On passing – there’s plenty of work for you, Ms. Dolezal

Did you see this story?  Apparently, the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, is white. She’s being accused of presenting herself as black for the past ten years or so.

Like the folks at Jezebel, I have questions. Many of them. And I’m going to listen for understanding as this unfolds. But there’s one point that I think is worth reflecting on. It’s clear that her family of origin was diverse and that she was interested in civil rights issues from early in her life. She teaches African-American studies. There’s no doubt she cares about this issue.

But, why did Dolezal think she needed to be black to do this work?

As a white woman who cares about civil rights, I see an immense amount of work to be done. How do we, as white folks, unpack our thinking about race and examine them? How do we identify the beliefs that we have and where they came from? And how do we draw the line between our thoughts and behaviors and systemic racism that plagues our country? This is work, in my opinion, that belongs to white people. And there’s a metric shit-ton of it to do. We could have used Dolezal to help move the needle in ways that stem from her own experiences rather than her pretending to share the African-American experience.

The white voice is critical to social justice. There are still people that hear the voices of people of color as whiney, too sensitive and “playing the race card.” We can be heard by people whose racial issues are so deep, their brains won’t even allow for the possibility that they are wrong. It’s incumbent upon us, white folks, to use our voices in a way that our people will hear. This is not a black issue – this is an American issue and white people have the biggest role in changing the way we function around race. We created it, we have to fix it.

Ms. Dolezal, whether she intentionally misrepresented herself or not, didn’t correct the misconception that she was black. That was the moment she could have empowered people of color and taken up her responsibility as a white woman in American.

It may be too late now.


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