The curious case of Rachel Dolezal

When Rachel Dolezal was outed as a Caucasian woman in blackface, the story almost broke the internet. Several daystumblr_inline_npu43mC6mM1qfb043_500 later, we are still trying to put the pieces together. So far, the story has served as a platform to discuss racism and cultural appropriation. However, it has also served as a platform for transphobes to pontificate on gender and redefine transracial.

Rachel Dolezal, 37 year old part-time professor in the Africana studies program at Eastern Washington University, was outed by her Caucasian parents, Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal, as a white woman pretending to be black. Following the social media attention, Rachel Dolezal handed in her resignation as president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). She tendered her resignation without any sign of remorse, later followed by an exclusive live interview with NBC News where she insisted-

I definitely am not white, I’m more black than I am white. That’s the accurate answer from my truth.

Rachel seems to think her chosen truth trumps facts. You can choose your truth but you can’t choose your facts. She seems to have a history of choosing her truths with total disregard for facts.

On several occasions, Rachel Dolezal has claimed to be the victim of hate crimes. However, Investigators have not been able to find evidence to substantiate her claims. In fact, it was an effort to connect the dots in her latest hate crimes claim that led a curious investigative reporter, Jeff Selle, to the doorsteps of her Caucasian biological parents.

Rachel Dolezal had presented on social media, a picture of a black man named Albert Wilkerson as her father. She tumblr_inline_npu489e2aK1qfb043_500concocted this whole life of an African American woman constantly targeted and harassed by racists. It truly befuddles the brain why she went to such lengths to claim a heritage that was not hers. She wasn’t just contented with enjoying the benefits of her invented identity but also chose to invent some victimhood alongside it.

No one needs to be black to fight racism. We don’t have to be gay, bisexual, or Trans to support LGBT rights. I don’t have to pretend to be a tree before i fight against deforestation. Rachel Dolezal did not need to engage in cultural appropriation to fight racism. Although, one must ask, did she really fight racism, especially since her actions seem to negate what she claims to stand for?

It is a truly curious case and like the reporter, I suspect that she made up the threatening hate posts and the list of hate crimes she claimed to have received and subjected to over the years, to get attention. However, one thing is sure, she benefited financially and career-wise from her charade.

According to The Washington Post , her biological father, Lawrence Dolezal, said-

When Rachel applied to Howard University to study art with a portfolio of “exclusively African American portraiture,” the university “took her for a black woman” and gave her a full scholarship.

“You’ve got a white woman coming in that got a full-ride scholarship to the black Harvard,” Lawrence Dolezal said. “And ever since then she’s been involved in social justice advocacy for African Americans. She assimilated into that culture so strongly that that’s where she transferred her identity.”

He added: “But unfortunately, she is not ethnically by birth African American. She is our daughter by birth. And that’s the way it is.

Yes, she benefited financially from her lies. She got a Howard university scholarship, took work positions and appointments meant for Black people based on presenting herself as part Black. So yes, she deprived actual black people of positions and financial resources by presenting herself to be what she was not.

It is a slap in the face of blacks for white people to assume they can just wake up and engage in cultural tumblr_inline_npu4615ZVD1qfb043_500appropriation. You don’t wake up feeling black or white. Race as a social construct is not about mood swings. Race is not an adornment; it is the lived experience of actual human beings.

As a black person,  I do not have the luxury of deciding whether to wake up black or white today. When i enter a fancy shop, I cannot tell the security officer who dart suspicious looks my way, that I feel white today, go cast your suspicious gaze on some black person because I might look black outside but I am actually white inside! Blacks do not have the luxury of opting out of experiencing the ill effects of the social construct called race.

Rachel Dolezal chose to don a black identity, while conveniently ignoring the fact that blackness cannot be found in a tan salon or make-up kit, and it is definitely not something you splash on during the day and wash off at night.

My black history is not something a white woman gets to appropriate for her personal gains because of her delusions.

As a professor of African studies, Rachel Dolezal is no doubt familiar with black history. However, reading up on all the black history books won’t turn a white person into a black person. Rachel Dolezal actions are very condescending because it makes out that all you need to be black is to read up on black history, alter your appearance to play up to some racial stereotypes and bam, you are black.

It is also important to remember that there was a time, not too long ago, when black persons (even if biracial) passing off as white was a criminal offence. Rachel Dolezal’s action is a classic example of white privilege.

In another revelation in this twisted plot,  it has emerged that

Rachel Dolezal—the Spokane woman who has lied for years about being African American— sued Howard University in 2002. According to court documents obtained by the site, Dolezal, who went by Rachel Moore at the time, sued the historically black college by alleging discrimination “based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender.” From the report:

She alleged that Smith and other school officials improperly blocked her appointment to a teaching assistant post, rejected her application for a post-graduate instructorship, and denied her scholarship aid while she was a student.

The court opinion also noted that Dolezal claimed that the university’s decision to remove some of her artworks from a February 2001 student exhibition was “motivated by a discriminatory purpose to favor African-American students over” her.

Two years later, a judge dismissed the lawsuit.

Considering that affirmative action was put in place to help disadvantaged minorities, her court case appears to be a blatant display of how much she holds black people in disdain. Was this when Rachel Dolezal decided that she felt like a black person and was henceforth going to don blackface? Was this when this white Caucasian woman decided that she would adopt a black identity and play the victim card to further her own career?

Rachel Dolezal  in her NBC News interview said that she did what she had to do to survive.

But overall, my life has been one of survival and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive and to carry forward in my journey and life continuum.

I guess to her, taking the place of a black person, donning a back face, taking up black positions that should have Screen-Shot-2015-06-12-at-10.47.26-PMgone to black people and playing the victim-card were all parts of survival. As long as it catapults her to the top of her career, gets her media attention, and solidifies her place as the defender of blacks, it is all well and good. This reasoning clearly shows how little she thinks of the black people she claims to represent. She obviously thinks blacks are gullible, inept, and unable to speak for themselves. She fancied herself as the saviour of blacks and to be that saviour, she had to reinvent herself as a black person because well, she as a white woman knows better what is good for black people.

She probably thinks she was doing black people a favour. And of course, there are those who think that as blacks, we should be grateful and flattered that Rachel Dolezal, a privileged cis white woman wants to identify as one of us. Rachel Dolezal must be preening when she reads comments from such black people who claim she has done a lot for the black community therefore she should be free to claim a black identity. However, when asked, they cannot point out these fabled hard work and good deeds Rachel Dolezal has done for the black community.

It is so sad that some black Africans think Rachel Dolezal’s actions should be praised, not condemned. The rachel-dolezal-3-800incomprehensible fact that a white person wants to identify as black is serving as a great morale boost to these easily impressed Black Africans with white superiority issues. It is sadly a manifestation of the devastating impact racism has on the black psyche.

I am often irritated when my fellows Nigerians proudly share videos of random white persons who speak some semblance of Yoruba language or some other Nigerian dialect. These fellow Nigerians go on and on about how we don’t appreciate our own language and how they are so proud that a white person can speak their native language or in one particular case, study Yoruba language as a degree course! They hold this “feat” out as a sort of validation of their culture. Wow, talk about colonial mentality and inferiority complex!

When a white person takes interest in any part of our black culture, we are expected to be flattered. Never mind that we live every minute of our life trying to adhere to the white way of living, because well, that is what defines success in a society that is still recovering from colonialism, and infested with white privilege . Therefore, when random white persons pass compliments on our black skin, nappy hair, thick lips, or big bums, these are immediately seen as an endorsement of how desirable we are. We are expected to lap it up and bask in the glory of white validation. This reminds me of catcalls and how some still insist it is a compliment!

The mentality that black people are supposed to be happy that a white person likes us so much they chose to imitate us is indeed sad. It reeks of remnants of colonialism. It seems we are still seeking validation from white people on our culture and appearance because of internalised inferiority complex, which makes us see not just their white skins but also their opinions, as higher than us.

Imitation is not always flattery. Rachel Dolezal’s actions cannot be said to be that of a good ally but then, she does not identify as an ally but chose instead to claim the cause as hers. She comes across as a manipulative person and compulsive liar. Her unwillingness to acknowledge the wrongs she has done or be remorseful about the lies does not portray her as a useful ally. No matter how down with the cause she is, she has shown contempt for the people she claims to identify with.  Rachel Dolezal has not deemed it fit to apologise for her lies and deceptions. She is probably looking for more lies to concoct as she suggested that since she has never done a DNA test, the question of whether Lawrence and Ruth Dolezal are her real biological parents, remains open.

Interestingly, in her interview, she claimed since her adopted black brother who is now her adopted son, calls her mother, she considers herself a black woman. No dear Caucasian woman, you don’t turn into a black woman just because you adopted a black child. Ask Angelia Jolie or Madonna, they are still as white as they come, even though they have adopted black children who call them mummy.

However, it is  indeed sad that transphobes are jumping on this curious case of Rachel Dolezal to spew their transphobia all over social media.  No, there is no such thing as ‪Transracial. Transracial adoption, YES, Transracial as in comparison to Transgender, NO.

It is disingenuous and transphobic to use the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner as a reason the lies and deceptions of Rachel Dolezal should be accepted. Using the curious case of Rachel Dolezal to spew hate on Transgender people is appalling. Your transphobia shines through and yeah, it is ugly, very ugly.

On the bright side, ‪#‎Blacktwitter and the ‪#‎AskRachel memes on Twitter had me in stitches for days!

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  1. says

    Hi Roberta, Libby,

    On the Dolezalian saga: Other than her race-change, now people are obsessing on her artistic appropriating the Turner painting into her work -- artists do that all the time… Picasso did it with Velasquez’s “Las Meninas.”

    The real HUGE issue with her artwork are Dolezal’s fabrications and exaggerations that may extend to her artistic CV and arts resume while she lived in DC and even worse afterwards and then about about the legitimacy of her own artwork -- see these links in order:

    And then, working with Dave Castillo, she gets really busted here: — Case closed! I can’t believe no one has picked up on this! She’s painting on top of photos transferred to canvas!!!

    Nothing so far on this subject in the news!!!



  2. Meggamat says

    Nice to see you posting again Yemisi Ilesanmi! I always look forwards to your analysis, even on controversial issues like this.

    In this instance though, I am unsure as to what has been stolen. You referred to “lived experience”, but she has lived the experience she claimed. If it was a case of “I’m black until I get pulled over by the police” then yes, her actions would have been reprehensible, but she appears to have presented herself as a black person to everyone (it is possible that she even believes it herself). It appears that she never retreated to white privilege, and she thus exposed herself to every stereotype in her USA culture about black people. She literally followed your advice: “Race is not an adornment; it is the lived experience of actual human beings.” If every time she was stopped and frisked, every time she was accused of shoplifting, every time someone questioned her parenting skills for no good reason, she maintained her façade, then what aspect of white privilege has she retained, and what aspect of black marginalization has she evaded?

    The second problem I have with the condemnation of Rachel Dolezal is the idea that a person of a different bloodline would be more entitled to what she achieved than she was. Maybe it is just my romantic philosophy, but I don’t believe that the circumstances of someone’s birth should automatically preclude any station in life, if they are willing to strive to attain it. Deeds, not DNA, qualify a person for the rank they hold, or so it should be in a just society.

    That said, she lied to a lot of people, and she will have a hard time re-earning their trust.

  3. Yemisi Ilesanmi says


    “You referred to “lived experience”, but she has lived the experience she claimed. If it was a case of “I’m black until I get pulled over by the police” then yes”

    A white woman in blackface fabricating racial harassments and manipulating situations for attention in order to get ahead in her career does not amount to having “lived experience” of black people. Believe me, black people have enough problems, they do not need to go seeing nooses where there is none or go posting racial threats letters to themselves for attention and visibility in their chosen career. This is the luxury of a white woman in black face.

    NO, she has not lived the experience she claimed. Blackness is more than just been pulled over by the police, blackness is not something you chose to be, and blackness is thrust upon you by the society FROM Birth.
    I was not born black; I was born a human being. I thought saying I was black was just a name for skin colour, but I soon learnt what it meant to be designated black. The lived experience of my ancestors are not the lived experience of Rachel’s Dolezal’s ancestors. Up until about 10 years ago, she was publicly protected by her white skin and could openly enjoy her white privilege. She used that white privilege to further appropriate the culture of the people she claimed to represent.

    Blackness is not a wardrobe you splash on when it suits you. I did not choose blackness; blackness was forced on me WHEN RACE CAME INTO THE ISSUE. Blackness was forced on many when the one-blood drop rule was introduced for the purpose of racial segregation. My skin colour did not make me black, society did.

    When I lived and worked in Nigeria, I didn’t wake up every day feeling black. My relationships with my colleagues had nothing to do with blackness. Tribalism, yes, race No. Since I started living in Europe, I knew that I was black. I was designated black. I was treated black. I had to learn that I was black and with that, I learned a whole lot of other things I wish I didn’t have to, I learned how to survive, not just as a human being but as a black person. I learned about white privilege and saw it in action every day.

    Slavery is the lived experience of the ancestors of the African American women she is pretending to be. Her ancestors were not slaves in America; it is not her experience to claim. She did not experience what it meant to be a black child in America, the fact that she grew up alongside adopted black siblings still does not make her a black child in America. Her skin protected her from that racial taint.

    She obviously did not successfully pass as black to everyone. Her work colleagues said they had their doubts about her claimed racial identity but chose to keep these doubts to themselves. Rachel felt the need to post the picture of a random black man as her ‘Daddy’ on social media as part of her manipulative efforts to douse the doubts about her claimed identity. It was all part of her propaganda.

    Rachel DolezaL has white privilege and she exercised it to paint herself in black face and went around claiming what was not hers to claim.
    Whether her donning blackface came from fetishizing blackness, infantilising black people or from wanting to invent manipulative ways to claw up a ladder that wasn’t hers to use, it is wrong, immoral and demeaning to blacks.

    Finally, as for your second problem, if you have a problem with affirmative action, which was put in place to level the playing field for historically disadvantaged groups, and you think it is unjust, sorry, I can’t even begin to help you with that.

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