Last week, we rounded up a few thoughtful remarks on Rachel Dolezal, the white woman and head of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP chapter who publicly passed herself off as a black woman. On Monday morning, Dolezal resigned from her position with the NAACP. As developments in this deeply strange story continue rolling out, many are still trying to make sense of the situation. Here are some more thoughts that caught our eye.
Over at The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb describes Dolezal’s adoption of a black persona as “lying about a lie.” That is, the history of institutionalized slave rape made it possible for people to believe that a woman of Dolezal’s complexion could be black. Referencing the wide variance on skin, hair, and eye colors in his own family, Cobb points to how Dolezal was able to use this history as a way to justify her appearance.
The spectrum of shades and colorings that constitute “black” identity in the United States, and the equal claim to black identity that someone who looks like White or Wright (or, for that matter, Dolezal) can have, is a direct product of bloodlines that attest to institutionalized rape during and after slavery. Nearly all of us who identify as African-American in this country, apart from some more recent immigrants, have at least some white ancestry.
My own white great-grandparent is as inconsequential as the color of my palms in terms of my status as a black person in the United States. My grandparents had four children: my father and his brother, both almond-brown, with black hair and dark eyes, and two girls with reddish hair, fair skin, freckles, and gray eyes. All of them were equally black because they were equal heirs to the quirks of chance determining whether their ancestry from Europe or Africa was most apparent. Dolezal’s primary offense lies not in the silly proffering of a false biography but in knowing this ugly history and taking advantage of the reasons that she would, at least among black people, be taken at her word regarding her identity.
At Ebony, Jamilah Lemieux breaks down the argument that black people should be appreciative of Dolezal’s works in the black community:
Dolezal’s deception, which should be credited to both decent quality hair weaves and the privilege Black folks often afford to light-skinned women (even those that are intellectually and physically mediocre,) is at once an insult to Black women everywhere and a gift to the comedy gods.
The handwringing, the nuance, the idea that we should be grateful that this woman wanted to occupy space in our community, the inability to hold White women accountable for their racist misdeeds…it’s enough to make an actual Black woman mad. Rachel Dolezal is not an ally; she is not a champion of Blackness. And, reinvented as a light-skinned, light-eyed Black woman with a Howard degree, she was able to gain more access to Black cultural spaces than she would as a White lady who simply likes Black culture and Black men—and those women get a LOT of access.
The Root‘s Kirsten West Savali posits that all of this conversation about Dolezal is a “breeding ground” for misogynoir, a term championed by black feminists to mean a specific hatred toward black women:
Transantagonism and misogynoir have been front and center of a very passive-aggressive subnarrative. There have been some legitimate and necessary academic queries, but overall, this dialogue has been rich soil for those who harbor hatred for trans people in general and black women (cis and trans) in particular. Can you imagine for one moment if a white man had pretended for years to be a black man, headed a civil rights organization and reaped opportunities based on that lie? There would be a Million Man March on Spokane organized by Louis Farrakhan, keynoted by Al Sharpton and sponsored by Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo.
Instead, this conversation has become a breeding ground for black men who have a white woman fetish, white women who love black men and hate black women, cis people who hate trans people, and black people with unresolved personal and race issues of their own.
Finally, West Savali then leaves her audience with the question:
Why does blackness have to be a halfway house for white pathology?