Once my brother asked me, “if I could push a button and choose to be white, would I?”
I answered “No. I love being Black.”
I won’t get into the implications of pushing a button and becoming a White man in the country that White men murdered, raped and enslaved to build. There is no button for me. I’m Black. I’ll die Black. I take pride in who I am, but if I didn’t, it wouldn’t matter.
I am who I am.
Rachel Dolezal of Spokane Washington made a decision that most Black people don’t have the luxury of making. She pushed the button. She abandoned her race, said bye to her parents and lived as a Black woman.
Her pictures reflect the transformation. Young her is fair skinned and blond. Now she is darker; orangish by some estimations, and her hair is kinky. She made it, and as long as she continued spray tanning and wig wearing, she should have been able to maintain the illusion.
Everything that she achieved, could have been achieved without the lie. The NAACP doesn’t prohibit white people from holding office in their organization, and I know of more than one White professor of Africana Studies. She didn’t have to lie, but she did. She counseled Black girls on how to grow into Black women, based on her own experiences growing from a Black girl.
What difference does it make? She isn’t the first white person to claim Blackness. See Al Jolson or the unfortunate trainwreck of a stereotype, Chet Hanks. All of these people thought that they could achieve Blackness; put it on like a cheap suit. The only difference is, Rachel never wanted to take it off.
It isn’t flattering.
Whether your idea of Blackness is thuggish like Chet, or cultivated afro-centricity, like Rachel, you’re wrong. Blackness isn’t a set of characteristics or attributes. There is no magic key to Blackness.
Black is just Black. On the sliding scale of Blackitude, Donald Glover is just as Black as Two-Chainz, who is no more or less Black than Don Lemon. It is a set of shared circumstances, and like it or not, if you are born Black, you’ll die Black.
There have been a small number of Black people who did precisely what Rachel did. If they were light enough, with the right set of features, they might leave their families behind and reinvent themselves as white people. But you can’t compare a woman who reinvents herself to escape the persecution of the Jim Crow South, to a woman who did it because she thought that being Black was super duper cool.
Also, it should be noted that misrepresenting yourself as a white person was illegal. They risked their lives to pass for white. Something to think about as we watch Rachel get dragged on Black twitter. She might have it bad right now, but she doesn’t have it Black woman passing in Jim Crow South bad. She might get dragged, but she won’t get hung.