By now everyone has heard about ad nausea the chicanery involving the white woman passing as a black woman and being so successful at passing as a “sister gurl” that she was able to parlay that performance into becoming the local Spokane chapter head of the NAACP. Depending on your purview (and sense of humor) you may find this funny, offensive, atypical of white people culturally re-appropriating aspects black culture that they can market and exploit for their own benefit or a little bit of it all. Speaking for myself I find the entire episode to be quite fascinating. Everyone seems to be talking about it and the opinions on what and who Rachel Dolezal really is and what her inner most motivations for turning colored run the gamut but there are about five aspects to take away worthy of a more discussion. At least more than the surface level analysis currently being bantered about in the ether. If I may, I’d like to bring them to the forefront to dissect and discuss (since we are gonna talk about the woman anyway).
1. Black really is beautiful (universally) and Black power is actually getting stronger not weaker and that fact that a white woman from Montana would go to such lengths to play black is proof
In a day and age when the hashtag #blacklivesmatter has to constantly be dropped on the minds of Americans just so that they can recognize our humanity it’s kind of hard to accept as truth the fact that black people in America are more emboldened and powerful than we were at any other period of American history but I’m here to say that I stand by the above proclamation. Sure we remain a mere 13-15 percent of the nations population but we account for no less than 50 percent of what goes into to making this nation so great (no matter what perspective you view history from). This country literally marches to the beat of our drum.
There’s a very strong case to be made that black women are the most disrespected subspecies of human in America and if you account for the global rape of the African continent and all of the atrocities that beset the native mothers of the mother land one could say that she has been the most disrespected and mistreated in the world and be able to back it up with sound data. At least sound enough to make a good argument. I’m not going to go so far as to say that those who make the argument that black women are the most disrespected and reviled in America (because I don’t feel like arguing)are wrong but I will say that there’s levels to the hate (real and perceived) that emanates and once we begin to add a little nuance (more on that) to these race based conversations the more layers we will be able to peel back the more that black people will get to the bottom of the inherent feelings of inferiority masked behind America’s age old construct of White Supremacy.
The great philosopher Nasir Jones once said “People fear what they can’t understand, hate what they can’t conquer, I guess that’s just the theory of man.” The same is obviously true for women. The image of the Black woman today is much more enamored than scorned despite how many bitches and ho’s your favorite rapper has called you. From Kylie Jenner’s lip suction shenanigans to deadly butt injection phenomenon to Miley Cyrus twerking all over the place–Black women are trend setters and the envy of today’s popular culture. Despite how much those magazines in the check outline try to convince you otherwise. I get that you own your image and your experience as widely varied as it may be. Just don’t be too surprised, confused or bemused by the fact that others want to be like you.
Take solace in the fact that the standard for what America defines as beautiful is slowly albeit reluctantly changing–it really is okay to acknowledge this in the face of #askrachel
2. Black people are not a monolith (a good thing) but too often lack the requisite nuance to reconcile differences in perspective (a bad thing)
During the past several days while Rachel’s story has been ubiquitous in our social media timelines and the national media headlines I’ve witnessed some really heated and deeply visceral debates on the matter. In these conversations all sorts of issues are surfacing in lieu of Rachel. And while open dialogue is a good thing it’s kind of hard to find common ground when so much hyperbole and conflation of disparate facts and opinions are part of the equation. If a picture is worth a thousand words than a meme is worth a million.
These memes are jokes poking fun at the very peculiar behavior exhibited by Ms Dolezal but inherent in almost every joke is a hint of truth. Sometimes convenient and other times not so convenient. Meme one sort of states the obvious and I for one would approve of such a deal but that’s just me. Meme two conflates the Bruce/Catilyn Jenner transition from man to woman with Rachel’s from white to black. While two separate issues it’s hard to not notice the disparate reactions to the two transitions. Especially since gender is a real physiological distinction while the race designation was born out of the white supremacist mindset devoid of any sort of scientific evidence or study. It was actually used as a tool or rubric to designate the racial superiority of whites in the concocted racial hierarchy spectrum that of course designated blacks as the bottom of the food chain. The last one was more of a shit starting meme than any true point worthy of high minded discussion. But optic was golden and gave birth to some great angry retorts.
The notion that we all think and act alike today thanks in large part to the proliferation of social media has been ripped to shreds. We don’t all think alike at all and this issue is one that brought that to the forefront. The opinions on this woman and what she did range from hero to villain but very few things in between.
I lifted opinions of two people from two different generations that I greatly respect and while I find it hard to agree with either in totality together they encapsulate my point about the lack of nuance that we often times apply stories such as this one:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote an op-ed on the matter and made the following statement:
Perhaps some of this sensitivity comes from her adoptive black siblings. Whatever the reason, she has been fighting the fight for several years and seemingly doing a first-rate job. Not only has she led her local chapter of the NAACP, she teaches classes related to African-American culture at Eastern Washington University and is chairwoman of a police oversight committee monitoring fairness in police activities. Bottom line: The black community is better off because of her efforts.
Slow down Captain! This is where some brothers make it hard to be middle of the road. Rachel Dolezal is NOT Sandra Bullock from the movie Blindside. She did not do anything for the black community that we have not long done for ourselves 100 fold. She also did not do anything posing as a black woman that she could not have accomplished as a white woman. Her posing as a black woman is part and parcel to her own level of dysfunction.
Then there’s the opine from the oppisite end of the spectrum. Talib Kweli posited this on the manner:
I’ve known white people who have said to me verbatim, “I feel black on the inside.” There’s nothing wrong with being honest about that. But she took it to the next level. When you lie; when you’re saying your adopted brother is your son; when you’re suing Howard one year for saying you’re too white, then saying people hung nooses at your door the next year – that’s crossing the line. You’re not a friend or an ally to the movement. You’re an enemy. Maybe you’re not as dangerous an enemy as killer cops, but you’re not down with us at all. ~ Talib Kweli
This woman is also not some evil villain part of some nefarious plot to infiltrate and destroy the black community. Where is the middle grown? Why does she have either saint or savior?
Today’s word of the day is NUANCE. Lets learn to add it to our daily dialogue. It will make us all smarter. I promise it will.
3. America’s White Supremacist Construct is even more damaging to white Americans (believe it or not) than it is to the longest running intended victims.
Black people in America have been living under the perils, threats, promises and actualization of overt and covert white supremacy for as long as we’ve been in this country (1619- present). Racism and all of it’s negative reverberations on the black community is a known quantity. Very few instances of American racism or aspects of structural white supremacy in America shock the ethos of even the most oblivious black people in America. Whether it’s officer Eric Casebolt in Texas tackling, manhandling and forcing the face of a 14 year black girl in the ground (on the heels of Tracy Carver-Britton precipitating a fight with another black teenager simply for being black and in a predominantly white neighborhood pool) or the more deadly variety of police interactions with black people such as Eric Garners, Tamir Rices, Freddy Grey’s or the countless other names (I can literally go on for days) of unarmed black men and women that have had fateful encounters with white and even black
overseers officers– it IS what it IS with black people vis-a-vis the acceptance of the fact that racism in America is thriving. White people though?? While some of them actually get what’s going on far too many willfully remain in an abyss in so far as seeing and saying something about it. If only they knew what their complicity in overt inequality is actually just as detrimental to them and the future of their progeny as it is to “the blacks”. Even more because most black people are already armed with the knowledge that there’s a very thin line between sovereign citizen and enemy of the state. Whites however are just beginning to figure it out. The first signs came during the Bush administration when he signed the Patriot Act and other police state measures to law on the way to almost bankrupting the nation. Bush/Cheney and company made off like Madoff with the nations treasure–so much so that America thought it prudent to elect a janitor to clean up the mess they left behind. I mean President Obama is not a janitor but you can’t tell by the level of respect bestowed him and the office that he holds by far too many white Americans. In fact his presidency has single handily brought back the Dixi-Crat movement in the form of the Tea Party. But I digress because this piece is not about the half black half white president of the united states. It’s about the fully white former president of the local NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington. Her very damaged psyche is being blasted for her African-Americanly outward appearance and her self-identifying as black when in reality the damage was done to her long before she started rocking extensions and the “au natural” that has become synonymous with her look. Her family went to great lengths to expose her lie while knowingly ruining her carefully crafted social and professional reputation. The divisions in her family run deep and her rejection of them and her blue eyed blue blooded Caucasian American heritage has as much to do with the collective dysfunction of her family and the white supremacist mindset and cultural construct that enveloped her early childhood as it does for her longing for the beauty of darker skin, kinky hair and to call some really cool and diverse beautiful black people her kin. It’s a dysfunction that I recognize.
I had a good friend that has a similar yet more authentic experience. She was a mixed (black & white) young lady that was adopted by a white family. A white family that did not disclose the fact that she was adopted nor did they let her know that she was half black. She did not know about her African-American linage until she went away to school. Subsequently she grew up with a complex. A complex that’s far above my pay grade to diagnose but even the untrained eye could spot as being not normal. This friend of mine adopted a deep seated hate for not just her adopted parents who she believed to be racists deep down but her disdain was for all white people. Regardless of who they were or what they purported to think about matters of race and class. It was a position that I could not move her from no matter how hard I tried. Buzzfeed interviewed Rachel’s adopted brother and he gave perhaps the most insightful reasoning for the mysterious behavior of his older sister:
She chose African American art as her focus, she stuck out as a student. Ezra states that his sister encountered what amounted to reverse racism on campus and she felt that she was being treated differently by both students and faculty.
“Because of her work in African American art, they thought she was a Black student during her application, but they ended up with a White person,” stated Ezra.
This social rejection, oddly enough, caused her to not dislike Black people, but to hate White people for making Black people not accept her.
Yes, it’s confusing. In her delusional, educated mind, only she understood the impact of White supremacy and racism on Black people. As such, she saw her inability to be accepted by Black people on campus a direct result of the impact of White racism. So she hated White people for creating the discriminatory behavior on campus. It was then that her brother Ezra stated that Rachel started being “hateful to white people.”
He’s essentially stating that she rejected white culture because of the effects that came in the form of black people rejecting her whiteness. It’s a plausible theory and one that deserves more discussion. We may find that such an un-diagnosed mental affliction is more common than we think. At least I would not mind if a few cops, judges and politicians came down with such an affliction.
4. Rachel Dolezal is finally being treated as the black victim that she so vividly painted herself (no pun intended) to be for the last several years of her life.
Raven Symone in recent years has said some pretty dumb things as they pertain African-Americans, race relations and culture. Stacy Dash has said even dumber things than her. Both women upon outwardly embracing white supremacist thinking and down playing their African-American heritage were hired by major networks to keep up the good work and even to expound on some of the thoughtless diatribes that they have come to be known for. Dr. Ben Carson the renowned neurosurgeon and author of the best selling biography Gifted Hands is currently one of the front runners for the GOP presidential nomination. He however is not a front runner due to his advances in medicine nor his rags to riches story. He’s the GOP front runner because when it comes to race, class and politics he’s a Black White Supremacist. He once mused that the Affordable Care Act was the worst thing that happened to this country since slavery. He really said that shit with a straight face. And guess what, he was not called crazy, unhinged or even an appropriator or mis-appropriator of anyone’s culture by the mass media. He too was given a job in media until his perch got big enough to launch his presidential ambitions. Rachel for all of her confused commentary and behavior scored a few interviews but it’s doubtful that she will be given a permanent platform to discuss her disdain for white supremacy or even her affinity for black people Like Ben, Raven and Stacy have been given. The message is quite clear. It’s cool for blacks to disavow black culture and be considered perfectly fine by the mainstream media but when a white person disavows white culture (which has historically been unkind to all of mankind) for black culture you are deemed certifiably crazy. Of course this is not an apples to apples comparison and Rachel did go to great lengths it’s worth noting that more black people than we care to acknowledge racially pass for selfish and self centered purposes as white and have been doing so for longer than anyone reading this has been around.
5. The Dolezal family is Cray Cray and collectively they have some deep unresolved issues that are at least in part responsible for us even knowing about her sordid tale
It was reported that from 2001-2002 Rachel’s biological brother sexually abused at least one of their families adopted sons from Africa. Rachel gave a deposition on the case in 2013 long before she was outed as a white woman posing as a black woman. Since her history with telling the truth is dubious at best it’s hard to take anything that she’s said at face value but if in fact she and the alleged victim are telling the truth about the abuse than her being outed by her parents makes her all the more a victim. It does not mean that she deserves your acceptance or sympathy or even understanding. But what I do hope is that some of the ancillary issues brought up due to this story could be more resonate with those of us who care about this issue in one way or another however slight or intensive that may be,