Rachel Dolezal is still promoting her book, which is why she’s still giving interviews about how for real, you guys, she’s super-black. Trust her, she’s black! So, to promote the book, The Stranger sent journalist/author Ijeoma Oluo to interview her and woooo, this article, you guys. My God. Oluo is a fantastic writer and she doesn’t shy away from personalizing the story about how she feels, as a scholar of black history and as a black woman, when dealing with Dolezal face-to-neo-blackface. The piece is called “The Heart of Whiteness” and it’s an amazing read – go here for the full piece and set aside some time to read the whole thing because OMG. Here’s one part of the article which is… just…
… It is obvious by then that Dolezal does not like me, but I don’t appear to be alone in that feeling. Throughout our conversation, I get the increasing impression that, for someone who claims to love blackness, Rachel Dolezal has little more than contempt for many black people and their own black identities.
The dismissive and condescending attitude toward any black people who see blackness differently than she does is woven throughout her comments in our conversation. It is not just our pettiness, it is also our lack of education that is preventing us from getting on Dolezal’s level of racial understanding. She informs me multiple times that black people have rejected her because they simply haven’t learned yet that race is a social construct created by white supremacists, they simply don’t know any better and don’t want to: “I’ve done my research, I think a lot of people, though, haven’t probably read those books and maybe never will.”
I point out that I am a black woman with a political-science degree who writes about race and culture for a living, who has indeed read “those books.” I find her blanket justification of “race is a social construct” overly simplistic. “Race is just a social construct” is a retort I get quite often from white people who don’t want to talk about black issues anymore. A lot of things in our society are social constructs—money, for example—but the impact they have on our lives, and the rules by which they operate, are very real. I cannot undo the evils of capitalism simply by pretending to be a millionaire.
…I couldn’t escape Rachel Dolezal because I can’t escape white supremacy. And it is white supremacy that told an unhappy and outcast white woman that black identity was hers for the taking. It is white supremacy that told her that any black people who questioned her were obviously uneducated and unmotivated to rise to her level of wokeness. It is white supremacy that then elevated this display of privilege into the dominating conversation on black female identity in America. It is white supremacy that decided that it was worth a book deal, national news coverage, and yes—even this interview.
And with that, the anger that I had toward her began to melt away. Dolezal is simply a white woman who cannot help but center herself in all that she does—including her fight for racial justice. And if racial justice doesn’t center her, she will redefine race itself in order to make that happen. It is a bit extreme, but it is in no way new for white people to take what they want from other cultures in the name of love and respect, while distorting or discarding the remainder of that culture for their comfort. What else is National Geographic but a long history of this practice. Maybe now that I’ve seen the unoriginality of it all, even with my sister’s name that she has claimed as her own, she will haunt me no more and simply blend into the rest of white supremacy that I battle every day.
I think Oluo has unlocked the puzzle of Rachel Dolezal. It’s not performance art and it’s not insanity. It’s a unique-yet-familiar privilege. It’s insidious and gross but it’s also just… a white woman thinking that it’s fine to do this, that no one will find out or care if she adopted blackness as casually as some people adopt a goth phase. And yes, the dismissive way Dolezal deals with criticism – or even mild questioning – from black people is astounding.
Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet and Dolezal’s Instagram.