I still do not see her as a Black woman. But I do have respect for her after seeing her full story. I went from thinking Rachel Dolezal was a looney tune before watching the must watch Netflix documentary on her life, The Rachel Divide, to now afterward wanting to be her friend.
As I watched the movie I kept thinking about Teena Marie and was repeatedly shocked that she was never mentioned by Rachel. But I tend to forget my age sometime, and that those who were not raised on vinyl records may not have a clue of who Teena Marie was. I wish Rachel was a bit older because then maybe she could have taken a note out of Lady T’s book. She was the White girl that Black folk have always loved. We adored Teena Marie and her music all through the 70’s and 80’s, and would have to remind ourselves that she was White. But Teena never claimed to be Black, she simply acknowledged that she identified most with Black culture and music over all else. That’s the discrepancy. There are some who connect with African Americans, who are not themselves African American. This has always been the case. But those Whites, Latinos or Asians who connect with us had never denied their own race to join ours, until Rachel came along. When Rachel presented herself as Black it made us feel as though the same hijacking of culture that has taken place since emancipation, was happening again. But this time live in full color, in modern times, and by one we did not know was White from the start. That was a shocking and new experience to a people who have always been at the bottom of the barrel of vilification.
I do wish that Rachel could have meet Teena Marie, followed her example perhaps, or the other White people who grew up with us on the block, those who connected to Black people and culture. But because Rachel Dolezal claimed to be Black, I’d absolutely joined the bandwagon of those assume she was either nuts, some kind of con, or a race appropriating attention whore. When in reality she actually is very much what she’s always claimed to be, someone who relates to the Black struggle because she has in great part shared it.
After watching her story, I totally empathize with how she slowly came to the decisions to not only claim to be Black, but to identify as Black. I now understand how her efforts to protect the reputation of her birth family, kept her birth identity in lock down and in secret. I do still wish there was a way during her Howard and NAACP years for her to have been honest about her birth racial background, I think she’d better received today. But you’d have to be greatly lacking in human empathy to view her story and not understand the conundrum she was up against.
Her family held very dark secrets, in which she fled from their influence as an adult. Her choices for racial identity were complex but were in part lead by the desire to protect her family’s reputation. And in an effort to sabotage her credibility right before her family’s secrets would be exposed in a court of law, her family suddenly appeared on national news in a witch hunt to sabotage her reputation. Witch hunts often play between the lines of truth and falsehoods. Her relatives took the truth of her birth racial identity and sprinkled it with lies about her intentions and character. Without offering any spoilers here, her family had great cause to want her to be silent about the truth of her upbringing. To discredit her they spun her story and the public believed them without question. Her own family painted her as a fraud to take the attention off of themselves. And that’s when I felt this kindredness with Rachel.
It was then that I saw myself as quite the hypocrite, as I deem myself as someone who is not quick to judge or jump to quick opinions about people without fact or evidence. But her story became very personal to me. No longer a headline or the hot topic of the moment, but an experience that I myself have lived. I know exactly what it is like to receive false accusations by those whose blood pumps through your veins. Like Rachel I’ve experienced trial by family, when those very relatives have personal motive to discredit you so that you do not profess their truth. When family throws you in a pit, you’ve expereinced one of the greatest hurts known to man, ask Joseph in the Bible. When you hold truths against those who’d rather their stories not be told, you become a threat to them, and oftentimes that’s all the motive they need to destroy you… or attempt to. I suppose that’s a unique experience, and I share that with Rachel.
The documentary surprisingly ends on a bit of a somber note. I saw Rachel’s heart break in the camera as the producer who’d followed her for over a year seemed to not empathize with her at the end of her story. I am only left with seeing the heart of a woman. I do not see her as a pariah. I see her as someone who I am connected to through pain and rejection. I see her as someone who took on the responsibility of mothering, nurturing and caring for those she did not birth, just as I have. I have always respected those who could choose not to take part of the struggles of people of color, yet do so anyway. Rachel has done that, so why would’nt I see her as my sister?
I wish Rachel Dolezal much success. I hope that she can accept her own human frailties and missteps just as all of us have to do. I pray that the Black community not see her as an enemy of our plight and cause, but as a partner to it. I also wish the best for Nkechi Amare Diallo. In changing her name, I pray that she grow and abound into the woman she was created to be, and that the boxes she chooses to identify herself in remain self fulfilling.