If you used to watch "Every Body Loves Raymond," then you may have seen the episode called "Robert's Date" in which Raymond's brother begins to dress and behave like how he thinks black people talk and behave. Robert also quickly jumps to a conclusion about how Judy thinks of him.
I immediately thought of that episode when I first heard of Rachel Dolezal pretending to be black for years.
UPDATE: Rachel Dolezal has resigned as head of the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP. MSNBC interviewed her parents. Her mother thinks she still hasn't taken responsibility for her deception, but hopes Rachel gets the help she needs. Her father got a tad choked up thinking how she used to call him "Papa." And then there's the news that while at historically black Howard University, she identified at white and sued the school alleging that they had discriminated against her because she's white. However, the courts disagreed.
Late night, June 13, I wrote this post but did not get back to it until today. When I heard about this perplexing and vexing story last week, I thought I would not comment, but I've found myself dropping thoughts everywhere such as tweeting about what's wrong (partly) with applying a term like "transracial" to Dolezal's identity issues.
I ended up writing that tweet after watching Melissa Harris-Perry's show on Saturday. I was surprised that discussing this mess with Alysson Hobbs she risked playing into the hands of white conservatives by accepting the term "transracial" could be legitimately applied to Dolezal's presumption. What an unwise move!
Also, the discussion on the MHP show Saturday did not clarify how passing for white and passing for black are not the same. They seemed eager to legitimize the possibility that Rachel Dolezal truly has a black identity. Hobbs said, "There certainly is a chance that she identifies as a black woman and their could be authenticity to that."
But on today's show she attempted to clarify what she meant. As you may guess, I was among many who found her position troubling. She said today that she is trying to find the language to discuss that some people may feel like they belong to another "race" more than to their biological kin. (Of course some people feel that way, but should they do what Dolezal did?) However, on Dolezal herself MHP slowly backed away, saying Dolezal's lecture on black hair was too much. Finally, the depth of the woman's deception hit her.
Regarding the term "transracial," Megan Willett at Business Insider has already covered why it" should not be applied to Dolezal's misrepresentation of her ethnicity, and I add to her point that I wouldn't use it for no other reason than how the term will be used politically.
I could have also also written a long piece arguing that the head of the Seattle NAACP's actions -- wearing dark make-up, kinking and braiding her hair, claiming a black man is her real father when that's not true--are proof of her white privilege, but Michael P. Jeffries writing at the Boston Globe has covered that point well.
I think some people are cutting her too much slack by applying identity theory inappropriately to this woman. However, there may be any number of psychological issues underlying her condition.
The Huffington Post interview with her parents (end of this post) touches on the possibility that she may be unstable.
Also, today a fellow blogger sent a link to Alicia Walters's article at the Guardian addressing why she, as a black woman, objects to Dolezal's masquerade, "I became a black woman in Spokane. But, Rachel Dolezal, I was a black girl first." Walter writes:
"Rachel Dolezal may have perfected her performance of black womanhood, and she may be connected to black communities and feel an affinity with the styles and cultural innovations of black people. But the black identity cannot be put on like a pair of shoes. Our external differences from the white majority might be how others categorize us as black, but it’s the thread of our diverse lived experiences that make us black women."
I've considered that she may have resented her parents' adoption of black children. My daughter tossed that notion aside and generously suggested that Dolezal has some kind of "racial dysmorphia" akin to body dysmorphic disorder.
And while others have decided Dolezal is simply another narcissists on the loose, Elisa Camahort noted on her Facebook page the high number of racial harassment incidents the woman's reported and decided she may have some kind of one-off Munchausen's By Proxy syndrome, a Blackhausen By Proxy, if you will. An amusing concept, but that notion occurred to me as well when I first began reading about the controversy.
I do have some sympathy for Dolezal if her pretense is rooted in some kind of mental distress and self-loathing. Never healed, that sucks no matter how it comes about. As I wrote on Elisa's page, in some situations whites have been known to wish they were black. Harry Connick Jr. said he used to wish it as a boy because all the great jazz musicians he knew were black men.
Then there is the "race is a social construct" crowd. I agree that race is a social construct, but I also believe Dolezal's choices indicate she may not. She thinks race is physical;
But who really knows. I find this mess all rather headache-inducing, which is why I think I'll just watch the "That's Not My Baby" scene with Katt Williams again, and remember the funny clips from the Everybody Loves Raymond episode I've posted above. Both involve someone trying to pass whiteness off as blackness. In both cases the people fail. But for more video commentary, try this link.
The video below is an excellent interview with Rachel Dolezal's parents followed by commentary from scholars and journalists. It's moving. No parents who love and believe they've done their best with a child wants to have that child reject them.