Rachel Dolezal, a prominent civil rights activist, the leader of Spokane’s NAACP chapter, chairwoman of the city’s Office of Police Ombudsman Commission and a professor in the African Studies Program at Eastern Washington University, has been falsely representing herself as black for years. When someone is asked if he or she is really black, and the answers he or she comes up with includes “That question is not as easy as it seems,” and “We’re all from the African continent,” it’s fair to say the jig is up.
Or is it? Although Dolezal’s mother has spoken out about the 37 -year-old’s background, noting that there is no black ancestry that they know of in the family and that Rachel’s self-identification as black seems to arise out of the fact that she was raised with adopted African-American siblings—you know, like Steve Martin in “The Jerk”?—she may well sincerely believe she is black. Then what?
Dolezal’s actual race, if there is such a thing in her case since she sometimes identifies herself as “white, black, and American Indian,” has suddenly become an issue because she has reported alleged instances of harassment and hate crimes. An inquiry has also been opened at Spokane City Hall. “We are gathering facts to determine if any city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions have been violated,” Mayor David Condon, who appointed her to the city oversight board, and Council President Ben Stuckart said in a joint statement. “That information will be reviewed by the City Council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions.”
Stuckart said the council will meet soon to discuss the developments and that he didn’t want to speak for the group until then. “But if this is true I’ll be very disappointed,” he said..
Is Dolezal credible? Is she courageous? Is she deluded? Is she nuts? Or is being black just, as Gore Vidal said about Truman Capote’s death, a good career move?
Some ethics musings:
1. If Dolezal honestly believes she is black based on her feelings, orientation and culture, why isn’t that acceptable?
2. Why isn’t she a credible Presidential candidate? Senator Elizabeth Warren’s self-identification as Native American got her the benefit of affirmative action programs, and it didn’t stop the citizens of Massachusetts from electing her U.S. Senator.
3. Caitlyn Jenner is being given awards for courage for self-identifying as a woman with no natural genetic or anatomical female characteristics, and getting money, magazine covers and a TV show as rewards. Dolezal’s self-identification as black is being employed as an entry to public service in the interest of human rights. Isn’t she more admirable than Jenner? If not, why not?
4. Can any white person do this, as long as they claim to believe they are black? Can they then be eligible to benefit, a la Warren, from affirmative action programs?
5. If Jenner can employ make-up, clothes, a new name and fake breasts—she is also being coached to speak in a more feminine fashion– to be seen as a courageous woman who will be defended against all scoffers, why wouldn’t it be fair and reasonable for Dolezal to use dark make-up, Southern black speech patterns—you know, like Obama does when he speaks to black audiences?–dress in traditional African garb, and change her name to Makayla Dolezal? Will that be enough to make her black, so that anyone publicly doubting her—you know, like Mike Huckabee doubting Caitlyn—will be attacked by activists and the media?
6. Rachel already is sporting a hairstyle and using a make-up tone that seems designed to support her black “identity.”
Is this deception, or a legitimate personal choice?
7. Isn’t Dolezal taking jobs and positions away from legitimately black individuals? How can that be right?
8. Affirmative action programs routinely give an edge to upper middle class and wealthy minority students and job applicants on the basis of race alone. Yet black advocacy organizations will give leadership positions to white women who are only black because they say so. How does that make sense?
9. Why is “feeling black” less respectable than feeling female? Gender is a lot less of an artificial construct than race.
10. We are often told that the problem of race is based in culture, not genetics. If that is literally true, then why is Dolezal’s claim of being black based on her black siblings not seen as completely consistent with this, and reasonable as well?
11. Is the whole ethical problem here transparency? If she was open about the fact that her being “black” was based not on ancestry and genetics but other factors, would that have made her credible and trustworthy? Or would it have disqualified her for every role and position she currently holds?
12. Would that be fair, or bigotry?
13. Is it time to conclude that “race” should be regarded as nothing more than color, and that racism is nothing more than mindless bigotry based on appearances alone?
14. Or is this just straight up fraud?
I can’t wait to find out who will have the courage to ask, or try to answer these and other questions raised by the fascinating masquerade—or courageous embrace of her true identity!— of Rachel Dolezal.
Let’s ask Caitlyn Jenner about it!
Correction: The initial photo I posted turned out to be the wrong Rachel Donezal, though I have not yet determined whether she identifies as this Rachel Donezal, making the error moot.