Rachel Dolezal and The Problems With #TransRacial

Unless you've sworn off all forms of social media over the last few days, then you are aware of the revelation Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, has been outed as a white woman after posing as a black woman for more than a decade.

Dolezal's true racial identity came to light via her family, who say she first began to "disguise herself"around 2006 or 2007, after they adopted four black kids. Dolezal was also recently confronted by a reporter about her background when a photo of her with an older black man she claimed was her father was posted online as part of promotion for an NAACP ceremony.

If you're like me, your initial reaction to all of this was...wait, no whut? And it likely turned to "Really?" when it was revealed just how deep Dolezal went in, receiving a full scholarship from Howard University--who thought she was black by the way--teaching African studies, identifying herself as black, white and American Indian on an application for a city chairwoman position, and blogging about her "experiences" of growing up black in America.

Those latter actions are part of what makes this whole scandal so troubling. If Dolezal were simply a random oddball who decided to "become" a part of another race, or a writer or performance artist doing some type of social experiment that'd be one thing. But she essentially carved out a prominent, professional space for herself based on a complete lie, taking valuable space (not to mention coin) away from actual black women to share their experiences and perspectives. While Rachel may have a deep appreciation for black culture and empathy with the issues that affect our community, she would have made a infinitely more powerful statement by simply showing up as herself, a white woman, and becoming an ally to the cause.

What's been equally irritating is some folks defense of her, with some bringing up the long history of black people passing as white. Issues of self-hatred aside, many black folks passed as white, not due to shame about their identity, but to have the opportunities and privileges they wouldn't have otherwise gotten due to discrimination. Privileges Dolezal already has by virtue of her race.

Others have even gone so far as to compare her transformation to Caitlyn Jenner's gender transition, throwing the transracial hashtag all over the Twitter-verse. Now look, I have my issues with Ms. Jenner--her support of the Republican party being one of them--and the way she has been lifted up as the spokesperson for the entire trans community (a role she has resisted). However, she has not lied about her gender identity or the journey of her transition. She is not claiming to have been born a cisgender woman or regaling anyone with stories of getting her first period or pregnancy scares. Dolezal, on the other hand, has gone to great lengths to pass as a black woman and make everyone believe she is one.

More than that, race, while a social construct, skin color is hereditary, as other have pointed out. As Huffington Post's Zeba Blay so eloquently states:

"Transracial identity is a concept that allows white people to indulge in blackness as a commodity, without having to actually engage with every facet of what being black entails -- discrimination, marginalization, oppression, and so on. It plays into racial stereotypes, and perpetuates the false idea that it is possible to "feel" a race. As a white woman, Dolezal retains her privilege; she can take out the box braids and strip off the self-tanner and navigate the world without the stigma tied to actually being black. Her connection to racial oppression is something she has complete control over, a costume she can put on -- and take off -- as she pleases."

So to sum up, Dolezal wanting to lend her voice to fighting against racism, to studying, appreciating and educating others on black culture and becoming involved in activism is not the problem. Lying about her racial background and infiltrating spaces she could otherwise entered with no problem like some kind of tanned, transracial Trojan horse is.


Kevin T said…
When I didn't have the words, you wrote them down perfectly! GO IN, BRO! Definitely a Link Worthy Read!