Another day, another race scandal.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, a woman named Rachel Dolezal who is a NAACP local leader and an African Studies professor, has been caught in her own lie of living life as an African-American woman for the past decade. Even after being “outed” by her white parents and becoming the target of the web’s furor within 24 hours, Rachel Dolezal still claims she considers herself black.
I’ve warned you on how common controversies involving ethnicity are in America, but this one deserves its own post. So much has been said in so little time about Rachel that it’s hard to keep track. But the question that sparked the most intense debate was related to another person who recently broke the Internet for revealing her true identity to the world: Caitlyn Jenner. Beyond people calling Dolezal crazy, many media outlets and celebrities are wondering why America is embracing Bruce Jenner as a female and not a white woman as black.
While this seemed like a simplistic reaction at first, radio personality Charlemagne Tha God made me consider this as a relevant argument:
“If you’re mad at her just because she’s having an identity issue, but you’re one of the people accepting what Caitlyn Jenner or any other transgender person does—which I don’t have a problem with, I just like to note people’s hypocrisy—you should be more understanding of what this young lady Rachel is going through. (…) This young lady was born a white woman. She now says she’s a black woman. (…) I don’t understand how the rules of acceptance change on a case-by-case basis. They shouldn’t.”
The reason why Rachel Dolezal is causing such a controversy is because her story raises one of America’s most feared questions of the moment: how far can the freedom of self-identification go? If Transgender people become the “new normal,” then what is next? Even before Rachel’s scandal, CNN hosts expressed similar concerns while covering Caitlyn Jenner’s news.
While these are crucial and interesting society issues that deserve to be studied and debated over, I think the narrative of Dolezal as a “transracial” individual is not valid. Are the cultural exchanges and social dynamics of the modern era leading to cultural appropriation and even assimilation? Yes. Are we going to see more and more people identifying as other races? Maybe…but only History will tell.
If “Transracial” is ever to become a thing, it won’t be because or thanks to Rachel Dolezal. Comparing her story to Jenner’s might be tempting, but is actually offending to the Transgender and Black community because of one missing key factor: honesty. Rachel might have suffered from living life as someone who didn’t feel like her true self, but she didn’t come out. She fabricated a character and put on a costume instead. The “lie” for Transgender people is the one they live since birth and revealing the truth is what sets them free and makes them a community. Dolezal responded to her own existential lie of life as a White woman with more lies, and may I say, not the classiest ones. Let’s not give her the satisfaction of believing that she started a movement. I’ll be ready to blog about Transracial people if such individuals ever come forward, but right now they aren’t real. I personally hope that they will, just so that Dave Chappelle can come up with a Racial Draft 2.0.
Beyond the racial stereotypes that Rachel perpetuated to make up her black identity or claims that she was discriminated against, the fact that she felt the need to switch identity to make a positive impact as an activist should be the real focus. As Rachel resigned from the President of the Spokane Chapter, the NAACP released a statement that serves as a powerful reminder: “One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.” Had Dolezal given some thoughts to that policy ten years ago, she might have made the headlines for positive reasons today.
In the end, Rachel Dolezal is the living proof that post-racial America is a fantasy. It’s the story of a woman so passionate about racial justice that she lost sight of her own prejudice: assuming that racism is a Black matter. In a way, her extreme actions are nothing but the product of the society that brought her up, where race issues are usually given the “white silent treatment.” So why don’t we talk about that instead?