White Privilege, Black Hair and Rachel Dolezal

The hottest trending news story of the past two weeks has been that of Rachel Dolezal. Justice seeker, advocate, NAACP chapter president – and apparently a perpetrator in the craziest way possible.

I’m surprised by how many black people seem to be so un-bothered by the farce Dolezal has perpetrated for years now. Some are saying if she identifies with black people, so be it. However, there is a huge difference between identifying with a culture and caking on foundation, installing braids and calling yourself “black.” I’m not flattered in any way whatsoever. Her entire family seems to have some obsession with blackness. Her fetishizing of it to this level is truly deplorable.

I have two real problems with Ms. Dolezal, 1) Her actions scream white privilege and 2) I honestly don’t believe there is any singular experience in America like being black in America and enjoying the things we associate with black culture does not equate to living your entire life as a black woman.

First let’s look at how white privilege is playing into the story here. This is an argument that we surprisingly haven’t heard much when discussing this story so stay with me as I go this route and explain my outrage as a REAL black woman.

First and foremost, Ms. Dolezal has the privilege to be whoever she chooses to be in America. Much like Bruce Jenner. I mean Caitlyn. As a black woman, of the non-wealthy variety, it’s hard for me to hide my curly hair or brown skin, but Ms. Dolezal can easily paint herself up to appear darker and add a (bad) curly weave, braids or even faux locs and call herself black. Yes, blacks have been passing for white for years and that springs from the lack of opportunity for blacks at the turn of the century and during reconstruction. If you were light enough to pass the opportunities were endless compared to if you were living in America as a black person. Many blacks who passed were indeed fathered by white men or the result of forbidden interracial relationships. As far as we know, both of Ms. Dolezal’s biological parents are white. Just the fact that she had the ability to pass and the audacity to do so reeks of white privilege. She also had the obvious means to invest in braids, foundation and schmoozing with movers and shakers in the black community. Further, to get where she was, before she began pretending to be black, she lived life as a white woman, which inevitably afforded her opportunity, regardless of whether she ever thought about that opportunity or not. That’s the core of white privilege. You don’t have to think about being white.

Since this is a blog about hair, I have to comment on Rachel’s. She is portraying herself as not only a black woman, but a natural black woman. Her choice to go the curly and braided route is interesting and easily fits into what she was feeding everyone – that she was a black woman interested in black issues and was more passionate than the next woman. No long, flowing weave for this black soul sista. She wanted braids. Not surprisingly, the pictures where she is wearing her hair in braids or faux locs are the ones where she is most noticeably white.

Any questions?

Any questions?

Now onto my second issue. The experience of being black in America, after all these years, is still like no other experience. If you come here by choice from Mexico, China, Africa, anywhere, your experience is not the same. Your experience as a gay person is not the same as mine as a black woman. That’s just what it is, no matter what people will tell you about progress and the many struggles of ever. I don’t doubt that other groups in the United States do not have their own set of problems, but being black in America is a humbling experience from birth to death. Being black and poor should earn people medals. The history of blacks’ history in America still permeates through our modern everyday life. Police brutality and corralling of black vagrant men, housing laws and the unequal distribution of property (housing projects anyone?), and the advice to not play in the sun are all remnants of allegories weaved to suppress and oppress that we deal with everyday.

Ms. Dolezal does not know the sting of being called a nigger for the first time. She doesn’t know what it’s like to watch a powerless black president thanks to the ignorance of his colleagues. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be the only black kid in AP classes. People of all different backgrounds, especially those in the public eye, appropriate black culture all the time. From Elvis to Bill Clinton, they know what will get them cool points, money, and reelected. However, to say that one can be transracial is a lie. There is no such thing. In a time when everyone seems to be so adamant about what they FEEL they are, true self and experience are getting lost in the shuffle. I feel like I could go out and buy a new wardrobe on payday, but reality is different.

I’m not ‘trans’ anything and I’m not applauding anyone for changing their appearance to try to be something they’re not, perpetuate a lie and steal my real experience. I don’t care if she’s mentally unstable, don’t care if her entire family is crazy, and do not care if she’s been doing a stellar job.

Check out the New York Times story. It is one of the best and most inclusive I’ve seen.

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