Shame. Outrage. Confusion.
Each of these three words can be used to describe Rachel Dolezal's strange, if not highly-offensive fall from grace. Dolezal has identified as African-American for years before recently being outed by her parents as a white woman masquerading as an African-American woman. To make matters worse, the Howard University alumna was the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the Spokane, Washington chapter.
Today, the former Spokane NAACP leader formally stepped down from her position amidst the firestorm of controversy. While her exit statement may have sounded great, it certainly raises a lot of questions of racial and cultural identity in America. Dolezal wrote the following on Spokane NAACP's FaceBook page today:
"Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It's about justice. This is not me quitting; this is a continuum.
It's about moving the cause of human rights and the Black Liberation Movement along the continuum from Resistance to Chattel Slavery to Abolition to Defiance of Jim Crow to the building of Black Wall Street to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and into a future of self-determination and empowerment."
Dolezal claims that this "is not about [her]," but it very much is. Through her misleading the public and African-Americans in particular, she has become the face of a cultural misappropriation in a way in which this generation may have never before seen.
While many observers have criticized Dolezal for being a white woman perpetrating in the most true definition of the word, it is worth noting that this is not the first time a non African-American member of the community has opted to pass for African-American.
According to a UNC Press and the Library of Congress, Walter White, a former secretary of the NAACP, was "blonde, blue-eyed and 5/32nd Black." White would also leave behind a perplexing legacy, as “he always felt Black because, in the most primal sort of identity politics, he had defined blackness as the way he saw the world.”
And even the latter, Dr. Albert Johnston passed as white in order to practice medicine. According to Stanford News, Johnston and his family passed as white for 20 years before he revealed himself by applying for the navy.
Few people would likely show resentment towards those of other races that want to help African-Americans in their struggles for equality, a bigger concern is the delusion that others have to perpetrate in order to receive respect from African-Americans. Dolezal could have had a healthy affinity and admiration for movements like #BlackLivesMatter without lying and making people believe she was African-American.
In a day and age where young black men and woman are routinely being killed and harassed by law enforcement, racial identity is a serious matter. People will not condemn you for not being Black if you want to support movements and causes. People will condemn you if you identify as Black just to do it.
No matter what you may look like or who you are, just be yourself and take pride in your identity. Otherwise, you are misleading others and causing even more damage in the process than you might have ever imagined...