Friday, June 12, 2015

CELEBRITY FRIDAY (BONUS): Is Rachel Dolezal Black Simply Because She Says She Is?

Social and popular media have been going buck wild about the story of Rachel Dolezal, the  apparently white woman who has been posing publicly as a Black woman for at least the last 10 years.

NPR's Code Switch blog has a useful roundup of online coverage:
In a bizarre turn of events, a prominent civil rights leader and Africana studies professor in Spokane, Wash., has been accused of pretending to be black for personal gain. 
Rachel Dolezal, 37, heads up the local chapter of the NAACP in Spokane and has apparently identified as black for several years. Dolezal's story came to light after she was accused of falsifying reports of multiple hate crimes. Local reporters contacted her parents, who made a startling claim backed up by a birth certificate and old pictures. They say their daughter's heritage is Swedish, German, Czech and a little bit Native American. But definitely not black. 
Predictably, this story has blown up all over the Internet as people try to make sense of it all: Why did she do it? Didn't anyone suspect? What's up with that hair?
As many experts have pointed out, people have been "passing" as a different race for hundreds of years. It's just that almost always this has meant that it was people who would generally be characterized as "Black" (or African-American) passing as something else, usually a racial identity which is less marginalized. What makes the Dolezal situation so unusual is that it is an example of someone voluntarily adopting a subaltern identity, presumably to garner some kind of advantage that they otherwise wouldn't have had access to if they maintained their original identity.

Some people are trying to compare the Dolezal story to the Caitlin Jenner story but that is clearly just stupid.
Dolezal engaged in such actions in order to be perceived as black, in a racialized American environment where that matters. Trans people transition in order to be the gender we feel inside and, while there may come a time when posers will appropriate trendy trans culture for profit, right now, there's no advantage to transitioning when you're not trans.
In some sense this Dolezal situation shows that there has been progress of race relations in America where it is possible for some people to actually believe that their social circumstances would improve if they were perceived as Black or African-American.

Hat/tip to Wonder Man

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