Rachel Dolezal exiled

Truth, Justice, and Pretending to be Black

This story has a small preface.  Truth matters to me.  As a (thank goodness), healthy adult, I will not tolerate lies or deceit.  Not to mix topics, I’ll just say here that as a sexually abused child who was coerced and controlled for years by the power of lies and secrets, running from the truth for the sake of anything – especially personal convenience, is not something I do, and you’re not likely to get away with it if you try doing so with me.  If your reputation is so important to you, then live up to it and earn it.  It underpins everything now, but it’s not a mantra.  I’m not on that particular personal campaign – it’s already been won.

Instead, I understand how the world works, sometimes all too clearly.  I give the benefit of the doubt to people long, long past the line of demarcation for probably 90% of all other people.  I understand brains.  I understand motives.  I understand life, and human psychology and drivers and intentional and unintentional things.

So, let’s talk about this: 

In case you’re not familiar with Ms. Dolezal, a few months ago her parents “outted her” as a white woman.  She has been pretending, convincingly and for quite some time, to be a black woman.  She gained entry to programs, schools, and career paths under false pretenses.  It’s a bit trickier than that though, because her appearance and race, according to many, many standards and legislative decrees, shouldn’t matter.  In fact, the Supreme Court, in Title VII struck down discrimination based on race or gender or a host of other things.  In Griggs v. Duke Power Co., SCOTUS decided that “where an employer uses a neutral policy or rule, or utilizes a neutral test, and this policy or test disproportionately affects minorities or women in an adverse manner, then the employer must justify the neutral rule or test by proving it is justified by business necessity. The Court reasons that Congress directed the thrust of Title VII to the consequences of employment practices, not simply the motivation. This decision paves the way for EEOC and charging parties to challenge employment practices that shut out groups if the employer cannot show the policy is justified by business necessity.” (EEOC.gov, history)

While everyone argues over that tidbit and other SCOTUS and Federal Court EEOC rulings there are a lot of other things to remember.  One of them is the constantly unfolding challenges to changing GOP-led so-called anti-discrimination rulings and a host of other indicated legislative efforts.  This woman likely has more rights than even she knows, but public opinion has sentenced her to our modern equivalent of exile.  They sent Napoleon to Elba – this woman was sent to a beauty salon to braid hair.  My, how the lies do tumble off our tongues, and off our lives when they return.

Mostly, reactions are predictably categorized.  If you’re the “white’s are being discriminated against” group – well, I need hardly say more. We’re learning who “those people” are with every KKK rally and re-raising of the so-called Confederate flag.

If you’re from the “why on earth would a white woman ever want to be black” group – you could be of two possible attitudes: you’re (thank you) aware of the reality of most black women’s lives, (are you doing enough to affect change?), or you’re still not quite out of the “unconscious but trained racist” folks who can’t imagine why anyone would want to be black for any reason – not that you “have anything against them.”

Then, there are the rest of us who either don’t care, don’t know, or are stumped about what this means.  Why would a woman identify as a different race?

Oddly, or perhaps, highly uncomfortably, this isn’t really about race.  What we’re really talking about here, is ethics.  I asked a question on a recent Facebook post;

“Can you even imagine the aftermath if a black person tried to impersonate a white person and gained favors and program entry because of the lies?”

The question provokes and it reads in more than one way, depending on your viewpoint.  In the original Dolezal situation, it’s in reverse, but almost without fail, white people (and indeed, many other ethnic groups!), don’t apply the racism framework when the word “white person” comes in front of the words, “black person.”  Really – racism and domination is that embeded in our language!

Personally, I think enduring what the majority of the black Americans I know have had to stomach throughout their lives, not to mention their ancestors’… I think they deserve an award and every convenience and loyalty we can bestow upon them for not killing every white person they’ve encountered for more than 500 years.  Maybe I’m generalizing and harshly overstating my example there, but hopefully you get the idea.  It’s amazing they’ve put up with any of it.  It speaks of love and trust and faith and perseverance and humility that apparently many people of other minds do not see or understand.  Monetary remuneration is meaningless and quickly gone or lost.  True recompense comes from righting the wrong and having the persecutor take a contrite and humbly grateful and justly deserved position.  Spirituality travels beyond politics, though apparently only in a few of our minds.

There’s a punitive strand of thought in us all.  I have worked intimately in the black community for YEARS as a complete typical white woman. I have worked within and for the Black Chamber of Commerce, and for DBE programs across the country. I definitely identify with the black community – and I work tirelessly to help their and many other people’s situation – but I don’t/didn’t lie about who I am to take advantage of programs and services that availed me of any educational and/or career path meant for someone who is HONEST about what and who they are.  Of course, we don’t make it easy for anyone to do that in this country.

But if we’re not supposed to care or discriminate as enumerated above and everywhere, why should she have been affected in any way?  Who cares if she’s black or white or brown or beige ….. or purple and shades in between.  Supposedly, she earned her way to the positions she attained. Assumably, those grades and promotions were hers.  What does this say about any number of programs, laws, credentialing authorities, admissions standards, anti-discrimination requirements and more?

Yes, it’s a complicated question.  But for most of us busy folks, it comes down to a broad-spectrum ethic.  Had she all along said, “I’m white, but this is how I see myself, and look to myself, and therefore, identify as,” then fine.  Even allowing for initial secrecy, but for the last 2-3 years – when such would have been met with more reasonable reception, she could have mustered up her considerable courage and “come out.”
But nope – that’s not what she did. There have been MANY times in my career when I could have pretended to be something I’m not.  I did so, because of sexual abuse, for many, many years.  It nearly destroyed my life.  It nearly destroyed me.  I knew from the time I began that people did not know who I was inside, so I have perhaps a bit of an inside perspective of living what you’re not – or what others are requiring you to be.

It took a lot of years and rusty bridges to work my way out of that.  Maybe she’s just too young.  Apparently she suffered her own set of abuses and traumas.  Maybe she is like I was at that age, like so many childhood-PTSD adults are – trying to find an escape route to a place where you don’t have to pretend or protect secrets anymore.

Good for her that she is dressing and being who she wants to be. Bad for her that she chose, as an adult woman, to let someone else reveal her secrets. One of the ways to get out of the secrects trap is to admit and basically broadcast your faults – your “secrets” your “skeletons.”  People who would do harm have no power when the potential for salaciousness or blackmail or more abuse has been removed.

Unfortunately, the real world isn’t very forgiving in real time.  People who are running aren’t taking much time analyze things that jump in their way.”  This woman didn’t respond and missed any magical moment of forgiveness possible.  She left herself to the public’s own unraveling and they’ve sliced and diced her quickly without ever discerning her motives or her character.  The story was gone just as quickly as it came – “What was that girl’s name?”

Nothing will withstand today’s scrutiny in real-time but living in truth.  There’s just no way you’ll ever stay ahead or catch up.  Could she refute it?  Could she defend it?  Would she just ignore the accusations?  Could she?

Back here on planet reality, her deceit “did no harm.” Dolezal bent her back to do some good.  Unfortunately, the false but default rules of the running prevail – if you’re deceitful or inconsistent in one place, you’ll be that way in others.”  There’s no room for deceit when you’re running.”

Miss Dolezal’s deceit does not invalidate her experiences.  It does not nullify her credentials. True, her marketability is suddenly in a niche she didn’t plan for, but her punishment is out of line.

I do not believe in this society’s constant go-to approach that is all about punishment. I believe we should celebrate this confused but nonetheless courageous woman’s talents and her (we paid for it) education and experiences.  We should utilize them to their absolute fullest potential. It’s time to truly move on.  She’s already spent years trying to benefit our underprivileged society.  She should benefit from that, and we should give her talents the resources she needs to do more.

Giving Dolezal the opportunity to live her amazing potential without the pain of lying would be a truly just and loving thing to do.  Instead – she’s in Elba with hair shirts and penance.  Welcome to The Handmaids Tale.  Who gets to tell YOU who YOU are?  Does racial discrimination in any shape or form, claim a voice in the authority?

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