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Another white US female professor has been exposed as falsely claiming to be black. What lies behind this ‘pretendian’ phenomenon?

Frank Furedi
Frank Furedi

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

Another white US female professor has been exposed as falsely claiming to be black. What lies behind this ‘pretendian’ phenomenon?
Jessica Krug, 38, has spent years building a career as a black academic. Quite apart from how a white, Jewish woman from Kansas was able to get away with this for so long, what drives someone to act in this way?

Yet another white American woman has been caught out falsely claiming to be black. Krug, a history professor at George Washington University, who has until now successfully gained fame as a black academic, has been forced to acknowledge her lies.

In a world where identity has become so important, it often serves as a medium through which people make a statement about themselves.

Today we have become accustomed to the existence of ‘pretendians’, people who pretend to be who they are not. Given the cultural valuation attached to the identity of a victim, it is not surprising that in the United States there have been numerous examples of white people embracing a black or a Native American identity.

It seems that she who lives by the identity sword dies by the sword. Just listen to Krug’s words: “I should absolutely be cancelled. No. I don’t write in passive voice, ever, because I believe we must name power. So. You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.”

Even in her demise, she adopts the language of identity politics, and imagines that by cancelling herself she can still place herself on the side of the angels.

Krug was not satisfied with adopting just one form of black identity, but went shopping for others. In her confession in a blog post on the Medium website, the professor acknowledged that she had been a serial pretendian. She wrote that:

To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.

The behaviour of Krug bears strong resemblance to the case of Rachel Dolezal, who, until she was forced to resign, was the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Spokane, Washington. She was also a professor of African Studies, and like Krug, succeeded in fooling her colleagues into believing that she was of black heritage. Her action was only exposed after Dolezal’s parents informed the media that she was white.

Given the Anglo-American world’s pernicious obsession with identity, it is not surprising that so many people attempt to reinvent themselves by embracing the identity of others. Such people often claim – after they have been exposed – to suffer from a mental health problem. So it is not surprising that Krug framed her embrace of a black identity on childhood trauma. She wrote:

To say that I clearly have been battling some unaddressed mental health demons for my entire life, as both an adult and child, is obvious. Mental health issues likely explain why I assumed a false identity initially, as a youth, and why I continued and developed it for so long; the mental health professionals from whom I have been so belatedly seeking help assure me that this is a common response to some of the severe trauma that marked my early childhood and teen years.”

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It may well be that Krug had some mental health issues, but the phenomenon that she personifies is best understood as the outcome of the powerful attraction of the culture of victimhood.

People like Krug and Dolezal became pretendians in order to enjoy the cultural validation and prestige that comes with the status of victimhood. The ascendancy of the status of the victim has been the most successful accomplishment of identity politics. Consequently, victimhood has become a valuable resource for identity construction. At times it seems that everyone wants to embrace the victim label. This trend is particularly evident among identity activists and in academia – the milieu that Krug and Dolezal inhabited.

It is worth noting that even while confessing that she was a liar, Krug, a successful academic, could not but portray herself as a victim. She projected herself as the victim of her own lies. “For the better part of my adult life, every move I’ve made, every relationship I’ve formed, has been rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies,” she wrote.

Sadly, the toxic soil of identity obsession that encourages self-deception encourages more and more people to become pretendians. As long as the cult of victimhood enjoys such powerful prestige, it is unlikely that pretensions to an idealised identity can be stopped. It is important to remind ourselves that while white people passing as black is regarded as a cultural crime, it is ok for a biologically born man to identify himself as a woman and a biologically born woman to adopt the identity of a man. Pretendians are not going to go away anytime soon.

It is a sad reflection of the zeitgeist prevailing in the Anglo-American world that so many people aspire to be the victims rather than the authors of their destiny.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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