—By Frederick A. Hurst—


I’m a bit bothered by the hypocrisy that seems to undergird the outrage over a White woman in Spokane, Washington who led the Spokane NAACP while passing for Black. Rachel Dolezal abandoned her White family years ago for her new Black identity and six months ago became Spokane’s elected NAACP leader. Her White background remained a secret until her alienated, disgruntled parents exposed her by publicizing her Montana birth certificate that showed her ancestry to be Czech, Swedish and German and a bit American Indian. What followed was a news media frenzy that made much more out of the story than it deserved and that forced her to resign.

First, before analyzing this silly, mainstream media-generated frenzy a bit more closely, let me make a cogent point. If every White person in America sincerely committed to be Black, the race issue in America might disappear. It certainly would diminish substantially and give way to other sinister demons like income inequality and the like. And all these various folks who oppose affirmative action and frown derisively at the term “diversity” would lose their operational steam. In fact, the whole conversion process from White to Black could be viewed legitimately as a short cut to the racial equality that America has long proclaimed but never realized. Like her approach or not, this lady may have found the perfect solution to the most complex problem that has vexed America since its founders decided to cheat and pursue economic supremacy and personal enrichment by enslaving Black folks. Rather than pillory Rachel Dolezal, maybe we should embrace her.

Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP chapter leader who resigned after she was accused of lying about her race, talks to Amber Payne of NBC BLK in New York City. (John Brecher / NBC News)

What motivated her parents?

It puzzles me that some Black folks have taken offense at the idea that a White woman would dare rise to the top of the Spokane NAACP while passing for Black. But when you think about it, her rise is not such an anomaly. We mess with history so much that we cause our historical facts to be muddled. So much so, in this instance, that we overlook the fact that the NAACP was not founded by the Black Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois but in 1909 by a White woman in New York who was appalled by the lynching of Black folks in the South. She and her White colleagues wisely invited Du Bois into the group after his 1905 Niagara movement had fizzled out. And he consented and played a major role in the growth of the NAACP and the publication of the Crisis magazine, which remains in circulation to this day. Yet even today, most publications refer to Dr. Du Bois as the NAACP’s founder even though their editors and writers know better.

And as for Ms. Dolezal passing for Black, there is not a family among us Black folks who cannot point to a relative or a friend of a relative who has “passed.” And I don’t mean “passed away.” Black folks who “passed” were very much alive but light skinned enough to secretly pass for White if they chose to. The decision to “pass” was a very personal, individualistic decision that carried both benefits and consequences. The benefits were mostly materialistic but the psychological consequences of hiding out in the open must have been incalculable; although those of us who wouldn’t or couldn’t pass got a special pleasure at seeing White folks fooled.

But all who chose to pass did so because they believed the benefits of being White were superior to the benefits of being Black. And there were a lot of dark-skinned Black folks who wished for a lighter skin who provided a ready market for Nadinola, a popular skin-lightening cream. In fact, an entire culture grew up around the distinction between “preferred” light-skinned Black people and those less-preferred who were dark. And though this bizarre cultural distinction has faded dramatically since the advent of the Black Pride movement beginning in the ’60s, remnants of it still exist. So to put it mildly, it’s peculiar that Black folks would take offense at a White woman who chooses to be Black and who lives among Black folks and champions their causes.

We need to ask ourselves some basic questions before we allow the mainstream media to trick us into attacking the White Rachel Dolezal as some kind of interloper. And I start with the motives of her parents. What were they thinking? If you have raised kids, you know the pain of alienation – even the thought of the pain of it. No question about it, some kids have a distorted perspective of independence that you hope time might temper. They are often perfectly comfortable with the notion that they owe nothing to those who gave them their start and they nurture this convoluted notion with the syrup of righteousness. They very often abandon context for certainty and logic for emotion. They often stretch our emotional limits almost beyond controllable margins and challenge us to react so that they can say “I told you so.” All while they leave you shipwrecked on the shores of regrets over having raised them in the best way you knew how and wondering whether you should have had them at all. It is not uncommon for our own kids to make us feel betrayed. But with all that said, the fact is they are our kids. And to sabotage them as Rachel Dolezal’s parents deliberately sabotaged their own daughter is bizarre and unacceptable behavior.

And that is the big story that the mainstream media seems to have found it convenient to ignore. The parents’ motive was innocent appearing but far from clean. It was spiteful and over the top. They “outed” their own daughter. They could have cared less whether she was doing good things or bad things. Their motive was pure and ugly revenge. And to get that revenge, Rachel Dolezal’s parents played everybody. And most fell into the trap, including the media. Her parents played the race card so smoothly that few saw it in the hype that was so appealing to a meat-hungry media and to bigots on both sides of the racial spectrum, as well as to those well-meaning folks who were simply confused and devoid of historical context. It doesn’t take an expert reading of the facts and of human behavior to conclude that whereas Ms. Dolezal’s shift to Black was sincere though secretive, her parents’ behavior was pure malice and nothing to be celebrated.

As a people, we Black folks should closely analyze this situation before we overreact to it. We should be very leery about allowing the mainstream media to box us into the shallow idea of Black as a color. We should analyze this situation from the perspective of Black as a culture, Black as a way of thinking, Black as a frame of mind, Black as a state of consciousness, Black as a history of determined struggle that is ongoing. Before we allow ourselves to be goaded into castigating a woman who has opted to be Black simply because she has White skin, we need to find out who she really is. She might be the real McCoy, which means she won’t be the first person with White skin to have made major contributions to the Black cause, including those White folks who sacrificed their lives. Though salacious and attractive in the minds of the mob, whether or not she concealed her skin color should be the most trivial of our concerns, especially since we know plenty of people with Black skin who are as White as the sheet of paper this article is written on.

Rachel Dolezal is not unlike White folks who went South to help register Black folks to vote, some of whom died for their efforts. And she can be distinguished from so many White liberals who mean well and talk a good game but keep a healthy distance from the action and from being labeled n——r lovers. While these fair weather warriors help at a distance, Rachel Dolezal appears to have devoted her life to helping up close – in the trenches – while taking on a Black identity. Think about it! What’s really wrong with that? To quote an insightful Boston Globe letter writer (June 16, 2015): “If the genitalia you are born with no longer define your gender, why should the skin color you are born with define your race?”

I don’t think the analogy is perfect but the point is clear. This entire business of drawing sharp racial lines based on skin color serves no useful purpose and is harmful to all involved. And it is also insulting. And the mainstream media ought to be ashamed for indulging it at the behest of spiteful White parents. I’m as pro-Black as anybody but I very much understand that “Black” is a beautiful, powerful, complex concept that goes far beyond the color of one’s skin as was so well articulated by Black professor and radio personality Dr. Michael Eric Dyson in responding to questions from television commentators.

Furthermore, every person in the world has a claim to Blackness that most usually overlook. Africa, the “cradle of civilization,” is, after all, indisputably the place of origin of all mankind. There was a time when we were all one. So no matter where we dispersed to or when, we all remain African at our roots and we can all legitimately claim membership in the same historical race regardless of the evolutionary melanin mutations that followed.

I don’t mind saying that Rachel Dolezal and anybody like her can join my team anytime. I’ll hold her and others to tough tests. But the tests won’t be based on whether or not their skin color is White or Black. I’ll want to know where their soul is. ■

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