What is race?
Race issues in the United States today are being compared to where they were during the Civil Rights era.
From the presidential election to never ending stories of disputed police brutality or unjustified killings, it’s no surprise that race feels like more of a dividing than a unifying factor in our society. But should it be?
After all, we’re living in a very transitional age; nothing is black and white anymore. But does that pertain to people as well?
The story of Rachel Doležal, the white civil rights activist and former NAACP chapter president who posed as a black woman for many years, shocked and angered many when it made headlines in 2015. Though supporters argued she lived genuinely and did good for her beliefs, critics say she committed fraud and unheard of cultural appropriation.
Though you may not have heard from her in a while, Rachel Doležal is back, and now she’s publishing a book about her struggle as a black transracial woman.
Though she lived for many years under the radar posing as a black woman, it wasn’t until June 2015 that the story of Rachel Doležal made national headlines and her lie finally caught up with her.
Born to white missionaries in Montana, Rachel grew up with one biological sibling but also with four adopted siblings: three who were African American and one who was Haitian. She became accomplished at African American-themed art throughout high school and went on to receive a scholarship to the historically black Howard University for an MFA program. According to her family, the school assumed she was black because of her artwork and because of how she spoke on the phone. She was criticized while presenting her thesis for being a white woman painting through the perspective of a black man.
Rachel went on to teach Africana studies at Eastern Washington University before becoming president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP in 2014.
Finally, in 2015, her parents revealed that Rachel was white, of German and Czech descent, and that she had begun identifying with the African American community around 2007. Although Doležal had previously listed or described herself as being of “African-American, Native American, German, Czech, Swedish, Jewish, and Arabic” heritage, professional genealogist Elizabeth Banas found Rachel has had only white ancestors for at least four centuries.
Identity and Race
In November 2015, Rachel admitted for the first time, “I acknowledge that I was biologically born white to white parents, but I identify as black.”
Naturally, people were quick to pan her in interviews, media, and all across the internet. But to some, she has become the face of a specific movement within our society: transracialism. Former colleagues and supporters have since come forward stating that Doležal was merely working to match her exterior with how she identified on the inside. Another member of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP said, “It’s not about black and white. It’s about what we can do for the community.” On the other hand, journalist Jonathan Capehart criticized that sentiment by saying “Blackface remains highly racist, no matter how down with the cause a white person is.”
Especially in an age when how we identify is more important than what we appear to be, do you think Rachel has the right to live her life as a black woman? Samantha Allen, a gender studies scholar, even said, “Rachel Doležal seems determined to appropriate not just blackness but the rhetoric of transgender identity as well.” Though the jury is still out on that point, there is something most people can agree she did wrong: victimize herself.
Since her college years, Rachel was known to talk about the grief of her ancestors and the difficulties she has faced as a black woman. While all of this is true and terrible, she is white, and thus not a victim as she has claimed to be. It now seems that she is still intent on proving her innocence and further exploring her mixed identity because she is publishing a book called In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World.
Angry yet? Here’s how Amazon describes the book…
“In Full Color”
“A lot of people think they know what Rachel Doležal is.
“Race faker. Liar. Opportunist. Crazy b-tch.
“But they don’t get to decide who Rachel Doležal is.
“What determines your race? Is it your DNA? The community in which you were raised? The way others see you, or the way you see yourself?….
“With In Full Color, Rachael Doležal describes the path that led her from being a child of white evangelical parents to an NAACP chapter president and respected educator and activist who identified as black. Along the way, she’ll discuss the deep emotional bond she formed with her four adopted black siblings, the sense of belonging she felt while living in black communities in Jackson, Mississippi and Washington, D.C., and the discrimination she’s suffered while living as a black woman.
“Her story is nuanced and complex, and in the process of telling it, she forces us to consider race in an entirely new light—not as a biological imperative, but as a function of the experiences we have, the culture we embrace, and, ultimately, the identity we choose.” The book is due out in early 2017.
So how are people reacting to the news?