The strange drama of Rachel Dolezal is interesting and confusing on several different levels.
- Not sure if she lied in applying for the job at the NAACP Spokane Chapter about her race. If she lied, the hue and cry over her duplicity is probably warranted. On the other hand, you can’t ask that question in an application or in an interview.
- What exactly is the hue and cry about? Was she unqualified for the job? Did she take the job away from a more qualified person; white or black?
- Why did she resign? Was she asked to—or forced to? There seems general agreement that she revitalized the chapter and did an exemplary job.
Writing in the L.A. Times, Columnist Sandy Banks said:
“For years, her charade worked. That’s what makes this more than a sideshow spectacle. Dolezal’s success in sliding from white to black raises questions about the nature of racial identity: what accounts for it, how much it matters and who gets to decide.
“The ‘colorblind’ crowd says this scenario shows how insignificant race should be.
“Particularly actual black people, who see Dolezal as an imposter turning cultural touchstones into trite commodities. Someone who wants the benefits, but none of the burdens, of being black.
“I’m not offended by Dolezal’s desire to stake a claim to black identity. That sort of cultural appropriation is irritating, but commonplace: Look at Kylie Jenner’s newly full lips. Listen to Iggy Azalea rap.
“But I’m insulted that so many people find it so hard to believe that a white person would want to be black. More often than not, it’s actually quite nice on this side of the color line.
“Dolezal’s background suggests she came of age in a racially-observant household too.
“She grew up in Montana, with parents who adopted four black children when she was in her teens. She went to a Christian college in Mississippi and volunteered with its ‘racial reconciliation’ ministry. She earned a master’s degree at historically black Howard University. She married a black man, and they had a son before they divorced.
“She considers herself an activist. She led the Human Rights Education Institute in Idaho, taught in the Africana studies program at Eastern Washington University and guided the Spokane NAACP through a profitable and productive resurgence.
“None of that required Dolezal to be black.”
According to USC Law School Professor Camille Rich, “She’s making these claims without any biological basis. Some people find that offensive.”
Suppose Rachel had been born black and decided she wanted to pass as white. Would the reactions to uncovering this fact have been as visceral and as loud? I’m not all that sure—because I believe there are some people who have and are doing exactly that right now.
The bottom line, I believe, is that racial identity like religious identity is not terribly important. It’s a small fly on the elephant’s rear end of racial problems compared to the evil of Charleston, Baltimore and Ferguson.