June 15, 2015
by Eyder Peralta
In early 2014, she had the opportunity to interview Rachel Dolezal for her senior thesis. These videos are unedited.
Here is part 5. She is addressing her "mixed identity" and more:
Rachel Dolezal's deception: her 'black' identity doesn't make sense – or make her black
Dolezal’s case is intriguing for two reasons: why she did it and how she did it.
The problem for Dolezal is that her “black” identity does not make sense. Right now, one can only speculate to her motivations. There are plenty of white people involved in the kind of civil rights work she was doing – particularly in Spokane, where just 2% of the population is black. Her parents say that she had black adopted siblings, had a black circle of friends where she grew up in Mississippi – that she has married, and later divorced, a black man.
The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor
Black Like Who? Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade
by TAMARA WINFREY HARRIS
JUNE 16, 2015
New York Times
Rachel A. Dolezal, who stepped down Monday as president of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., could have been a powerful ally to African-Americans. The participation of white allies has always been important to anti-racism work. By most accounts, she is educated about black cultures and an advocate for black causes. But empathy evolved into impersonation. And Ms. Dolezal’s subterfuge, made easier by the legacy of racism in America, undermines the very people she claims to support.
“I identify as black,” Ms. Dolezal told Matt Lauer on the “Today” show this morning. That may be. But actual black people, like me, don’t have the option of choosing.
The details are by now well known. Her estranged parents and Ms. Dolezal’s Montana birth certificate confirm that she is white (allegedly with some Native American ancestry).
Rachel A. Dolezal stepped down as president of the N.A.A.C.P. chapter in Spokane, Wash., on Monday.
Rachel Dolezal, Ex-N.A.A.C.P. Official: ‘I Identify as Black’
JUNE 16, 2015
Ms. Dolezal grew up with adoptive black siblings, one of whom she currently parents, and she has a biological son with her former husband, who is black. She attended a historically black college, Howard University. (While there, though, she identified as a white woman, even filing a lawsuit in 2002 for discrimination, since dismissed, on race and other grounds.) Ms. Dolezal eventually appeared to have darkened her skin. She adopted hairstyles associated with black women and claimed at least partial African-American heritage on an application for the Spokane police commission.
Some people have pointed to this strange case as an illustration that race is malleable. I submit that Ms. Dolezal is a reminder that it is not. Racial identity cannot be fluid as long as the definition of whiteness is fixed. And historically, the path to whiteness has been extremely narrow.
The “one-drop rule,” which, for much of American history, legally defined as black anyone with a black ancestor, was used to keep black people from adopting whiteness. Ironically, it has made it easier for Ms. Dolezal to claim blackness without others questioning the assertion. If they are not themselves of a similar hue to Ms. Dolezal, many black people watching her story unfold can recognize in her features a cousin, parent or grandparent. African-Americans vary in appearance from light-skinned to coal black, straight- to curly-haired, keen- to broad-featured, and every possible combination in between.
This diversity is partly a result of this one-drop rule. The original intent of it was to protect racial privilege. Sometimes, if their appearance borrowed enough from white ancestors, black Americans could “pass” in white society. But that social sleight of hand came with many dangers, such as the chance that black lineage would be outed in the skin or hair of one’s progeny. Segregation simply would not work if society was fuzzy on who got the nice drinking fountain, the front seat on the bus and the right to vote.
In 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, a series of anti-miscegenation laws that would be overturned by the landmark case Loving v. Virginia in 1967. The act defined a white person as someone with blood that was “entirely white, having no known, demonstrable or ascertainable admixture of the blood of another race.” Yet when faced with the fact that many rich Virginia planters claimed to be descendants of Pocahontas, the state allowed that a white person could be up to 1⁄16 Native American. A person with 1⁄16 black blood, however, was still black.
The definition of blackness under the one-drop rule included those with the barest African ancestry. For example, in 1977, Susie Guillory Phipps, a 43-year-old Louisiana native who had been raised as a white woman, was “sickened” to receive a birth certificate that listed her race as “colored.” Under a 1970 Louisiana state law, anyone with “1⁄32 Negro blood” was black. Challenged by Ms. Phipps, the state spent thousands of dollars tracing her heritage back to an enslaved black great-great-great-great-grandmother. Louisiana overturned its version of the one-drop rule in 1983.
The legacy of the one-drop rule endures in the 21st century. Historic racism may have flung wide the doors to blackness, but whiteness is immutable. According to the genetic testing company 23andMe, the average black American is roughly a quarter white. But even brown-skinned black people with significant European ancestry cannot become white. Who would accept President Obama, raised by a biological white mother and grandparents, as a white man? Precisely no one.
Ms. Dolezal may not be able to claim even a drop of African-American ancestry, but the way blackness has long been determined means that few would question a woman who presents as white but claims to be black. She was able to trade on a racist element of history to pass believably as a black woman.
In the days since this story broke, many people have been quick to point out that race is merely a social construct — as if that fact changes the very real impact of race on the lives of minorities. The persistence of systemic racism means there are penalties for blackness in America.
Black women — real ones — live at the nexus of that oppression and enduring sexism. The gender pay gap is steeper for them. They are more likely than their white counterparts to live in poverty, to be victims of domestic homicide and sexual assault. If Tyisha Miller or Rekia Boyd, black women who were victims of extrajudicial violence, had been able to slide into whiteness — for just a moment — they might still be alive. (Perplexingly, Ms. Dolezal told Matt Lauer that her decision to identify as black was a matter of “survival.” That is rich, indeed.) But racial oppression is not as easy to shrug off as racial advantage. This is partly because America has spent centuries ensuring that certain people can never be white.
Being able to shift one’s race is a privilege. Ms. Dolezal’s masquerade illustrates that however much she may empathize with African-Americans, she is not one, because black people in America cannot shed their race. We cannot proclaim the black race a nebulous concept, while strictly policing whiteness and the privileges of that identity. I will accept Ms. Dolezal as black like me only when society can accept me as white like her.
Tamara Winfrey Harris is the author of “The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America.”
In Paul Beatty’s new novel ‘The Sellout’ (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2015) the protagonist converts the "long out-of-business brushless car wash" in his L.A. ghetto into a "tunnel of whiteness" for the local children, with "several race wash options:
Benefit of the Doubt
Higher Life Expectancy
Lower Insurance Premiums
Regular Whiteness Plus
Warnings instead of Arrests from the Police
Decent Seats at Concerts and Sporting Events
World Revolves Around You and Your Concerns
Super Deluxe Whiteness:
Deluxe Whiteness Plus Jobs with Annual Bonuses
Military Service Is for Suckers
Legacy Admission to College of Your Choice
Therapists That Listen
Boats That You Never Use
All Vices and Bad Habits Referred to as "Phases"
Not Responsible for Scratches, Dents, and Items Left in the Subconscious