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Who Am I?

Summer has brought with it a perfect storm of controversies over “identity.” It began with Bruce Jenner, the iconic Olympian, really coming out as the transgendered and glammed-up Caitlyn on the cover of the July Issue of Vanity Fair. It will end with people still tweeting over Rachel Dolezal, the  deposed NAACP chapter president in Spokane, Washington, who grew up a blond girl, attended and sued Howard University and maintains that she identifies as “black.”

At least Jenner’s television interview April 24 with Dianne Sawyers on ABC’s “20/20” prepared us for his big reveal a month later, but the race conundrum seems to have caught everybody by surprise. Naturally, some people in the news media and on social media have used the gender identity shift to explain away the racial switch. The argument goes something like, “If it’s OK for a man to change genders because he/she identifies as a woman, why can’t someone be ‘transracial’ if she/he identifies as black? Nevermind that many people aren’t comfortable with, accepting of or well-informed about the transgender scenario, but the race transfiguration raises all kinds of questions about color, class, privilege and the “one-drop” rule.

In the television interview, Jenner said, “For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman. People look at me differently. They see you as this macho male, but my heart and my soul and everything that I do in life — it is part of me. That female side is part of me. That’s who I am.”

Asked by Matt Lauer on the Today show, the day after she relinquished her position as NAACP local president, if she was an “an African-American woman,” Dolezal said: “I identify as black.”

Each of them is saying, in effect, “I am who I say I am.” To some extent that is true for all of us, and the fact that they “feel” one way or the other isn’t really arguable, observable or verifiable. As intelligent, educated people, we ought to at least to be knowledgeable about the forces at play in defining and assuming identities and be able to have serious conversations about them. Educators, particularly, can facilitate those conversations. This is, as they say, “a teachable moment.”

To foster that discussion, has a number of books for teaching, counseling and general reading on various topics related to identity.

 Recasting Race, by Indra Angeli Dewan, $26.95, (List price: $29.95) Trentham Books (February 2008), ISBN: 9781858564050, pp. 164.

This book is based on a study that examines identity and culture issues through narratives from women of mixed race, while challenging assumptions and breaking down complexities. It is recommended for courses in sociology, sociology of education, cultural studies, and gender and feminist studies, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses in education.

Counseling Multiple Heritage Individuals, Couples, and Families, by Richard C. Henriksen Jr. and Derrick A. Paladino, $40.46, (List price:  $44.95), American Counseling Association, (June 2009), ISBN: 9781556202797, pp. 235.

Case studies and guidelines in this book are intended to offer a framework for counseling families, couples and individuals dealing with issues related to mixed or multiple heritage. The authors examine the strengths and the challenges that families of multiple heritage face. Among topics covered are the roots of racial classification, identity development, transracial adoptions and counseling strategies across various demographics.

Gender Identity, Equity, and Violence, by Geraldine B. Stahly, Gerald Eisman and Robert A. Corrigan,

 $67.50, (List Price: $75), Stylus Publishing, January 2007, ISBN: 9781579222178, pp.


Authors representing a broad range of perspectives and disciplines examine issues of gender and identity as they apply to education, including the ways that classification has led to oppression, inequality and discrimination based on the sex or perceived sex of individuals. Topics range from service learning to sexual assault.


The following titles might also be useful:


Affect and Power: Essays on Sex, Slavery, Race and Religion


CWLA Best Practice Guidelines: Serving LGBT Youth in Out-of-Home Care


Moving Pictures, Migrating Identities


Contemporary Mental Health Issues Among African Americans

Through its partnerships with leading publishers – representing university and independent presses large and small – brings you scholarly and academic titles about diversity, education, history and many other topics. Visit to purchase books at significant discounts for classroom use, research or pleasure reading.


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