Melissa Harris-Perry: Can Someone Be Cis-Black or Trans-Black?

By Melanie Arter | June 15, 2015 | 12:22 PM EDT

MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry (Courtesy of MSNBC)

( –MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry asked Saturday on her self-titled show whether Spokane NAACP President Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who has been pretending to be black, “may actually be black.”

“I want to ask this question as clearly and historically as I can. … Is it possible that she may actually be black?” Harris-Perry asked Allyson Hobbs, assistant professor at Stanford University and author of “Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life.”


“The best way that I know how to describe this – and I want to be very careful here, because I don’t want to say that it is equivalent to the transgender experience – but there is a useful language in trans and cis, which is just to say some of us are born cisgendered,” Harris Perry said.

“Some of us are born transgendered, but I wonder can it be that one would be cis-black and trans-black, that there is actually a different category of blackness that is about the achievement of blackness despite one’s parentage. Is that possible?” she asked.

Hobbs replied, “It’s absolutely possible. … Why not?

“I mean I think that one thing that she said that I found so fascinating was she said her identity is multi-layered and that her identity is very complicated and that she didn’t expect for people to understand it easily, and I think what she’s alluding to is this sort of perhaps – and again, we don’t know that much about the story," she said.

"We need to here more from her and more of her personal story, but there certainly is a chance that she identifies as a black woman and that there could be authenticity to that,” added Hobbs.

Cisgender is defined as “denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender.” In other words, if someone is cisgender, they were born a female, for instance, and still considers themselves to be a female. 

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