Colin Brazier: If white privilege is so pervasive, why do some white people seem reluctant to embrace their whiteness?
A crusader for minority rights has been exposed as a diversity charlatan, a sort of ethnic impostor
It’s happened again. A crusader for minority rights has been exposed as a diversity charlatan, a sort of ethnic impostor. Carrie Bourassa is the name this time.
She’s 48, and a university professor in Canada, where she made much of her indigenous heritage. Bourassa dressed in a blue shawl, carried a feather and went by the native name Morning Star Bear. She appeared at conferences and said she was guided by the spirits of her indigenous ancestors. Except she was talking out of her wigwam. The truth is that her heritage was much like that of other European immigrants.
Morning Star Bear’s family were not from the Great Prairies, but from Poland, Russia and Czechoslovakia. She’s been publicly shamed and forced to stand down from a job giving health advice to indigenous Canadians.
We’ve been here before. President Trump never tired of teasing his Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren, who claimed native Cherokee heritage and repeatedly referenced her roots when campaigning.
When pressed, Elizabeth Warren couldn’t produce evidence of her non-whiteness. Eventually, she released a DNA test that hinted at a distant Native American ancestor, possibly from 10 generations ago.
Other campaigners have passed themselves off, not as native Americans, but as African Americans.
Rachel Dolo-zeal claimed to be a black woman and became a civil rights activist, working as a regional president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. She was forced to resign in 2015 after, after she was outed by her white parents.
And it’s not just North Americans who fall foul of ethnic impostor syndrome. Just this weekend a British pop star, Jesy Nelson, formerly of the band Little Mix, was criticised by her former bandmates.
Nelson stands accused of a newly minted woke transgression called blackfishing. She wears braids and fake tan, enough for some fans to assume she was mixed-race, which she isn’t; she’s white.
One of her seemingly embittered former bandmates, Leigh Anne Pinnock, explained to the Telegraph: “Capitalising on aspects of blackness without having to endure the daily realities of the black experience is problematic and harmful to people of colour.”
So according to this analysis, a white person pretending to be black is, to use that most menacingly vague accusations of woke theology - problematic.
Well, it might be. But not necessarily for the reason Ms Leigh Anne Pinnock suggests. Because, there’s a logic gap here isn’t there. If white privilege is so pervasive, why do some white people seem reluctant to embrace their whiteness? Surely being black, in a world of white privilege, confers no advantages.
Except that it can do. A recent survey from the US suggested that a third of white students had falsely claimed they belonged to a racial minority when applying for college places and university grants.
More than half of white students claimed to be native American, while a substantial minority pretended to be Latino. And, for most of them the lie worked. Three quarters of applications from white students falsely claiming to be non-white were successful.
This is not to deny that the world does not harbour racists. But it is to wonder out loud whether it’s always such a one-way-street of disadvantage.