Culture Magazine

Will the Real Rachel Dolezal Stand Up?

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Do you remember Rachel Dolezal, the white woman and black activist who was outed two years ago for passing as black? The Guardian has a fascinating article about her. Her life has been all but destroyed: "Today Dolezal is jobless, and feeding her family with food stamps. A friend helped her pay this month’s rent; next month she expects to be homeless. She has applied for more than 100 jobs, but no one will hire her, not even to stack supermarket shelves." She got a scholarship to study art at Howard University, but she lost that after a year. She was pregnant, her marriage was in trouble and this and that.
At Howard she had been introduced to the idea that racial identity was “an invention of human beings”; an arbitrary classification devised by colonial whites to justify their power and privilege. “It’s socially constructed as a world view, and people operate within it, but that also means that it can be reconstructed or deconstructed. And this was a great awakening for me, because it meant I wasn’t forced to own whiteness. It wasn’t like the honest thing to do is say, ‘I’m white’, because race is a social construct. And this gave me this great sense of internal freedom: I wasn’t actually all fucked up. I was actually on to something this whole time.”
Newly divorced, she reached a decision. “For the first time in my life, I really decided consciously to be free from the repression, and free from feeling like I had to do things in a way that was acceptable to other people. I had the courage to be exactly who I was.” From that day on, Dolezal would be unambiguously and publicly black, and remains so to this day.
It was surprisingly easy. She sunbathed, styled her hair into braids or dreadlocks or weaves, and applied bronzer when her tan faded. She stopped going to church, began dating men and women, ticked the box marked ‘black’ on medical and employment forms (she still does today), and when anyone asked about her ethnicity, she would say she was “mixed”. If asked which parent was black, she would say her mother was white. She made extra income by braiding hair.
Wasn’t she lying? “The times that I tried to explain more, I wasn’t understood more. Nobody wanted to hear, ‘I’m pan-African, pro-black, bisexual, an artist, mother and educator.’ People would just be like, ‘Huh? What? What are you talking about?’ So I felt like by not talking about my biological ancestry, I gave people the opportunity to relate to me as an individual, not part of a group.”
The whole thing is worth at least a quick read.
Truth be told, while I think what Dolezal did was wack, I understand and sympathize with it. 
H/t Tyler Cowen.

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