What do the two seemingly different things in the above photos have in common? They’re each trying to be something they’re not.
I’m sure by now, gentle readers, you’ve heard of Rachel Dolezal, the very recently former head of the Spokane, WA chapter of the National Association For The Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)? I speak of the Rachel Dolezal who, for years, passed herself off as black. Recently, her parents, who are quite certain they’re white, and claim to be nothing else, blew up Rachel’s trans/black/white or whatever term will soon be coined, life, cruelly “outing” her as an attractive, fresh-faced, blond haired, freckled, blue-eyed white girl.
It reminds me of an Indian musician/comedian in the Black Hills region, “Indian George,” who told the story of a group of presumably white tourists, much impressed by him, who asked “have you always been an Indian?” If one can change race like one changes underwear, it would seem that joke may no longer have the same impact, and poor Indian George will lose one of his best bits.
As the story rapidly unfolded, I was amused to hear a great many media talking heads observe that Dolezal’s race really didn’t matter. “A white person can be the head of the NAACP” they confidently intoned. I snickered as I muttered, “Riiiiight. And the Titanic was unsinkable, and the Pope can be a Methodist.” Fox News reports on whether I was right:
The Spokane woman who quit as head of her local NAACP chapter days after her parents said she was lying about her race said Tuesday she still considers herself black and that her situation is ‘at the core of definitions of race.’
The bizarre case of Rachel Dolezal continued to play out as the 37-year-old appeared on NBC’s ‘Today’ show and seemed to turn the traditional definition of race on its head.
‘I identify as black,’ she told Matt Lauer.
‘I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self-determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment,’ she said at another point in the interview.
Dolezal said she has always thought of herself as black, and that as a child, she would draw herself in pictures with a brown crayon with black curly hair.
I’m also reminded of Steve Martin’s character–Navin Johnson–in “the Jerk,” who, though whiter than rice, believed he was born a poor, black child. Dolezal’s story is a bit more convoluted. Her parents and brother have said she showed no such tendency toward pretending to be black when younger, and only began to color her skin and change her appearance around 2011. In fact, Dolezal actually filed a losing lawsuit claiming reverse discrimination:
Dolezal sued Howard University after she received her graduate degree there, claiming the historically black college had discriminated against her because she was white. WTTG reported that Dolezal filed her lawsuit against Howard in 2002, asking for damages due to ‘medical and emotional distress.’ Her parents told Fox News Channel that Dolezal had submitted African-themed art as part of her application to the school, and that they believed the school was surprised when, after accepting her, they learned that she was white.
Dolezal, who then went by her married name, Rachel Moore, claimed the university blocked her appointment as a teaching assistant, failed to hire her as an art teacher upon graduation and removed some of her pieces from a student art exhibition in favor of works by African-American students. In 2005, the D.C. appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling throwing out the lawsuit and Dolezal was ordered to pay the university $2,700 to cover the costs of the lawsuit.
But surely there was some evidence of her burning desire to live life as a black woman even then? Not so much.
David Smedley, an associate professor of sculpture at Howard, told the Washington Post that Dolezal’s race was never in question during her time at the school.
‘She was a blue-eyed, blond woman,’ Smedley told the paper.
Ah yes, but Smedley was obviously looking only skin deep, and apparently, gene and DNA deep as well. Who is Smedley to impose racial normativity on others? This is obviously a microaggression designed to trigger others into denying Dolezal the victim status she so richly deserves and has worked so long to earn!
In addition to her departure from the NAACP, Dolezal was fired Monday as a weekly columnist for The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Spokane’s alternative weekly, and her contract as an instructor at Eastern Washington University was not renewed.
City officials are investigating whether she lied about her ethnicity when she landed an appointment to Spokane’s police oversight board. On her application, she said her ethnic origins included white, black and American Indian.
On Friday, police said they were suspending investigations into racial harassment complaints filed by Dolezal before the uproar, including one from earlier this year in which she said she received hate mail at her NAACP office.
On one hand, why can’t any of us “identify” as anything or anyone we want to be? If I want to identify as a green female unicorn, why not? Who, beside me, is harmed? But on the other, such things go to the root of interpersonal relationships, the basis of which is honesty, reliability and trust.
One can argue that Dolezal had to resign from the NAACP–does anyone really think that resignation was voluntary?–because her reality rather than her perceptions and belief rendered her dishonest, unreliable and untrustworthy, and there is surely an element of that involved. But I suspect more of the reason is that the NAACP, by its very nature and purpose, abides none by black people in leadership positions. That is probably the one non-negotiable personal characteristic for leadership. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there are white NAACP leaders, but I won’t be holding my breath waiting to be so informed. There is nothing whatever wrong with this, any more than the Daughters of the American Revolution expecting that their members qualify as daughters by virtue of being actually female.
No, I’m not sure where Bruce/Caitlin Jenner fits in, or if he/she even wants to be a member of the DAR. I’m not trying to give him/her any ideas.
It is simply not the business of government–or the business of anyone else–to enforce racial quotas and purity in private organizations like the NAACP. Or is it? Isn’t irony grand?
She was likely fired from her positions as a columnist and a teacher because those positions were fundamentally based on her supposed race, and again, because her deception rendered her unreliable and untrustworthy, the opposite of such qualities generally necessary to authorship and teaching. Yes, there are notable exceptions, such as most of the mainstream media and much of the faculties of modern American universities, but you take my point, I’m sure.
It is also ironic that the Spokane Police will almost certainly throw her off its police oversight board because she’s not actually black. Should this be the case, does this mean there are well-defined, though probably unstated, racial quotas for membership, and Dolezal was well-qualified when thought black, but not when actually white? Will any decision in which she participated have to be retroactively vacated on racial grounds because such decisions were not the result of deliberations by an actual black person?
And speaking of irony, what do we make of Dolezal’s filing of racial harassment complaints with the Spokane police? Here we have a white woman pretending to be black, claiming she’s being harassed because others think she actually is what she claims to want, more than anything else, to be. What’s the point of being a professional, aggrieved minority if one can’t enjoy the many benefits of victim status? I suspect that while the police can see the inherent irony, they are probably not amused. I wonder if she was when she filed those complaints?
I hope that that can drive at the core of definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self-determination, personal agency and, ultimately, empowerment,’ said Ms. Dolezal.
I’m not sure about you, gentle readers, but I, drawing on my education and experience as a teacher of the mother tongue, one that believes words actually have specific and commonly understood meanings, think she’s saying that she should be allowed to be whatever race she wants to be. She could be Japanese tomorrow, Turkish next week, and by the fourth of July, could join famous faux-Indian Elizabeth Warren as a pseudo-genuine Indian, though she really doesn’t have the cheekbones, like Warren, for it. Come to think of it, Warren doesn’t have the cheekbones either.
As with virtually everything relating to progressives, what Dolezal is ultimately saying is that reality doesn’t matter, and no one else should be allowed to say otherwise. If Dolezal says she is black, who among us–including her parents and family and friends–is empowered to say otherwise? After all, perception is reality, right?
Not quite. Being able to consistently tell the difference between desire and reality, between what we want to be true because we believe it ought to be so, and what is actually so, is the indispensable foundation of life and a functioning society. Those unable to recognize and live in reality are either in need of psychiatric help, or running a scam of some kind. In either case, they, and those around them, are going to be harmed. That’s the lesson of this strange case. It’s not at all about race, identity, agency, or any other progressive buzzword. It’s about the damage done by dishonesty.
We should be glad that in the age of Obama, in an age of fundamental transformation, honesty and trustworthiness still matter, at least a little. We should also be glad that so does family.
Dolezal’s parents appeared on NBC’s ‘Today’ show Monday and said they hope to reconcile with their daughter.
‘We hope that Rachel will get the help that she needs to deal with her identity issues. Of course, we love her,’ her mother said.
For Rachel’s sake, I hope so too. We are, thank God, all God’s children.