What’s Wrong with Rachel Dolezal?

I’m just gonna compile my thoughts here given the conversations I’ve seen today. This will be updated as I think about it more.

Initial thoughts:

So I got thoughts on this NAACP lady. But this is a situation where I need more facts. But, to put it simply, I feel really uncomfortable with making people “prove” their blackness. She’s not someone who culturally appropriated blackness only when it was convenient..she went all in.

Now, it is certainly problematic that only lighter skinned people can do this, indicating there is some privilege in choosing your own racial identity when you are phenotypically ambiguous. And, this is certainly different from blacks who, due to discrimination and bias, passed as white, at least in public spaces. And, this is not unlike black people who claim Native heritage only through conjecture or some long lost great great great grandmother…

I also pause because this woman apparently did really good things for black people, not only with the naacp, which has always been multiracial, but also sitting on police review boards.

So, I pause to learn more before I cast her off as a simple fraud and one more example of rampant white privilege and appropriation of blackness. I’m giving pause.

On comparison with Caitlyn Jenner:

And the comparison between Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel D. is weak, I think. As we learn more about trans folks, it’s starting to become more certain that gender identity is established at a very early age.

We KNOW that it takes time for children to come to understand their racial identity. That suggests that racial identity is largely a social and political identity, shaped by cultural forces and political considerations. Folks weren’t always “Asian American” “Native American” or “Latino” — those identities were shaped for societal reasons. That also goes for “White” and “Black.”

AND, we know that racial identity IS fluid, depending on the circumstance. How one identifies racially is also shaped by society and even every day interactions. So we have to be more careful about how we discuss race, racial identity, culture, and appropriation. It’s so complex.

And another thought on this:

It’s different because gender identity is at least in some part biological. Trans folks maintain having “felt” a different gender from a very very young age. Not the case for choosing race. Racial identity is social — what it means to be black in the U.S. is different than what it means to be black somewhere else. Thus, racial identity is more of a choice than is gender.

Hm, but which way does that difference cut?

I can’t say I really know. I just think this is actually a lot more complex than gender. Race and racial identity and culture — people have been grappling with this for centuries. Her case is very interesting for all the issues it brings up. For folks to think they’ve figured it out in 24 hours? Naw. The sociologist in me is like “slow down.

On other forms of appropriation:

Let’s also talk about folks who claim to have “Indian in they family”..

On the other hand…:

Maybe if she hadn’t gone through the whole tanning and locing and braiding, we would be more accepting of her calling herself black. But we often, as black people, look for cultural markers of blackness in order to authenticate each other. Could she have claimed blackness if she looked like a white woman? Do we readily accept white-looking black people without constantly reminding them of their privilege of looking white? Or do we ostracize them because we think they don’t experience life as black?”

On Hair:

Our hair is, for many black women, a common space of understanding and cultural connection. So while braided hair is not “because” one is black, it is almost a byproduct of being so. It’s a part of our cultural heritage, and it’s a political stance of rejecting white racist standards of beauty. This is why I honestly cannot stand seeing white Americans with locs.

On being a black woman:

It’s not irrational that she chose to be a black woman. Most of us who are black women would still choose to do so if we had a choice.

One thought on “What’s Wrong with Rachel Dolezal?

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