Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A black woman living in a white body: Confronting racial identity in the context of black female rage

Rachel A. Dolezai’s interview with Matt Lauer of NBC failed to expose more than we already knew. 

People tuned in to hear more about Dolezai’s deception.  Why does she prefer being black? What was her motivation behind it all?  I mean, how does it feel being a black woman trapped in a white body?

“When did you start deceiving people,” Lauer asked. It was a point Dolezal refused to concede. 

“I do take exception to that, because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black, or answering a question of, ‘Are you black or white?’” she said.

In her mind she is a black woman. 

Dolezai isn’t the first white person to identify as black.  Teena Marie, called the Ivory Queen of Soul, often spoke of her connection with black people. Numerous white people have been given the coveted black card due to their swag and willingness to fight for causes important to blacks.

Teena Marie had the groove of a black woman. It’s not uncommon to hear a person say, “That white woman was black”.

What makes Dolezai different is her inability to trust the black community.  It’s her lack of trust that has stirred the ire among many blacks.  What makes this story news is not her role as President of the local branch of the NAACP.  That’s not unusual.  The organizations founders included white people.

This story is about the deception.  Black people are angry because she lied.  But there’s more to it than Dolezai’s pretending to be black.

Black people are angry because she got away with it. 

She was able to convince black people she’s black.  That’s hard to accept among those who take great pride in their history and culture. As much as a white person may want to be black, black people take exception when a white person believes they’re black.  It’s one thing to act the part; it’s another believing you’ve done enough to be black. Black people are willing to give that race card, but you have to wait for the community’s endorsement.

She fooled black people.

No she didn’t. Oh, yes she did.

She did it with her hair and black swag.  Note the rage of many black women.  Could it be that Dolezai has crossed a line that troubles black women?

What happens when white women take on the persona of black women?

It’s one thing to pretend to be black. Again, that happens all the time.  It’s understood, and, for the most part, forgiven. Black women can accept being envied to the extent that those of another race attempt to mimic their looks and ways.

They understand the cultural appropriation that shows up among white women.  Historically, white women have attempted to replicate the images of blackness.  From thicker lips, Bo Derek’s cornrows, tanning to butt injections, there is something about the beauty of blackness that white women desire.

You can’t hate a white woman for embracing the beauty and culture of black women.  Their swag is the envy of the world.  There’s no problem with taking a bit to add to one’s personal flava.  Do you.  Have fun with that.  Black women may not like it, but, from what I’m told, they do understand.

Dolezai took it a step to far.  She not only borrowed parts of black identity, she claimed it as her own.  In doing so she fooled black men and women.

She perfected being black and that’s crossing the line.

You can borrow pieces of black identity, but you can’t claim the right to be called black devoid of the permission from those who have carried the burden of blackness. When you do that, you’ve opened the door to getting your ass whipped.

This is a story about racial identity.  Dolezai’s story helps us filter the emotions of those who prefer connection to another race.  Does this help us understand black people who fight to strip themselves from all things labeled black?  Black people understand the history of passing and the benefits that come with siding with those willing to share some of the crumbs of white privilege. We get that. 

This is new.  Although black people have witnessed white people steal parts of black culture and claim it as their own, this is a rare example of a white person able to fool black people into thinking they are black.

Crossing that line is dangerous due to the persisting tension between white and black women.  More than a lie, this story is about feelings black women carry related to white women dating black men.  It is about black women feeling disregarded by white women.

Consider the feelings carried by black woman. Feelings like, does this white woman believe she can out black a black woman and what happens when white woman can fool black men into believing they are black to be considered black?

Dolezai’s deception is affixed to the complicated matter of black female identity. It’s one of the ongoing issues carried over from slavery.  As black women grapple to overcome the discord of dark skin versus light skin, Dolezai obscures potential healing by being a white woman who identifies with being black.

Is there enough room within the convoluted dialogue regarding black female racial identity to introduce a white woman’s issues with racial identity?

I understand and appreciate Dolezai’s struggle with her racial identity. 

There’s a lot of work to be done before black women can have this conversation.