Black Face, White Lies: The Rachel Dolezal Story

Twitter was in a tizzy Thursday night after Rachel Dolezal was “outed” by her white parents as being a white woman, passing as black. Rachel Dolezal was the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP. She’s an adjunct professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University. She’s a wife to a black man and a mother to black children and an alumnus of Howard University.

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She falls right in line with respectable black woman politics.

On Monday she resigned as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. She also declined from hosting a meeting on the whole situation. We are left only with a PR statement about her stepping down as the president of her chapter. No where in the statement is there an apology or admitting guilt.

I have waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions and even conclusions – absent the full story. I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices and believe that many individuals have been heard in the last hours and days that would not otherwise have had a platform to weigh in on this important discussion. Additionally, I have always deferred to the state and national NAACP leadership and offer my sincere gratitude for their unwavering support of my leadership through this unexpected firestorm.

While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness, we can NOT afford to lose sight of the five Game Changers (Criminal Justice & Public Safety, Health & Healthcare, Education, Economic Sustainability, and Voting Rights & Political Representation) that affect millions, often with a life or death outcome. The movement is larger than a moment in time or a single person’s story, and I hope that everyone offers their robust support of the Journey for Justice campaign that the NAACP launches today!”

Some people were quick to dismiss her lying because of her activism work.  Singer Keri Hilson tweeted: “Let’s just all thank #RachelDolezal. Identity, pathological, & parental issues aside, she’s doing more than most of us do for ourselves.” Hilson, who is black, was eventually dragged on twitter for her opinion on the whole situation.  Yet, she’s not alone in her sentiments.

MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry defended Dolezal on her show Sunday.“Is it possible that she might actually be Black?” Harris-Perry asked. She went even as far to label Dolezal as “transracial”, a term that is being compared to transgender.

“I want to be very careful here, because I don’t want to say it’s the equivalent of the transgender experience,” she said. “But there is a useful language in ‘trans’ and ‘cis,’ which is just to say some of us are born cisgender and some of us are born transgender.”

“I wonder, can it be that one will be cis-black and trans-black?” Harris-Perry added. “That there is actually a different category of blackness, that is about the achievement of blackness, despite one’s parentage?”

Transracial is the definition of interracial adoption. Transgender people aren’t lying about their gender, Dolezal misrepresented herself as a different race. Race is a social construct that was created to further divide people. Harris-Perry is a shero of mine, I’m disappointed to hear that she not only defended Dolezal, but believes transracial is a real reality.

indexDolezal assimilated into black culture. Her parading around as a black woman diminishes much of the good she did for the community. As this story unravels, a lawsuit has surfaced of Dolezal suing Howard University for discrimination. Her lawsuit “claimed discrimination based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender.” Back in 2002 she was a white woman claiming discrimination for being a white woman at a historically black college. She’s also claiming discrimination from a school she initially received a scholarship for, to study black art.

She preached about white privilege, but the idea that a white woman can become successful ‘passing’ as black is the epitome of white privilege. From the scholarships, to  job opportunities teaching black studies, and speaking engagements  where she discussed personal experiences as a black woman, she found a way to work the system for her. It helped that she was able to do this in a community where only 2% of the population was black, this long con wouldn’t have flied in major diverse cities such as Los Angeles or New York City. Her activism as an ally would have been ideal. Social justice movements need more diverse voices. Instead she took fragments of black culture to create an identity that was not real.

CHQN5jFUYAAW1OTRachel Dozeal’s identity theft trivialized the black experience by pretending to know the struggle of being a black woman in America. Choice is never an option as a black person.  For Rachel, she decided that being black was an option for her and somehow she found success in ways many actual black woman would never be so lucky. White privilege is being able to choose to be black without all the negative baggage that comes along with being black. She could choose to wear black natural style wigs, but could always go back to naturally straight hair.

Jezebel had a biting piece of satire about how Dolezal perfectly co-opted black hair game. From the twist outs to the long braids, she has had every natural black hair style. She held discussions about the history of black hair. She was paid to talk about not only black hair, but her own “experiences” with her own “black” hair. She took an opportunity from actual black women who know the personal struggles of black hair.

Dolezal could have taught classes about the history of black hair. The real issue is that she profited off false experiences in regards to her “black” life. Kinky hair, dark skin, curvier bottoms, wide noses and lips were and are still heavily criticized especially on black bodies. Black women are sexualized and vilified. White privilege is having the choice to tan to appear more ‘exotic’ looking, but never having to deal with the consequences of having darker skin. Dolezal could have removed her bronzer at any time. White privilege is being able to tell a woman of color, one of her students,  how to self identify because she doesn’t appear like a woman of color.

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Race, for Dolezal, was heavily based on stereotypes. This young student didn’t appear “Latina” enough because she didn’t fit the stereotype of “ethnic” looking. Just like how Rachel Dolezal’s whole attempted at being black could be a rip off from A Different World character.

What makes her story, and the commentary that’s been saturating social media, the most disheartening is that as a country, we are in the middle of a major discussion about race and gender.

“It’s also worth noting that a white woman’s decade-long deception has effectively hijacked the conversation about race, during a week where the nation was focusing on police brutality in McKinney, Texas.”

A fourteen-year-old black girl sparked a frank conversation on how black girls are viewed in society.

Hashtags like #sayhername and #blackwomenslivesmatter have attempted to highlight the discrimination black women face from police, but since the McKinney pool party incident we’ve seen more awareness given to black women and girls. Yet now we’re focusing on a woman who built a career appropriating black women.

White privilege is being able to speak for the voiceless and think you’re doing a great job. Rachel Dolezal could have given a platform for actual black people to talk about their struggles, instead she got into costume and decided to do the speaking for us.

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2 thoughts on “Black Face, White Lies: The Rachel Dolezal Story

  1. Thank you for a well reasoned and articulate piece. I have been struggling with how to express why what Rachel Dolezal did makes me queasy. I too find this particularly hard to swallow in the wake of the McKinney pool party. As an accomplished white woman Ms. Dolezal could have been an ally in the struggle. As a fraud she trivializes the REAL experiences of black women in America and once again the narrative becomes about “them”.

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