The Rachel Divide

Rachel Dolezal: I bet you know her name. She’s the white woman who passed herself off as black and became the head of her local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. And in fact, she doesn’t just pretend to be black, she claims to really believe that inside, she is. She has called it transracial, perhaps to piggy-back on the recent (and limited) success of the transgendered community to gain acceptance. Transgendered people are born in the wrong body. Their biology may present as one sex but they feel very much like the other, and may even undergo reassignment surgery in the pursuit of having their bodies match their identities. But is transracial the same thing? Is it even a thing?

I definitely had opinions about Rachel Dolezal before I ever watched the MV5BYmMzZGRhMjctYTA4My00YWQ3LWJlZjUtZjZmZjU2NjI3NWMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc5NTc1MTg@._V1_.jpgdocumentary. It was hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to this thing that felt wrong, felt maybe even racist, though we couldn’t quite articulate why, other than the fact that it necessarily deals in stereotypes. But on paper, it’s harder not to see her point. And in practice, it’s impossible not to feel compassion for her children who are being punished for the sins of their mother.

Laura Brownson has a fascinating documentary that really challenges your beliefs, and to me that’s the ultimate mark of a good documentary. Why did Dolezal lie? Why does she continue to hold her ground? Why does she cry about her notoriety but chase it with a book deal and now a documentary? Why was she singled out for accolades when so many actually-black women were passed over? Should her contributions to the cause be forgotten or ignored?

Brownson offers no real answers but asks enough intelligent questions that it really gets your brain juices bubbling. She doesn’t let Dolezal off the hook but does treat her like a human being, which makes her the rare exception. And I’m still not certain where my own beliefs stand, but my thoughts are a little more evolved, and a little reflection never hurt anyone.

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21 thoughts on “The Rachel Divide

  1. Christopher

    I’d like to watch this because maybe it will answer, or at least address, one question I had at the time Dolezal came to national attention. She became head of a local N.A.A.C.P. chapter, so clearly there were others who also saw her as a person of color.
    And it says something that this is a new chapter in a very old discussion about what race is. In Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson the character Roxy is a slave because, even though she’s described as “white as anybody” she’s one-sixteenth black and that “outvoted the other fifteen parts”. And there are real people like Ellen Craft who passed as white and even dressed like a man so she and her husband William could escape slavery.
    I’m glad this documentary doesn’t try to answer questions but addresses just how complicated the subject is.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Absolutely people believed her: in part because she altered her appearance, tanning extensively, using dark makeup, adopting certain hairstyles. But mostly, I think, because who would lie about such a thing? This one’s new for us.

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. tubularsock

    Sounds interesting. People are complex and fucked up most, if not all, of the time. We live within an illusion which we have been programed into by our elders who were programed by their elders ad nauseam.

    Really, it isn’t all that complicated if you really sit down and look at what we define as “well adjusted”. It means ………… “like everyone else”.

    So if you are not like everybody else it only means that YOUR ADJUSTMENT IS OFF and once the parent, doctor, cop, teacher, councilor has “worked with you” and you have “gotten back in line” are you acceptable again.

    There are stacks and stacks of books and college courses that teach you what the “AGREED upon boundaries” happen to be sooooo, THEY MUST BE CORRECT!

    See the problem?

    It is all in the agreed upon definition and if you defy that definition then there is “something” wrong with you.

    But what if it is the opposite?

    Wow, this is a long way to say Tubularsock will see this film and thanks for the great review Jay.

    Tubularsock will view this documentary from his “black self” perspective and see how that goes. On second thought, how will Tubularsock’s “white-cracker-self” feel then.

    Damn! This is complex!

    Cheers!

    Liked by 3 people

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  3. Liz A.

    Yup, this is something I want to see. Transracial, eh? Interesting idea. I must ponder this. It’s predicated on the idea that your race is somehow your identity. But is it? Hmmm…

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    1. Jay Post author

      I still can’t articulate it, but it feels off and icky and dangerous. We talk often (but not often enough) about cultural appropriation but this feels like cultural…theft?

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    2. Jay Post author

      Of course, we used to classify transgenderism as a mental illness. Identity is a tricky thing and I suppose I need to do a lot more listening before I can judge.

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  4. J.

    I have this on my list… a really fascinating one, eh? There was a piece in the Guardian a while back and it was really interesting to read how this whole thing unraveled…

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  5. calensariel

    You know, when you think of slavery and how landowners fathered black children who went on to father or mother children of their own and WAY down the line the dna wasn’t pure anymore, I kind of think maybe there’s a chance a person could feel that way.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. EclecticMusicLover

    Thanks to your review,Jay, I watched this last evening. Dolezal is certainly a complicated person, and part of me thinks she’s a lunatic fraud who on a certain level did a real disservice to Spokane’s Black community, not to mention her family and children. But another part of me feels pity for her, and as you mention, why she really believes she’s Black is never fully explained.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. K E Garland

    …so I did watch the video because you’d piqued my interest. As far as the film goes, it was a well-made documentary that showed varied points of view. However, as far as Rachel D. goes, I think her primary issue is that (as her son said) she won’t just come out and say, “I WAS BORN A WHITE WOMAN, BUT I IDENTIFY AS BLACK; I APOLOGIZE FOR DECEIVING PEOPLE!” lol that’s all it’ll take and then it seems she could move forward sheesh.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes it does seem like a lot of people just want to hear her say it.
      And I think she has to admit that her actions have caused pain – to individuals who felt duped, and to the community who is suffering setbacks.

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. holley4734

    I think that part of her rejects being white because she is rejecting her white parents and brother. She identifies with her adopted siblings, who are African-American. She has a loving relationship with them. So she wants to be with the part of the family that accepts her and loves her – like when a mama dog adopts a kitten. Of course, it’s more complex than that. . . I don’t know exactly but that’s what makes sense to me.

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