Welcome to a world where ethnicity is relative | Open
I admit that I had never heard of Oli London.
London is an â€œinfluencerâ€ of British origin. I don’t know how you become an influencer, but London, which identifies as â€œnon-binaryâ€ and â€œtransracialâ€ is an influencer. I’m pretty sure I’m not an influencer. I’m sure I’m white just like London.
â€œHey guys, I’m finally Korean. I made the transition! London recently announced.
Yes, thanks to 18 plastic surgeries and a fractured view of ethnicity, London is now Korean, at least according to London. But the transition has come at a price – death threats and estrangement from family, London said.
Various published reports indicate that for some reason London wanted to look like Korean popstar Park Jimin. This created some uproar and sparked another debate on cultural appropriation.
In a culture where gender is a matter of personal preference, why not ethnicity?
To be clear, London is no more Korean than I am, which is not at all. London claims to have a genuine love for Korean culture which, plus surgeries, is enough, at least by London standards of racial identification.
I guess London could have skipped the surgeries and just declared the Korean, much like Michael Scott, in an episode of The Office, declared bankruptcy. Scott simply announced, in a very loud voice, to his employees: â€œI am declaring bankruptcy!
London claims to have invented transracialism. Sorry, Oli, you didn’t. Transracialism is neither new nor unique. In 2017, a white man named Adam, from Tampa, Florida, announced to the world that he would now live like a Filipino and changed his name to Ja Du. When asked â€œWhy? Ja Du said he identifies with Filipino culture.
â€œWhenever I’m around music, around food, I feel like I’m in my skin,â€ he said.
You may also remember Rachel Dolezal, who ran a branch of the NAACP in Washington state. For years she presented herself as a black activist, until it was discovered that she was in fact white. Both of her parents were white. Dolezal didn’t understand why this was a problem because she identified herself as black. So, Oli, you are very late. When Dolezal’s story broke in 2015, she was skinned, taunted, and branded a con artist. In retrospect, she now looks like a visionary.
I happen to love Scotland. Therefore, I intend to put on a kilt, knee socks, with sgian-dubh, and change my name to Angus MacDougall. By modern standards that will make me a real Scotsman.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Aberdeen. I was struck by the sudden realization that no matter how I change or dress myself, I still won’t be a Scotsman and therefore won’t be entering the draw at this year’s Highlands games.
As disappointing as it is, there is nothing I can do about it because it is the truth, not just my truth but the truth. â€œI am what I am,â€ as Popeye said. There is wisdom in Popeye if you can look past the sailor suit and the incredibly oversized forearms.
Why should I care if Oli London wants to be Korean? What is the harm? Fair questions. After all, aren’t London, Ja Du and Rachel Dolezal free to be who they want?
The problem, it seems to me, is that we are on dangerous ground as a society when we regard something as objectively true as a person’s ethnicity as subjective. (We can have the gender discussion another time.)
Cultural identity is important, as are discussions of culture when it comes to education or economics. But if the results are not as favorable for a particular group, transracialism simply allows us to switch teams. It’s a slippery slope and a short trip to the ridiculous.
Does my white daughter have to declare herself a Pacific Islander to qualify for a minority scholarship? If culture and ethnicity are subjective and malleable, why not? There doesn’t seem to be much daylight between that and a white woman pretending she’s black so she can work for the NAACP.
So given where we’re at, Oli London isn’t exactly counter-cultural after all, which might be the most disturbing part of the story.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at email@example.com.