Please tell me I don’t need to update you on the Rachel Dolezal affair. OK, superfast version: the president of a local NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, Rachel Dolezal, is a Caucasian lady who has been self-identifying as black, and making up or manipulating the facts of her past to better suit the narrative that she’s of mixed heritage, specifically including African heritage. Now things are getting thorny for everybody because her parents did an interview where they threw cold water all over her lifestyle choice by pointing out that they’re very white and don’t have a shred of African heritage.
And out come the wolves…
What, did you think the commentariat would stay quiet on this one? Even though it’s a rather unremarkable story beyond its local interest points, this is a story ripe for the pundit picking.
Obviously, liberal commentators found themselves in a bind. By the very clearly documented rules of class hierarchy as it applies to narrative journalism, woman > man, but minority > Caucasian, and both women and minorities are clearly protected classes. So how to judge this situation? And more importantly, who is to blame?
Meanwhile conservatives wasted no time going right to the red meat; if it’s OK for a man to self-identify as a woman and then become one, why isn’t it OK for a white person to self-identify as black and then take steps to become a black person?
The answer is that I’m not really sure. It would be simple and much easier if one could just write this question off as the trolling it is. Because to be certain, the impetus behind such a question is not that it is OK. It’s that it obviously isn’t and thus we must extend the same logic to transgendered people.
But trolling though it is, simple it is not. There is no easy answer to such a question.
Most black people I’ve seen comment on the issue seem to share one sentiment, regardless of whether they are pro-Dolezal or not, and it’s that one needn’t be black to support black causes. And on this point they are 100% correct. At the end of the day, if all Dolezal was looking to do was advance the cause of African Americans, she certainly could have done so without pretending to be black.
But that’s not all a person cares about. Her career choice may have been in advancing the cause of African Americans, but her life choice is independent of that, and it clearly said become an African American to Rachel Dolezal.
A lot of black people, particularly entertainers and pundits, also seem slow to judge Dolezal, which is to say, they probably aren’t nuts about her masquerade (the lying about having a black father, and the stories of racial persecution she suffered particularly) but they also don’t seem eager to devour the woman who seems to have a genuine affection for their community and desire to see it succeed. And why should they?
But therein lies part of the problem, and the reason con-trolling may be more genuine than it appears on first glance. Does the black community have to accept Dolezal for the greater community to accept her? We certainly don’t hinge societal acceptance of a woman who becomes a man on other men accepting their choice. Nor should we. We instead use a metric of human compassion. Similarly, while we may all be confused by Dolezal’s choices, and we may all resent her ill-advised choice to lie and be generally horrible at sounding credible in interviews, we might stop and consider that she’s the next frontier in the ever-changing landscape of how we define the human condition.
People already born will probably grow up in a world where everyone chooses everything: their race, their gender, their eye color, the whole shebang. And odds are that 25 years from now the idea of a Caitlyn Jenner or a Rachel Dolezal being news is pretty much nil. People can try and thwart that progression, but the odds aren’t on their side in terms of success. The question is, are you ready for the future or not?
The fact, of course, is ready or not, here it comes.
By Sidney Reilly