Rachel Dolezal has shaken up good old ‘Merica or at least her parents and brother have. The Dolezals decided to tell America that their daughter wasn’t an “authentic” black person. Which daughter you ask? The one who recently resigned as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. The one who, with a quick google search, has become the butt of many silly jokes for her identifying as black or more accurately, as multiracial.
Now, passing is nothing new. Since we were forcefully brought to this country, many fair-skinned African-Americans have chosen to “pass” in order to gain access and privilege into an America that most African-Americans were violently denied. Therefore, the concept of passing is nothing novel, albeit sad that one would need to. However, there are a few things to consider with this recent Rachel debacle.
One, is Rachel really passing? How do we know that she isn’t part black (if we are going to keep playing the game that race is actually a real thing and not merely a social construct meant to elevate whiteness anyway)? The one drop rule instated by American whites went to great lengths to limit who could be considered white and surely there’s a drop in Rachel somewhere, as there is with most of us. Scientifically speaking, the first humanoid was discovered in Africa, so her DNA surely represents that in one of those millions of strands and just because people may have since moved to different climates doesn’t erase the roots. Second, whites in this country have been notorious for covering up their past black lineage to remain at the upper rungs of American society, so how do we know that her parents aren’t the delusional ones who are upset that Rachel is outing them by being her authentic self? We don’t know and until all of the facts come out, we won’t, so it’s all speculative and trivial Twitter fodder, except that she sued Howard University for discrimination, apparently.
Furthermore, there is indeed such a thing as identity. We can choose to identify in many nuanced ways. There has long been “white chocolate,” those individuals who feel culturally black though they may be perceived as white by others. This does not always mean cultural appropriation. I grew up with several friends like this and they weren’t trying to be black, they were just being what came naturally. Maybe this is Rachel, though I agree that if she indeed “lied,” then she has to be honest with herself and move forward authentically – whatever that means for her, not us. If she has lied, she must atone to those whose trust she’s violated and think about the dangerous cultural implications of her actions. And to be fair, she did not denounce or deny her whiteness. She included her black and Native American heritage. Can one not be all of the above in this multiracial, so called “post-racial” society in which we live (doesn’t the post racial thing make you giggle)?
And at the end of the day, isn’t it all perception? Who in the hell are you, are WE to tell someone else what group(s) they do or don’t belong to? I know that’s the power game that’s been our legacy, but it’s time to release the lever. It sounds like another way to be divisive and to keep people in their place and for others to remain in power. Yet another way to keep people in neat little boxes. Has Rachel killed or brutalized someone? Has she stolen millions and left people destitute? No. She is trying to better society by teaching and advocating for the civil and human rights of all people and trying desperately to live her life on her terms (even if in a warped or non-traditional manner – that’s if she lied). We aren’t even sure that she violated trust. All we know is what her parents have said (remind me why her parents outed her in such a public manner). Rachel just broke the unspoken code – you can’t use your white skin privilege to pass for black (or white) or to actually be black if you are perceived by wider society as white. And if you are perceived as a person of color, then you definitely can’t enter the tight knit of whiteness, says society. So, who’s pulling the strings which dictate racial stratification? Who’s making these grandiose decisions? Who’s continuing with this racial farce? And who really cares? There are much bigger problems in America than Rachel identifying as multiracial, whether she is to “us” or isn’t and since my class begins in minutes, I’m about to get back to solving those problems.
To blackness, to otherness, to a little crazy, and everything else, Tina
p.s. I can tell you if she’s white or not. If we are still talking about her next week, followed by book deals and a Lifetime movie, then she’s probably white. That’s how white privilege works – that we are forced to care enough to keep talking about her and that she benefits significantly even while being maligned/discredited.
p.s.s. Some of you Twitter folks need your own comedy show because you have brought tears of laughter with your ridiculousness around this so-called issue.