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Rachel Dolezal Did Not Need To Lie

First Posted: June 22, 2015, 2:29 a.m. CST
Last Updated: June 27, 2015, 11:25 p.m. CST
Left: Rachel Dolezal when she was a young girl. Right: Rachel Dolezal as an adult.

In a time when racially motivated crimes continue to make country wide news leading to public outcry, rage, and even rebellion, we are reminded that America is still very much a broken nation when it comes to race relations. We are so much farther along than we were during the Civil Rights era, but there is still a long road ahead. The question looms, what is the answer? How is change brought about in our country? How do we move forward? In actuality, there are likely countless ways to tackle the issue, some of them more tangible than others. However, I would argue that it starts with racial reconciliation, starting with individuals who are willing to leave their comfort zone in order to genuinely connect with and stand beside someone who is racially and culturally different from themselves. Rachel Dolezal, a civil rights leader, former professor, and the Spokane NAACP President, recently blew up the news as it was revealed that she had been presenting as a Black woman, but in fact, was White. Immediately, the news spread like wild fire and social media was colored with commentary, outrage, jokes, and memes as people expressed their anger and confusion as to why this woman would do this. Rachel had committed her life to fighting social injustice and for improving the plight of Black Americans, even going as far as adopting two black children, and in a matter of days, she became a joke.

As time went on it was revealed that Rachel had once filed a claim of discrimination for being White at a school where she wanted to teach, that she had told the media a certain Black man was her father when he was not her biological dad, and Rachel herself even revealed that she loved Black hairstyling, did not steer clear of the sun, and when people would suggest she was Black, she did not correct them. She was able to live convincingly as a Black woman, raising her family, and being a leader in her line of work. Rachel was influential and affective, clearly living a life of conviction. Now, it is unfair to go any further without pointing out the fact that Rachel had in fact been dishonest and deceptive. It is clear that at different times of her life, she used her privilege to be able to choose what race was most beneficial at the time. Not everyone can do that. People of color cannot do that. However, as the story continued to dominate social media, I had to admit that a part of me was very sad and almost offended, particularly by Black people, because she was being made fun of so badly. Yes, she was deceptive and potentially used her supposed Blackness to further her causes, but why? How about we stop and ponder why? Why would a person do that? To me, it was clear that this is a person who identified with the Black struggle, obviously loves Black culture and expression, and wanted to get on board with fighting injustice toward this people group. After all, that is what she had been doing. It was later revealed that she grew up with an adopted Black brother and was his guardian, had once been married to a Black man, and always connected with the idea of “Black is beautiful.” At some point, Rachel had stepped out of the familiar and connected with a people group in a way that probably not many around her had; she immersed herself in a new world and became a friend and ally to its people.

What becomes problematic about Rachel’s story is that she took it a step further and I would argue, an unnecessary step too far. She did not need to begin presenting and identifying as a Black woman. All she needed to do was continue to be herself, love herself, and love her Black family, friends, and community. What Rachel potentially did not realize is that in a sense, she was a revolutionary, a leader in racial reconciliation in this country, but because of her choice to lie, she became a national headline because of it, and not for her true heart’s desire. The question I ask is why did she feel like she had to lie? To present as someone else? It could be because someone or something in society told her that she could not be who she was and still love and enjoy people who were not like her. It could be because she never accepted or loved herself enough that she felt being someone else was better. I am not sure what was going on deep down in Rachel’s soul, but somewhere along the line, things went awry. Rachel felt in order to be a mom to Black children or a leader in the fight for social justice, it was a better look to be a person of color, as opposed to a White woman who was willing to stand for something unexpected. The unexpected is what we need in this country to move closer to racial reconciliation.

As time goes on, other stories like Rachel will likely come to light, and I really hope there are only a few. However, if we ever hear of a similar incident, it would be best to ask the bigger questions. Social media exists so that anyone can post their immediate reaction or any opinion about absolutely anything, but the hope is that it does not have to end in teasing and making fun of people who ultimately have good intentions. I hope that we can eventually be a society of people who are proud of who they are, encourage others to be proud of who they are, and become more and more concerned with people who are different from them. In order for things to change, you have to have knowledge about other people and you have to care about them. You have to spend time. Rachel Dolezal did care, and does still care, but she did not have to lie. None of us do. It is okay to stand up, be a friend and even a family member, while being just who you were born to be.

This article was written by Stacey Carr. Stacey is an entertainment professional working in unscripted television. She is also a Toastmaster, a Bikram yogi, and a fan of all things pop culture. Growing up in Reno, NV, Stacey made her way to Los Angeles 15 years ago by way of Occidental College, where she majored in Sociology.

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