The Complex Identity of Rachel Dolezal


When I first heard about Rachel Dolezal my mouth dropped. Really, could it be a White woman posing as Black? For years, Black women were tormented for having dark skin, kinky curly hair, full lips, and assets to match. Growing up I often heard throughout the Black community that Black characteristics once condemned by European beauty standards were becoming new trends for our white counterparts.

Now, in 2015 allegedly a White-American woman, the Head of a local Washington NAACP is under fire for "lying" about the identity of her race. Her estranged parents talked to media outlets on Thursday and explained that Dolezal was born of Czech, Swedish, and German decent, with possible traces of Native American. This information resulted in Dolezal breaking the internet with members of the Black community all over the country voicing their concerns. Some in support, explaining that Dolezal has the right to claim her racial identity. Others in opposition, believing it is disrespectful to be the leader of a historic Black organization and claim something you are not. Their issues surround the lingering question: If she wants to be black is she accepting of the hardships that come with it?

For me to gather my thoughts on this issue, I revisited Dr. Yaba Blay's research project (1)one Drop: Shifting Lens on Race. Her project accesses the narrowing perceptions of what it means to be Black as an identity and lived reality. It identifies the treatments of individuals when they don't fit into the stereotypical box of "Blackness". Interestingly, the project includes people of White descent all over the world who claim to be Black. Don't believe me just click this link. Although I have yet to purchase the documentary (I should probably do this ASAP) I noticed it aligns with my ideas on the UMBRELLA OF BLACKNESS. The UMBRELLA OF BLACKNESS, identifying as Black in a world of ethnic groups who derived from the African-Diaspora, not limited to African-Americans. I wonder if Dolezal's identity, would be as problematic if she was associated with Dr. Blay's project and not the NAACP? I wonder if her family was not bothered by the Black identity would she be accepted? These are questions I am afraid we will never answer.  I now want to address how Rachel's White Privilege allows her to blend into the space of multiple identities.

Think of it like this, if Rachel was born with a stereotypical "Blackness", referring to the definition given by Dr. Blay, how easy would it be for her to enter White spaces? For example, to claim a White identity, fighting for "White causes" and the progression of White people. It sounds strange when accessing the roles from this angle especially because Whites benefit from a system of societal privileges. However, it's important to understand if Rachel was born Black and lighten her skin to fit "European beauty standards" she would be labeled as a self-hating, angry Black woman. In fact, I believe it would be 10x harder for her to be accepted by her Black and White counterparts. But because she was born white she has the privilege of passing for Black. Whether this means adopting a curly hair texture or getting a tan, she can come and go into Black spaces as she pleases.

While leaving behind her "Blackness" she can leave any systematic hardships, prejudices, statistics, social, political and economic burdens that are associated with being Black in America. A political hierarchy hinders opportunities for those permanently Black to up and leave their identity. Furthermore, the Black community has every right to be upset because being Black is a blessing just as much as is it a death sentence. And these are two things that should not be taken lightly, especially for a person whose perpetuating a modern form of Blackface.  One of the final things I want to address regarding Rachel would is the role of an ally.

An ally is typically a person of a non-group X who supports and stands up for the rights of group X. For example, a White person who is an ally of the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement. However, the key term associated with an ally is "non". I was told before; it is better to understand another's problems then to claim you know exactly what they are going through because ultimately no one's problems are the same.Today I see many allies overstepping these boundaries comparing differences in struggles to other movements and pretending to associate as people they are NOT. It seems people forget the purpose of being an ally is to educate and not overshadow the spaces they enter. Unfortunately, the full story has yet to uncover and with the few facts lingering around the media: Dolezal passing a stranger as her father, using her adopted sibling as her child there is a needed explanation. Until then, I will be marching with the movement. For more on this story check out the sources below.

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