Last night, a local television station in Washington state broke the news that the city of Spokane has launched an investigation of a local woman, Rachel Dolezal, for identifying herself as ‘African American’ in an application to serve on a commission. Soon after learning that Dolezal also serves as president for the local NAACP chapter, the news went viral on social media and ignited a heated debate. Next America asked former JET and Ebony editor Mitzi Miller to weigh in on some of the key issues and questions surrounding this developing story.
What was your initial reaction to the allegations that Rachel Dolezal passed herself for Black?
My reaction was: This is where we are in 2015. Now we have moved from cultural appropriation to trying to pass. There’s something wrong here. There’s no need to impersonate a Black person to be empathetic. She has negated all the work she ever did while at the NAACP by the revelation that she was masquerading as a Black woman. She could have accomplished the same things by being herself and collaborating in the efforts she believed in. Her deception creates a veneer of falsehood and deception that cannot easily be removed.
Can a person claim to be Black by association?
That’s ridiculous. There’s no way, unless you have a mental disorder, there’s no way to wake up confused about your ethnic identity. She assumed what she perceived as the identity of a Black woman with clear intent to live out a life that was foreign and different from her own. The fact that she associated herself with Black people and married a Black man does not justify her actions in any way.
In some of the images of Dolezal making the rounds on social media she is seen with braids, hoop earrings, and very curly hair. What is your response?
She was very thorough in her indoctrination—she wore braids, teased her hair into an afro, wore curls. She certainly appropriated from various eras and styles that were associated with Black women. So she did her research. The sad part is that it feels like the ultimate mockery. It takes more than a haircut to be Black. It takes more than being married to a black man to be Black. You can be empathetic and respectful of a culture without appropriating and impersonating it. Impersonation is not flattering in any way.
In light of the growing influence of an awareness created by campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName, which fight to make the struggles faced by Blacks in this country, what do you make of Rachel Dolezal’s actions?
I suspect there is something emotionally damaging that happened in her life that pushed her to identify with any other culture beside her own. And there’s something to be said about the fact that it was her parents that outed her. My initial question was, why would her own father take to the media and embarrass his child in the manner that he has? Doing this has thrust her into the national spotlight and erased her entire life as she sought to live it.
Source: National Journal |