I sincerely believe that Rachel Dolezal has psychological issues. However, at this point, I am less interested in her than the debate about race and identity that she has sparked.
(1) Black folks’ furor is out of proportion. This is ONE woman. Judging by the level of some of the outrage, you’d think that there was a secret army of white women climbing through our windows at night and stealing our hot combs. We know this chic. You see her at the family reunion because she’s married to your cousin, Ray-Ray, and she “identifies” as black. She eats black, sleeps black, dresses black, and raises her and Ray-Ray’s biracial children. Why ya’ll acting like we haven’t seen this before?
(2) Then there is this issue of biological determinism. I thought we didn’t like that idea of “one drop.” Also, aren’t we the same people to point to the fact that all people are of African descent a.k.a. African Adam and African Eve, as proved by paleontology and DNA investigations?
My Facebook news feed is full of claims that the “original” Chinese, and the “original” Gallic people were black people of African descent. The logic doesn’t seem right if it can be expanded or contracted dependent on the circumstance of the discussion.
(2a) If we accept that race is a social construct, does that mean that the concept of culture is fluid? They don’t call it post-racial America for nothing. I reference here not the way that whites treat blacks–structural racism is still very much in play–but the lines of culture and identity are very fluid.
We all know black people who are mentally and culturally more white than anything else. They “identify” as white. Moving down the sliding scale, many folks of all colors are just as mainstreamed American as they are anything else. I do believe that there is something special and unique about black culture, my culture, which is black American, but I have lived enough to know that we have a choice in how “black” we are. There are black people who know very little about black history and won’t take a stand for a “black” issue until tragedy hits their doorstep, and then they are calling the NAACP. How black is that?
(3) How is what Rachel has done different than what Kim Kardashian, Iggy Azalea, and Jennifer Lopez have done, i.e. appropriating a cultural standard of beauty not of their own creation? The former, in her own twisted way, promoted the positive aspects of black life and culture while giving attribution to its source (the lies about her biography aside). The women in the latter category, however; have profited from our cultural aesthetics without demonstrating anywhere near the commitment to the walk and the talk that Rachael has in her teaching and advocacy.
Iggy got them butt implants but you won’t see her in a #blacklivesmatter t-shirt. Kim and hergoodies clearly “identify” as black. J-Lo is routinely referred to in the press as the standard for abeautiful backside, when we all, Jennifer included, know where that comes from. (SN: She learned the hard lesson with Puffy that you will pay a high cost for being too closely identified with black people. As a result, Jenny left the hood antics behind and has been stacking her coins ever since. Sound black, dance black, work the black-shaped booty, but draw the line there IF you want to get paid. Such is the economy of racism).
So we are silent about these women profiting from their unspoken and unclaimed black identification, but Rachael openly claims to be down with the tribe, and we are ripping her apart? Interesting. I feel like Rachel is saying “Black is Beautiful,” not in the condescending, “can I touch your hair?” way, but in a legitimate, “that looks so good I want to walk around in that” way. To that I say “thanks, boo!,” just like I would if anyone else was giving a compliment.
By extension if you are saying that she is crazy for wanting to be black, you are confirming that blackness is undesirable.