The Rachel Dolezal story broke and released a fury of opinions on Twitter. Of course, some of these are far more valid than others. It comes as no surprise that many are not only utterly clueless but ignorant to the reasons why every aspect of this entire ordeal is not only problematic, but deeply representative of White privilege. So I’ve compiled a list of the most frequent responses I have seen to this fiasco and some responses to them to help clear everything up.
1. “Rachel Dolezal becoming Black proves that race is a social construct.” Race is a social construct, but let’s please not forget that it is a social construct created to benefit Whiteness and White people. For that reason, lighter skinned Blacks (i.e. more genetically White) individuals have always been positioned hierarchically above their darker skinned kin. A White woman becoming a light-skinned Black woman represents nothing more than White privilege. With a bit of bronzer and a curly perm, a White woman can magically become Black and tracked into one of highest political position Black women can attain.
Transgenderism, Also, the majority of brown and dark brown people cannot simply wake up, put on some lighter color make-up and claim that they are White. If there were truly such a thing as a transracial, both Black and White people would be free to gain entry into Whiteness and Blackness freely. Of course, that’s not the case.
2. “If she is interested in helping Black people, why not let her?” An individual does not have to pretend to be another race to become active in a political cause. No one said that she should not participate in Civil Right’s Activism, hell, the NAACP was founded by White people who were sympathetic to Black progress. For that reason, it should come as no surprise that the NAACP has no race requirements for participation or even entry into leadership positions. Dolezal misrepresenting her race does nothing for the advancement of colored people. Especially not when she has the nerve to make up lies about her past like “I lived in a teepee” or falsely claimed her parents abused her and her siblings based on complexion.
3. “Pretending to be Black is appropriation.” Absolutely. Especially when we consider this woman only recently made her transition into “Blackness” around 2007 (per the claims of her mother). A transition looked like styling her hair in box braids, talking about Black movies and Black culture from the point of view of a Black woman, getting a curly perm and making claims that she was victimized because of her race. She appropriated not only a “Black look”, but tried to make herself more culturally Black to be accepted into Black spaces. If this is not a case of obvious appropriation, I’m not sure what is.
4. “If we support transgenderism, why can’t we support a transracial identity?” Well, simply, because transracialism does not exist and cannot be applied to greater society. Please return to point number one. If we understand race to be a social construct created to benefit whiteness, which denies most POC of color access to Whiteness, how the heck can the majority of people of color be transracial? The only transracial identity that has ever existed for Black people is one of “passing”, which is just the denial of one’s Black ancestry to gain access into the White world.
5. “This woman is crazy.” Mental health is not something to make jokes about and no one can say for certain whether or not the lies this woman told were the result of some mental health issue, but that does not mean her actions were not problematic. A woman who lies about her background, gets a Black man to pretend to be her father, rises to the highest ranks of an organization for the advancement of colored people under false pretenses and claims to be the mother of Black children that are really her brothers, needs help whether she has a mental disorder or not.
Photograph: Tyler Tjomsland/AP