Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was questioned about her ethnicity when her parents came forward and said that she was white, when she had claimed to be black for nearly a decade.
“Yes, I do consider myself to be black and that’s because … you know, that’s how I identify," she says. “I actually don’t like the term ‘African American.’ I prefer the term ‘black.’”
This comment, probably meant by her to be empowering, comes off as extremely off-putting, and insinuates a level of flippancy in regards to race – as if it is something that can simply be changed on a whim. But the fact that she had to hide it proves just the opposite.
Ms. Dolezal’s parents have said that she has a history of “seeking to reinvent reality,” and “expectations of herself that were not realistic.” They explained that their daughter grew up with four adopted African American siblings and immersed herself in African American culture in college. “She has over the past 20 years assimilated herself into the African-American community through her various advocacy and social justice work, and so that may be part of the answer,” they said, according to Slate.
What seemed, at first, just a false portrayal has apparently turned into an issue of cultural appropriation – and rightfully so. Ms. Dolezal has made a lot of people unhappy by pretending to be something she’s clearly not.
“The reason that her story is so fascinating to me and to the rest of the world is that it exposes in a disquieting way that our race is performance — that, despite the stark differences in how our races are perceived and privileged (or not) by others, they are all predicated on a myth that the differences are intrinsic and intrinsically perceptible,” wrote Steven W. Thrasher, a columnist for The Guardian.
Tim Wise, anti-racism activist and writer, shared his distaste with Ms. Dolezal’s deception on Twitter…
…and also on Facebook.
What makes Ms. Dolezal’s actions even more puzzling is her apparent prejudice toward white people, as shown by her objection to having Mr. Wise speak, as well as her comment that she would be “nervous” to attend a Tea Party rally because of the all-white crowd.
Other than her claims of a sense of belonging, Ms. Dolezal’s motives are unknown. The question of why she couldn’t champion black rights while remaining truthful about her own ethnicity is valid – and unanswered. All in all, Ms. Dolezal’s actions have been determined to be offensive, rather than uplifting, and perhaps she should have thought about the complexity of her actions when she decided to lie about her ethnicity. As it turns out, she has ended up offending the majority of the people she works so hard to defend.