With morbid fascination, I have been following the story of Rachel Dolezal, who after a lengthy and somewhat intrusive media exposure, has stepped down as president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association of Coloured People (NAACP). Pausing there, and anxious as ever to be politically correct, surely Blacks are no longer described as ‘Coloureds’? Didn’t the actor Benedict Cumberbatch get into trouble for doing just that? I suppose it’s acceptable for Blacks to call themselves or each other Coloureds, but not Whites, or Honkies. Isn’t this discrimination? It’s a racial minefield out there!
Anyway, back to the plot, which I confess I am struggling to understand. Ms. Dolezal has been passing herself off as ‘black’ for the best part of a decade, and yet it is clear she is white. Her Mom and Pop have produced a picture of her in her early teens with blond hair and blue eyes. A more recent photograph shows her looking like a sun-tanned Barbra Streisand.
In her black persona Ms. Dolezal has worked tirelessly for her adopted race and has been a tireless campaigner for racial equality. She even lectured on African-American history, grim reading indeed regardless of your colour, and stubbornly maintained her racial deception until forced to face the truth.
So why did she do it in the first place? There are numerous instances in the USA of blacks passing themselves off as white, and Michael ‘Chalky’ Jackson was the most egregious example of this. For any Black living in the deep south, even today some fifty years on from bigoted hatred and prejudice, it’s hardly ‘welcome’ on the mat, and the latest incidents of white police officers shooting Blacks dead and then lying about it show just how far racial equality has to go to achieve the impossible dream.
Not all of you may know that many years ago I graduated, summa cum laude, from McGill University, where I majored in Political Science and Sociology. As part of my Sociology course, I read an interesting book (or so I was told) written by a Honky who blacked up and walked down Main Street USA to test the reaction of passers by. The results were entirely predictable: the Blacks he encountered hardly gave him a second glance, but the Honkies either avoided eye contact, or crossed the street, or locked their car doors, or were downright hostile. He then went home, showered down and did the same walk as a Honky. Again, the results were entirely predictable. I don’t know how many copies of his book he sold, but I suspect the author and his bank manager owed a considerable debt of gratitude to the course lecturer for recommending it.
But there is an important issue here that needs to be addressed: did Ms. Dolezal believe that her work for civil rights would not be taken seriously if she were white? If she believed that, then her sacrifice has been in vain, as it belittles the whole concept of racial equality. She compounded the damage in this deception by gaining custody of a black child and passing him off as her biological son.
Now that she has been exposed, she is regarded as a freak and a weirdo, and yet, she is surprised at the media reaction. In her departure speech, she dwelt on the racial issues that still need to be addressed, but then added: “The dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity.”
What did she expect?