Rachel Dolezal broke the Internet by affirming her Black womanhood, and the most obvious problem with this was that she is not Black; and that is part of the sad irony that accompanies her story. No Black women could ever hope to affirm her Black womanhood in such a way, and achieve the same level of media attention. The media blitz of #WhiteGirlsRock, a backlash to #BlackGirlsRock, particularly Michelle Obama’s words delivered at the show, exemplify what typically happens when Black women and girls attempt to affirm their beauty and talent, make themselves visible, or dare to remove themselves from the marginalized spaces — off to the edges — that society expects them to occupy. Thus, a response to Rachel Dolezal’s performance of Black Face and mocking caricature of Black womanhood was inevitable.
As her story unfolded, the public became privy to more shocking revelations about this woman who proves to be a pathological liar and opportunist, and who may be viewed as the epitome of white privilege and cultural appropriation. Dolezal takes “Columbusing” – which is when you “discover” something that’s existed forever, just that it’s existed outside your own culture, nationality, race or even, say, your neighborhood – to an entirely different level. And she makes it seem harmless compared to her practice of Identity Hijacking. She is not claiming to have reached the edges of the Known World, to discover a new land, culture, food, and so on – she is claiming to be part of that culture and experience.
In order to keep up this claim and get by on her co-opted identity, Dolezal had to go to great extremes. Her brother spoke out to explain how he was recruited to help her, and how he was instructed to not blow her cover. Her lies were numerous and elaborate. She even appeared at an event with an African American man whom she claimed was her father, and the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP actually posted a photo of the pair on their website.
However, despite all of her efforts, one can clearly see a white woman when they look at Rachel. She may have been lying, but her EDGES don’t lie! This was made quite apparent with her attempts to wear intricate braided styles. She literally ran the risk of pulling out her thin non-kinky curly hair, due to the weight of the braids. Seriously, I’m surprised that she has edges left! A number of people came forward to state that they found her claims of Blackness to be peculiar, or that they simply thought she was just one of THOSE White girls who feels an affinity to Black culture and aesthetics, and cultural innovations; particularly those who lived in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. However, unlike these women, Dolezal crossed the line with her claim of actually being Black. It was her own biological and estranged parents who came forward about the fact that she was passing and being deceitful.
Being a Black woman means that one literally lives at the edges of society. Black women, wherever in the world you may find them, are among the most vulnerable, marginalized, and oppressed people. As Malcolm X once stated,
“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman, the most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
While Rachel Dolezal grew up a privileged, Mid-western, white, middle-class girl, she did not have to deal with a constant assault on her self-esteem, self-worth, body, safety, health and well-being. She never had to see her father grip his steering wheel tight and put on a pained look when the police passed by, or listen to her grandparents talk about what it was like to use ‘White Only’ facilities, or hear her mother speak about all the micro aggressions that she faced in the workplace due to being a woman and a Black person. Nor did she have to search the shelves of a toy store to find a doll that remotely looked like her. She was never called ‘nigger’ on a playground, or heard it coming from the window of a car hastily passing by, nor did she have to see the only representation of her sexuality in the media as being the hyper-sexual starlet of Blaxploitation films or the ass-cheek-clapping video vixen. She never had to question her appearance or contemplated buying a wig when wearing her hair in its natural state, like Black women with Type 4 hair, which has a tighter curl. These type of experiences – based in racism, sexism, classism, as well as homophobia – are typical for Black girls and women. They shape the identity of Black womanhood. It is not something that one can simply opt into. It would be like someone adorning a jacket, badge, and stethoscope, and claiming to be a physician, without going through the years of medical school and residency where they would require the necessary experiences and knowledge to be considered a doctor. Dolezal simply needs to understand that she cannot just choose to be a Black woman when she has never walked in a Black girl’s shoes. She will never understand the experiences and realities of Black womanhood.
I realize that the humanity of Black women is often dismissed. Sojourner Truth touched on this when she famously asked, Ain’t I a Woman? So, I will state the following to provide another perspective on why Rachel Dolezal’s story and attempt to claim a ‘transracial’ identity is so problematic and offensive. How would she be viewed if she were a Black woman who bleached her skin, straightened her hair, and pretended to be Jewish, even to go as far as make claims about her ancestors being victims of the Holocaust, and then be allowed to reap reparations? She would be seen as a despicable person, period. Why? Because there is nothing positive about exploiting someone else’s culture, image, and pain.
Ultimately, Dolezal’s story Broke the Internet, and many began to assert that having dialogue around the matter was nothing more than a distraction. Clearly they were missing a critical point in regards to what it is truly like to be a Black woman. Black women can chew gum and walk at the same time. They have to, because of the intersecting factors that impact their lives on a daily basis. Black women have to combat racism and police brutality, intraracial violence, intimate partner violence, misogyny, homophobia, classism, and the list goes on. There is literally no time to stop and focus on one factor at a time, because they are all significant and need to be addressed. Black women literally seem to be at war, and the Rachel Dolezal story and the problematic response it brought was just another assault that we have to withstand.
Rachel has done a few interviews since her story broke, and there is great irony in the fact that despite her pseudo-Afrocentric persona, she opted to do her first interviews with White interviewers.Nevertheless, these interviews were meaningless. The fact that she is a conniving, pathological liar who used her imagined image of Black womanhood and shady tactics to creep into Black spaces, garner promotions, gain prestige, and be given the opportunity to wield a great degree of power, is never directly addressed during these interviews. Instead, the interviews leave her with wiggle room and focus primarily on how she sees herself – and her ability to transfer races (transracial syndrome). No attempt is made to have a meaningful discussion about how she cannot opt into Blackness, and how her acts of extreme appropriation are highly offensive. Rachel’s hyper-visibility, and the inability to challenge her on her claim to Black womanhood, only serves as another example of the erasure of Black women.
And there is so much to challenge Rachel on. Shall we just begin with just the facts?
1. She claimed to have grew up in a tepee during her youth, which may the furthest thing from the truth when considering her middle class upbringing in the Midwest.
2. Her adopted brother explained that Rachel wanted to make a new life for herself. Upon relocating, she explained to him that “she is going to be considered Black and that he should not blow her cover”.
3. One of her students at Eastern Washington University, where she is an Associate Professor, took her course, “Africa History: Past to Present” in 2014, and can recall that Dolezal stated that she wasbiracial, born to a white mother and black father. To make this lie even more elaborate, she went as far as making public appearances with a Black man that she introduced as her father.
4. To make herself seem more grounded in the Black experience, particularly in terms of a pan-African consciousness, Rachel provided a false account about once living in South Africa, where she hunted with bows and arrows. The problem was that she never lived there, her parents and adopted sibling lived there from 2002 – 2006 when Rachel was living in Virginia. Photos would later be released of Rachel at a fashion show, where she is scantily clad and flanked by men and boys wearing nothing more than tribal body paint for a majority-White audience that seems to be gawking at them. Adorned in this fake “Africanism”, they stand on display as if on a slave block – their bodies exploited for the consumption of onlookers, all while Rachel stands there in place of (erasing) Black women.
5. In September 2009, Dolezal told the Associated Press that she found a noose hanging outsider her door in Idaho. It was not the only most-likely false claim of being a victim of a hate crime that she reported. There were often different versions of her stories. She wrote many letters to the Editors regarding race and her experiences as a Person of Color, and each story became more dramatic than the one before, as if she was merely going for shock value. In one article, she had the audacity to share this flight of fantasy. “As a woman of color [She is White, all loss of credibility from this point forward] I find plenty of challenges in Coeur d’Alene. The center’s efforts to bring black history programs to schools, and a black student association to North Idaho College have resulted in letters to the editor criticizing the efforts. There was also a recent incident in which three skinheads visited the office and asked for a tour [Really?? What group of skinheads would make such a request, and who would grant it if they did?]. They showed little interest in the center’s work, but saluted a Nazi flag that was part of an exhibit on propaganda. They asked where I lived, and where my son went to school.” Telling these stories likely served one purpose – and that is to bolster her lie and identity as a Civil Rights campaigner. It was as if she was saying, “see, I’m Black enough to experience these hate crimes.” How could anyone then question her identity, if she was in fact singled out in this manner due to perceptions of her race? The principal problem with all of this is that hate crimes are something that should not be taken lightly, and the recent terrorist acts in Charleston emphasize how offensive her lies really are.
6. In calling out her lies, Rachel’s parents also noted that her son, Isaiah Dolezal, is really her adopted brother. Thus, her brother was just merely used as a prop to allow her to further assert that she was a Black woman.
7. Dolezal claimed to have black (Sub-Saharan African) ancestry as a way to ameliorate the blow of her faux Black identity. However, this is also a lie – one that her parents initially refuted, stating that she is a mixture of Swedish, German, Czechoslovakian, and a little Native American (it seems that everyone in the US has to claim this) heritage. In fact, she has NO Black ancestors dating back for centuries. A recent investigation traced her roots back to 1671, and found no bloodlines linking her to Africa. Therefore, the truth of the matter is that she is unequivocally White. Unfortunately for Rachel, and as harsh as this may sound, being penetrated by Black penises does not make you Black. And it certainly does not give you a right to claim to be an expert on Black womanhood.
8. Despite having absolutely no Black lineage, Dolezal defined herself as African American and applied for and received scholarships, including one to attend Howard University. In doing so, she was and continues to take up rightful spaces and resources that should go to Black women and other women of color; the very people who are the victims of the white privilege that she has spoken about in lectures and interviews. Clearly, she does not see the irony in her actions.
9. Dolezal also applied to jobs using her false identity as a Black woman. It is very likely that she applied for her position at the NAACP in Spokane as such. However, despite the falsification of documents, Rachel was left to resign on her own accord.
10. She lied about her experiences, and actually gave a presentation at Eastern Washington University in February about the history of black hair, having the audacity to talk about her own experience as a black woman dealing with her hair. The name of the lecture was “Black is Beautiful.” Again, she is in no way an ally to, or champion of, Black women. If she were, she would know that Hair holds a lot of complexity for Black women, and that includes kinky-texture hair in its natural state being the source for racial discrimination. Her false claims of experience, which were nothing more than a stolen composite of other women’s stories that she read or heard about, is an offensive attempt to co-opt that history.
When considering the volume, complexity, and her commitment to her lies, Dolezal has absolutely no credibility. It is best to cease the interviews with her, unless conducting one while she is subjected to a polygraph test.
Skin color is hereditary, and for that reason the skin color or complexion that one has is an act of chance, a genetic gamble. Siblings having the same biological parents can have varied complexions. I know this to be true when looking at photos of my own family, particularly that of my two sisters, and both of my brother’s daughters. For Black people, especially those in the Americas, this vast variation in skin color is the result of a complex history of migration, rape, and interracial couplings between Africans, the indigenous, and Europeans. However, despite the fact that complexion is nothing more than a matter of chance, skin color is still used to determine racial privilege. And this often determines the ways others in the world interact with your racial identity.
Colorism and Privilege
We live in a world of global white supremacy, which has created caste systems based solely on skin color. These caste systems define ones desirability, value, and beauty; and global white supremacy places white women at the pinnacle. This system of organization led to the creation of the ‘One Drop rule’ in the United States. Centuries of legislation mandated this ‘one drop’ rule, which excluded anybody with any known contribution of non-white heritage to be excluded from the racial category of White. They were automatically regarded as Black, even when they may have only had Black grandparent or great-grandparent, and presented phenotypically as White. The Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896 serves as one of the best examples of how the one-drop rule was upheld in the United States. Homer Plessy (pictured below), a mixed race man, refused to sit in a Jim Crow car, breaking a Louisiana law. The Supreme Court rejected Plessy’s argument that his Constitutional rights were violated, and ruled that a state law which “implies merely a legal distinction” between whites and blacks did not conflict with the 13th and 14th Amendments.
This one drop rule created a complexion-based hierarchical system in the population that was considered Black, despite the fact that some appeared White and had overwhelming contributions of white ancestry. This is the basis for colorism and light-skin privilege that continues today. Light-skin privilege helps to explain why many light-skinned Blacks assumed leadership positions and/or roles in the Black community from Emancipation to the early 20thcentury. In fact, most of the Black Firsts of the 19th and early 20th century, and even the 21stcentury when you consider President Barack Obama, were light skin and/or biracial. These Black Firsts include:
- Joseph Hayne Rainey who became the first African American to be elected to the United States in 1870
- Hiram Rhoades Revels , the son of free parents of mixed African American and Native American ancestry, who became the first African American US Senator in 1870.
- Crystal Bird Fauset , who became the first African American female state legislator in the US in 1938.
- Thurgood Marshall , who became the first African American supreme court justice in 1967
· This privilege extended into the field of entertainment. Until the 1930s, the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York (considered a Black cultural mecca) only hired light-skinned Black women for their chorus. This pattern of light-skinned privilege continued and helped starlets, singers, and movie stars such as Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, and Dorothy Dandridge, catapult to fame. This privilege and preference continues today, especially in Black media. Along with racism, it was systemic colorism that prompted Josephine Baker to leave the US for Paris, where her caramel complexion would not prove to be an obstacle.
Ultimately, those having closer proximity to whiteness are favored not only by White people, but also among Black people who have been subjected to white supremacy so long that they view themselves through the lens of a white supremacist. This privilege means that light-skinned African Americans were (and continue to be) more likely to find employment and other opportunities for wealth building; and for some families, that came from inheritance or contribution from their biological white families. This also included improved access to higher education, and so on. In an effort to guard this buffer identity, the brown paper bag test was enacted, and it served to exclude darker, less desirable, and less financially well off, African Americans.
Within the Black community, the greatest beneficiaries of colorism are light-skin, multiracial, and biracial women. Being a scholar of Black culture and history, Rachel Dolezal understood this legacy. Light skin means that you havesocial capital, are more likely tomarry and marry well off,have less harsh prison sentences,treated better in schools, have betterjob prospects, face less workplace discrimination, and so on. At Eastern Washington University, Dolezal presented her ‘Black Is Beautiful’ lecture, where she talks about Black hair and “nappiness”, as well as the brown paper bag test and colorism. So, yes, she knows much about light-skinned privilege, as well as texturism in the Black community, and ultimately used it to her advantage and was able to benefit from colorism professionally and personally. She no longer had to be an ordinary White woman, and instead opted for the identity of the privileged and preferred light-skin Black woman. Despite this caricature of the racially ambiguous Black woman with “Good Hair,” the Edges Don’t Lie, and for many they helped to readily identify Rachel as a White woman. As more photos of her became public, many expressed their dismay about anyone actually looking at Dolezal and not seeing a White woman; albeit a White woman with a good tan and straw set. However, one only has to go back to the legacy of colorism in the African American community in order to realize how and why Dolezal was so readily accepted as Black. Hell, she could have identified herself as Creole to garner even more approval.
It is the very issue of colorism and light-skinned privilege that made Melissa Harris-Perry unwilling to address the issue of appropriation and erasure when interviewing Rachel Dolezal. Instead, Harris-Perry disappointed and infuriated many of her viewers and core audience when she made the suggestion that Blackness can be opted in to, with the claim of a transracial identity. The truth of the matter is that Rachel Dolezal was pretending to be an exotical, racially ambiguous, biracial “Black” woman that looks like Harris-Perry. So, during the interview, Harris-Perry chose to skirt around the elephant in the room and tried to help justify or rationalize Dolezal’s actions and feelings. For Harris-Perry, challenging Rachel and calling her out would mean that she would really have to discuss the deeper issues of race, colorism, and privilege; that she herself as a biracial woman, just like Soledad O’ Brian, Karen Finney, Tony Harris, TJ Holmes, Don Lemon, Fredricka Whitfield, and others who have benefitted from colorism and obtained visible positions in broadcast media. Briana Dixon wrote a response to Harris-Perry in the article, “Dear Melissa Harris-Perry: Black Womanhood Cannot Be “Opted” Into,” published on ‘For Harriet.’ She obliterates the assertion by pointing out what she sees to be obvious through this statement:
“Most of the people rejecting this white woman’s falsehoods are not saying there is only one way to be authentically black, but there are definite ways to be INAUTHENTICALLY black. Being born to white parents, as a white baby, with white privilege, and living your life as a white woman for over twenty years, is a pretty good way to NOT BE BLACK.”
Colorism & the Black Community of Spokane Washington
In response to the Rachel Dolezal fiasco, Alicia Walters, a native of Spokane, Washington penned the article ” I became a black woman in Spokane. But, Rachel Dolezal, I was a black girl first “. In the article, Alicia shared the following memories of what it was like for her living in Spokane, Washington, a city where Black people only make up 2% of the population:
“In Spokane in general, I rarely saw black men coupled with black women; more than a few men in our small black community had white wives and girlfriends, while the black women always seemed to be single. Naive, I imagined that, on the tightly-knit east side, there were churches full of black women who were coupled with and loved by black men. But on the streets of Spokane, in the public spaces at festivals, in restaurants, and wherever else I looked, black and white men alike were always more interested in white women than women who looked like me. What I took from those years was that black women are far from desirable partners.
To be a black young woman in Spokane was, for me, to be rejected, isolated and left to find my own way. Becoming the black woman I am today was not about learning a performance, it was not about certain clothing or my hair texture; it came from first being a black girl, from the trauma of rejection and isolation and its transformation into a kind of self-taught solitary pride, from learning to preserve my own sense of true self.”
The most telling and ironic aspect of Alicia’s story is revealed when she states the phrase “My Midwestern white mother and black Puerto Rican father”, disclosing the fact that she is a Biracial woman. The first thing to come to mind is, if she had it so bad, how do Black women – those of a darker hue with unmistakably Afrocentric features – cope in that city? It gives you a sense that Spokane, Washington is an environment that is truly anti-Black woman, much like Southern California, where Black women often speak of their invisibility and marginalization. This hostility towards Black womanhood helps to explain how Rachel Dolezal was able to thrive in a community like Spokane. Of course, her ambiguous (obviously NOT Black) features would be accepted and revered.
The Problematic Response to Rachel Dolezal
When considering her lies, the cultural appropriation, and her attempt to make a mockery of Black womanhood by reducing the identity of Black women to a caricature, you would expect that there would be the complete condemnation of Rachel Dolezal, especially in the Black community. But that did not occur. In fact, many, especially and unfortunately Black men, seemed to have flocked to her rescue. All of the defenses of her actions are also quite problematic, in that they help to further erase the contributions and experiences of Black women. Again, pushing them off to the edges.
To begin with, the fact that so many know the name and story of Rachel Dolezal is troubling. Those who rushed in to “Cape” for Rachel had the audacity to mention that she has done so much for the Black community, especially in her leadership role at the Spokane NAACP. The fact that she was PAID a handsome, six-figure salary and was given a luxury office seemed to be missed by all of them. She was also paid for her fabricated stories about her experiences growing up Black. Rachel was able to become a national phenomenon, and her defenders credit her with being an activist and strong advocate of Civil Rights; and in doing so, ironically prove that ALL Black Lives truly do not matter in America. Defenders condone the appropriation of Black womanhood when they dismiss and attempt to justify her actions. Further, they are reducing the identities of Black women to nothing more than someone arbitrarily “feeling black”, and this reduction is another example of violence that is enacted on Black women. Appropriation amounts to nothing more than the exploitation and profiting off of Black women’s bodies and lives.
There have been Black women freedom fighters who have been on the front lines fighting for justice, protesting racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia for centuries. There is a great legacy of Black women activists who were not paid to do this work. Rachel Dolezal’s name is known, but Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi – the activists who started the Black Lives Matter campaign – are scarcely recognized. Further, the countless Black women who have been noticeably at the forefront of these protest movements (more about this here , here,here,here, and here) go unrecognized, unappreciated, and without reciprocation.
On a Facebook post, Ranier Maninding, public personality and blogger who blogs at The Love Life of An Asian Guy, stated the following due to his frustration about hearing how Rachel Dolezal is doing more for the Black community than actual Black people:
“Look, I’m Asian but even I can see that Black folks are RUNNING SHIT.
Who is out there protesting and risking their life to support Black Lives? Who is out there video recording instances of police brutality, putting themselves at risk for a face full of pepper spray and a pair of handcuffs? Who is standing out in the cold for a candlelight vigil in support of Black trans lives?
Who brought justice in Baltimore? Marilyn Mosby? Oh, is she White?
Who worked their motherfucking ass off to earn a seat as the current Attorney General? Loretta Lynch? Oh, is she White?
Who is running Twittter with their ring finger and leading a group of Black activists online AND in person? Deray McKesson? Oh, is he White?
Don’t act like one White lady’s interest in Black issues supplants the YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS that Black folks have invested in their own community. You should be ASHAMED of yourself for saying that shit.”
Rachel receives more kudos than these women who volunteered their time, all while placing themselves in harm’s way; yet no one sings their praises. Also, the commitment to community and Black men go unreciprocated; and this was even more apparent during the protest march for Rekia Boyd , which only drew a scant crowd of about 25-50 in New York City. The response and defense of Rachel Dolezal is extremely problematic because it allows for the names and stories of the true martyrs and warriors in the Black battle for social justice to be silenced and erased.
But Black People Passed For White
Another foolish and deeply annoying response to the Rachel Dolezal fiasco was the comparison and attempt to justify Rachel’s actions by simply stating that Black people used to pass for White. The assertion is problematic in that it dismisses the back story of America’s racist history. The fact of the matter is that some African Americans took advantage of having light skin, and passed to live a more privileged life as a White person. They carried out this deception as an act of survival, all while having to live with the constant fear of being found out, of giving birth to a dark child with Black features and possibly kinky hair. These people lived in a Pre-1950s America that was incredibly racist, and ‘passing’ afforded them the opportunity to obtain better employment and become upwardly social mobile. They were trying to escape a life of racial persecution, lynchings and other forms of terrorism; so when looking back in hindsight, their actions are forgivable.
In contrast, Dolezal’s passing is a performance that is carried out to merely indulge in the fantasy of being the “other”, and has nothing to do with survival.
White Privilege & Appropriation In Black Face
On all accounts, Rachel is inflicted with Unconscious White Supremacy. It is what led her to believe that it was acceptable to take another group’s identity, to take up their space, as well as take their stories, history, and lived experiences, and make them her own. Like other system’s of white supremacy – such as slavery, colonialism, and imperialism – Instead of being an ally, Dolezal dressed in Black face with the help of a tan, bronzer, intricate braid designs (that revealed her tell-tale edges) and curly perms, and happily took and stole from Black women, while she made a profit. In trying to pass herself off as a Black woman, she was erasing their identity. She was not allowing Black women to represent and speak for themselves. Further, as a professor of Africana studies, Dolezal should be well versed in the history of Black women in the United States, and thus should have recognized that she was carrying out a historical act of White Supremacy – the fetishizing of Black women’s bodies, and devaluing them to nothing more than body parts; parts that she could mimic by the help of Black face. Black women’s bodies were not the only one’s that were captured by her gaze of White Supremacy and fetishization. A former student of Dolezal’s noted that faculty at Howard University, particularly Dr. Tritobia Benjamin, a world renowned artist, was very critical of Dolezal’s work, because of her paintings tending to only capture Black bodies in her paintings, particularly Black men,
The simple truth is that Dolezal is a White woman who still retains her white privilege. If you had any doubts about that, just consider how the media, the public, and others rushed to her defense, and even tried to create a psychological phenomenon (“transracial”) to explain her “feelings” of Blackness. Black women are never given the ‘damsel in distress’ treatment. They are not given the benefit of the doubt. Hell, Black women are openly ridiculed for trying to look, act, or sound White. They are not given the opportunity to claim that they are transracial. Nor are they able cease the use of skin bronzer, remove their box braids, and navigate the world without the stigma of Blackness. They do not have that privilege. They could not wake up tomorrow and declare that they are white, to escape racial oppression, to get past a racist banker while seeking a loan, and so on. Transracial is not an option for them. They cannot declare that they are white when it is convenient, in the same way that Dolezal affirmed her Whiteness when she filed a discrimination lawsuit against Howard University in 2002. Among Dolezal’s claims was that the university’s decision to remove some of her artworks from a February 2001 student exhibition was ” motivated by a discriminatory purpose to favor African-American students over her “. The lawsuit was later dismissed in 2004, as there was no evidence that Dolezal was discriminated against on the basis of race. YES, in that moment, while making claims of reverse racism, Dolezal acknowledged that she is indeed White. Despite receiving a scholarship to attend a historically Black university, and being a student on the campus for a number of years, Dolezal remained White. Adorning a Black identity was not yet convenient or profitable for her. When she decided to take up Black face, the murmurs of transracial identity, and her supporters who were more than happy to tell Black women that this impostor had done more for the Black community than they had, ensured that this White women had the privilege to do whatever she wanted.
The Final Say
Dolezal’s story is one of deception, exploitation, and missed opportunities. If she truly has a love and commitment to Black people, social justice, and human rights, then she should have realized those feelings of admiration do not eradicate her White privilege. She took advantage of this privilege by putting on an elaborate performance of Black face and carrying out the appropriation of Black womanhood, and trying to lay claim to their heritage and experiences. The response to her reiterated the fact that American society prefers the performance of Black womahood over the people. In America, Bo Derek was praised for cornrows in the 1970s. And in 2015, fashion magazines fawned over angular-bodied, White models wearing Marc Jacobs, with their hair styled in “mini buns,” which were actually a failed attempt of molding their hair into the Afrocentric style known as bantu knots. In American society, Black women are called fat and unshapely for having larger, rounder derrières, while White women with cosmetically-enhanced derrières like Kim Kardashian, have not only made a ‘Big Ass’ acceptable, but a desirable trait. American society likes the performance of Black womanhood over the people. Queue Iggy Azalea, a White pop-rap artist who is like Ursula The Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, only the voice that she stole was Da Brat’s, circa 1994. The thing about these performances of Blackness is that Whites can stop the performance whenever they like and return to being racially unmarked.
Still, one has to wonder, when hearing Rachel Dolezal trying to justify her actions by pointing to “feeling” Black, along with her defenders hurling out the phrase transracial, if they truly believed that Black womanhood can simply be worn or performed, wouldn’t that mean that every White women with a wig or curly perm, the ability to snap her neck, roll her eyes, and imitate what she believed was Black women’s sass, can supplant the lived experiences of what it is to be a young Black girl and grow into a Black woman? Was an ever-present tan enough to replace the journey of: discrimination? microaggressions? misogynoir? having the weight of the Black community on their back? The stress of having to constantly be a Strong Black Superwoman? The need to find self acceptance in a world that refuses to acknowledge that Black is beautiful in its feminine form? To understand why it is important for them to wholeheartedly exclaim that yes, Black Girls Rock?!
In the end, Dolezal failed. And she does not know there is a fundamental distinction between “doing the work” of an activist and actually experiencing the oppression and discrimination that makes the work of activists’ necessary. Dolezal proved to be more interested in appropriating the anti-racism efforts of Blacks and owning a narrative that was not her own, rather than acting as an ally.