In defense of Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal, NAACP, Spokane, Black, Transracial
Today Show

So she lied. She portrayed herself as being something she’s not, in order to serve a political cause. Is that really so terrible?

There are gays who hide their sexual orientation in order to get ahead in the Republican Party.

There are nonbelievers who get married in church just to please their parents.

It’s even been rumored that some people doctor their own photos on dating sites.

Where’s all the outrage about that?

{mosads}Rachel Dolezal obviously has a frayed relationship with her family, and some confusion about who she is. She deluded people about her racial background through acts of commission, not just omission. But is her deception really worth all the indignation and ridicule it has provoked?

We ought to start by remembering that race is a social and political concept, not a biological one. There is far more genetic variation within racial groups than between them. So breaking down the myths around what constitutes “blackness” or “whiteness” is actually a good thing.

Some African-Americans have charged that Dolezal’s misrepresentation disrespects their culture and trivializes their experience. During her formative years, Dolezal probably did not feel the pain — and, all too often, violence — of prejudice, bigotry, profiling, marginalization and exclusion that African-Americans and others with dark skin face every day. But as a white woman deeply connected to the African-American community, who grew up in a multiracial household, attended a historically black university, married a black man and gave birth to a son who is regarded as black, she no doubt has been on the receiving end of her share of animosity and hate. And if she hadn’t been before, she certainly is now.

People who transplant themselves into a community often begin to think differently, talk differently and act differently. If you marry into an Italian-American family, you might move to another neighborhood, learn to cook new dishes, use particular turns of speech or change the way you look. At some point, you may even begin thinking of yourself as Italian. Northerners who move to the South may pick up accents, hobbies and attitudes that once seemed foreign. Depending on when they made the move, they may have trouble answering the question, “Where are you from?”

It’s true that these types of cultural changes aren’t as politically fraught as a white-to-black transformation. But it’s hard to understand why people would be angry and hurt that a woman wanted so badly to be a leader in the fight for social justice that she tried to erase her own white privilege.

Ohlbaum is a former congressional staffer and the owner of DLO Global LLC, a consulting firm.

Tags Identity Marginalization Race Rachel Dolezal White privilege
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