words team [wherever]
Despite passing herself off as a black woman for twenty-odd years (and reportedly getting paid to talk about said identity), Rachel Dolezal, it turns out, is white. This is not so shocking because...well, also she looks really white, even with the hair did. Her parents, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, confirmed as much and the internet has, predictably, exploded.
The hashtag #transracial is now trending on Twitter, and people are predictably upset about not being able to pass themselves off as white and cash in on those privileges - a stark reminder that racial malleability does not work in every direction.
But what does her ability to "pass" for so long say about the country? Mic points out that Dolezal practiced cultural theft. There's a stark difference between racial indeterminacy, or the idea that race is not real or fixed, and racial misrepresentation. Dolezal attended Howard University, a historically African-American institution, to study art with a portfolio of 'exclusively African-American portraiture,' and the university gave her a full scholarship.
To make matters more weird, she has repeatedly claimed to be the victim of hate crimes. So the story is not only obnoxious, but it borders on creepy. People are angry, and justifiably so. The bottom line is that a white woman, posing as a black woman, achieved prominence while fighting on behalf of the people she has lied to, and whether or not she can see it, exploited.
Thinking about this outside the confines of the American media landscape, people pass for different ethnicities all the time. Race in a black/white binary is an acutely American phenomenon but for Dolezal to not just choose a different race (complicated) but become head of an NAACP Chapter (awkward) is really just adding fuel to the fire of a country already grappling with centuries of unresolved racial tensions bubbling up in small pockets more and more often in recent years. This is not the moment to flout racial realities and undergo an experiment in what privileges are extended to different groups. This is a moment for those with racial privilege to follow the road to progress, not to lead.