Why Rachel Dolezal Is A Big Deal
People wonder why we’re still talking about her and why so many Black people consider this a big deal?
Here’s why: Rachel never had to experience the normalized trauma of being Black and having to code switch/pass for White for SURVIVAL. Being Black in this country largely comes with having to do as much as you can to pass for White if you want to succeed ANYWHERE. Rachel is still accessing a privilege that Black people can never get unless they have the right visible genetics.
In many respects, Blackness is commodified in this country as something you can buy and mimic. The hair styles. The rapping. The swag. The clothes. The slang. The dances. Rachel could put a little bronzer on, do those above things, and pass for Black.
But no matter what hue you are in the Blackness spectrum, if you are raised in a Black household you have to learn certain things from birth, a psychological splitting of your identity that’s normalized, just for you to be taken seriously at your job or, at the least, hope to escape being killed. In case you forgot, being seen as a non-threatening “good boy” could help you not get lynched at one point in this country…
Rachel never experienced being told to talk properly, then asked by Black kids “Why do you talk White?”. The conflation of Whiteness as being “proper” and “having manners”.
She never had to experience the hair pulling (pun intended) process of having her hair texture and hair styles analyzed so that she wouldn’t be teased at school, by kids of ANY color.
She didn’t experience the distrusting gaze of many light skinned girls of the complexion she tried to put on, where darker skinned girls saw her as a threat to their beauty or envious because all the other boys noticed them more.
She didn’t have to struggle with how to gain the trust of those above girls, because she was Black and wanted to have someone to talk to about the racist/sexist shit she experienced.
If Rachel had two biracial parents and was “passing” for White, Black people would largely understand. We know what’s it like to deal with the things we go through, and it’s easier to survive gaining that White privilege. Instead, she tried to turn being Black into a state of mind and figured she could walk right into it, as long as no one saw her parents and she tanned her skin, and none of her Black friends/family ratted her out.
She clearly has a mental health issue. And even that, for many White people, is a privilege. Mental health is rarely ever a defense/excuse for Black people in their households or in the justice system.
And since the NAACP says she did such a bang-up job professionally, she can get a therapist and emerge a few years later when this blows over with a still great resume, and it’s like nothing ever happened.
I have mercy for her mental health, but I don’t feel sorry for her. Her psychological issues don’t trump the ones of the real Black people I know.
Yohance is a trained diversity specialist, a teacher of various subjects at a private school, and a DJ in Los Angeles, CA