Oh how funny this fickle thing of Race is and can be.
The news coming to light about Rachel Dolezal, President of the Spokane, WA Chapter of the NAACP who was recently outed (by her parents of all people) that she is indeed not a Black woman that she’s been trying to identify herself, has brought about a great amount of varying opinions of people. Some of them smart, many of them…”not so smart.” So I’m somewhat compelled due to speak on this.
Much like Rachel Dolezal, my viewpoint is two faced. So bear with me, read first before jumping down my throat.
First, I see this situation from that of a Sociologist by trade. I can’t help it, its literally what I do on a daily basis and working towards a degree in. Because of that, my viewpoint and understanding of race is different than that of most people, because I understand that it both doesn’t exist, and yet also does simultaneously. Race is a self-identifying social construct. Someone’s race isn’t based upon any genetic factors (like ethnicity) and is based upon solely on someone’s skin color and the color of their hair. If you’re looking at the picture above and saying “Okay, and?” you have a great point, but there comes the other side of why Race really doesn’t exist. People can literally say they are whatever race they choose. Its not a comfortable thing for most to hear that, but we live in a country that literally ask you on the Census, every job application, surveys, etc. “What Racial group mostly identifies you?”
Think about how many people in this country quite possibly have been identifying themselves as something they aren’t, just because that’s what they feel. Hell, If I knew marking white on a job application would mean I had a higher likelihood of getting a job (and I had lighter skin and could pass – more on this later) I might say I’m white too. So, to this degree, from the logical, sociological, ignore anything about cultural context at the moment perspective, yeah, Rachel Dolezal could very well identify as a “Black Woman.”
Now, Let’s bring in some context. Because honestly, this lady really has irked my nerves for a plethora of reasons, and I’ll preface looking at this situation with this question:
“What does it take for someone to be considered ‘my nigga’?”
Seems like a weird question in light of this conversation, but understand where I’m coming from. It’s easy claim to be of a particular race. Like I said before, people can claim to be whatever they want. They have the right, cause ‘Merica. It’s another thing to truly identify with the plight of that in which you are claiming. The good AND the bad that makes someone apart of a particular demographic are equally as important when considering what it means “to belong.” Consider this scenario: Why do members of Fraternities and Sororities become highly offended when those who did not go through the same process as themselves claim to be a member of the same organization? The answer is you have to go through some things before you deserve the right. This is where the fraudulent behavior of Ms. Dolezal is the most offensive.
We can speak all we want to how she’s been claiming to be Black as an adult, let’s put things in perspective of how she grew up white, and what she can’t identify with. Rachel Dolezal grew up as a white girl in America. Blonde straight hair. Light Eyes. She never had to deal with knowing the country she was born into devalued her beauty, she WAS the ideal of beauty in America. She grew up with Barbie that looked like her. She never had to deal with someone asking questions about her hair texture, running fingers through it as if she was a pet, treating her as less than human. She probably never had to deal with pain of being burned by a hot comb that was sitting on the stove as her mother prepared to flat iron her hair, and most likely didn’t learn about this until she immersed herself in Black culture at Howard. There were women who looked like her in successful positions all over the country, on TV, in her neighborhoods, in her classrooms, etc. She never had to deal with the plight of people of people of color, and more specifically women of color dealt with everyday from the point of birth all the way up into adulthood. She never had a black father and had to wonder if seeing images of black men being killed for nothing more than being black and considered dangerous meant he wasn’t going to come home at night. She’s never had to deal with the sting of growing up and hearing someone say “You’re cute for a black/dark skin girl.” Never had to look thorough a history book and realize that she would only hear about her “race” during the month of February and consumed with nothing more than Slavery, MLK, Harriet Tubman and such. These are the things that, while we don’t necessarily think of them, contribute to what it is to be black. Rachel baby, you haven’t lived through these things.
On the opposite spectrum, receiving a full ride to a university under the pretense that you are a black woman, in a country where affirmative action serves to give people of color opportunities that were denied through 400 years of systematic and institution racism and slavery when you’re a white woman? Being able to call on your “blackness” without any actual connection to the plight of black people in getting yourself in positions as an educated black woman? The ability to speak on behalf of those who, while I’m sure appreciate the gesture, you do not know the first hand experiences of? All of these things speak to white privilege. The privilege to be in the world of the majority, yet identify with that of the minority, something that those of color could only dream of doing.
For those reasons, I refuse to recognize her black face routine as being anymore than her playing Halloween 365. I can’t help but question her being the victim of a hate crime, nor overlook her treatment of black women who were her students in her class rooms at Eastern Washington (jealous they were born what she wants to be no doubt).
Let me just put it this simply:
Can Rachel Dolezal say nigga? I’m gonna let you finish, but…
Just speaking on behalf of myself (and maybe many friends of mine): You don’t share the collective condition with me known as “nigga/negus” and you don’t share the collective condition of being a black woman in America like my little sister, my mother, my grandmother, so forth and so on. Please, continue to do your work with the NAACP, it wasn’t only founded by black people, nor is striving for equality the responsibility of just people of color. Nor is teaching and understanding Africana studies. But do so not based upon what you are CHOOSING to identify as, but based upon your upbringing, and with the knowledge of how your white privilege allows you the option to choose to identify as Black in a world you could just as easily be what you are: A White woman born to white parents in Montana. You weren’t born in the #WrongSkin, you aren’t #TransRacial, and you’re too intelligent to actually think either one of those is a “thing” or valid. So just stop the false flagging. Be you.