Dolezal’s deception is an indefensible betrayal
WHEN things get confusing it’s always worth referring to Amy Schumer, I find. And true to form, the funniest woman on American TV’s tweet, “Wait, we can be black if we want?” sums up the Rachel Dolezal affair. Schumer captures the absurdity of a white woman pretending to be black and it’s funny too. And finding something to laugh about is no easy feat when it comes to race relations in the US right now.
It sometimes feels that as discussions about identity become ever more complex (and at times incomprehensible) so they become more distanced from how we live. And as a counterpoint to the terrible events of Charleston – a terrorist attack on the black community in a state where they still fly the Confederate flag – Dolezal is a perfect example of this disparity.
Dolezal grew up white, in a white family alongside four adopted siblings who were black. Then at some point she decided to be black too. So far, so fascinating. But behind this, things get complicated. Dolezal’s family history is unhappy and unclear – at least one brother sued for emancipation from his adoptive parents and another brother is facing charges of sexually abusing a child, an allegation that is tangled into Dolezal’s dispute with her parents.
Then there’s Dolezal herself. She recast a black man as her father. She pretended that her adopted black brother was her son. She went to a black college, claiming African American heritage, and eventually, when she became the head of a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) she did so as a black woman. She’s also, over several years, made claims about being the victim of hate crime because of her ethnicity.
This isn’t about one woman’s affinity with another race. And it isn’t about weaves and fake bake. It is about power and oppression and privilege. Dolezal deceived people about her identity. She is still trying to do so and she can because she is privileged. Her chosen identity is built on lies. She could “change back” to being white any time she wanted. And to deny that difference, and the history that shapes it, suggests Dolezal doesn’t get the very politics she’s made a career espousing.
She could’ve been the head of the NAACP as a white woman. And a white person speaking out about racism could have been a great thing. A member of the community from which the vast majority of racism spews forth taking a stand against it would have been commendable. But to lie and appropriate and then to drag in other minorities fighting for recognition – transracial people and the transgender community – as Dolezal has done is indefensible.
People with identities that place them outside of the mainstream battle against prejudice and discrimination. Dolezal can’t claim solidarity with these groups; all that she’s done is tried to appropriate their struggle. Cultural rules are shifting. But for that shift to be meaningful it has to be about tolerance and respect. And most fundamentally, honesty.
Tweet away, JK
THE latest Twitter spat involving JK Rowling came when she questioned a statement made by political commentator Iain Macwhirter in one of his columns. He wrote: “Any trace of ethnic nationalism, and anti-English sentiment, was expunged from the party [the SNP] in the 1970s”. Rowling quibbled. “Quite a claim,” she tweeted, directly to him. “How many English incomers were polled before the making of that confident assertion?” There was a wee stooshie before they both agreed to differ. Or got bored, I’m not sure. And then the wrath of Twitter came down upon Rowling. She shouldn’t use her position to make political statements. She shouldn’t be so anti-Scottish. She basically shouldn’t speak about anything other than Hogwarts. Oh dear. Touchy too much? Why shouldn’t she say whatever she wants? And can you blame her for being both sensitive and sceptical about anti-Englishness when she is regularly called a traitor and, frankly, much worse? Truthfully, I marvel at her good humour and her patience. And I love her tweets.
Arran job appeals
THE National Trust for Scotland is looking for an outreach ranger to join the Arran Ranger Service. The job requires “an enthusiastic, self-motivated person with excellent people skills”. The task is to encourage “new audiences” to become involved in “wildlife, conservation and biological recording”. Nice. How? By being based on board the Isle of Arran ferry two days a week having a blether with people heading to the island. The other three days will be spent in Brodick Country Park. If I didn’t suffer from seasickness, this could be just what I need. Closing date is 26 June, if you’ve got sea legs. «