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As Black as She Wants to Be

I’ve been watching the scandal about Rachel Dolezal, the (now former) head of the NAACP chapter in Spokane WA, who seems to be having a family feud in public. Dolezal has listed her race as black in various places, but her parents decided it was a good idea to publicly announce that she is not black (even slightly).

Many people seem to be upset that she is claiming to be something she isn’t, in order to gain personal advantage. Think about that for a minute. People are upset because she claims to to be black in order to gain personal advantage. You have to be fucking kidding me.

The NAACP doesn’t care if she is black or not. It is not part of her job requirements to be black (nor should it be). She did not benefit from any affirmative action programs. What benefit did she get?

You could question her honesty, but what is she lying about? Scientifically, there is no such thing as race. Even the UN says that the social construct of race is a myth. People have different color skin, and their features are different. Why do we have to place them in artificial categories? Would people be as upset if someone claimed to be blond on their driver’s license, but it turned out that they dyed their hair? Dolezal was raised alongside four adopted black siblings. Later, she married a black man. Somewhere along the way she somehow started identifying as black. If race is a myth, who says she can’t do that, as long as she didn’t do it for nefarious purposes?

I resisted posting about this, until now. What elevated this to the level of irony was an absolutely brilliant editorial by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar titled “Let Rachel Dolezal Be as Black as She Wants to Be“. Here’s a few quotes from the article, but you really should read the whole thing. It is hilarious and I’ve left out the funniest parts.

I sympathize with the dilemma of Rachel Dolezal, the head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP whose parents maintain that she is not any part black, as she has claimed (#whiteisthenewblack). See, I too have been living a lie. For the past 50 years I’ve been keeping up this public charade, pretending to be something I’m not. Finally, in the wake of so many recent personal revelations by prominent people, I’ve decided to come out with the truth.

I am not tall (#shortstuff).

Although I’ve been claiming to be 7’2” for many decades, the truth is that I’m 5’8”. And that’s when I first get out of bed in the morning. Just goes to show, you tell a lie often enough and people believe you. I expect there will be some who will demand I give back the championship rings and titles that I accumulated during my college and professional basketball career because I was only able to win them by convincing other players that they had no chance against my superior height. How could these achievements have any lasting meaning if I’m not really as tall as Wikipedia says I am?

Despite all this, you can’t deny that Dolezal has proven herself a fierce and unrelenting champion for African-Americans politically and culturally. Perhaps some of this sensitivity comes from her adoptive black siblings. Whatever the reason, she has been fighting the fight for several years and seemingly doing a first-rate job. Not only has she led her local chapter of the NAACP, she teaches classes related to African-American culture at Eastern Washington University and is chairwoman of a police oversight committee monitoring fairness in police activities. Bottom line: The black community is better off because of her efforts.

At no time in history has the challenge of personal identity seemed more relevant. Olympic champion Bruce Jenner struggled for years with her gender identity and only at the age of 65, as Caitlyn Jenner, seems to have come to some peace with it.

Al Jolson, once considered the most popular entertainer in the world, rose to fame wearing blackface. He also used his considerable influence to help blacks. At one time, he was the only white man allowed into some of the nightclubs in Harlem. Ironically, Jolson admitted that when he performed the same songs without blackface he never felt he did as good a job. Some critics say it’s because while singing in blackface, he was singing for all downtrodden people, including his own Jewish people.



  1. Yudith wrote:

    I have mixed feelings about this one. While it gives me the impression that Rachel Dolezal lied about her skin color to gain credibility as the head of NAACP (some people would certainly feel that a white person cannot accurately represent black people, and vice-versa), reading M. Abdul-Jabbar’s post made me imagine the sea of black (and white) people cracking up when the lily-white Dolezal said “I am black”. Also, I would object to a brunette describing herself as a true blonde on her ID, since it would make her description inaccurate in the case that she commits a crime and we need the public to catch her. Fortunately, she is not the one writing her own description on her driver license or birth certificate, or that would be another kind of offense. At the same time, a description of a suspect as a chestnut-hair, white-face, thin-nose Black person would have all policepeople scratch their head. Shall we beat this person? May we pepper-spray her in public if she’s in business attire? All in all, I would give Rachel Donezal a big frown for embellishing her resume and a bigger frown to those who didn’t check her ID.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 5:23 am | Permalink
  2. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    To me this issue is not wholly about a person who identifies themselves with another group. If she had said to people who hired her that she is white, but cares deeply about the issues that the NAACP fights for and truly wants to help people of color, we would not be having this discussion at all.

    The issue for me, and possibly others, is integrity. This is a women with a masters degree who once sued a historically black college because she felt discriminated as a white women. And now she claims to be a black women.

    Personally, and I bet many other feel the same, I don’t care how anyone wants to identify themselves, but respect those you are speaking to or representing and show a little moral courage. I am so tired of people who have no personal courage, get caught in what ever fabrication they’ve invented and then try to boo hoo and gain sympathy. At the end of the day all a person has is their honor and integrity and no one can take that from you, you have to, as in Dolazal’s case, give it away. When impressionable children and teens see this type of behavior from people in charge, what message does that send?

    And yes, when people outright lie for personal gain, ie. get a job, we should not attempt to diminish that. Suppose, I want a minority loan that I can’t get as a white male, does that desire for personal gain outweigh my responsibility to be honest on the application? Wouldn’t I potentially be taking money away from someone it was actually intended for?

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 5:58 am | Permalink
  3. Ralph wrote:

    Patiotsgt – you took the words right out of my mouth. This incident speaks to the matter of integrity. Would anyone who sympathizes with her now feel differently should she have attempted to profit from her disguise through Affirmative Action? I suspect so.

    We are all mutts under the Sun and science teaches there is only one race – the Human Race, skin color being a biological response to one’s environment. But we live in the real world, and honesty and integrity is a social currency that seems to be in ever shorter supply these days. When someone purports to be someone or something else, we naturally recoil when discovering they are not, especially when they are in a position of public authority or influence. What else might they be hiding and what is their motivation? Though I suspect Dolezal’s motives were essentially innocent and non-threatening, perhaps even altruistic, hints of the Manchurian Candidate come to mind. This is simply not something people are comfortable with in their leaders, nor should be IMHO. John Edwards for President anyone?

    Though one of my all-time fav sports stars, and Kareem’s attempt at satire aside (I mean, really, he could never be mistaken for Muggsy Bogues, who actually was 5’3″ but played like 7’3″), we should all work to break down the artificial barriers that divide us, especially with regard to skin color. But secretively claiming to be something you are not is a path only to more suspicion and cynicism and I’m afraid Ms. Dolezal will pay a long and heavy price for that transgression.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    I understand your concerns, but as I said in the original post, there is no evidence that she used her adopted race in any way to gain advantage or even sympathy.

    Yes, she may be a slight nut case, but why is that news? It speaks more about us than it does about her that this is a huge news story.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 8:11 am | Permalink
  5. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    She used it to get a job and position of influence IK. Who did she beat out for that position and would they better represent that organization.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Race is not a requirement for her (former) job and the NAACP officially doesn’t care about her race. What evidence do you have that she beat someone else for that position?

    And even more importantly, why do you even care?

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  7. Ralph wrote:

    IK – It would seem even the black community, ostensibly the one that really counts in this case, isn’t onboard with you on this one and the editorial in today’s NYT is a case-in-point and an instructive history lesson.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink
  8. Hassan wrote:

    She is more black than Bruce Jenner a woman.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  9. wildwood wrote:

    A lot of fuss over not much. She is obviously in need of some therapy, but she’s not, so far, a danger to anyone and was evidently doing a very good job at what she was hired to do. Who’s to say what her self identity should be?

    Her parents “outed” her. What kind of parents do that? What kind of childhood did she have with these people? On the grand scale of things, why does this matter? The whole thing is sad on many levels.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  10. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    I’m not stating anything as fact, I just stating possibilities. Me and the rest of the world don’t care if she identifies herself as black, orange or green. What I do care about is someone in a leadership position who is teaching our children (college professor, K-12 educator)that has no integrity. That’s what I care about.

    And Yes Wildwood, she needs some serious therapy.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  11. wildwood wrote:

    PATRIOTSGT, I’m pretty sure that there many people teaching our kids that have little or no integrity. I suspect that’s best taught at home. I see things posted online every day about less than acceptable behavior on the part of educators. I see her lack of integrity as more of a symptom of her problems than truly who she is. I also think it’s been blown waaaay out of proportion in the media.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  12. PATRIOTSGT wrote:

    I’ll agree to the issue being blown way out of proportion. And I also agree that there are way too many other examples totally lacking in integrity from big names like Edwards, Clinton (male type), Hastert, etc ad nauseum.

    I still can’t give her a free pass. However, if she reflects and decides to set things straight, I’d welcome her back into her position.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    “the black community” Ralph? Seriously? How does one editorial reflect the opinion of the black community?

    And how does that editorial do anything but support the idea that race is nothing more than a social construct? And clearly one that has outlived its expiration date?

    Would anyone make a similar comment about “the white community”?

    Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 1:32 am | Permalink
  14. ebdoug wrote:

    Homo sapiens evolved in Egypt so if tested we would find we all have the same genetic material dating back to when we stopped swinging in trees; hence we are all black. We have since evolved into various shades of the black we started with.
    We will continue to go to Synagogues to gun down humans we feel are different.
    We will continue to go to churches to gun down nine people, one of whom campaigned all day yesterday with Hillary before he was murdered.
    Animal nature is not going to change, we are all animals. We are all cousins.
    Claiming you are black is never a lie so it is “much ado about nothing” as said above.

    Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 4:56 am | Permalink
  15. ebdoug wrote:

    to believe you are not black as this woman’s parents believe is to believe in “intelligent design”, and there are a lot of those ignorance people out there.

    Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 4:59 am | Permalink
  16. il-08 wrote:

    15 comments on some white woman that pretends to be black and 3 comments on torture and how it is justified by our government. Pretty pathetic.

    Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  17. Ralph wrote:

    IK – yes, that editorial was written by one (1) black writer, but I am still searching for one (even 1!) member of the black leadership in support of Dolezal’s behavior in this case (ok, besides Kareem, who most would consider exemplary but not a bona fide leader as such). The NAACP openly welcomes support from the white community but not from someone misrepresenting themself and so naturally demanded her resignation. This poor woman has an identity crisis and is perhaps in need of therapy but, again, her actions speak to the issue of integrity and no public institution can tolerate that in its leadership if it wants to remain credible.

    IL-08 – yes, I agree, there is probably far too much press and commentary being dedicated to this issue and our relative silence on torture is reprehensible, but perhaps this is a reflection of the intensely volatile and longstanding issue of race in this country, whereas the torture issue has largely flown below the radar because it has been such a secretive program (the only way it could thrive this long anyway), like our use of drones as foreign policy. Has the Geneva Convention agreement lapsed or are we just ignoring it, like much of our Constitution as well when it’s inconvenient?

    Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  18. Iron Knee wrote:

    This is why I originally avoided posting something about this. I thought it was receiving far too much publicity. Sigh.

    Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  19. Yudith wrote:

    Hassan, Bruce Jenner has a vagina now. Anyway, I feel we are dancing around the real issue here; the treatment of black people in the United States, whether black is a race or just a skin color. How come a guy can buy a gun at his local Guns R Us,go into a church and kill a bunch of people because of their race? How come police will beat up a person in a bikini because other people still think that the black will lift off in the pool and color their white skin? And here we are discussing if race is a thing?

    Friday, June 19, 2015 at 4:51 am | Permalink
  20. Mark Agovino wrote:

    So glad you made this post. This was my feeling all along when the media started making a big deal of it. “race” is artificial and irrelevant when you look at the bigger picture. We are all human and share the same genetics for 99.99% of the genome. For all the talk about bringing about “race equality” too many people still focus on the color of a person’s skin as if it matter more than the quality of their character or their behavior toward others. we still report demographics in polls or college admissions or unemployment by grouping people by skin color when there is such a wide variety it literally is not black and white, but shades of grey.

    I hope one day we really can get beyond this and realize we are all the same inside.

    But beyond that, if she was helping people in her role there, who cares whether she considers herself one thing or another. And as for the people that exhibit hatred toward others or discrimination because of that skin color, I put the blame on the parents first before society as a whole. We model what behavior we see in the home first of all. It will probably take many more generations before truly accepting attitudes become the rule rather than the exception.

    Monday, June 22, 2015 at 9:44 pm | Permalink