Helen Zille ruffles feathers with controversial remarks on gender and race identity

22 April 2021 - 15:00
DA federal chairperson Helen Zille. File photo.
DA federal chairperson Helen Zille. File photo.

DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille has ruffled feathers with her latest statement regarding gender and race. 

Zille came under fire on Wednesday after weighing in on the American Humanist Association (AHA) stripping British biologist Richard Dawkins of his “Humanist of the Year” award. This was for his history of demeaning marginalised groups under “the guise of scientific discourse”. 

AHA said its board had voted to revoke the award in light of a number of statements made by Dawkins.

“Regrettably, Richard Dawkins has over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalised groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values,” said AHA. 

“His latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient. His subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity.”

Weighing in, Zille said the revoking of the award was another “absurd cancelling” of someone for raising a valid question. 

“If people accept women can identify as men, and men can identify as women, why can't they accept people who identify as another race, like Rachel Dolezal?” asked Zille. 

Dolezal, also known as Nkechi Amare Diallo, is a self-proclaimed black woman who was born with white skin to white parents.

Zille said she believes there was a far greater case for race, rather than sex, being a social construct.

“Let us all be rational for a moment, if people can identify as they wish, why the hate towards those who identify as a different race? Dawkins asks an entirely valid question. That is my take,” she said.

This is another absurd cancelling of someone for raising a valid question. My question is: if people accept that women...

Posted by Helen Zille on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

On social media, Zille's comments drew mixed reactions, with many calling her out for her “take”. Others accused Zille of “grandstanding”. 

Here is a snapshot of what was said: 

“People must respect trans people, so he brought this on himself. Look at what's happening in SA alone, trans people are still being discriminated against or being murdered for who they are, or how about them still having to hide from society because people still don't accept them as part of society ... The entire LGBTI+ community is still facing murder over people who has certain beliefs,” said one user, Andre Willemse.

“Helen, be honest. Your issue is not with Dawkins or race or sexual orientation. You're a grandstanding politician and willing participant in the cancel culture hysteria that's gripping the US right-wing at the moment (and which has unfortunately found its way here)," said Lenny Appadoo.

“The world would be a better place if Helen Zille could realise that this is not the 19th nor 20th centuries. Your culture has come and gone, wake up to the smell of coffee and respect all lives,” said John Tsongaone.

“Helen Zille, um ... Nobody has ever said sex was a social construct. Gender and sex are not the same,” said Kiaran Jindrich. “That's science. Also even biological sex is not binary. So if you'd like to quote the science that backs up your statement I'd love to see the source please.”

“You’re deliberately confusing biological sex with gender identity. I thought you were better informed than that,” Mark Anderson said. 

“You are so freaking uneducated about what transgender is! So before you make statements/questions that are incorrect learn a thing or two about being transgender,” said Michael Venter

“You had me until Rachel Dolezal was mentioned. She is not a good example as she openly lied about her parents and used the race 'who she identifies as', purely for financial gain. One cannot mix gender and race into the same category. Bad comparison,” said Chris Collins