Thoughts about the Rachel Dolezal story

As a white woman (and I do think Dolezal is probably at least 95% genetically Caucasian), what made Rachel Dolezal identify with what she saw as “black” culture and “black” identity to such a strong degree she appropriated it?  How could she ever believe that her interest in the black community and support of “black” issues would be enough to literally transform herself into someone she wasn’t and then live inside that lie, passing it off as a truth?

Can an imposter really be an advocate for what she supports? Doesn’t the fundamental falsehood cut the integrity out of the other actions?

What was Dolezal fleeing that losing her own identify was so appealing?  Was the whiteness she tried to shed so toxic and restrictive that she sought an alternative she could never actually own (since it wasn’t hers to claim) ? Or was it opportunism and a way to get ahead, as some say?

Certainly, the behavior of her parents in publicly outing her suggests ugly family dynamics–but was that enough to drive the transformation she so actively embraced?

All those hairdos. That tan. Her everyday identity.  She passed and appropriated in a “no words kind of wow that just isn’t okay” kind of way.

And yet, as much as I totally agree with the comments that Dolezal took what wasn’t hers to take, went way over the line with reporting hate crimes, and exemplified white privilege in doing this, I also have questions.

This carefully constructed identity clearly fit her view of who she “really” was, and where she “really” identified and belonged, and the amount of time, effort, and personal care going into sustaining it seems both painstaking and huge.

How different is what she did from what other have done-particularly entertainers–who appropriate their ideas of images and memes of blackness to express what they see as their inner selves–and who, if they are good enough at it, receive respect, not censure (Eminem and Ninja, from Die Antwoord, come to mind in particular, and I suspect it’s no accident they are both men.)

Are we harsher with Dolezal because her art was passing?

And because she used her white privilege to build an image of a successful black woman?

And because she lied about what she had had to overcome to get to that place of success that an authentic Black woman might have otherwise held?

I think the answer is yes.

But this is also the moment to say that the furor over the  Dolezal story should not take attention away from another important truth– the reality that  most black women in our culture are so ill-supported that they struggle to get by.

Isn’t every minute we spend talking about this actually is a distraction away from the  memes and actions around both #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName?

Doesn’t this story underscore  our need to support women of color in making their own lives successful without institutional racism,  systemic discrimination, racial profiling, and stereotyping getting in the way?

If Rachel Dolzeal want to continue  to fight for a more equitable world, I hope she can do it going forward as her whole, authentic, and mostly and probably white self.

Note: As a white woman ally doing work that at Hack the Hood that aims to radically improve the lives of young people of color who would like to work in tech, I’ve been following the Rachel Dolezal story with interest. Working at the intersection of race, class and social change, I’ve learned alot–and try to keep learning–about keeping white privilege in check, listening, and not speaking for others.  As a techie, I can be a powerful ally to others on my team, but I cannot presume to speak for them, or authentically know what their experience is, since mine is different.  That’s all good, and I love the work we do.