Rachel Dolezal's deception has generated a ton of thoughtful writing. Here are some of the best essays that touch on identity and what it means to be black.
Posted on June 16, 2015, at 12:56 p.m. ET
Rachel Dolezal lied about her race — but in doing so, she was really lying about a lie we all tell. Jelani Cobb wrote about the concept of race, its arbitrary and damaging determinations, and how there are worse deceptions than Dolezal's fictional blackness. Read it at The New Yorker.
There is a fundamental difference between transgender people and Rachel Dolezal. "Her decision to identify as black was an active choice, whereas transgender people’s decision to transition is almost always involuntary," Meredith Talusan explains. Read her essay at The Guardian.
In an era of racial transition, who is black, and what is blackness? In a nutshell, "a crucial part of blackness is inheritance of the sacrifices and struggles that were borne so you could be," Adam Serwer writes in an essay for BuzzFeed Ideas. In it, he explains why Rachel Dolezal needed to construct her own black narrative and how she took advantage of the black community’s long tradition of inclusion regardless of skin tone. Read it at BuzzFeed Ideas.
To Rebecca Carroll, Rachel Dolezal's choice to identify as black is "white privilege on steroids" and "colonization on the most personal level." In a piece for Dame Magazine, Carroll condemned Dolezal's actions, also touching on the white savior complex. Read it at Dame Magazine.
Historically, there have been blacks who chose to pass as white and those who've abstained from passing as white. Jamelle Bouie recounts the lives of Walter White and Elsie Roxborough to make a point about being black. "On the one hand, 'black' is a statement of identity," he writes. "On the other hand, however, it describes the bottom rung in the American racial hierarchy." He wonders whether Dolezal is adopting the culture without enduring the suffering. Read his piece at Slate.
Despite the fact that Rachel Dolezal has advocated for civil rights and racial equality for many years, that does not necessarily make her an ally to black Americans. "Allyship involves, at its best, working with people of color, rather than trying to speak for them," argues Tim Wise. Read his piece at AlterNet.
When speaking about racism, we often don't discuss the racism of white women. In an essay for Ebony, Jamilah Lemieux wrote about why Rachel Dolezal's deception is so offensive to black women in particular, also asking why it's so hard for us to critique white women. Read it at Ebony.
Though we may never know why Rachel Dolezal tried to pass herself off as mixed race, her lie exposes race as a fallacy. Steven Thrasher wrote about how race is but a performance. "The idea that race is an immutable characteristic is a social and historical construct – one that has real economic and mortal consequences which have already lasted for generations, but one that is a mass delusion all the same," he writes. Read it at The Guardian.
Hannah Miet is a woman who very well could have been Rachel Dolezal. Born with darker skin and a Jew-fro, she dated a Black Panther and was often mistaken for being biracial. She wrote about her moment of self-awareness, when she realized she couldn't internalize a culture that wasn't her own. Read it at the Washington Post.
Janna Zinzi wrote a piece against those claiming to be transracial. An excerpt: "It only works one way. Only white people can claim to be another race on the inside and then 'perform' that race because race operates with white as the default. Racial classifications are based on deviations FROM whiteness ... I can’t straighten my hair and put chalk on my face while saying 'Look! I’m not Black!'" Read the rest of her piece at So Let's Talk About.
Susan Cheng is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Susan Cheng at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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