Trading Races

How did a white girl raised in Montana morph into the black woman who became the head of the Spokane branch of the NAACP?

Rachel Dolezal does not want to be white. Since being outed by her parents, however, Dolezal will have a difficult time convincing anyone that she is black. Which pretty much leaves Dolezal where she has always wanted to be: Living in her own world.

It used to be a small place, the Land of Dolezal (pronounced doe-lah-ZALL). It existed mostly in her head, but also included the good people of Spokane, WA, where earlier this year Rachel became head of the NAACP chapter. Life was good in the Land of Dolezal.Rachel Dolezal

That all changed last week when it was discovered that Dolezal has been passing for most of her adult life.

Passing — while morally questionable — is not a crime. Lying, on the other hand, is — more often than not — a bad thing. And that is reportedly what Dolezal did when she filled out her job application with the NAACP: She checked the black/African American box.

This came as a surprise to her parents, Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal, both of whom are decidedly, unashamedly white. “We’re puzzled,” they said, about their birth daughter’s racial renunciation.

Welcome to my world, folks.

Meanwhile, the Land of Dolezal had suddenly outgrown Spokane. Much of America wanted to be a part of it, at least for awhile.

This morning, the parents and Rachel were interviewed separately on NBC’s “The Today Show.” Some highlights:

  • When Matt Lauer asked Rachel if she is African American, she responded “I identify as black.”
  • Rachel said her “self identification with the black experience” started when she was about 5 years old. That’s when she first used the brown crayons to draw self portraits instead of “the peach crayon.”
  • Parents and daughter are estranged, although no reporter asked for details.
  • When asked if she has done anything to darken her skin, Rachel responded, “I certainly don’t stay out of the sun.”
  • While doing “human rights work in north Idaho,” newspapers described Dolezal as transracial, bi-racial and black. “I never corrected that,” she admitted. What would the correction have been? Lauer didn’t follow up. Besides, Rachel added, “It’s more complex than being true or false in that particular instance.”
  • Ultimately, Rachel said she would make the same choices that landed her in the world beyond the one she created.

BrownCrayons (2)Dolezal came across in the interview as sincere, compassionate and thoughtful. Her story, she said, is about “definitions of race, ethnicity, culture, self-determination, personal agency and ultimately, empowerment.”

However, Dolezal’s stated goal — “to address the complexity of my identity” — fell short.

For one thing, she can be as elusive as a presidential candidate. She never said what she is, only what she identifies herself to be. And to achieve her goals, Dolezal has lied and allowed faulty assumptions about her to become real.

That’s just the way things are in the Land of Dolezal. And whether large or small, it will continue be a place for making up your own rules; where identity is as changeable as one’s hairstyle, and where perception is reality. It will be a place where Rachel Dozezal can live comfortably with the knowledge that, as she told Lauer, she is “racially human and culturally black.”

Right on, sister.

 

 

 

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James E. Kenyon

James is the publisher and editor of Page One Post. He was a newspaper reporter in Detroit and Norfolk, VA, before working in the corporate communications departments at a number of Michigan companies. His last stint was 18 years at Chrysler Corporation, where he handled media relations, product and marketing PR and speech writing. He retired from Chrysler in 2007. He enjoys listening to jazz, good cigars and bourbon Manhattans, often at the same time. He and his partner, Melba, live in Detroit's Rosedale Park neighborhood.