My opinion of this whole Rachel Dolezal madness is really quite simple: this woman is a walking parody of Black womanhood and I don’t accept her or her backward-ass identity with the Black community on any front. I don’t care about her tenure as the president of the NAACP office in Spokane. I don’t care that she has a Howard degree. I don’t even care that she has a Black son (who by the way, is the true victim in this story and actually needs our sympathy). Whether she’s mentally ill or has been planning this whole stunt to get her the attention and sympathy that she’s so desperate for, Dolezal’s audacity to parade herself as a Black woman for the sake of survival and to be her authentic self just goes to show how superficial and transient she thinks the Black identity is.
I realize that there’s no hard rule for identifying as Black because race is a social construct. But between Dolezal’s hesitation to claim Blackness in past interviews when directly asked about it and her parents’ claims that she only has Czech, Swedish and German lineage, I refuse to take this woman seriously. I can’t say that I’m the judge on this, but the last time I checked, Blackness meant having some sort of traceable African lineage in recent history. Besides, we know this woman has a history of lying and manipulating her racial identity as part of an agenda to get what she wants. Now that she comes out saying she’s a Black woman because she feels like one, we’re not supposed to question or criticize her for it?
I’m straight up salty about this story because her fetishization of Black womanhood manifests in the way she presents herself. Dolezal, some of your hairstyles are cute, boo boo, but it doesn’t just come down to that. We as Black people don’t even have choice in which race we can identify as—that’s something only White people can do. As Black people, we’re automatically branded by society based on our phenotypical features, our class, life experiences, etc. That’s the whole damn reason why White people created the concept of race and its resultant oppression on marginalized people of color in the first damn place. I guess Ms. Dolezal never learned that in all her years at Howard?
I can’t write this think piece without acknowledging that the meaning of Black womanhood is subjective to every sister out here. To me, it means having to wear humility all the time whether I feel like it or not. It means fighting to be seen, even when others are unapologetically determined to blot me out of history. It means putting aside my frustrations and mistrust of White people so that I can work with them and be their friends every day. It means understanding the sisterhood is a layered construct, and that I have to love my Black sisters unequivocally even when they drive me batshit because if I don’t, no one else will. It means accepting the way I look and the way my body moves through the world as being beautiful, not in spite of the historical bashing of Black women’s features, but because I was made in God’s vision, because there’s no one in the world that looks quite like I do, and because I’ve grown into a self-love that has become the foundation of who I am as a person.
But I also can’t write this piece entertaining the idea that Dolezal has created any theorization for herself on what it means to be a Black woman. I say this because of what we know about Dolezal’s past as a White woman as well as her sloppy co-opting of the jargon and discussion points of transgendered people to explain her racial background. I can’t speak to her life experience, but I can speak to MY Black experience. She never had to grow up in a Black girl’s body, turning the other cheek when strangers, authority figures and classmates alike threw racial epithets about Black people in her direction. She never read news stories of girls like Renisha McBride or Aiyana Jones realizing that those girls could have easily been her. She never had to be her own shoulder to cry on when White girls were chosen over her because they were automatically considered to be more beautiful or capable than she was.
I know that virtually any Black woman reading this piece can relate in some way to the struggles I’ve mentioned above but none of these things have been-nor ever will be-part of Dolezal’s narrative. She only made the abrupt change in her racial identity after she lost her discrimination case to Howard University-a case she endured as a self-identified white woman in public. Her Black existence isn’t born out of genealogy or the struggle that is inherently imposed upon people of color. Her Black existence is solely based on her preference, an unfounded justification for her to be something that she’s not.
I want Ms. Dolezal to know that as a Black woman, you’re born into the body of an African descendant. But you’re not born with society’s ideas of what Blackness looks like (i.e. your nappy hairdos, your dark-skinned daddy, your state-of-the-art Anita Baker record collection, your lifetime supply of Kool-Aid from Costco in the basement pantry). Maybe Dolezal felt like the black sheep in her family (no pun intended) in comparison to her Black, adopted siblings and stumbled into this media scandal as a way to correct her childhood hang-ups. But I have no sympathy for her or for her dysfunctional family dynamics. She could have been down with the people without lying about who she was for such a significant portion of her life.
A thousand words into this essay, I still find this whole media shitstorm around the infamous Rachel Dolezal a huge waste of time. Maybe I’m part of the problem but hey, I guess that’s the downside of being a professional blogger. She’s a farce, folks, a distraction at best. A part of me is questioning if we’ve all been living in a skit for an upcoming sketch comedy show for the past week conceived by Dave Chappelle to expose how our conceptions of race as a social construct are as flawed as they are complex.
But ultimately, I don’t think this is all just a practical joke or bizarre, unprecedented social experiment. She probably will have a book deal in the works by the end of the week. She probably will have even more celebrities caping for her (I’m looking at you, Melissa). And worst of all, she will probably go back to living her life as a White woman once she’s out of the public eye and bored with protective styling and sleeping with Black men.
Will we feel as pressed to be talking about race then as we are now?