2015 is the only time that the Rachael Dolezal controversy could exist. The past year has been filled with media coverage of murders of unarmed black men delivered via various police precincts which has been happening for decades; and more recently, gender transition and identity issues have been buzzing around via Hollywood celebrity. Rachael Dolezal and the existence of her identity issues begs our society to further examine racial identity. However, sometimes it seems people don't understand what it means to be in their own skin.
Imagine a situation where a black woman was in the media for claiming she was white, even though her skin is dark and she has no family members that were white. She straightens her hair, doesn't go out in the sun, wears sun block and she works as an accountant for the state of Connecticut to justify her identity appropriation. It would automatically be disregarded by every white person because her parents are black and her skin is dark. It would also reflect a sad reality where this confused black woman simultaneously had poor esteem for her own race as well as a lack of understanding for what it means to be her appropriated race. To expand, there are plenty of white people that are poor, didn't graduate high school and depend on government subsidies to survive. Our society viciously calls them "white trash". It speaks volumes to what it means to be white while allowing white people to distinguish themselves from the poor. If a person who was considered "white trash" excelled in school and made a good living as a result, should they proclaim they are "white" now that they have moved up the economic ladder? The truth is that the confused black woman in the above hypothetical scenario isn't identifying herself to be connected to the people our society calls "white trash". She is identifying herself as what white people collectively accept as being white because white people have defined their own image regardless if it contradicts reality with no regard if it dehumanizes impoverished white people.
Behaviors, interests and career paths are not representative of a race. The fact that this even needs to be said reflects the sad reality that people accept stereotypes to be true. Just because I am a black architect in training doesn't mean my behavior and speech reflect some desire to be white. Some black people believe other black people who perform well in school or are well spoken want to be white. There are also white people that believe the way black people speak is a different language aka Ebonics, when it's just a different dialect of English. White people and black people alike generalize their own race and what it means to belong their race, but when someone from another race says something about them, only then it's unacceptable and racist. The truth is that it's always racist to say behavior is determined by the skin color. Actually, it's the definition of racism. Black people are racist against black people and white people are racist against white people all the time by limiting what qualifies a person to be accepted into a race. Take a second to wade through how ridiculous this idea is. If a white person loves hip hop and starts to reflect the speech in their day to day life, they are called names like "whigger", a "wannabe" or something along those lines. "Whigger" is an ugly word which not only limits what white people are allowed to do, it also calls black people "nigger" at the same time. Why can't this person simply be a white person who loves hip hop? It's not rocket science, but it would require a person to be conscious of what they're saying. I don't believe many people are conscious enough when it comes to race.
There are limitations on what people believe is acceptable behavior for their own race. Rachel Dolezal is a reflection of this unfortunate reality because she thinks she can "pass" for black in order to act a certain way or to have certain interests. I repeat....behavior is not determined by the color of your skin and anyone that disagrees with this is racist. This is also an extreme case of white privilege. Imagine a privileged position where you can simply proclaim that you are a race other than what your genealogy and skin tone reflects simply because of how you feel. Race is not a status you can change on Facebook. Ms. Dolezal is taking the steps that mixed or multi-racial people have to go through because they have relatives who look different than them and because they never fully can be considered one race. For bi-racial people, racial identity is something you process internally and test against the outside world. Bi or multi-racial people have to come to grips that their identity isn't defined by one race. It can be difficult to deal with because bi or multi-racial people never feel total acceptance because it would mean that you disregard parts of your own family. Rachael Dolezal isn't going through this process. As a matter of fact, she tries to parse this whole racial identity discussion by saying she doesn't consider herself "African American", she considers herself "black".......as if it makes it any better to disregard the tangible weight of racism, including harassment, confinement to low income neighborhoods with limited opportunities and to separate that from the consistent factor for all of those things for generations was based on skin color. You cannot separate the two. Part of coming of age as an African American is understanding the color of your skin is connected to a history of slavery, discrimination and institutional racism. It's disrespectful to the history Rachael Dolezal studied so well.
I'm bi-racial from the Midwest, and I had to realize that the way people perceive me is based on my skin color. I call myself black because I know that is how I am perceived and that is part of who I am. When police officers look at me, they don't care that my mother is white. I also say that I am mixed race because I would never distance myself from my mother and that side of my family. However, I could never call myself white because my skin has too much melanin. Light skinned African Americans have to deal with the reality that African Americans with a darker complexion don't consider them to be fully black or are somehow inferior. This is rooted in a history of slave masters preferring lighter skinned slaves and treating them differently. Also, light skinned slaves were often born from rape, so the other slaves wouldn't really have the same relationship they would with other slaves.
For someone like Rachael Dolezal to proclaim to be a race that she has no lineage to is sad and trivializes African Americans experiences with race to a status that simply needs a confirmation button. I'm not a clinical psychologist but I would bet she has some undiagnosed mental disorder or an unhealthy obsession with African American culture. Working for the NAACP doesn't mean you are black and it's insulting to everyone (including herself) to make such reckless claims about her identity. Just because a person has colored sun glasses doesn't mean that the sky is orange for everyone else. On a clear day, we all know what color it is.