What Happened to White Privilege for Rachel Dolezal?

Somehow Rachel Dolezal missed the memo and sought empowerment in a black identity.

I suppose someone will spout some nonsense about how Rachel Dolezal passing herself off as an African American proves white privilege. But if there is anything to the idea of white privilege then that would be demonstrated by how few white people do what Rachel Dolezal did. Whenever a black person tries to “pass” as a white it is assumed that he or she did so to get an advantage. Why would this be any different for Rachel Dolezal? Despite having to engage in a web of deceit and live with the knowledge that she could be exposed at any time, Dolezal found it empowering to identify as a black person.

Another question: On what legal basis will the NAACP kick her out of the organization? All the way back in 1977, Judge Alfred M. Ascione ruled that the United States Tennis Association had to admit the self-named Renée Richards (born Richard Raskind) into the US Open as a woman. Ascione ruled that “This person is now a female” (Wikipedia). So Richards/Raskind can be female but Rachel Dolezal can’t be black? Which is the more radical difference?

And, of course, that precedent has been followed so that now a guy gets to beat up girls in the UFC. So if those women don’t have any basis to complain about having to fight an “ex” guy—an event that sometimes leads to their need for critical medical care—what right do blacks have to complain about being forced to accept Dolezal as one of their own? If some genetic black person lost a position or job to Dolezal, how is that any different than a woman athlete being beaten up by a transgender, or losing her shot at a tennis championship to a transgender?

It will be interesting to see if more of Dolezal’s back story comes out. Obviously, she saw that possibility of a path to success by “coming out” as an African American (or has she been “outed” now? It is all so confusing!). But was there something that drove her away from being white?

I thought this personal testimony at the BBC News blog was interesting: “I met Rachel Dolezal – and never doubted her black roots.”

When I met Rachel Dolezal, I found it easy to accept her description of her ethnicity. Along with BBC correspondent Jonny Dymond, I talked to Dolezal in 2011 in a coffee shop in Spokane, Washington, while producing a BBC World Service documentary on a surge in extremist militia activity in America. She told us that she was of mixed racial heritage but that she primarily identified with her black ancestors. She matter-of-factly listed the abuse she says she received at the hands of racists, including threats, break-ins, and nooses being left at her workplace.

At no time during our hour-long interview, or during a number of phone and email conversations before and after, did Dolezal give any cause to doubt her heritage. But today Dolezal, a well-known local civil rights leader, university lecturer and head of the local chapter of civil rights group NAACP, is being talked about across social media networks, because her family have said she was lying about her background.

(Sidenote: exactly how am I supposed to have any confidence that this documentary was accurate when it was so easily taken in by a liar?)

So one aspect of Dolezal’s empowerment was getting to be the victim of multiple racist incidents. Was this entirely a calculated strategy? Or did she perhaps believe that such attacks often happen due to the predominance of wicked white racists all over the country.

Dolezal had an adopted black brother (which would indicate her parents were not racists). She actually passed him off as her son as part of her African American identity. But perhaps somewhere in her childhood history that relationship introduced the concept into her mind of advantages to a black identity. I wonder if some early form of sibling jealousy started her on the path she chose. [See note below]

I don’t know. What I do know is that the media will look for such explanations in her psychology and motivation—whereas for Bruce Jenner they showed no such curiosity at all. He was just “born that way.” Even superstitions were OK: He had “the soul of a female.”

No one is calling Dolezal brave, even though she took far greater life risks than Jenner.

Why isn’t she getting a glamour shot on the cover of Vanity Fair?


NOTE: I can’t keep re-writing this post as more reports come out, but this story at the Washington Post points to a maze of family issues and divisions:

The Dolezals, it should be noted, are a family divided. Parents Lawrence and Ruthanne and brothers Ezra and Zach do not speak with their sister because, they say, she alleged abuse in the family and obtained custody of her 21-year-old brother Izaiah. Izaiah, who is black, lives with Rachel Dolezal in Spokane — and Rachel says he is her son, the family alleged.

“Izaiah always was her favorite child,” Ezra Dolezal said. “… She turned Izaiah kind of racist. Told Izaiah all this stuff about white people, made him really racist toward white people.”

Super weird.