Real Writers. Real Opinions. No Boundaries.

Rachel Dolezal Is a Sideshow, Ignore Her

F. Scott Fitzgerald once contended that “there are no second acts in American lives.” Rachel Dolezal would beg to differ.

Rachel Dolezal’s disappearance from the public eye in 2015 should have been the last we heard from her, yet in defiance of all reason – and, apparently, her own children’s objections  – Dolezal has once again inserted herself into the national discourse. This time, it’s in the form of a documentary called The Rachel Divide.

Dolezal first gained national attention when it came to light that she had fabricated her racial identity, claiming to be a black woman and even going so far as to take a leadership role in her local NAACP chapter. When her masquerade was revealed as such, Dolezal initially scurried away from the spotlight, which was just fine by most of us.

Then, with the kind of shamelessness and wanton disregard for the feelings of others that only a white woman can manage, Dolezal reemerged. No longer able to pretend she was black, Dolezal did the next best thing: she identified herself as “trans-racial,” trivializing two marginalized groups in one fell swoop. Dolezal now identifies as Nkechi Amare Diallo, because if you’ve already gotten caught making a mockery of black culture, you might as well go for the gusto.

The appropriate response is to ignore Dolezal until she goes away again, because even under the most charitable view, she is little more than a curiosity. It would be best to not give Dolezal the attention she so obviously seeks; there is no other reason I can think of that explains her agreeing to star in a documentary — for which she received no money — to rehash a three-year-old story.

I know this, just as I know that even writing about the existence of the documentary is only feeding the beast that created her in the first place. But I can’t let it slide. By continuing with this masquerade, Dolezal is making a mockery of my very real experiences. While many of you probably haven’t given much thought to Dolezal’s existence since 2015, I still have to hear about her all the time; specifically, whenever I meet someone new.

Rachel Dolezal makes my life more difficult, and I wish she would just go the hell away.

* * *

I am biracial — my father is black, my mother is white. Due to some strange genetic anomaly, however, I don’t look biracial at all; I don’t have dark skin, nor do I have traditionally “black” features. Explaining this was easier when I was younger — I grew up in a relatively small town, so I never had to argue with people about whether or not my dad was black. Everybody already knew my dad.

But when I went to college, I had to start keeping a picture of my parents on my phone; I felt it necessary to have photographic proof of my racial identity handy, because I knew people would ask. In fact, I kept multiple pictures of my parents on my phone, just in case they thought I’d downloaded a picture of a random black guy from the internet. I didn’t like having to do any of this, but to some degree, I understood it. The repeated questions often weren’t malicious; rather, they were born of genuine curiosity.

Then Rachel Dolezal came along, and suddenly, these interactions were a lot more stressful.

The curiosity was replaced by suspicion; since Dolezal was able to lie convincingly for so long about her racial identity, it was assumed that I, too, must be lying. During the period that Dolezal’s story was national news, it seemed every conversation I had with a new person about my race included a request for comment from me: what did I think about Rachel Dolezal?

At the time, I pitied her. As the years have gone by and the mistrust I experience remains, however, I’ve grown to despise her. Do you know how frustrating, how demoralizing it is to be denied a claim to something that is yours solely because of someone else’s actions? That’s what Rachel Dolezal took from me.

It was bad enough when Dolezal was living as a black woman. Now that she’s living as a white woman who just believes really hard that she’s black, it’s even worse. She eroded my ability to claim my racial identity without being regarded with suspicion or, worse, pity. And with every passing day that she continues her charade, that erosion continues.

For her efforts, Dolezal is being rewarded with another moment in the sun. The press release for The Rachel Divide (and a big fat FUCK YOU is in order for whoever came up with that title) claims that Dolezal “lands squarely in the cross-hairs of race and identity politics in America,” which is unmitigated bullshit. She didn’t “land there,” she inserted herself there, and she did so because, as a white woman, she was born with the privilege of being able to do so.

You know who lands squarely in the crosshairs of race and identity politics in America? Who doesn’t slather themselves in fake tanner to “pass” as black? Who routinely hears racist bile and hate speech from the mouths of people who would never dream of voicing those opinions if they looked just a little bit “blacker”?  Who will always be regarded as an observer of the black experience, but never a part of it?

Me.

So Netflix: Where’s my fucking documentary?

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