“The more you run from the truth, the more comfortable you’ll get with living a lie.”
Question For The Day:
Are you living a lie?
So, I’m tripping like most of the country that the President of the Spokane, Washington Chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, has been “outed” for being a Caucasian woman who has been passing for African American. So many questions come to mind. How much was her tanning bill? Are those crochet braids? Why does her twist out look better than mine? How did she get her cornrows to stay in place? Did she hire an escort or an out of work actor to play her daddy? Did her husband know he had Jungle Fever? Can she make collard greens? Didn’t any of her people from Jackson State or Howard remember she was White once upon time? Why’d she opt to keep the blue eyes? But mainly I wonder… was it really that easy to become a Black woman and if so, would it have been as easy if she hadn’t had a choice?
I’ve been perusing the comment section of several internet sites today and it seems Ms. Dolezal has a lot of supporters. Many say she has done more for Black people than many actual African Americans. Their question, who cares as long as she was supporting the cause? They argue that not only did she not cause anyone harm, she educated people on African history, mentored students, worked to address issues of police brutality, and was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, race relations, and equality. Even the NAACP has stepped up to show their support for the work she’s done. What could be wrong with a Caucasian person fighting on behalf of African Americans? After all, it’s nothing new. White Americans have always been an active part of the civil rights struggle. Some even say, they are impressed that this woman had such an affinity for African American culture that she chose to embrace it as her own. To them, this proves to be the highest form of flattery. Though all of this sounds good, there is no getting around the fact that at the core of all of Rachel Dolezal’s wonderful work, there is dishonesty and fraud that ultimately disrespects the very people she has worked so hard to uplift. Clearly, there is also a profound dysfunction that should be addressed before this woman loses her remaining grasp on reality. ‘Oh by the way, I’m not really an African American’ is not just a harmless omission, but a display of significant mental and emotional health deficits from a woman who needs way more help than she has to offer others.
I have a personal example to share. I’ve mentioned several times that I am a therapist who works with people battling substance addiction. Though I believe my clients respect my opinion, advice and the knowledge that I bring to the table as an educated woman, there are aspects of addiction that I can never fully understand because I am not a recovering addict. Though I can empathize, support, and advocate for them, whatever I bring to the table is an outside perspective. Only an addict can really speak on behalf of other addicts because they will fully identify with what it feels like. Now, suppose I were to lie to my clients and tell them that I am also an addict in recovery. Would it matter that I have the best of intentions when working with them everyday? Furthermore, it is worth considering why I might do something like that. Perhaps, I’d want to come off more credible or want to be seen as more relatable. Maybe I would be afraid that they would not accept me if I wasn’t in recovery. Whatever reason I may have for lying about such a critical piece of information, would not matter to my clients who would surely lose all respect for me. My good works would be overshadowed by the fact that I pretended to relate to something that I didn’t personally get. They would know that I spoke to them from a place of dishonesty and they would have every right to wonder what else I’ve lied about. This is what Rachel Dolezal has done. It was not just harmless pretending. This woman betrayed the trust of a community who believed that she understood an experience that she frankly did not. No matter how close you are to an issue, unless you have lived and breathed it, it is disrespectful to pretend to understand it, less more speak from a place of knowing. Also, if I told such a lie, one would have to wonder what was wrong with me to do so especially if what I have to offer my clients wouldn’t change. The only reason someone would perpetrate that kind of fraud would be to hide a sense of personal inadequacy and a deep need for acceptance. Otherwise, as long as I’m serving from a pure heart, that type of deception would be unnecessary. The lie would serve no one else’s purposes but my own, which would indicate I had issues. Sorry to disappoint you ladies and gentlemen, but Rachel Dolezal has issues as does everyone who lives an inauthentic life. Here are the real reasons anyone would go to extreme lengths to be something they are not.
Uncomfortable In Their Own Skin – Rachel Dolezal would not have pursued an African American identity had she not taken issue with her Caucasian identity. The truth is, there is nothing wrong with being Caucasian! I feel sorry for this woman, because she has apparently bought into the idea that race is a fair judge of character. Believing this is actually the very heart of prejudice. Though Ms. Dolezal prided herself on being a champion of the oppressed, her judgment of her own skin color, rejection of her White parents because of their color, and tendency to take advantage of people (i.e her “play daddy”) for their color, kind of makes her guilty of being prejudicial herself. Who says she couldn’t just be a Caucasian woman who loves black people, identifies with black culture, and rocks a mean afro? If this is who you are honey, then own it. But when you see what you really are as something to disguise, then Houston, we have a problem.
Not Feeling Good Enough – I read some of her backstory and learned that her parents were very racially inclusive and had adopted Black children. This is all great, but the therapist in me wonders if in her mind, she associated being Black with being more special, interesting, or deserving of love and assistance. From what I can tell, the entire family is likely dysfunctional considering their strained communication, pending litigation, and the shady way her parents put her on front street. Perhaps, there was a subconscious belief that if she was Black, she would be more acceptable to her parents. Was she in some ways jealous of her adopted siblings? Of course, I’m just theorizing but the bottom line is that Ms. Dolezal just didn’t feel good enough. She had her hand in important and significant work, received a fabulous education (from my alma mater Howard University no less), earned the respect of friends and colleagues, and had support from a family who helped her to get where she is, even if they didn’t get along. Yet despite all of these blessings, she still did not feel satisfied enough with Rachel to just be herself. Many of us are constantly in search of that little something extra that will finally make us worthy of all the accolades. But, perhaps we were born worthy…ijs.
Excessive Need For Drama – I do suspect that Ms. Dolezal might be suffering from some type of mental illness or personality disorder. Maybe all of the blackface was an attempt to shake up an otherwise status quo life. Could she have been in pursuit of an interesting story? After all, it’s far more interesting to claim to battle racism regularly than to admit you probably have it pretty easy as a Caucasian woman from the south. Lots of people thrive on attention, chaos, and struggle. If this is the case with Ms. Dolezal, then she is learning that there is a price to pay for that “edge” one might desire. Consequences are usually what helps us learn to appreciate the less remarkable times of our lives.
Unhealthy Need for Acceptance – At the end of the day, Rachel Dolezal might not have believed that she would be accepted as a Caucasian within the African American community. She might have assumed she would have been shunned by the NAACP, though the organization has refuted this assumption by saying that people of all backgrounds are welcomed to lead. Keeping it one hundred, there are some closed-minded Black people that may have rejected her attempts to assist the movement, but if your honest objective is to support a cause you believe in, then does it really matter? If your motives for serving the African American community are pure, then it should be a lot less important who likes it or not. I think of the brave White activists and Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement who stood for what they believed in without regard for who accepted it or not. If being accepted as “down” is deep enough for you to disown your parents, force your siblings to lie on your behalf, and basically run the risk of making a mockery of your life’s work, you apparently want acceptance a lot more than you want anything else, and that’s just plain scary. Can you say Single White (or Black) Female? lol
Here’s the bottom line for me. There is always more value in being your authentic self. It would have been far more meaningful and impactful for Rachel Dolezal to stand firmly with the African American community as a Caucasian female who sees issues of racism and discrimination for what they are. But to assume a false identity, perpetrate a fraud, lie about your personal experiences with race, hurt your family, and deceive the very people you claim to love is doing way too much! Being a White woman who makes a difference for people of all races would be a great legacy. You don’t have to be Black to fight injustice, but you do have to be yourself to truly make a difference. Rachel Dolezal, get lifted girl!
Rachel Dolezal: “While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness…”
Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector, South Africa: “There’s an alternative reresponse to #RachelDolezal story, one where we applaud a fellow human being for abandoning unearned race privilege”
A nobody had written: “…an inherently false standard of racial classification…” and “the question of racial privilege is not static per lifetime” and also “We identify ourselves by skin color only to the extent to which we have been conditioned to accepting as valid a demonstrably false legal construct.”
Rachel has been humiliated to the extent that only ‘people of colour’ can experience -while some of us conveniently hold their peace being ever so careful not to disturb philosophical pillars of white priviledge and their consequences.
If Rachel was humiliated it wasn’t because the rest of us have an incorrect perception of race. Whether we do or not is irrelevant. Rachel living a lie and then getting caught up in it is what is humiliating. This is a problem of her own making and it is not fair to blame the rest of us for our perspective. Had she just said, I’m a White woman but I identify with Black women and I choose to live as one, who could argue? I wouldn’t. But when you started lying, that’s no one else’s issue but your own.
I truly enjoyed your writing. There’s a lot being written about this today but no one has even tried to show the empathy you did. You personalized her. No one is above the chance of being a flawed mortal, mental disease or not. Yes, I believe stepping down was the right approach however, here’s the rub — I believe too that the NAACP should hire her back. A move like that would move mountains in racial relations. It would show the NAACP to be a compassionate organization across all ethnic groups. A move like that would cause an avalanche of donations from corners of the population I’m certain the NAACP has yet to ever see. Read me someday — I know a thing or two about mental disease at an executive level. Count Chimerical http://www.countchimerical.com
Thomas, thank you for reading! I appreciate the feedback. Yes, I agree stepping down was the only thing to do considering she could never lead now without her personal issues being a constant distraction. I would like to see her get some professional counseling, gain some perspective and do some internal alignment so that she could serve as a whole person as opposed to a character. I would be interested to know if her passion for the work would change after therapy. It is possible that her efforts to advocate for African American people was simply an effort to further support the fabrication. New reports have come out that she sued Howard University for racial discrimination claiming she was mistreated as a Caucasian student. The case was thrown out, but it does make me wonder how sincere she really is about her unwavering support of minorities. It also causes me to theorize a bit more about what might have motivated her transformation. But regardless, if she can get to a healthier place and is still motivated to do the work, I agree, there could be a great opportunity for a more significant discussion about race that is unlike any we’ve had so far. We’ll see. I will definitely check out your site. Please follow me as well. I know it’s a woman’s site, but a follower is a follower. Thanks again for the read.
Much can be said but I prefer to limit myself to this list of five (for now at least).
1. Your analogy of therapist not having been an addict does not fit the narrative because Rachel has been experiencing being black (obviously not from birth). I sincerely hope none of us will pontificate on just how much of an experience of prejudice or priviledge is sufficient to count as such because there is no objective standard for such things.
2. Before we can say Rachel has told an untruth, we need to know what is truth. It has been said a statement is true if it conforms to manifest reality. Therefore, a false statement must contradict reality. Is race classification rooted in reality? Since when have we begun to genuinely accept racial classification as valid? Have we not a single race, the human race? Do we justify racial criteria as valid in ANY context? If the concept of racial clasification is inherently false, it is not possible to morraly condem Rachel’s experience or self-selfpotrayal as false.
3. Supposing we still accept Dr Martin Luther’s thought that we judge people not by the colour of their skin by by the content of their character, then how should we judge Rachel? By her character (as demonstrated by her labours) or by her supposed ‘deceitfulness’ (measured against an inherently false standard of racial classifiaction)?
4. I have had the misfortune of having to put up with African males condemning African women of ‘trying to be white’ on account of certain hairstyles. Reducing a person’s identify to externalities is too shallow to warrant further duscussion. I dare anybody to disqualify Rachel’s African-American identify based on any substantive criteria such as culture, economic circumstances, access to opportunities, cause, sympathies, fate, etc. Before answering this question, it might be useful to remember that historically, there were many ‘white’ kids who later were forcibly separated from their families because they were considered of ‘mixed race’ – that is to say, the question of racial privilege is not static per lifetime.
5. Cultural groupings are valid, objective and verifiable. Skin color is woefully inadequate as determinant of cultural identity. We identify ourselves by skin color only to the extent to which we have been conditioned to accepting as valid a demonstrably false legal construct.
Rather than condemn Rachel, the higher road would be for all of us to henceforth reject superficial characterizations and uphold cultural, economic, religious, etc. identities as more useful – and that not for discraminatory profiling, rather for social comfort and affirmative belonging.
I am an African-African male in South Africa and my historical experience and circumstantial reality today is inseparable from my struggles today and tomorrow. This defines me far more meaningfully than my phenotype.
Well, thank you for reading the article and for obviously giving it a lot of thought. Based on your comments, you basically seem to be saying that pretending to be something or believing you are something is the same as being it. Black people do not have the option of changing their experience at will, which to me means there will always be a fundamental difference between Rachel Dolezal and women who were born Black. Using the therapist analogy again, if I decide to smoke weed for a few years, yes I would know what it feels like to get high and may identify with people who use drugs. But my experience is still not as significant as someone with a 20 year heroine addiction. I understand to a degree, but it is still an unfair comparison and I don’t think the person recovering from a 20 year addiction would appreciate me trying to tell the world about the perils of addiction and how difficult recovery can be. I am really not in objection to Ms. Dolezal identifying with African American culture, perhaps she does feel like a Black person inside. That is fine so long as you are still in touch with the reality that for you, it is a choice and you have to respect the struggle of those who don’t have a choice.
CC, It’s great how you interact and reply. Makes your blog that much nicer a place… feels like good hospitality 🙂
It seems to me we miss out on profundities. Suppose Rachel has been living ‘black’ for only 7 years. If we discount that, then by the same standard, a black child seven and under would not qualify as black enough for us to listen to their voice and think they can relate adequately to our struggles. And herein is the fallacy of all racial profiling, if you think about it deeply enough, you soon discover there is no objective criteria. None. The whole thing is a lying invention. Our experience however, that is real.
From a different perspective… The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. He only lived less than 34 years. In John 8 he is vehemently rejected “You are not even fifty years old and you have seen Abraham? Who do you make yourself out to be?” And “we know our father”, making insinuations about the inadequacy of His biological descent… The foregoing is running-over with profound and inescapable parallels in humanity’s tendency to reject others based on irrational and self-inconsistent criteria. Now think Rachel Dolezal, Who does she make herself out to be?
More accessible in the foregoing is the age matter. How can The Son of David, having not made it much past 34 years claim to have had adequate experience to redeem Adam (930 years), Noah (950 years), Methuselah (969 years), Enoch, and Elijah (both still alive, never died) and their wives?
How can the male descendant of Judah adequately set an example for women of African-American descent to follow? Was He really “tempted in all points like as were are”? Do African-American women accept this statement as literally true or as an exaggeration at the least or delusional at worst?
None of this is to say that Rachel is anywhere like Christ. But we call ourselves Christians even though we are nowhere near like Christ. And it’s no delusion. That we aspire to be Christ-like is enough. We say “I’m not yet perfect, but I’m getting there, being daily transformed into His image.” Identity is what we identify with. The early Apostolic church had to contend with the adequacy of gentile converts -clearly their phenotype was not adequate. But the Spirit has consistently been teaching that He will recognise only a spiritual identity and cares less about genotype and phenotype –all this while we retain the choice to ‘want-out’ at any point. That Jesus went through Gethsemane, the farcical trial and hung on Golgotha while he had a choice to not go through does not detract from, rather it amplifies the value of His experience. Sadly, too many of us would quit being black if we had 3 seconds of a chance.
Identity is not how the world sees us, but how we see ourselves. If this were not true, there would be no moral evil with slavery seeing as the external perception was sub-human. But it was the inerasable self-perception that held-up and condemned the lie and irrational, though legal institution.
Mduduzi, thank you for the compliment. It’s not that hard to respond to people considering I’m still hurting for followers. (Follow Get Lifted Girl on FB by the way) Now, to your point……Sigh… First, seven year old black children don’t care that much about race so I don’t believe they would try to speak on racial issues from any perspective. And to your second point, Jesus Christ was who He said He was. Rachel Dolezal was not. No comparison. One’s racial identity being compared to our identity in Christ is a streeeeeeeeeetch! (no shade)
Hello, I am also a new reader and really respect your thoughts about this matter…. it’s awesome to hear a therapist’s perspective! I would like to add a few thoughts of my own: I’ve read a few accounts from her former students, who claim that she was especially hard on black female and latina students, while fawning over the black male students. I am wondering if there might be some form of fetishization at play here — many of her ridiculous stories are more of a caricature of blackness than authentic.
Additionally, I noticed that she seemed to cunningly use our own colorism to her advantage — essentially leap frogging to positions of authority by being the ‘blond/blue eyed black queen’ (there are disturbing pictures of her in inauthentic tribal gear with black men, find them with a google search). I’d appreciate your thoughts…
Interesting to know that she was hard on minority females, which could indicate jealousy or possibly an attempt to keep them at a distance as to not be discovered. I did find it interesting that she opted to keep the blue eyes, knowing that it would likely make her more appealing (sadly) to black men. It was almost as if she desired to be black, just enough to be attractive and reap the benefits of the light-skinned, blue eyed advantage, but not enough to be fully identified as an African American woman, which unfortunately comes with connotations that could counter these benefits.
Good post! And funny too!
I am not a regular reader of your blog, I found you via a link on Huffington Post. Thank you for the reasoned analysis. I tend to agree with your assessment this woman has deep identity issues stemming from childhood. I suspect she felt her parents loved her adopted black siblings more than her, whether that was real or imagined doesn’t matter. Childhood ideas run deep throughout our lives. People need to be happy with who they are. I am a conservative rural white Southerner and I am accepting of that. Quite
a few of my ancestors were slave owners. That is neither something I am proud of, or ashamed of, it is simply part of who I am. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter as long as I treat others with dignity and respect. Thank you again for your thoughtful write up.
Thank you for reading. We are who we are and if we could get away from trying to judge that as you pointed out, we would likely stop judging each other also. I hope you continue to read. Follow me or like on FB. I hope to chat again.
Well said!! Well said!!
Thanks for reading Tondaleya. I appreciate the support!