Monday, June 15, 2015

The Poisonous, Exploitive, and Absurd Legacy of White Supremacy in the U.S.: Rachel Dolezal Pretends To Be A Black Woman And Deludes Others As Well as Herself

rachel dolezal

Rachel Dolezal stands in front of a mural she painted, in July 2009.  Nicholas K. Geranios/AP


This entire bizarre episode is yet another stark and disturbing example of the endlessly destructive and clinically pathological impact that the venal doctrine of white supremacy--as both doctrine and practice--  has had and continues to have on American society and culture. The truly tragic, absurd, and ultimately perverse dimensions of this pervasive social, cultural, and spiritual malady thus go far beyond questions of individual identity formation and expression, and encompass an entire society's obsessively delusional and deeply distorted notions of exactly "who" and "what" we are as human beings in an ongoing historical and ideological context that brazenly denies, oppresses, and marginalizes our humanity in the name of racial hierarchies that various people use to acquire and maintain privilege, power, and status/approval at the expense of others. The mere assertion of "good intentions" thus has little or nothing to do with this larger reality in the final analysis. What really counts is integrity, honesty, moral courage, authenticity, and ethical commitment. In a sane society one would clearly understand that no amount of "blackface" or "whiteface" posturing and role playing could possibly make up for that.

Remember: Rachel Dolezal as individual and cultural metaphor is merely a microcosm of that much larger and far more profound problem that lies at the heart of what is so deeply wrong and poisonous about this country and its truly infantile and debilitating lies that it and we tell ourselves when we can't or  simply won't tell the truth about ourselves and instead neurotically settle for the phony self serving god of false consciousness masquerading as "identity"...


Rachel Dolezal Resigns As President Of Spokane NAACP
June 15, 2015
by Eyder Peralta

Rachel Dolezal, whose story sparked a national conversation over racial identity, is stepping down as the president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In a message to the organization's executive committee, Dolezal said her resignation is in the best interest of the NAACP.

Dolezal made national news after it emerged that she had been presenting herself as being of mixed race when she was really born to white parents. Pictures showed that Dolezal had even undertaken a physical transformation through the years.

"In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organizational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP," Dolezal said in a statement posted to the organization's Facebook page. "It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the presidency and pass the baton to my Vice President, Naima Quarles-Burnley."

Over her time at the NAACP, Dolezal had become a prominent figure in the civil rights movement. On Friday, as the drama unfolded, the NAACP issued a statement in support of Dolezal.

"One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership," the statement read.

In her statement, Dolezal does not directly address why she identified as black, Native American and white in a government form. She does say that many have opined without knowing the full story, but she doesn't give more details.

"While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness, we can NOT afford to lose sight of the five Game Changers (Criminal Justice & Public Safety, Health & Healthcare, Education, Economic Sustainability, and Voting Rights and Political Representation) that affect millions, often with a life or death outcome," Dolezal wrote.

A black college student named Lauren Campbell posted this interview with Rachel Dolezal on youtube

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

People have the right to call themselves whatever they want. But this civil rights leader is just gaming the system

rachel dolezal
It’s amazing Rachel Dolezal thought she’d ever get away with it. Photograph: Nicholas K. Geranios/AP

“Every year approximately 12,000 white-skinned Negroes disappear,” wrote Walter White, the former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in 1947. “Men and women who have decided that they will be happier and more successful if they flee from the proscription and humiliation which the American colour line imposes on them.”

People “passing” for one race, when they are in fact another, has a long tradition in America. Indeed, as long as there has been racial privilege, there have always been people seeking to game the system.

So the revelation that Rachel Dolezal, a civil rights leader in Washington state, has been referring to herself as black – even though, according to her parents, her heritage is in fact German and Czech, with “traces of Native American ancestry” – is not new.

Dolezal’s case is intriguing for two reasons: why she did it and how she did it.

First, people generally “pass” in order to advance their life chances. Given the nature of America’s racial hierarchy, improving one’s lot in such a drastic manner involved black people passing as white – not white people heading the other way. In One Drop, Bliss Broyard recalls white people running from the public records office in Louisiana in tears, having traced their lineage and discovered they had black ancestors. 

There’s a reason why there’s not a mass movement with the hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter.

Second, as anyone who has read Philip Roth’s Human Stain or Nella Larsen’s Passing knows, to successfully transition from one race to another, you have to cut yourself off from all those who knew you in your previous racial incarnation. When you pass from one racial domain to another, you’re supposed to slam the door shut behind you and throw away the key. You say goodbye not just to the boxes you ticked but the people you knew, including family. 

Cutting yourself off from your past is simply not possible in the internet age, where pictures of Rachel Dolezal in African head wraps, presenting herself as black, sit awkwardly with those of her as a blonde-haired teenager with two white parents. It’s amazing she thought she’d ever get away with it.

rachel dolezal black or white
Rachel Dolezal, after and before. Photograph: NAACP / internet

Dolezal’s deception does highlight the longstanding contradictions and complexities of racial categories in a country where both racism and race-mixing have been the norm. When running for governor in the 1950s, Alabama populist Jim Folsom asked why white people were getting so worked up about the sacredness of segregation, when it looked to him as though there was “a whole lot of integratin’ goin’ on at night”. As King’s College professor Paul Gilroy once told me: “Everybody is mixed, but not everybody counts as mixed.”

Unfortunately, the story of Rachel Dolezal also compounds those contradictions. It is a cardinal rule of social identity that people have the right to call themselves whatever they want. That’s as true for Dolezal as it is for Caitlyn Jenner. But with this right comes at least one responsibility: what you call yourself must be comprehensible to others.

“A tree, whatever the circumstances, does not become a legume, a vine, or a cow,” explains Kwame Anthony Appiah in the Ethics of Identity. “The reasonable middle view is that constructing an identity is a good thing ... but that the identity must make some kind of sense.”

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.

All of which might make Rachel Dolezal a white woman who identifies closely with the black community. It does not make her black.…/rachel-dolezals-harmful-masquerade…

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor

Black Like Who? Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade
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).

Related coverage:

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:

Regular Whiteness:
Benefit of the Doubt
Higher Life Expectancy
Lower Insurance Premiums

Deluxe Whiteness:
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