Rachel “I’m Black, bishes,” Dolezal keeps popping up to remind us how ubiquitous racism and White Supremacy are in our lives. Even with more urgent issues commanding our attention, her bold claims of racial domination run like an open app in the background, forcing our attention and draining precious energy we’d rather invest elsewhere.
Her recent headline-snatching-shenanigans include giving herself an African name, claiming she was financially destitute about to be homeless, bragging that her first Black husband couldn’t deal with her being “too Black,” and clarifying that she is Black, not African American. Now her memoir, In Full Color: Finding My Place In A Black And White World, is out, and she has books to sell.
The responses to Rachel are interesting. Many Black folks express how they are weary and ready to dismiss her—if only the media weren’t addicted to her human click-bait. In an ironic turn, Huffington Post ran an apparently serious piece titled, “Can We Please Stop Giving Rachel Dolezal A Platform?” while doing exactly that.
Even as Blackfolks drag her on social media, the deep sigh of racial exhaustion seeps through the Tweets, the memes and the hashtags. Nobody has time for Rachel’s foolishness beyond an increasingly annoyed, “Girl, bye!” followed by teeth-sucking, eye rolls, SMHs, and constant calls to just ignore her hoping maybe she’ll go away.
On the flip side, I’ve also seen Black folks who say they’re curious and are reading her book to find out more about her backstory and motives. And I’ve seen a number of Black people—mostly men—expressing support or wondering why she’s an issue. Which makes me feel the bitter sting of the Tweet that said, “How do you know Rachel Dolezal’s not Black? So many Black men are supporting her.”
Ouch! But it certainly rings true.
As a Mixed person, I share the anger, the outrage and the weariness. But I don’t have the luxury of ignoring Rachel and all that she symbolizes. While she claims to be Black it’s physically obvious that she’d never in a million years be mistaken or able to “pass” for a Black person born of two Black parents. While she claims Blackness as her desired destination, it is Biracial and ethnically-ambiguous identity that she’s trying to use as her passport and visa into all things Black.
When first confronted about her identity, Rachel cited one Black parent, not two, and repeatedly claims to be Biracial. She’s open about keeping her skin tanned or bronzed, and her hair looking as Mixed-Black as possible. So wherever she hopes to end up, she’s on my turf now. Though she’s dated and married Black men, mothered a Biracial child and tried to adopt her Black brother; though she holds a degree from Historically Black Howard University and has made a living repping Black causes, teaching Black college courses and styling Black hair, Rachel Dolezal is pimping the tragic Mulatto because she knows it provides easy entrée into the racial funhouse that seems to be her life.
I can’t brush Rachel off the way I’d like to because she is mining the fluidity of Mixed-race Ancestry and harvesting the physical ambiguities that I live with every day. I can lean to one side or the other, play with folks’ perceptions and even toy with claiming an identity that isn’t repped anywhere in my DNA, if I want to play that game. The life I’ve lived has earned me those rights. What does it mean that a Rachel Dolezal can simply lay claim to the challenges, nuances and abstract notions of my existence without ever having to pay the price of being a Person of Color in a White Supremacist society? Without having to ACTUALLY navigate ambiguity? Or any of the countless ways that Blackness and Mixedness are interwoven too tightly to separate from each other?
I’m not interested in Rachel’s reasons or rationale for her claims to Blackness. And I’m definitely not here for her as the poster child for some insane “transracial” identity. Many accuse her of being mentally ill and/or delusional. But she’s no dummy; she’s in full possession of her mind, and she knows exactly what she’s doing. I can’t predict her end game, but nobody can stop her from making these claims or from gaining a platform to do so. She’s dangerous because she’s not just a household name and a punch line; she’s the most painful kind of reminder that Whitepeople created their notions and policies around race to maintain their power and supremacy at all costs.
As if any Person of Color needed that reminder. As if we have the option to forget, even for the briefest moment of our lives. Her claims would be problematic at any time, but they have additional impact right now, when REAL Mixed-race people have a hard time inserting our voices into the public conversations taking place about our presence, our identities and our cultural choices. While most of America feels entitled to police our identities, Rachel comes along to remind Mixed and Black people alike of the power she wields—power we can neither diffuse nor vanquish. She’s the biggest most abusive Identity Cop on the block.
Those who accuse Rachel of cultural appropriation have got it all wrong. Her offense is far greater: she is colonizing Black and Mixed identity to feed her need for dominance, reminding us—even as she bleats that “race is just a social construct”—that it is White people who created the concept of race in order to build and sustain a nation upon the foundation of racism in service of capitalism. The fact that she feels justified in laying claim to Blackness—and is consistently rewarded for doing so—is the real message we have to heed.
Mixed-race people in the USA know the endless stream of looks, attitudes, questions, challenges, and appropriations that come at us from all groups—those we share DNA with and others as well. We forge our identities against the constant pressure of everyone feeling that they have the right to TELL us what we are or aren’t, where we can or can’t go, how we either must or dare not identify, where we do or don’t belong. And Rachel adds bold, highlighted headlines to mock our experiences and mine them for her own benefit.
So Rachel plants her flag and lays claim to Biracial identity en route to her promised land of faux Blackness. And Biracial America regards her warily from the front lines of the endless battle to be respected for our perpetually complex truths, ambiguous exteriors and inconvenient choices.
I cannot ignore Rachel Dolezal because she would thoughtlessly destroy me to reach the destination that she has claimed as her rightful destiny. I cannot write her off because she is sloshing around in the world I inhabit, spewing her brand of supremacy and bulldozing the nuances we Mixed folks are given to build our lives on into the rubble of her disdain.
She is Miz Anne reincarnated for the 21st century whose sole purpose is to demonstrate that every aspect of our beings is fair game in her hunt to be special. She doesn’t want to be Black; she merely wants to rape and pillage and consume Blackness in her quest for the ultimate act of White dominance: reminding us that even her most bizarre claims are considered credible and attention-worthy.
I can’t look away because she so perfectly reflects everything about America. And America so perfectly reflects everything that is Rachel Dolezal: the entitlement, the presumption of superiority, the mining of every human Black and Black-ish crop on her plantation, upon which she so greedily feeds.
The irony is that, in contrast to her dogged claims to Blackness, and in spite of the indisputable fact that she looks Blacker than I do, Rachel Dolezal is the Whitest person alive, whipping us with her arrogance, chaining us with her privilege, and choking us with her contempt as she reminds us that every aspect of our lives and our beings are hers for the taking, reality be damned.
She is here to challenge my agency and mock my Ancestors. I know precisely the dangers and problems that Rachel represents. Which is why I simply don’t have the luxury of writing her off, averting my gaze from her grotesque masquerade, or ignoring the havoc she is only too happy to wreak upon my never-ending quest to be respected for my racial and cultural truths.
So I swallow my revulsion and recycle my weariness into steely resolve to keep her bizarre contortions in my line of vision at all times. I know she is wielding the weapons designed to destroy us, and I stand on the front lines to challenge and confront what she represents. Mixed-race identity might be the bridge she wants to use to cross over, but my back won’t be lowered or bowed to assist her journey in any way.