By: Zach Fulwood
Rachel Dolezal took the world by storm when she busted onto the scene back in 2015. She was somewhat of an all-purpose, new-age woman who was not only a professor of Africana studies but she was also a civil rights activist and president of the Spokane, Washington branch of the NAACP. The woman was out there doing her thing, fighting the good fight and based on the work she was doing, I can only assume she was doing her part in uplifting the Black community. The only problem was that she wasn’t actually Black. Well, technically she wasn’t Black but she did graduate from Howard University, got a tan, married a Black man, rocked braids and identified herself as Black. That has to count for something right? Surely we could look past the European-American blood running through her veins and the old family photos that show her as a part of the type of All-American White family that you would see in a Ross picture frame. We’re progressive enough as a country and society that if a person wants to identify as a member of a race they weren’t born to, they can right?
Personally, I don’t find much issue with her passion for wanting to be Black. While I’m not in the camp of people who believe that imitation is the highest form of flattery, I do find it commendable that she would willingly choose to give up her White privilege to join the fight against oppression. I do wonder why she would choose that route when she could’ve just been a white woman who recognized the historical injustices that Black people have faced for centuries and wanted to help but that’s just me.
Most Black people, on the other hand, simply weren’t having it. Some even likened it to the terrible history of minstrel shows and blackface. I wouldn’t go that far because she’s not exactly profiting off of the world knowing she’s White while portraying an exaggerated version of a Black person. However, it’s not hard to see why many Black folks had a problem with her going to the extent that she did just so she could be considered Black. Essentially, she was a White woman appropriating Black culture from the way she dressed to her physical appearance while also taking away scholarship opportunities from actual Black people by claiming to be something she clearly wasn’t.
Even with that being said, I still find it very hard to begrudge her entirely for her decision because even though I disagree with her methods, I don’t disagree with what she was hoping to accomplish. Wanting to be Black and risking alienation from her White counterparts while also potentially upsetting the very race of people she is trying to join is a pretty bold move and not one that many people would be willing to make.
I believe Rachel Dolezal had the right intentions but just went about it the wrong way. She would have been much more effective as a White woman advocating for the equality of Black people in this country rather than a White woman pretending to be or identifying as Black and fighting for change. Unfortunately for Dolezal, her message got lost in the circus she created and any chance she had at effectively becoming a civil rights activist with an impactful voice went out the window.
At the end of the day, as a Black person myself, I don’t need people wanting to be Black. I don’t need people wanting to outwardly appropriate the culture while being afforded the luxury of escaping the scrutiny and the consequences that come with being a part of the culture. I would much rather have people of different races collectively embrace respective cultures and work towards equality while maintaining their own individual identities. After all, we don’t all have to look the same in order to be treated the same.