Rachel Dolezal is not black. I don’t care how far she dives into bronzer and braids.
And I don’t care how many people try to defend her with transracial or transgender or “she’s a do-gooder” defenses. There is no pass to give Rachel Dolezal’s years of trying to pass.
The civil rights activist posed as a black woman for more than a decade until her white parents outed her lies last week and incited worldwide trolling and a viral storm about what it means to be black. She attended Howard University, a historically black college. She led an NAACP chapter in Spokane, Wash. She’s a professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University.
On Monday she stepped down from her NAACP position, writing: “Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It’s about justice.”
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Is it? Because it feels an awful lot like Dolezal decided to put on a costume, to don blackface and construct a false timeline of experiences rooted in racism and hate crimes she never experienced. That hurts actual hate-crime cases.
She posed as a black woman and gained career opportunities, political power and prominence by spinning lies about being born in a tepee, living in South Africa and being abused by a white stepfather she never had who whipped the kids based on complexion. She made her brother lie and pretend to be her son, and persuaded him to hate white people. She questioned the authenticity of other people of color. Disgusting. There are far better ways to support the black community.
Let me be clear. There’s nothing wrong with a white woman attending a historically black college or university. I went to Norfolk State University, an HBCU. I had white classmates. That is not a problem. Her parents said she got a scholarship under the guise of a black woman — that is troublesome — but Howard officials said she attended as a white student. As a white woman, she even sued the school for denying her scholarships and a teaching post. The case was dismissed.
A lot of drama has unfolded over the idea of a white woman leading an NAACP chapter. Do the history. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was started with the help of white people.
Dolezal, as her white self, could have been a powerful ally and bridge between communities as our country continues conversations on race and equality. The problem is she didn’t lead the NAACP chapter or teach her Africana studies class as a white woman. She taught wearing copious amounts of bronzer and weaves that mimic hairstyles often embraced by black women. She even faked a natural hair journey. The deception, the lies, the bizarreness of it all.
Some people defended Dolezal, saying she has done more for blacks than actual black people. Shut up. Black people are living their experience every day, overcoming obstacles you don’t know about, contributing in ways you can’t generalize.
Others have decided Dolezal is no different from Caitlyn Jenner, comparing this to the transgender community. Nah. That’s not a comparison anyone should make.
Some use the word “transracial” to describe people who feel like they were born in the wrong skin, like Jenner was born in the wrong body. No. “Transracial” is a term for interracial adoptions. Jenner struggled to live her truth her entire life. She endured years of pain and sacrifice to accept herself and come out. Dolezal put on blackness and obtained positions of power in a marginalized community. She is a culture vulture with a wonderfully wicked talent for exercising white privilege to occupy black spaces.
And it’s hurtful. Some have tried to compare Dolezal to blacks who have passed for whites since slavery. Stop all of that.
Those blacks were trying to gain equality and survive racism. It came with great sacrifice. There was always the chance their children would come out too dark to pass. If they were outed as people of color, many were murdered.
Unlike Dolezal, I actually am biracial. My mama is white. Biologically, I am half white. No matter how much I identify with my white family, I am not white. I cannot pass. And I have never been accepted as white by white people or enjoyed the privileges of whiteness.
Dolezal was outed, but she will not be slaughtered as so many blacks were when they got caught passing. She can choose to abandon her bronzer and self-appointed blackness with the privilege of starting over or gaining a big enough cult following to support her “wrong skin” movement.
Race is a social construct, but it’s not something we can just wake up and call fluid. Skin color led to a culture of classism and oppression. And we will all have to work together — as ourselves — to deconstruct that systemic racism.
So what I really want to #AskRachel is, once she faces the truth and the real Rachel Dolezal stands up, how does she plan to do her part?