The white woman at the center of the firestorm and debate over racial identity and identity politics seems like a distant and trivial distraction, in light of the massacre of 9 people in Charleston, South Carolina last week by a hate-filled racist and professed segregationist. The discourse and debate around the #RachelDolezal story is so much discordant “noise” at this point, and of very little consequence to many people except those directly affected by her deception(s), that it feels played out. Social media was ablaze with vitriol surrounding race, racial identity and the socio-political context in which we discuss race in America for days. When Dolezal proclaimed, without apology, that she “identified” as Black and with respect to the “Black Experience,” she has “gone there” as the mother of 2 Black sons. Many were outraged by her remarks. When I consider my experience as a Black woman in America, it is not an experience with which I have had the privilege to choose to go there or not to go there— I have never, throughout my lifetime, been able to come and go in my experience as a Black woman or girl. It has always been my entire life and the whole of my experience and existence. Being a Black woman in America, goes beyond the color of my skin. It involves my lineage, historic legacy and a cultural continuum that is connected to a spiritual, familiar and ethnic origin. It is not an existence or experiences that I chose to pick up at a certain point in time and, intentionally, immerse myself within.
Performing “blackness” on the other hand, is a construction of identity that can be put on and taken off like a costume, and there are many who do it. Appropriating a culture that is not your own, more often than not, serves the appropriator in a much more advantageous way than it does those who belong to the particular group whose culture has been appropriated. The case of #RachelDolezal is no different. In appropriating a “black identity” Dolezal certainly did some good work in her role as a social justice advocate and leader in the NAACP of Spokane, WA. However, it appears that she gained much more for herself than for others, while wearing her newly acquired identity of “blackness”. She gave herself the ability to disassociate from her whiteness, her white privilege and the historic legacy of white supremacy in America. Many whites grapple with the shame and guilt of that legacy and Rachel Dolezal did not have to struggle with that consciousness because she simply chose to assume a “black” identity instead. Ultimately, she may even gain more than just media notoriety through interviews, publication, and book deals. She may even profit immensely by selling her story to Hollywood. We shall see.
Can you choose to be Black? In Charleston, South Carolina last week, the 9 victims of that massacre knew without question, as they took their last breath, that they were Black, and the blackness of their skin was the reason that an individual filled with racist hatred pointed his gun at them and took their lives. They died, precisely, because they were Black without question. Remember them and the legacy they leave with us. Because, being Black in America has consequences…and it is not something you simply choose to identify with because it serves your personal agenda.
The Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lance, Mother Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson and Rev. Daniel Simmons.
In memory #IAMAME
Up Next Week: The Confederate Flag: a house divided