There’s a lot of talk (and jokes) on Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who decided, roughly ten years ago that she’s black. Getting further estranged from her parents, all to the point that she claimed her parents her black, they (who are notably white) ratted her out. You gotta love honest parents.
Naturally, this raises a lot of questions. Why did she do it? Why lie? And if she even decides to lie about herself, why fabricate her whole existence by lying about her parents? When she was asked, “are you African-American”, why did she fail to understand this simple question? Is this a matter of self-hate? Does she have a messed up childhood? Was she abused? To what benefit does this place? Is she a hypocrite somewhere? Is this a true “eff you” to white privilege? Is she clinically insane? I’m going to attempt to answer a few of these questions. Tolerate me.
1. Is she good at what she does?
In a word, yes. She is well studied in Afro-American history and relations. She seems to be about black empowerment. Needless to say, she goes hard in the paint. As a leader of the Spokane NAACP chapter, she had to step down due to the lack of integrity she has; she’s a pathological liar. Being that white folks always think we (black people) are lying about racism, we certainly don’t need a real liar as a figure head. A person of integrity is needed. So, even in her resignation letter she sounds like she’s going to continue to fight the good fight; you can tell how educated and well-versed she is.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that she went at the NAACP job as a black woman, therefore not benefiting from being white. She technically went for the job on the same even grounds as every other person (presumably persons of color) and got the position. So yes, she’s certainly good. I didn’t mention this question at first, but it’s worth noting a few positives… because they are there.
2. Is she a hypocrite?
Well also, yes. For starters, she once blocked Tim Wise (white male abolitionist) from speaking (about anti-racism and cultural awareness) at a college she once was a professor of. In fact, she stated that white people have NO place in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Oh the irony.
It gets worse; she also slammed the racially controversial movie Exodus (for whitewashed casting I frequently criticize myself) for…. um…. casting whites as people of color. Her words, emphasis added:
“Hopefully nobody goes to that film. We need to boycott that film, from my perspective, because it’s miseducation, it’s misrepresentation and it’s highly offensive to the people that actually were living during that time and also to people today. It’s robbing and shredding ancestry and history. But if people go to that without knowing and just with the typical public education system, then you’re going to probably think that that’s how it happened.” ~ Rachel Dolezal
Well damn. You can cut the irony in the room with a chainsaw. The irony is currently thicker than Nicki Minaj after eating a bucket of ice cream.
“And all the darker-skinned people must be villains. That’s pretty natural; we accept that under the white supremacy tradition, and the lighter-skinned folks rule in our upper class…” ~ Rachel Dolezal
Now let’s get this straight; I have no problem with what she’s saying, because it is ruthlessly factual. The problem however, doesn’t lie with what’s said, it’s the fact that she is also unwittingly talking about herself. Technically, isn’t going in blackface in real life, highly offensive to the people, especially modern day? Isn’t she also “robbing and shredding ancestry and history?” Hey — her words, not mine.
Keep in mind that since she wants to be “transracial Rachel”, she could have went darker if she liked. But no, she went for the more light skinned look. I don’t blame her being that less is more in her disguise, but she does begin to benefit from colorism within the black community as a “light skinned” woman, so technically her “light skinned ruling as upper class” complaint also stabs the chest in irony.
There’s probably more, such as the fact she knew she was white in 2002, but I’ll just chop this one short and say that this one rules as a resounding yes. Yes, she is a hypocrite.
3. Why did she do it?
This is a million dollar question. I’ll say that I my have theories, many of them premature. I’ll say one thing: we cannot believe a single thing from out of her mouth, so being that she’s a pathological liar, her own testimony is compromised, and she’s the best person to know why she did it. My theory rest mostly on the notion that she’s a white woman who became sickened at a brutally honest look at the white legacy of the United States, sickened so much by white privilege, white denial and what constitutes American whiteness, she wanted to:
- Completely remove herself from the whiteness equation;
- be an ally or participant in the black struggle for civil rights, and;
- occupy black spaces.
Looking at it this way, we can begin to understand the wide spectrum of abolitionist types out there, black and white. You see, my buddy has mentioned Tim Wise and Elijah Hamilton in his article to reference people — white men who don’t stand for black empowerment. What I believe my buddy (and all other Dolezal Defenders) are missing is the FACT that people like Tim Wise and Elijah Hamilton actually are for black empowerment, they just know their freakin’ place… because there’s a thin line white allies tread that they don’t want to cross. Because when it comes to the racism fight, we (blacks) are America, and white allies are Canada — this means they follow, and we lead. They don’t get to be the lead division, we are. Trust me, white allies who don’t learn this first are doomed to fail. You do NOT occupy black spaces. So no, it’s not a matter of a set of white allies not being about black empowerment, it’s that they know it’s not their role; that’s our job.
So, with that said, I think the biggest complaint, frustration, or anger trigger comes from the fact that she tries to occupy black spaces. I believe she lied to be important in black spaces. That’s selfish, add the fact that she isn’t black. In knowing a buttload of white allies, I know it’s hard. White people will call you race traitor. Others may send you and your family death threats. Black people naturally don’t trust you or your intent. So overall, she attempts to evade this hardship altogether and become “black”, meaning she’s trusted as a part of a group affiliation she’s not a part of. She bypasses the side-eye of black folks, and she can get away with, worst of all, talking at black people, the worst thing you can do as a white ally. Tim Wise, a guy who studies whiteness, said it better himself:
“For white people, the revolutionary act is not blacking up and pretending to share that historical memory; rather, it is demanding that despite one’s whiteness, one places humanity above skin and the conceits of race, to say that my people will live even as white supremacy must die. It is to remain white and yet challenge what that means in society by striving to change that society every day. Conversely, a white person who has lived as an African American since only slightly before the advent of the Obama administration is effectively seven years old in black years, and even then less weathered by what that means than any actual black seven-year old in this country. A mimic perhaps—possibly even a good one—but a mimic nonetheless. And mimicry is not solidarity.” ~ Tim Wise
Interestingly, Tim Wise is a abolitionist speaker who is not without fault; he has also over-stepped bounds before, pissing off numerous black folks. But it’s worth mentioning that at least he’s honest, makes no excuses, knows his place (even after getting out into it) and owns his mistakes.
4. Are her shenanigans harmful?
I’ll say yes, but it’s hard to gauge. Elijah Hamilton, a free thinking abolitionist made a set of valid points on the matter:
Imagine the following:
– White people getting affirmative action as black people.
– White people entering POC only conversations as black people.
– White people fulfilling equal opportunity employment standards.
– White people accusing ethnically African people of “colorism”.
– White people using the N-Word as black people.
And my personal favorite:
“I can’t be racist, I have a black friend” will be replaced with “I can’t be racist, I’M BLACK!” (from the mouths of caucasians)” ~ Elijah Hamilton
If white people begin thinking all of the above, yes, that can have devastating effects on society, overall enabling erasure of black people. It would make all whitewashing valid.
Also it’s an interesting note on how the concept of blackness is so broad while the concept of whiteness is so narrow. Okay, check this one out: would white America accept President Obama as the another white president? Why not? Technically, he is more white than Dolezal is black. He literally has a white parent, while she has no black parents. The very fact that this works one way but not the other reeks of white privilege, which is another overlooked fact.
5. So, should we give her a free pass?
The ultimate question. My answer is a resounding No. Forgive me, but I cannot find myself on the Dolezal Defender Team. She is the embodiment of “white” in a white lie. While I’m not going to bash her, I certainly don’t have to save her. None of us do. After all, she’s a white woman in America… she has more than enough men to play Superman in her time of need.
Illustration by: Mike Lester