Friday, June 12, 2015

#AskRachel: Is Transracial a Thing, or is Rachel Dolezal Just a Liar?

There is nothing that gives me more life than a good twitter dragging. And at 1:45 this morning, as I fought sleep amongst my coworkers in the newsroom, #blacktwitter did not disappoint. The subject, one Rachel Dolezal. The issue homegirl (and I use that term loosely) has been passing for Black for years and got put on front street by her parents, and a news reporter after she checked the Black African-American box on a form for some measly political seat in Spokane. All morning, between breaking news, getting shows on the air, and making phone calls about breaking news, I kept coming back to Rachel. Mostly to laugh at her shame, or maybe her pride; and then through that twisted hilarity I tried to figure out why homegirl was so pressed to be down that she resorted to lies and tall tales so bald-faced that her edges clearly ran away from her mendacious face.

In 2007 I read a book called Passing by Nella Larsen. It is about light skinned black folks passing for white. A practice put on film in the movie Imitation of Life. A practice broken down for a social science experiment in the book Black Like Me. Passing is not new. Passing is what led to the separate but equal laws in the first place. Plessy v. Ferguson anyone? What is new is passing in reverse or what we millennials and Rachel Dolezal apologists have hashtaged #transracial.

In an era where the statement is often made that everyone wants to be black, until it is time to be black, Rachel Dolezal is this rare and wonderful unicorn who has been down for the cause while we of negro ancestry, and pigmented skin were still between causes. In an era where big lips, cornrows, bantu knots, Timberlands, and booty routinely break the internet on the bodies of white women, and are degraded on the bodies of Black women the reverse passing of Rachel Dolezal is a curious case.

Someone white actually WANTS to be Black. Rachel Dolezal didn't just want kinky hair for a party, or big lips for a selfie, or darker skin to show off how much she can vacation in the sun. She legit wants these Black experiences and struggles. She wants to own the pain of the Middle Passage, the hopefulness of negro spirituals, the dejectedness of post-Civil War America in which the Hayes Bargain gave birth to the Jim Crow South. She wants to trace her roots to a Mississippi Delta where the river ran red with the blood of lynchings. She wants be apart of The Souls of Black Folk and the talented tenth whose pragmatism and double consciousness, now-a-days known as code switching, allows us to pass with our lives between the worlds of Black and White.

I am both offended and flattered by Rachel Dolezal. Her twist out game is on fleek, she's rocked box braids and faux locs with the rest of the sistas, and stood up for the cause and the plight of colored people in Spokane, giving a voice to the voiceless. But she could have done all that while white. You can be white and teach Africana Studies. You can be white and be the Spokane chapter President of the NAACP. You can be your true self, as you were genetically born to be, and still stand up for the basic human rights of Black folks. There is nothing disingenuous about being White and having empathy for Black people that you stand beside them in protests, cry with them at injustice, and rejoice with them a Black man with a funny name is elected to the highest office in the land twice. There is nothing disingenuous about being white and having those experiences as a white person celebrating with Black people. We get that you get it and that's cool.

What's not cool, what's flagrantly offensive is to segment Blackness, compartmentalized ethnicity, appropriate history, and assimilate a culture that has never been and will never be inherently yours. Rachel, Boo, you're from Montana. C'mon Son. The whole story about living in a teepee, we don't do that. (To my black folks who are about that camp life I apologize for the generalization). You need more than a good twist out, a tan, knowing all the catch phrases, memes, and hip-hop songs, dynamos, and beefs to carry you through this world as a Black person let alone a Black womanhood. Rachel, this life, as a Black woman is harder than the death threats you received while you were pretending. For us Black women in the struggle; dark or fair skin, hair straight or nappy, nose flat and wide or round, lips juicy or thin, booty big or lacking, we can't wake up tomorrow and see the news has taken away all of who we are, because it's who we are not who we deign to be.

Rachel Dolezal will come and go as Iggy Azalea will come and go as any other who has chosen to purport themselves as Black or African-American or appropriate any of our so-called swag will come and go. Blackness is not something that comes and goes. It is as forever and permanent as taxes, death, and Sallie Mae. When it is no longer trendy to chant Black Lives Matter, when it is no longer necessary to fight for the guts of the Voting Rights Act to be restored, when it is no longer popular to be natural, when it is no longer in to be voluptuous, when it is no longer the zeitgeist to where t-shirts that say I Can't Breathe or Turn Up for Jordan, Blackness will still endure.

Blackness is something that can't be taken away in one 24 hour twitter dragging, a news cycle, or even by a bullet. Sometimes it is that very bullet that proves you are black. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin. Blackness and all of its painful, damaging, confusing, conflicting, joyful, frustrating, and resilient accoutrement is something that can never be taken away from the people who live in this skin day in and day out and not just when it's convenient. Rachel Dolezal you may "identify" as Black, but you will never be black. There is no such thing as #transracial. We haven't even made it to post-racial, because race was created to keep Black people and White people separate but equal despite laws requiring that we integrate. We may become one people, of one color by 2050 but even then, those of us who started off as Black will still be recognized as such. This is America, race runs deep and white privilege is real, and the fact that this conversation even has to be had proves how privileged you really are.

1. Is Rachel Dolezal transracial?
2. Is transracial a thing like transgender?
3. If we accept Caitlin Jenner as a woman, do we accept Rachel Dolezal as Black? 
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