Playing Black When Black Ain’t In: Thoughts About Rachel Dolezal


My sides hurt, my abs are coming in, and my voice is raspy. The laughing stopped, and now I’m here in the dark dealing with the issues alone because all the folks with who(m) I discussed Rachel Dolezal are sleeping. It’s just me here in the gray space, looking through all the pages I can find on Rachel Dolezal. Typing her name into Google right now, expecting to find anything other than her unwrapped life, is a fool’s wish. I write this waiting to hear from her, directly or not.

My First Thought:
This Black body I’m in that sits in an ’87 Caprice Classic that gets pulled over too often by racist cops is Black because options weren’t given. And even if given, I like to think Black would still be the choice, struggles and all. I love the skin I’m in. I love Whoopi Goldberg’s lips because they’re Black. I ride by homeless white people and think about Paul Mooney’s “damn, what a waste of good white skin,” because even homeless white people wake up white. Whatever it was Rachel felt she lost as a white woman, she still had her whiteness. She gave that up? For what? As a white person, Is it necessary to give up your whiteness to truly help Black folks? Is Rachel the ultimate Great White Hope?

Black ain’t in to nobody, I thought, except Black people. And even then, some of us are looking to get drafted. Keep me in this game, coach.

My Second Thought:
Freshman year I walked into an African American History class at Bethune-Cookman College, glanced over at the professor, threw the peace sign to my roommate sitting in the front row, and exited immediately. “I can’t have a white man teaching me African American History,” I told my advisor when she asked my reason for needed a change in course. Rachel Dolezal teaches Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University. Did she fear a student like me?

Senior year, in Summer School, I sat in the front row of a class with a name I don’t remember, and listened as the new white, female professor told me about how she marched for equality back in the day with the “sistas,” and how she continued to fight for the rights and equal treatment for Black folk. Had she been Black, the conversation would have gone on for hours, I’m sure. But she was white, and even after she put me on the phone with my then intellectual hero, Cornel West, I still didn’t take her serious as someone who’d fight for me. She was white, and it seemed inappropriate. Did Rachel fear a student like me?

My Third Thought:
Silas is probably right which would mean Rachel is the most prominent (before yesterday) Black voice in Spokane, and here comes the media to tear her down. Fuck! What does that even mean though? I remember a white leader of an NAACP chapter back east who took a lot of heat because of his race and was probably defending himself too often against the people he was attempting to advance to effectively work on his platform. Did he get fed up? Whatever became of him? Hell, even Julian Bond was side-eyed from time to time.

Damn you, Silas.

And yes, race/color does not determine our culture. Hell, it’s been argued that as a traveler, I’m a white man. I get that. But…(lost my train)

My Fourth Thought:
A white woman pretends to be a Black woman for years. She’s busted, and the story is so interesting that we, no matter where we stand, must hear it. The offers will come. First a book, then a made-for-TV film probably on Lifetime (but given the trifling direction OWN is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up there), and there will be millions. And in the end, it will be white privilege that wins this thing, right?

What if Rachel’s been keeping diaries and journals since she was a freckled-faced white girl in North Dakota, and she’s been itching to get this story told and/or get the hell out of Spokane (I’ve been there and ain’t shit there), so she and her folks planned this bomb dropping?

And In The End:
And here I am, no closer to the edge of the gray than I was before I began this post. I want to scream “infiltrator” all over my West Adams neighborhood, and tell the kids who bombard my stoop about what’s happened. But I’m not exactly sure what’s happened, and I need Rachel to say something. I need to know why she did it. I want to know if her intentions were good. I want to know that she’s helped more folks than she’s harmed. Perhaps this is truly altruistic. Perhaps she’s crazy. Perhaps it’s racist as fuck.

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2 thoughts on “Playing Black When Black Ain’t In: Thoughts About Rachel Dolezal

  1. I’ve mentioned before and I’ll say it here, you need to be real and true. You may not like your life, but it’s the one you have, so live it fully. In this life, ‘YOURSELF’ is all you really have. There’s nothing she can say to justify her actions. I just saw this morning she has an adopted black brother she was passing off as her son. The worse part of it all is her smugness about the ordeal. That further exacerbates matters. I would never try to present myself as another race, but if for whatever reason I ever did, I would be very remorseful and I would humble myself before the people I betrayed. Dolezal doesn’t appear to have anything close to remorse. During an interview, she had the gall to say, “We’re all from the African continent.” Really? She’s going to go down that road? Her own mother expressed dismay during an interview. There are really no words for her actions.

  2. This intrigues me. This is the first I’ve heard of this story. It seems in her sector/ surroundings being some sort of color (even if partial) brought her more clout. It’s interesting as I read this I think of how I often float between cultural identities, when it serves me right. While in South Africa I often refrain from speaking ( to hide my America accent) or am quick to speak ( so those I’m around will know quickly I am NOT Afrikans) when out in public, id say every 3rd interaction with a stranger I participate in I’m consciously choosing a side. For example I will be quick to to speak in my genuine “English” accent when in govt offices where a majority of the attendants I’m dealing with are local South African blacks. This is because There is a lingering resentment towards white Afrikaners in South Africa and my prior experience has proved to me that if I want to get anything done right or in a timely fashion it is VITAL I separate myself from that culture. Sad. But true. There are equally positive and iteresting benefits from staying quiet and allowing those around me to assume I’m Afrikans too.

    It’s so intriguing how settle and sub consciously we do these things.

    Please excuse brevity, spelling and punctuation. This message was sent from my iPhone.

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