Rachel Dolezal is the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP. Dolezal has misrepresented herself as being Black for years and would have continued to do so until she came under investigation for possibly faking being the victim of hate crimes for her social justice activism. The investigation, of course, led to the tracing of Dolezal’s background which uncovered inconsistencies in the things that she had publicly perpetrated. The biggest being that her parents are 2 White people of Czech, Swedish, and German descent. While Rachel has represented herself as Black – even on her applications – she has claimed to be of Black, White, and Native American descent, which her parents have provided birth records and statements to the contrary.
The entire story is weird in that we do not often hear of people passing as Black. Who would want to do that?! is the though many Black people have; however, if we look into the history of White supporters of the civil rights movement, we can see that these individuals have often felt ostracized because despite their support and allegiance to the cause they can never completely state that they know what racial discrimination feels like. In some circles these individuals are less respected and their voices often diminished. I have myself, witnessed this before and have even had friends to approach me about why they felt unwanted when all they wanted to do was help. In that vein I can imagine why Dolezal may possibly have done what she did. But then it could be a much deeper psychological reasoning behind it. We will not truly know until Dolezal herself decides to stop hiding and explain her actions.
In all of the backlash on social media and the news, I came across one tweet that I felt actually got to the root of the much larger issue and spoke more to the core of why Black people are pissed with Dolezal.
Nanpansky strikes a chord here because past the superficial concerns about lying and keeping it real, she gets to what’s really being said by the fact that Dolezal, a White woman, felt that a couple of degrees in African American studies, a curly perm, and a few carefully constructed lies could gain her passageway into Black culture.
The issue is that for decades Black culture has been a commodity in America. It is something that is appropriated for entertainment and objectifying study. It is something that is stimulating and alluring to those outside of it. It is something that is packaged, marketed, and sold. Black culture in America does get the respect that other cultures get. No one would dare wave a swastika in the face of a Jewish person or publicly clown around in a yamaka. No one would debate the professionalism of wearing a Bindi in the workplace. I can think of dozens of small ways in which Black culture is constantly deemed unsightly and inappropriate. It is always looked at in comparison and contrast to the dominant ideology and it always results as the less favorable.
I will take a moment to state what we all know logically but often seem unwilling to consider or apply to the notions of Black culture. Culture is personal and deeply ingrained in the being of a person. It goes back generations before them and often is difficult – if possible at all – to explain with logic and reason. It’s tradition, history, folklore, mythology, beliefs and values. All these things are subjective in their importance and relevance. Often they only matter for those to whom they belong. It’s like family. You may love your mother and think she’s the most beautiful, amazing creature ever made. But to some stranger, she’s another woman on the street. So who’s right? Is she amazing and wonderful? Or is he just the same ole same ole? Well that would depend on who you ask.
Culture is like that. It is important and sacred to those who are a part of it. To suggest that it is something that anyone can gain access to or imitate at their own whim is to degrade and insult a culture. There are people who can be accepted into a culture that is not the one in which they were born; however, that happens at the discretion and acceptance of the culture itself. It is their right to allow entry or not. When an individual such as Dolezal has taken it upon themselves to force entry into a culture the entire situation begins to reek of the imperialistic privilege of dominance that White America has made a global phenomenon. It says ‘I can take what’s yours because I want to and how you feel about it does not matter.’
One of the biggest lessons that the Black community can take from the Rachel Dolezal scandal is that it is hugely significant that we begin to value, cultivate, and protect our culture. And I’m not talking about rocking a natural, wearing kente cloth, decorating your home with African statues and Black art and talking about how beautiful your Black is. I mean really value the culture. Value it by carrying the kind of pride for our culture that makes the weight of outside opinion ephemeral and irrelevant. Value it by enduring whatever pain and suffering may come along with it without being so quick to sacrifice our culture for status and fortune.
I just believe that if we did so the rest of the world would have to respect it enough to stop thinking that it’s something they can claim when they feel like and denigrate when they decide to. At any time that Black facade got to be too much for Dolezal, she could easily wash off her Black and straighten her hair and go back to her privilege. That fact alone spits in the faces of Black people who spend their entire lives bearing the pain without breaking. When we begin to carry Black pride as a dignified badge of honor and class, the world will stop treating it as a trendy fad for consumption.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man