Monday, June 15, 2015

Is Rachel Dolezal’s “Blackface” a Slap in the Face to African Americans?

When I heard the news that Rachel Dolezal, President of the NAACP chapter in Spokane Washington, was a white woman passing for black, I almost fell off my chair.

So many questions rushed in.

What in the … ? Why would any white person do such a thing? What does it mean? Was Dolezale wrong to do it? Should I be offended? If Dolezale assumed a black face to nab the NAACP role, are her actions any more objectionable than those of Dr. Albert Johnston, a black man who passed for white so that he could practice medicine?

And of course the biggest question of all—If a woman looks black and identifies as black, who’s to say she isn’t?

Is Race a Social Construct?

Dolezale sports a curly fro and olive skin, but recently released photos show she wasn’t born with these attributes.

In a CNN article, Dolezale’s mother says Dolezale grew up in a diverse household that included four adopted siblings who are black and that she was “always interested in ethnicity and diversity.”

At some point, Dolezale’s interest morphed into something more bizarre.

Ezra Dolezale, one of the adopted brothers, says he noticed physical changes taking place around 2011. “There was the gradual darkening of the skin and the hair. She started molding herself into who she is today.” Age 37 now, Dolezale would have been in her early thirties then.

Dolezale’s transformation begs the question: If a man can change his gender, why can’t a woman change her race?

Unlike gender, the experts tell us race is not biological. And so, I’ll ask it again—

If a white woman decides she wants to be black, who is anyone to object?

Does Context Matter?

Did Dolezale lie about her race simply to gain advantage, or would she truly prefer to be black? Does it matter?

One thing we know for certain—you don’t have to be African American to advocate for positive changes within the African American community.

In a formal statement about the controversy, the NAACP said: “One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.”

So what was Dolezale playing at? And why does it matter? If Dolezale wants to darken her skin, throw on a curly wig, and pretend she has a black father, why should we care?

(By the way, perhaps Chris Rock should interview Dolezale for Good Hair: The Sequel? It’s not every day you find a white woman who wants black hair. Just saying.)

Many Blacks Not Pleased

Dolezale announced earlier today that she is stepping down from her role.

I’d describe her note, posted on the NAACP's Facebook page, as a defiant piece of gobbledygook containing some surprisingly humble brag-worthy moments, such as when Dolezale writes: 

“I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices and believe that many individuals have been heard in the last hours and days that would not otherwise have had a platform to weigh in on this important discussion.”

Hmmm …

Dolezale’s statement, which is seven paragraphs long, is also conspicuously devoid of anything remotely resembling an apology. And even if Dolezale doesn’t owe any of us an apology, by all reports she owes her family members one, especially Erza, who told CNN: 

“She told me not to blow her cover about the fact that she had this secret life or alternate identity. She told me not to tell anybody about Montana or her family over there. She said she was starting a new life ... and this one person over there was actually going to be her black father."

Ezra Dolezale also gave this damning quote:

"It's kind of a slap in the face to African-Americans because she doesn't know what it's like to be black. She's only been African-American when it benefited her. She hasn't been through all the struggles.”

What do you think?

Clearly this black woman is conflicted.

1 comment:

  1. Dolezal can go back to being white whenever she likes, so the test as to whether she's really committed to this identity starts now. What's odd is that she could have been open about being a white-woman-identifying-as-black from the beginning while still being a campaigner: a tougher fight minus the prestige, all the while not being taken seriously. Sounds like something a white person might avoid if we were honest with ourselves. Could have taught her what it really feels like to be a minority though. Apparently that's what she was going for...

    Love your work, Crystal. -J