When I wrote about Rachel Dolezal’s strange and provocative racial charade as my first post of the day, I had not read any other commentary on the subject. I was surprised at the degree to which the subject subsequently dominated the web, as well as the rapidity with which many, though not all, of the themes raised in my various questions were echoed elsewhere—parallels with Elizabeth Warren and Caitlyn Jenner among them. Now that there are some other reactions, as well as some statements from the active participants in this cultural mess—and it is a mess–let me add to my commentary.
1. Some commentators, like Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, appear to think the story is a joke. The tone of some of my earlier comments was intended to be ironic, but this is no joke, and the issues it forces society to deal with, or go into denial regarding, which itself is no joke, are important and perhaps represent a cultural tipping point.
2. Rachel Dolezal represents a crisis for the sloppy thinkers of the left. (There are sloppy thinkers on the Right, too, but this story doesn’t expose them.) They need to choose their words carefully, and so far, I have seen no evidence of that. Modern progressive cant is thoroughly polluted with false constructs, hypocrisy, double standards and absurd mandated beliefs regarding diversity, tolerance and fairness, and this story exposes much of it. I wonder if the progressive activists even realize the bind they are in? It is a dilemma they created themselves by assuming that the pile of contradictions they were amassing would be ignored forever if they threatened and insulted anyone who pointed to it. Dolezal just made their shallow exploration of their own truths untenable.
3. Are minority designations, protected groups and presumed victims of discrimination discreet, immutable classes deserving constant recognition and special protected status? Or are they merely “constructs” that individuals can assume or remove, like an overcoat?
4. A Facebook friend replaying to the post argued, “Gender identity and racial identity is a false equivalent.” Yes, that’s a nice retort, except that it is empty of argument. Why? If they are a false equivalent, I’d say that is because gender is a great deal more substantive than race. Why can Bruce Jenner become accepted as a woman, and the world ordered to so accept her without a smirk, but Rachel Dolezal can’t just decide that she feels black, and have that decision respected in law and culture? My friend has not offered an answer yet. I do not expect one.
5. One of those contradictions that some commentators picked up on that I did not was this: if someone can change their gender and their race at will, why can’t a gay man “choose” to be heterosexual, an option that gay activists have condemned as heresy and bigotry when it is suggested. If they can choose, and have that choice respected, like Rachel chose to be black, then why can’t there be professionals who help gays make that choice?
6. Similarly, is there a need and a demand for professionals who can school whites to get in touch with their inner-African, and thus be eligible for affirmative action benefits? Since Asian-Americans are being systematically discriminated against by university affirmative action policies, can they solve the problem without lawsuits by just declaring themselves black?
7. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, who, if he has ever written a piece that wasn’t a parody of the worst of progeessive racialist jibberish, I missed it, offers predictably unpersuasive rationalizations to Dolezal’s act.. Highlights:
- “We don’t have a language for this kind of white-to-black ‘passing.'”
Sure we do, Jamelle. Fraud. Lying. Deception. Good and appropriate words all. And maybe even “insanity.”
- “A Nigerian immigrant might not identify with black Americans, but she’s still “black,” regardless of what she says, and if she gets pulled over by the police, that identity will matter most.”
Because, of course, all police are racists. The racist is Bouie.
- “A black American with dark skin and African features could identify as white with her friends, but in society, she’s black, regardless of how she feels.”
She doesn’t feel “white,” or think of herself as “white,” unless she’s deluded like Donezal. Presumably she can spend all her time in a white social structure, and still be able to distinguish what she sees in the mirror.
- “In her favor are key parts of her life. Dolezal has identified as black for almost 10 years.”
So what? If I identify as Napoleon Bonaparte for 10 years, that doesn’t make me Emperor of France.
- “She’s been heavily involved in the local black community, and a leader on issues important to black people.”
So have a lot of whites, none of whom actually claimed to be black, because that would be presumptuous and ridiculous. Nobody seriously argued that Bill Clinton was our first black President, just that he was the closest thing to one yet. For example, I would argue that Hillary Clinton would be the closest thing to our first weasel President, but that would not make her an actual weasel.
- “She has no apparent black ancestry—a real difference from blacks who pass—but she’s adopted a kind of black culture almost wholesale.”
- “If Walter Francis White is black, and Mordecai Wyatt Johnson is black, then why can’t Rachel Dolezal be black, even if her connections were manufactured?”
Uh, Jamelle? White and Johnson ARE black. She’s not. She just says she is, like they passed for white. That’s why.
- “She says she’s black, but we don’t know if she’s always black.”
Wait, what? She’s never black, you idiot!
- “If it’s troubling, it’s at least partly because it feels like Dolezal is adopting the culture without carrying the burdens.”
No, it’s troubling because she’s not black, and has been falsely portraying herself otherwise.
Slate does have a useful exposition of the few recorded case of white Americans claiming to be black.
8. If progressives want to die on this wall, they sure picked a bad spot. Dolezal’s brothers, the actual blacks in the family, told the Washington Post that she claimed custody over her brother, referring to her youngest adopted brother as her son, and alleged that “[Rachel] turned Izaiah kind of racist. Told Izaiah all this stuff about white people, made him really racist toward white people.” Mediaite finds that Dolezal once told the New York Times that as a multi-racial individual, she would be afraid to be around a large group of tea party members.
This all hints of mental illness, unless the theory is that if you hate and fear whites enough, that will make you black.
9. In another interview with Sky News, Dolezal expressed contempt for those questioning her racial identity, saying, “I don’t give two shits what you guys think”—at least she gives one shit— and that it’s more important for her to clarify the confusion with the black community than to “explain it to a community that I, quite frankly, don’t think really understands the definitions of race and ethnicity.”
Dolezal and her open embrace of magical thinking as reality risks should force progressives to confront other, less spectacular but equally dishonest examples of employing fantasy and denial as foundations for belief. Notable among them is the bizarre abortion mindset in which a mother who regards her unborn child as a living human being should have the life of that child fully protected by the law, yet a pregnant woman who wants to abort a fetus in the same stage of development can claim that her child isn’t a being at all, but just an inhuman parasite, and demand that the law respect her assessment. A fetus is a himan being or not, and what the mother believes is irrelevant, just a Dolezal is white, no matter what her derangement or scheme have led her to assert.
10. Though Spokane is investigating the apparent scam, as it should, since the city appointed Dolezal believing they were appointing a black woman—ah, how simple this would be if governments didn’t make color or race a qualification for anything!—the NAACP responded with evasive double-talk, saying,
“For 106 years, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has held a long and proud tradition of receiving support from people of all faiths, races, colors and creeds. NAACP Spokane Washington Branch President Rachel Dolezal is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter. One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record. In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization.”
The issue isn’t whether a white woman can be an advocate for civil rights, and the NAACP knows it. That’s a straw man. The issue is that a high-ranking NAACP official is a fabulist and a liar, and this raises questions about her credibility and that of every organization that employs her or allows her to speak for it. It seems that the NAACP cannot mature to the point where it will be honest about misconduct by its members. This is sad, and it also is destructive.