This Week in Identity Politics: “I’ll Find Someone the Right Shade of Brown”

It has happened again: a white woman professor claiming to be a “person of color” has been exposed, this time at Furman University. Inside Higher Education has the story:

Another week, another unmasking of a white professor allegedly posing as a person of color: this time it’s Kelly Kean Sharp, a scholar of African American history who resigned abruptly Tuesday from her assistant professorship at Furman University.

Like other apparent racial fraudsters before her, Sharp was outed by an anonymous post on Medium. The writer of the post identifies him or herself as having “distantly” known Sharp when she was graduate student at the University of California, Davis. Sharp had never publicly identified as Latinx back then, the writer said, so they were recently puzzled to learn that Sharp had since started referring to herself as Chicana, including on her now-private Twitter profile. According to screenshots included in the post, Sharp has tweeted about her abuela, or grandmother, from Mexico, and posted elsewhere about her “abuela who came to the U.S. during WWII who worked hard so I could become a teacher.” . . .

In a cautionary twist against trying to dupe historians in particular, the scholars allegedly searched genealogical records and found that the grandmother Sharp said was from Mexico was actually born in Los Angeles “to white parents and was residing in the U.S. during all the census records of her upbringing.” A servant was even employed and living at the home, according to census records, the post says. “This grandmother eventually married a wealthy, white lawyer from Iowa.” . . .

This year alone has seen the unmasking of a handful of white academics who have posed as nonwhite: BethAnn McLaughlin, Jessica Krug, C. V. Vitolo-Haddad and Craig Chapman.

Why does this keep happening? Everyone knows why, but won’t dare admit it.

Meanwhile, the New York Times asks:

The White Issue: Has Anna Wintour’s Diversity Push Come Too Late?

You know the old saying: If you have to ask, it’s too late. Especially if it’s the NY Times doing the asking. Read the story if you enjoy the schadenfreudey goodness of these kind of Manhattan media struggle sessions.

But perhaps the best perspective on the reductio ad absurdum of identity politics is found in pop culture. One of my rare TV show commitments is to a Danish political drama called Borgen, which is available on Netflix in Danish with English subtitles. It’s the Danish version of House of Cards, though much more realistic than Cards, which I gave up on fairly quickly because it just got too ridiculous even with a willing suspension of disbelief. The central story line of Borgen is about the first female prime minister, which was prophetic in some ways in that the show soon came to real life in the form of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a striking blonde who became Denmark’s first female PM.

Anyway, in the third season of Borgen, the former female prime minister is attempting a political comeback by starting a new center-left party, especially oriented toward rolling back right-wing restrictions on immigration. (I didn’t say the show wasn’t liberal.) In one scene, the core members of the new party, a small group that includes the former PM, her media adviser Katrine, an young and cynical male MP (Male MP 1 below), an old male MP with an African wife (Male MP2 below), and a young female MP, discusses the problem of  finding a new spokesman on immigration issues. The dialogue runs as follows:

Katrine: “How about finding a new candidate? Maybe even an immigration spokesman that is an immigrant?”

Male MP1: “That would fit our profile.”

Party Leader/former PM: “That’s a great idea, Katrina.”

Female MP: “I know this fantastic guy from Greenland.”

Male MP1: “You’re not exactly a brown candidate if you’re Inuit.”

Katrine: “True. It should be a Muslim.”

Female MP: “An old study mate of mine knows an Indonesian guy. He’s lived in Denmark for 20 years and he’s really smart.”

Male MP1: “People will think Japanese, Chinese, big business.”

Female MP: “Seriously? Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country.”

Male MP2: “It depends on what people think. People think my wife is a mail-order bride from Uganda.”

Male MP1: “No, we don’t want an African.”

Male MP2: “Let’s find a fully-fledged Muslim from the Middle East. Like with a large beard and hair all over.”

Party Leader/former  PM: “Enough of this, before it turns into a discussion about eugenics. Let’s find the best candidate. Katrine’s got the ball, but anyone can suggest candidates.”

Katrine (with a giggle): “I’ll find someone the right shade of brown.”

As I say, leave it to pop culture to get to the heart of things as usual.

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