying you are black doesn’t make you black.
Or, as Lev Grossman said in book NY Times best-seller The Magicians, “If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so.”
But, the Rachel Dolezal story reveals more than this. It not only shows that postmodernity is false, it shows that it is deeply and inherently hypocritical.
Postmoderns claim one thing, and yet do another. They say there is no absolute truth, but, when push comes to shove, they concede there is absolute truth after all. They pretend like reality is a construct of the self, but it turns out they don’t really live like that.
That’s why Bruce Jenner can be called a courageous hero, and, at the same time, Rachel Dolezal can be lambasted as a heretic. Postmoderns are comfortable saying people get to determine our own truth–but only when its convenient.
All of this simply reveals what the cultural elites have always known (but won’t admit), namely that they are inevitably selective about the way they apply their relativism.
When it comes to who a person sleeps with, they are relativists. When it comes to evidence in a criminal trial, they are not. When it comes to sexual identity, they are relativists. When it comes to global warming, they are not. When it comes to gender identity, they are relativists. But, unfortunately for Dolezal, when it comes to race identity, they are not. Or at least not yet.
And there is a reason for such (obvious) inconsistency. No person could really live as if reality were entirely determined by ourselves. Such individuals will always, and inevitably, keep bumping into the real world. And the real world has an irritating habit of not getting out of the way.
This hypocrisy–which is inherent to postmodernity–tells us something very important. It tells us that we humans make lousy gods. That’s what postmodernity is, after all. It is the human attempt to be god. It is the human attempt to control our own reality and determine our own truth.
But, in the end, we fail miserably. We just can’t pull it off. Our hypocrisy shows that we are only fake gods. Bad fakes.
And, as fake gods, our own “creations” are fake too. Bruce Jenner has tried to make himself a woman, but he is just a fake woman. Rachel Dolezal has tried to make herself black. But she is a fake black.
Postmodernity, then, has led to a culture of fakeness. That is the only kind of culture a fake god can create. We stride around proclaiming ourselves to be the lord of our private universes. We put on a good show. But, in the end, we are frauds.
We are like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. We project a facade of power and control. But, in the end, we are weak, scared, and hiding.
We have to recognize, therefore, that the postmodern project, at its core, did not start fifty years ago. It started at the initial fall of Adam and Eve when they took of the fruit because they wanted to “be like God” (Gen 3:5).
The only solution is for humans to abandon the quest to be God; to abandon the quest to make our own reality. The only things that aren’t fake are things that the true God has made. And God made Bruce Jenner a man. And God made Rachel Dolezal white. “And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:9).