Rachel Dolezal the former leader of the NAACP1chapter in Spokane is an activist and artist. Mother of an adopted black child, she is a professor of black studies and has held seminars on black hair. Recently Rachel was appointed to serve the Police Ombudsman to oversee fairness and equity in law enforcement. Rachel has written articles on racism including ‘How escapism, white privilege and warm fuzzies are destroying the social justice movement’. All of which are highly commendable. Except for the past ten years Rachel Dolezal has disguised herself as an African American woman when in fact she is white. Does that deceit change Rachel from saint to sinner?
Rachel is as an educated white woman who grew up in a two-parent household that was financially able to adopt four black children. She attended the historically black Howard University for her Master of Fine Arts degree. Perhaps her attendance at Howard gave credence to her impersonation of a black female artist.
Her art has been featured in The Artist’s Magazine, at the United Nations’ HQ in New York and exhibited in 13 states. Rachel has taught art in schools, colleges and non-traditional setting across the sectors. Rachel’s fraud has denied black artists opportunities and income.
As a professor of African Studies she is working in the area that W. E. B. Du Bois, the black activist introduced in the early 19th century. African Americans struggle for a space in academia to express their interpretations and perspectives of their historical and contemporary experiences. There are few openings for black women. Rachel’s co-opted black identity probably contributed to her professorship. Her impersonation of a black woman has distorted the black experience and silenced the voice of real black women.
That Rachel worked at the NAACP is not an issue. The fact that she might have been hired because of her credentials and her racial identity is. Where an Ivy League white graduate could easily find employment, black people with the same academic background are likely to find more obstacles. It is not right or fair that this privileged white woman was actually competing against the poorest and most disadvantaged group in America in the most despicable manner. By borrowing the identify of the under privileged.
As an advocate of social injustice, Rachel must be aware of the African American struggle against institutional racism in education and employment. Poverty is major problem in the community and there is hostility from and toward the law enforcement. To encourage a spirit of co-operation black people are appointed to areas of law enforcement. Rachel’s appointment as the chairwoman of a police oversight committee is duplicitous. Here is a white woman deciding what is best for black people, without the necessary experience. That is the very definition of white privilege.
With the best will in the world, Rachel cannot understand nor will she experience the nuances of being black or a black woman. That story begins in childhood when black children reject black dolls as ugly in favour of white dolls. When a 15 year old black girl experiences being wrestled to ground by a white police officer for the crime of walking whilst black. Yet somehow, Rachel thought it was okay to sit in judgment for black people. It is ridiculous when one considers how easily she can assume her white identity for the police, in the shops and all the other areas where black Americans regularly feel the brutality of racism. African Americans cannot shed their identity and culture at will.
It is absurd that she lectured on Afro hair. Afro Hair comes with a range of complexities and political baggage. Rachel cannot identify with that history. It goes way beyond the backcombing and frizz that Rachel might employ for her shaggy look. Yet, she has knowingly misled women in an area where black women are particularly vulnerable and sensitive. Given her naturally straight blond locks and the elevation of white beauty, Rachel’s conduct is deeply offensive and mocking. She has consumed black womanhood without the understanding and pain.
Rachel has adopted a black child under the guise of being a black woman. That is ignoble and cruel. Besides the psychological trauma of her lies, the child will grow up ignorant of the subtleties of being black and the defence mechanism to help him or her survive.
Black Americans will remember that it was once a crime to pass one’s self off as white if you were black. White people need not remember, as being a minstrel has been a feature of white life. Like Grace Halsell another white women who ‘blacked’ up, Rachel will cash in with her book and movie deal above the black women with real stories. There the similarity ends. Grace Halsell purpose was to expose racism. Rachel appears to be profiting from it. There is no reason why Rachel, could not have been an activist, artist and advocate for social justice as a white woman. It would have been more effective and honest.
Rachel’s deceit is not only a breach of trust but also a perfect example of the white privilege she refers to in her article and a travesty to black women in particular. The level of calculation and manipulation is astounding. She even exploited her adoptive black brother by swearing him to secrecy about her identity. Her masquerade has resulted in loss of opportunity and financial harm for black people. She used the struggle of being black for her own benefit. For all the good paid work Rachel may have done, it cannot negate the harm her duplicity has caused. She has lied and misappropriated culture at the expense of a beleaguered minority. This overshadows all that went before, tipping the scale toward sinner.
Edited 19 June : Also see Rachel Dolezal vs Rachel Moore – The Case of Race Identity