Like the NAACP, I support Rachel Dolezal. If she says she is a black woman, Rachel is a black woman. She didn’t use her identity to destroy black lives. She constructed her identity and labelled herself in defiance of marginalizing sociological constructs. Yes, her cultivation is another sociological construct, but it is affirming than marginalizing. With this affirmative construct, Rachel identified with, affirmed, and advocated for black lives. So, I am not going to throw a good human being under the bus, because her biological parents want the world to hop on their self-serving bandwagon.
A recent interview reveals that Rachel didn’t get the parental love every child deserves. She thus had to redefine the notion of family (parents and sibling), just so she could create her own space of nurturing—a needed space if she were to maintain her strength and passion to save black lives. What is so wrong about unmarking yourself and painting yourself anew to preserve your mental health and save the physical bodies of others? Why should I join the chorus to mock a woman with a legacy of good deeds that saved black lives?
Now Rachel is weeping upon being force to clarify her actions to a chastising world, sobbing as media cameras dig tunnels into her life, weeping as our condemnations criminalize her. Weeping indeed; because only few of us have risen to her defense and say—but wait a minute! Didn’t she use her life and identity to highlight the concern that black lives matter? Where is our compassion in the moment Rachel needs us most to save her own mental life? Could we be physically killing her with our humiliations and giggles?
A liar, many call Rachel; but is Rachel Dolezal a hero—one forcing us to examine our own comfortableness with disabling, racial identity markers? Her own exposure forces us to realize that we cling desperately to the racialization of skin-coloration politics. And those who disrupt the traditions of that political architecture face our wrath.
Of course, Rachel is facing our wrath through our twittering and facebooking mockeries and belly laughs that do not deeply engage a productive discourse on race. Because, why are so few of us asking whether it is at all possible that her family tree might in fact fail to bear witness to the purity of a genealogical whiteness—that very white purity we think she possess and dare deny? In the absence of a proof of that white purity, (or even if such proof exists), why should she not have the option to inscribe her own identity, not to destroy black lives, but to save black lives and her own life.
Our failure to raise these questions exposes our disability–a need to critically question the colonialist, colorist, paradigms that entangle our freedoms to name, erase namings, rename, and even to later blot out the very names we gave ourselves on various parts of our life’s journey. Our disability robs the motivation required if we are to rise with energy and seek the essential knowledges to decode our racialized world, the modes of race identities, racial fluidity and diversities, and ethnic hybridities.
Indeed–who are we, if not a composition of many bodies? We ignore this reality through the power of our legislations that cement the notion of racial purity. Even legislations that are designed to combat racism themelves cement the notion of pure racial separateness. That there is a need to combat something, itself suggests that the something exists. Thus, we believe, whiteness exists in its purest form; blackness exists in its purest form.
Further solidifying the notion of racial purity are the history books we engage in childhood–those ones that were awarded canonical importance due to the privilege extended to certain groups in diverse eras and their militarist and economic victories. Reading, for instance, the history of Shakespeare forces many of us to see him as fully white without raising any question about the racial purity of his own genealogy. We also cannot ignore how our racial identities are politically and culturally marked and remarked (not biologically) based upon geographical districtings of First, Second, and Third World theories, and ethnic and colorist segregations across the world. All these markers ignore the genetics and biology that define human beings as they consolidate the notion of race.
Is there a pure race? Why is Rachel Dolezal white? What is whiteness? Why is Rachel Dolezal black? Why is she neither black nor white? When we laugh at or condemn Rachel, what is our specific contribution to the body of knowledge needed to eradicate racism? In what ways are our contributions of condemnation highlighting our disability, ignorance, and arrogance?
No doubt, I support movements that destabilize the comfort spaces that identities use to declare their utility, power, and marginality. And certainly, I believe identities and groupings do matter for political purposes such the NAACP advocacy Rachel dedicated her life to. I, however, align with voices and actions that understand the need for human beings to fluidly occupy identity spaces based upon mental, emotional, and physical needs, and to redefine those spaces after obtaining the healing needed. Identity markers should not be shackles group members use to reign over other people’s lives.
So comfortable many of us are with just saying, “I am black because I have black skin!” And isn’t it just so easy to say, “I am white because my parents are white!”? We fail to realize that those unquestioned declarations continue to serve as identity colonies that provide plantation space for narrow-minded concepts that deny freedom to the varied imaginaries of our multiple racial selves.
Could Rachel be challenging us to redefine blackness and whiteness and other colonies of racial identifications? Sadly, though, most of us won’t take on this essential task. It requires too much knowledge seeking and research–and oh–we are so busy, because we need to get on to the next sweet news story of the day! And whites love the privilege packaged in their whiteness. And blacks survive as powerful beings by affirming and rejecting communities based upon blackness-tests. With passions, mouths, giggles, and finger bones in labor, both whites, blacks, and other people of color are vigorously defending a racialized heritage of colonialism; and they will not allow black woman Rachel Dolezal to get in the racialized pathway.